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April 4, 2011 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

The Lessons of Childhood Romance

For those of you who are not fluent in my year 6 secret code, this translates to, “I love Lucy.” Lucy was a girl of age 9, going on 10. She had strawberry blonde hair, was good at ball sports and looked fantastic in sneans. Lucy was my primary school crush.

Although the obsessive intensity directed toward this girl in my diary seems that of a disturbed teen sacrificing a lamb to Satan, it was by no means a unique experience. At some stage in our childhood we were all interested in someone. It wasn’t so much a choice but an inescapable fact of being. It was the proverbial primary school crush; the most pervasive of diseases. Perhaps the crush resulted in ‘going out’, or, for the particularly infected, a quaint marriage performed beneath the kissing tree. Or maybe the most that ever happened was a poignant, one-off locking of eyes across the mat. I went around campus to talk to some students to hear their stories.

For Ciara, there was primary school jock, Dan ‘Da Legend’ McLay. “He was sporty and really good at drawing and he was funny,” she remembers. “We were practicing for the school disco and I had to be his dance partner. I was so embarrassed because I liked him that I protested in front of the entire year group just so he wouldn’t suspect that I liked him.”
Things were less complex for Bree. She dedicated a year of her youth to Ethan, co-leader of the kapahaka group. “He was the hottest boy in the school,” Bree says. Their time was largely spent on ‘Cock Rock’ with the other power couples of the school, holding hands and listening to Nelly. They were each other’s real-life Tamatgotchis, if you will.
Even in the darkest depths of 1990s South Island, the crush phenomenon was evident. Faithful son of Blenheim, Dan, remembers Abigail and Anna; two exclusive brethren identical twins who he could not tell apart. Dan says that, in Blenheim, most of the girls looked like guys, but not Abigail and Anna. They were different. “They were gorgeous. And feminine.” Dan remembers when they would walk down the science corridor, defiant to the incessant wolf whistles of the older boys. “They would not say a word to anyone—but then they would stop and talk to me. I was a total bro.”

But was all this actually love? Were our prepubescent minds even capable of such a thing? Were these experiences simply childhood fixations like those we had for the Spice Girls and Pokémon cards? If our erratic behaviour is anything to go by, then something heavy was definitely going down.

Bree is certain: “I loved him!” she says. “Ethan bought me paua earrings with the dolphins in them.”
Their love was confirmed with Burger Rings; symbols of their dedication to one another in marriage.

Harry’s behaviour took on a more peculiar but equally as telling form. He was so bewildered by the unprecedented emotions he felt for his crush that, in a recurrent act of self-deception, he referred to her as ‘Lizard Girl’ and pretended that he hated her. “She was hideous!” he still claims. One time when he was performing library duties, he issued several embarrassing titles under her name, such as, ‘The Life of a Lizard’, so that when the overdue list was read aloud, Lizard Girl was the laughing stock of the class.
Sure, I loved my Digimon cards, but never in a manner on par with what I felt towards Lucy. Maybe the psychotic (and sometimes demonic) messages in my diary are evidence enough, however the story behind the words is even more curious. The problem was that my best friend Finn liked Lucy too. Not only that, but Lucy liked him back. Little did I know, but Lucy’s power over us was so strong as to set in motion a series of events that would eventually lead to the implosion of my oldest friendship. At first though, the dynamics were just plain weird. One time, as a means of mutual benefit, Finn and I united to ambush Lucy outside of class to shout at her, “We love you, we really really love you.” Then we water-bombed her friend. It was love.

The whole process was so much simpler back then. There was none of this nauseating, adolescent angst. It was all highly rational and highly efficient. At many schools there were even spots delegated especially for the performance of romance. We had the gumption to propose out of the blue and we lacked the unfortunate social inhibition that makes us now feel awkward about practically everything.

We wanted simpler things too. Bree claims that all she wanted was recognition. She says, “Ethan and I kissed eventually at the end of the relationship, but that wasn’t what it was about. Nelly was far more important.” We didn’t want anything sexual. Well, perhaps a cheeky closed mouth pash now and then for appearance’s sake, but only for appearance’s sake. Nor were we looking for a connection that embodied some deep spiritual or eternal bond. I don’t even know what I was looking for, but I knew that Lucy was it.

Just because things were simpler doesn’t mean that our 5-10 year old hearts were any more immune to the kind of soul-crushing and loin-rupturing heartbreak that a lover can wreak. There is a reason that a crush is called a crush.

Ciara was crushed brutally. After bluntly refusing Dan McLay for dance practice, she decided to try her chances in asking him to the actual disco. He said yes, then he did not show up. “I’m pretty certain he told me he couldn’t make it because his brother tied him up in the garage and taped his mouth shut,” she recalls. “I was devastated. It definitely affected my trust issues.”

Bree and Ethan’s relationship ended in the most wretched of circumstances. After showing a dignified reluctance to match the level of pashing that her friends displayed, Bree faced accusations of being “frigid.” Her reputation destroyed, Ethan responded shamefully. He broke up with her through his friend’s girlfriend as proxy in a food court.
For Dan, his inability to tell Abigail and Anna apart was his downfall. “Sisters don’t like it when that happens,” he says. Instead of realising a life-long polygamous relationship he was forced to wed his dearest loves off to his best mate.

Not only was Harry’s heart crushed, but so too was his body. In retaliation to the library book fiasco, Lizard Girl pushed him over during a game of cops and robbers, slicing his back open on the sand pit. They say love is pain. Or is it, life is pain? Either way, things went bad for Harry.

I too, was heartbroken. Earlier I mentioned that my desperate pursuit for Lucy’s affection was disrupted by my best friend Finn. Finn had capital. I did not. Finn bought Lucy beanie babies. I could not afford beanie babies. I had to rely on my personality—my fucking personality. And that wasn’t good enough. Things culminated in a fist fight, my first and last; Finn vs Me. There were some loose punches thrown. The word ‘dork’ may even have been bandied about—hey, we were upset. The winner on the day though, was Lucy. And Finn. He did less crying than me. I don’t remember exactly what happened after that. Rumour tells me that Finn and Lucy met up after the final day of school and Lucy gave him an Avril Lavigne mix tape. That bitch.

Did we learn anything from all this? I guess it is possible that these experiments in love were all just the result of coincidence or peer pressure, and that they stand in isolation from our subsequent romantic interests. Or maybe they set a precedent for future heartbreak that will extend out before us in a relentless pattern of tragedy for the rest of our lives until our final lonely days of existence. Or maybe we just learnt from our mistakes, got smart and moved on.

All this love voodoo isn’t our fault. As the immortal Bloodhound Gang once said, “You and me baby, we ain’t nothin’ but mammals”. It’s wired into us so we may as well get through it as efficiently as possible. That’s why kids are da bomb. They have a remarkable ability to talk straight and act accordingly. That is the lesson here, if there is one. So, for once, I ask you to act like children. Despite the horrors that still haunt my youthful memories and has left my pride irreversibly shattered, I wish I could go back to those days. I wish I could go back to the days when I didn’t feel like a dork for creating fantastical pictures of myself with large muscles out of paddle-pop sticks and PVA as a gift for the girl I loved. I wish that it was still acceptable for me to use my fists to resolve romantic jealousy, and, most of all, I wish that sneans were still cool.


About the Author ()

Ollie served dutifully alongside Asher Emanuel as Co-editor of Salient throughout the tumult of 2012. He has contributed to Salient since 2011 and intends to do so for the rest of his waking life.

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