I had a classmate named Connie. Her sweet soft oval face and strong aquiline nose framed huge dark eyes set over a sensuous, ready smile. I first noticed her in 5th grade. She was the Annette Funicello of our class. And like many of Mediterranean descent, she began to mature physically at a younger age than most. Connie was blessed (or cursed) with budding breasts. Most of the boys were intrigued, not quite sure why. Whispers, rumors of what sex might be were spoken by some, with furtive giggles and sly smiles.
I was the smallest in the class, painfully shy. I admired Connie from the back of the room, settled safe in the confines of my ancient cast iron and wood desk. Fifth Grade was a distraction from life spent wandering the pastures, creeks, woods and fields. Sometimes late at night, her dark eyes and growing curves filled my head, lit a small ember deep in my young belly.
Sixth Grade was different. We had a male teacher. His straight ahead, no-nonsense style caught hold of my wandering mind. Over the summer, I had grown taller, more gangly. Connie had blossomed, hips and waist and growing breasts. She didn't walk. She waltzed in the hallways. Her dark eyes glowed deep fire. And, she wore makeup!
Early that first week, I convinced myself to do something brash. I saved back a portion of my allowance for a month. In the Ben Franklin Five-and-Dime I pondered over the cheap costume jewelry. One silvery ring with a dark blue paste stone caught and held my eye. It was the same blue of Connie's shaggy, tight cashmere sweater. THAT ring had to be the magic talisman that would win her heart for me.
I bought it, wrapped it in white tissue with a carefully printed note: "From a secret admirer.” I just could not bring myself to sign it.
The next morning, I hustled out of the house early and sneaked into the classroom. I lifted Connie’s stained wood desktop, and with trembling hands deposited the burning passion wrapped in tissue on her Pee-Chee folder. Scared to distraction, I ran out into the hall, down the stairs and out into the brilliant September morning. Relieved at not being seen, I ran to join the little group of guys who were my friends.
The bell rang, calling us to class. I was petrified. Looking for any excuse, I hung back until the schoolyard teacher called to me. I crept in the back door and skulked to my desk, slinking low.
Connie had just opened her desk and stood, her head tilted, a quizzical expression on her warm face. She opened my package with her long elegant fingers and laughed, saying something like, "This is sweet. Who put this here?"
I sat stone cold frozen, deer in the headlights, unable to think or move. Those dark, laughing eyes scanned the classroom, seeking the gift giver. They passed over me without hesitating. Joe, the class clown began to snicker. All eyes zoomed in on him and Connie laughed out loud. Immediately, everyone "knew" that Joe had pulled a fine practical joke. General laughter and kidding ran through the class as Joe acted the part flawlessly. While I melted, shoulders slumped, my heart felt like a dark stone. It was too late to stand and claim the deed. No one would believe me, least of all, beautiful Connie…unattainable Connie.
I felt the fool and the dolt growing like a dark shadow about my head and heart. That feeling became a ragged cloak that I wore all through Junior High and High School.
That was 51 years ago. This year is our 45th class reunion. Connie will be there. According to the class historian and my hunting buddy, she is divorced, living and teaching in a small town in Southern Colorado. And, I am told, she is still quite stunning at age 62.
It will be interesting to greet her as a late middle-aged man. My guess is that those smoldering dark eyes are still burning. What effect will they have?
THAT, beloved, is a question which can only be answered by walking through the fear of the once skinny young boy. The man in me can do that, assuring that still present lil' feller that the grownup will speak for him with strength and grace...51 years later.