I don’t remember much about what I learned in the fifth grade. Sure, I was an honorable student who brought home parent-pleasing report cards, but if you asked me to recall specifically the lessons that were taught or even the title of a single book that our class read, I couldn’t do it.
You see, when the inner workings of my brain conjure up that time and place, instead of finding mathematical metaphors or English equations, I remember the more important, stimulating subjects from the moment — like the Spice Girls, Tamagotchis and the topic I devoted the majority of my attention to: Daniel Fisher.
Predictable, I know. That a pre-pubescent male with freckles, albeit faint ones, was my sole motivation for getting out of bed and going to school each day. (Only after washing my hair with Herbal Essences and donning my latest Limited Too look, of course). But in my defense, dear reader, Daniel wasn’t an ordinary boy. Daniel was from England.
That’s right. Now to convey the importance of that fact, imagine my frizzy 10-year-old-self in all of her bourgeois glory informing her parents: I have a crush on a boy and he is from England.
As a military brat who had recently been uprooted from the cornfields of Nebraska and planted down in the surf suburbs of Southern California, I was already pretty pleased with the upgrades of my surroundings. But a classmate from across the pond? That was unprecedented in my life experience. Was he friends with the royals? Pssh, probably. Aside from offering dual citizenship, Daniel had many other charms at his disposal. He was wildly intelligent, dryly funny and, the piece de resistance in cementing any attraction, completely oblivious to my existence.
It’s worth noting that despite Daniel’s exotic status he wasn’t particularly popular per se; my girlfriends were baffled at my selection and wondered why I didn’t draw another, more obvious boy’s name inside hearts on my binder. Maybe Cody, Kyle or Zach? AKA, the blonde babe triplets that every girl in our fifth grade class pined after. I agreed that they were nice to look at in a Ken doll kind of way, but I took pride in my individuality and how original could liking one of them be? There were three of them!
Steadfast in my sentiments, I remained loyal in my feelings to Daniel even in the face of mockery. His surname lent itself all too easily to a popular novelty song at the time — Pepperidge Farm’s “I love the fishes, because they’re so delicious!” became remixed at recess to “Jess loves Dan Fisher, because he’s so delicious!”
Naturally, the jingle was accompanied by the literal throwing of cheesy crackers in the direction of my face. (Don’t worry, I ate them).
Between the flying fish on the playground and the fact that I am incapable of keeping my own secrets, it was inevitable that Daniel would find out about my infatuation. On one particular balmy afternoon, I made the mistake of opening my big mouth to an even bigger mouth, Viva. (Yes, like Las Vegas). With her hair in cornrows, a grown-up sense of style and a disposition marked my unabashed sass, Viva was already a person to know. But the fact that she shared a table with Daniel in homeroom made her all the more intriguing.
Desperate to gain insight, I spilled my secret to Viva during P.E. while waiting in line to play Tetherball. My BFF Natalie immediately questioned my judgment in sharing such sacred information so casually, but I assured her that Viva was sworn to secrecy under the legitimate contract of an NDA pinky promise.
Like a foreboding sign from the gods, the school bell sounded in its hollow, shrilling way, signaling the end of gym hour. I headed back to class carefree and composed, skipping in my Vans over Tic Tac Toe games that were etched onto the cement in colorful chalk.
No sooner did I sit down in my desk than our teacher Mrs. TeeWinkle (Yes, that was her name) declared in a high-pitched voice that it was time to work in groups. I scoped out the floor for my partners, then instantaneously froze when I noticed something dreadful happening across the room: my new ally Viva was snickering into Daniel’s ear. I watched in horror as she whispered and twirled her woven locks around her finger, a move that could only mean one thing.
I felt my face getting hot as Daniel attentively nodded, raised a brow and then knowingly turned his head to gaze in my direction. In a knee jerk reaction, I quickly averted my focus and pretended to laugh at something — just like I learned from Clueless! — even though no one in my group had spoken a word. Their confused glances flew past me like tiny missiles, barely causing a flinch in the wake of the atomic bomb that had just been detonated. No no no no no no no no no.
What happened next was one of the true slow-motion moments of my life. Daniel excused himself from the table, stood up from his seat and made a diagonal beeline towards my corner of the classroom. The adrenaline pulsed through my veins and poured out through my hands in sweat beads that caused me to lose grip of my favorite Yikes pencil. It went free falling towards the ground, but I let it go because to pick it up would translate to wasted time in prepping my defense.
With every monumental step that Daniel took, my brain formulated twenty new possible scenarios that might soon unfold — all feasible outcomes except the one that actually transpired. Sooner than I was able to figure out how to self-spontaneously combust, Daniel reached the front of my desk.
I swallowed what air I could as he confidently crossed his arms, stared into my eyes and announced: “Viva says you like me.”
At the sound of his debonair voice speaking the dreadful phase, I felt my heart drop to my stomach while I clinged onto every possible response. WHAT WOULD I DO? WOULD I VEHEMENTLY DENY HIS CLAIMS? PLAY ALOOF? OR FLIP THE STORYLINE AND PUBLICIZE I HEARD HE LIKED ME?
Nope. Foregoing all of the logical, expected routes, I birthed an entirely unique comeback.
After the words VEEEEEEEEVA-SAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYSSS -YOUUUUUUUUU-LIIIIIIIIKKKKKKKEEEEE-MEEEEEEEEEE found their way out of his mouth and into my conscious, I waited for a pregnant pause to pass, shrugged my shoulders and said back in a cool-as-a-cucumber tone…”So?”
The two small letters went off like surprise fireworks, blinding my classmates and self with their brilliance — meanwhile completely deflating Daniel’s ego. Stumped at what to say, he furrowed his brow and quietly turned away, retreating back to his table between lasers of bewildered looks. Now a quiet catalyst in the corner, Viva pleaded at me with puppy-dog eyes for forgiveness. I shot her a stink stare.
Having survived the unimaginable, my next move was the only thing left to do: I raised my hand and asked to be excused to the bathroom.
Once I touched safely down on the pink tiled floor, my guard immediately dropped and the weight of the last few minutes and months released itself in the form of hot, steady tears.
I cried in no particular order because of the betrayal I felt from Viva, the shame in my own ignorance and, most prominently, because of Daniel’s neglect to run across the room and kiss me. But once the superficial splashes passed, the wailing proved to be more illuminating; my sobs were then met with smiling at the fact that I had made it through the worst, and hey, things weren’t so bad.
I washed the last drops away with water from the sink, patted my face dry in my hands, then looked up in the mirror at the girl who now saw the world in color. Without hesitation, she glared wide-eyed right back at me and revealed a piece of infinite wisdom: “Thank God it’s Friday.”