I wrote a love poem to a boy who lived in the single-story house behind us. His back yard met up to mine at the property line. I was nine and the year seemed suddenly all about boys—loving them, giggling for them, wishing they could tell you something about who you were or what you would be.
For the most part, they ignored me. A few hated me for my loud voice, but mostly they made me feel like there was a glacier bobbing up and down in my stomach. I was supposed to like them, but it also felt forced and frightening.
Ricky was different. I stared at him during breakfast and recesses, and he was nice to me, a few years older, even and benign. When we walked home through the yards of the houses on Main Street, we dragged our feet in fall leaves and just talked, the way you might with your parent or best friend.
I’m not sure why I wrote him a love letter. I wasn’t a good writer. At nine, my 2s looked like 6s and my bs looked liked ds. I knew they were usually wrong, but I could never tell how. I was certainly aware of my writing issues and deeply protective of them.
Ricky’s letter was on pink paper and I sent it to his house via my next door neighbor, Timmy, who was fat and couldn’t keep a secret. The plan was, Timmy would say the letter came from another girl in my class, and I would stand outside, waiting for Ricky to come out and ask me about it. It couldn’t have been a worse plan. Even for a nine year-old.
I can only remember one line, which he repeated when he walked through his backyard to where I stood, holding my salmon-colored letter as though it were trash or chicken bones.
“I didn’t write that letter,” I exploded. No one had said a word yet. ”But, I know who did!” Nine year-old me thought this was my “in” to offer and have “key” information. But Ricky was 12, which is a lot older than 9.
To my shame he said, not even with intentional cruelty, “Jamie, how do you spell hair?”
I blinked. ”I don’t know and I don’t care.”
He handed me the pink sheet of paper, the hot pink pen barely visible on such a close background hue. I love the way your hare goes. It said. Hare. It seemed wrong, it must be wrong, but something also looked so right. I walked in alone, leaving the letter in the dirt, hating all the tricky words curving up all the pages in the world.