In third grade I fell in love for the first time
Although I never really counted, because there wasn’t any hormones involved.
His name was Michael,
as in in Phelps,
because he was the swimming champ
And years later his naked abs would be plastered on campus magazines
But for now, he was my waltz partner.
Didn’t step on my toes once.
That was the year I realized I had a thing for guys
who could dance.
My friend Alex told me
that when you were nine years old
statistics showed, you found the person you were going to marry
I was ten
I got down on my knees right then
“Papa Jesus, I know I’m a little late,
but you’ve got to trust me here:
I think he’s the one.”
Talking to him was easy because,
when you’re ten,
talking is a casual exchange–
more activity than verbosity.
It isn’t a game of strategy:
of saying what’s right
instead of what you mean
He wasn’t the one.
When the new school year started we sort of drifted apart,
but I didn’t care.
He was an abstraction, you see.
Not so much a boy as he was
the idea of a boy.
(Little I know this would establish a precedent.
Ten years later and I’m still falling
for ideas of boys.)
So, when I turned eleven
and God didn’t send wedding bells my way,
I didn’t mind.
By then, I was learning to navigate the shark tank
that elementary school had suddenly become.
I had no friends.
That was the year a girl with perfect hair
passed my diary around to the whole class.
I felt like I’d been raped.
It was no time for keeping secrets.
I turned twelve
and fell in love–officially–for the first time,
with the back of a head viewed from the back of the room.
He was, classic, the new kid in school:
twice as smart as any of the boys who had bullied me
in those dark shark tank years.
So I established a courtship of mutual animosity
thinking if I outsmarted him he would want me.
That didn’t go too well
Instead, he fell
for a pretty, willowy girl with doe-eyes
who was smart, but didn’t make a point of showing it
and moved like a little lady instead of a refugee.
He broke my heart.
First time I’d ever had it broken.
And that is when we established a pattern
of being unable to speak to someone
with different private parts
Because he made it clear that the parts of me I thought I liked
were better off being kept private.
And so friendships were impossible to establish
because what is a friendship, really, than the ability
to strip our souls naked
and not be judged?
At twelve years old I learned I couldn’t be friends with boys
Instead, I got a lesson in Machiavelli
“It is better to be feared than to be loved.”
So I made them fear me–I roared and shouted and ordered around
I built a wall and thought it would work
but they still. Kept. Laughing at me.
And they still. Didn’t. Want me.
I fell for artists.
I fell for slow-speaking band-boys with quirky names.
Thespians. Rich boys with pretty faces–
and not much else.
Charmers and alarmers and guys who felt
too perfect to be true.
And along the way, the common denominator was
that if they got too close
I would somehow lose the power of speech and trip
over words that had sounded so right
in my head but on my lips sounded like a death sentence.
after a series of one-sided indiscretions
ended not in ridicule, but in acceptance,
I suddenly discovered that talking to boys
wasn’t as hard as I’d thought it was.
Been taught it was.
Took nine years of reeducation before I realized
that as you grow older
the divide between gender and communication
becomes smaller and smaller because you start
seeing each other
not as private parts…but as people.
And so now I have boy-space-friends.
But don’t call them that.
They’re my friends.
The same way I’m not a girl-space-friend.
I’m just a friend:
someone with whom a connection is shared
regardless of whether or not I can pee standing up.
And it’s like being ten again
When talking was an activity,
not an act of strategy.
And the best part is
I don’t need to be feared to be understood.
And so I’ve grown
less frightened of speaking my mind
because of these brothers,
who have stood behind me and said
that you are not to be judged
on your gender
or your ability to say the right thing.
Because there is no right thing.
There is only what you mean.
And who you are.
You do not need to be ashamed of that.
And so that, is how I learned to talk to boys.