In October JFK had just brought us through the Cuban missile crisis. By February I was a third grader unsure I'd survive my own doomsday crisis: The dreaded Valentine's Day card exchange. I'd rather face down a flotilla of Russian destroyers loaded with nuclear missiles than tell the girl who sat next to me the truth.
Nancy wore an eyepatch. She had the most beautiful brown eye in the world. She was everything an 8-year-old boy could want: a girl and a pirate.
Every morning with my hand over my 8-year-old heart I pledged allegiance to Nancy. And that for which she stood: my first love, unforgettable, with stolen glances and a heartache for the whole entire year.
I drew spaceships, machine guns and floating eyeballs. Cool boy stuff. Watching her out of the corner of my eye I marveled as she drew perfect butterflies, unicorns and rainbows. Lame girl stuff. In spite of the fact my cool tank could easily blow up her ridiculous butterflies, I knew we were meant for each other as surely as George was meant for Jane Jetson.
Jan. 9 10:25 a.m.: Nancy's pencil rolls off her desk, onto the floor between us. We both lean over to pick it up. Our eyes meet. She leans over too far. Her desk tips over with her in it. She lands in front of me. Upside down. I see Paris. I see France. I see my stunned self, gaping like a frozen Goofy, mouth open, chin dropped to my chest, silently mouthing the word, "G-a-a-a-rsh".
"I hate you! I hate you!" She spoke to me. Nancy spoke to me!
She hated me until the day I drew Mrs. Weed with horns. I slid it to the left side of my desk and coughed. Nancy giggled.
"Something amusing you'd care to share with the rest of the classroom, Mr. Fitzsimmons?"
As Mrs. Weed tugged me by the ear out into the hall. I turned to see Nancy smile. Wouldn't be long until we'd be sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage. Marshall K-GUN would marry us and Sky King would fly us to his ranch and we'd live on Rice Krispy Squares and stay up as late as we wanted watching Red Skelton forever. Our children would be named Rocky and Bullwinkle.
In our bathroom I stood on our step stool and made a fist. I'd never kissed a girl. My sister said I needed to practice. I moved my thumb like a puppet's lower lip and practiced kissing my hand in front of the bathroom mirror over and over, unaware my father was watching me from the hall way. "What is wrong with you? Your mother has something for you."
Mom had picked up a pack of stupid Valentine's Day cards at McClellan's. The ones with lame cupids. Who would give flying babies arrows? Cursing cursive I signed each dumb card until I came to the last card. What should I draw in Nancy's card?
"Girl trouble, big boy?"
Like I'd tell dad I was in love with an actual pirate queen. The last thing I wanted was either of them knowing Cupid had shot an arrow straight through my heart. Just like that poor stagecoach driver in "Gunsmoke."
"Where you taking your dream date? Midway Drive-in?"
He pointed at me with his six-shooter finger.
"I'm here for you, buster. Off to work." He kissed mom. Double gross. I sealed the tiny envelopes. Perry Como and Andy Williams crooned on the radio as mom packed my lunch. Moon River. And Nancy. And me. We're after the same rainbow's end.
I didn't hear Mrs. Weed say, "Take out your homework." I was distracted by the most beautiful girl in the world. Nancy's hair smelled like strawberries. I swear. She caught me sniffing at the air between us like a golden retriever with my eyes closed.
She rolled her eye. Dork. I took out my homework. At recess I hung upside down on the monkey bars with my pals, discussing the harmful effects of cooties. I claimed I hated girls. The bell rang us in. It was time to distribute our valentines. I lifted my desktop and froze. Did I really draw a heart on her card? Argh. Tell Nancy how you feel? That's insane! The humiliation! Is the accused an idiot? Your honor, I give you Exhibit A: A big fat stupid heart, hand-drawn by the defendant with the cowlick, missing front tooth and with 327 freckles.
Mrs. Weed asked us to pass our envelopes up to the front. I prayed for a nuclear strike. The rest of you can duck and cover. Not me. Take me now. I slammed my desk top down and shouted my lie, "I forgot to bring my cards to school!"
My G.I Joe would never get to meet her Barbie. She'd never get to see my cool Mickey Mantle baseball card. We'd never double date with Boris and Natasha. I'd never get to peek under her patch.
Indifferent as a cat, she eventually moved away. Playground crushes came and went like kickball games and summer rains. My weird crush on "The Flying Nun" and my dreams of a genie named Jeannie gave way to flesh and blood distractions.
Decades later, Cupid nailed me with an arrow. A note was attached. "Schoolyard crush: The Sequel." Obeying my heart I wrote my new friend a note, asking her to coffee. Checking it over carefully, I made certain I had signed it. Next to my name I scrawled a hand-drawn heart.
Email Star cartoonist and columnist David Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org