Oh how I wanted him to like me. We had known each other for a year, just about; I was the new girl and Emmet was chosen to show me around the school. I still don’t know how he managed it since I did almost nothing but cry for the first 2 months; that’s another story though. Fortunately, time passed, I stopped crying eventually, made friends, and finished the 5th grade. For a whole summer Emmet and I rode our bikes around town with our friends Ruth and Ben and had dirt fights and collected rocks to throw at people and whatever long summer day stuff unsupervised kids do. Emmet was smart and had memorized a good portion of the Guinness Book of World Records by this time. I was just getting over being addicted to soap operas. I had cut myself off cold turkey and wasn’t even watching Merv anymore.
I liked Emmet in a way that I could not understand. He infuriated me by repeating everything I said to him. His intelligence was intimidating. His family had chickens and a garden. I liked this boy and wanted him to like me, but he did not. I swear sometimes I caught him staring at me but then he wouldn’t talk to me, which was also infuriating.
It was the summer of learning how to flirt and so Ruth and I were practicing on the guys in our vicinity. Her mom had given us some pointers but it wasn’t working out too well when I tried it on Emmet so I tried it on our friend Ben. That seemed to work, even if it was not what I wanted. I was pleased that my efforts had produced a positive result, though not on the desired candidate.
I don’t know how to explain childhood feelings except to say that while they are often a mess of other emotions thrown together into the soup pot, they are no less intense or meaningful than the feelings we have as adults. I think children experience things more strongly since they don’t have years of emotional calluses, scar tissue, and substances to blunt the feelings. Emmet and I were both 11 so I guess I could blame a surge of hormones, our bodies priming the carburetor of budding sexuality. But why do I still recall this episode, which might have passed along with so many others down the drain of growing up?
I remember Emmet’s face. His 11-year-old face when he saw that I was flirting with Ben and that Ben wanted to hold my hand (that’s about as steamy as this whole episode gets). And I remember how bad I felt; I can actually conjure up the emotions and feel the blow to the stomach, the constricting windpipe, the rise of panic, of “that is not what I meant to happen”. It was my first experience with shame and regret, looking right into the face of someone who, I found out much later, did like me but didn’t have the words for it yet.