Will you go with me? Those were the five most romantic words many would hear, write or say when growing up in Smokane, Washington. What did it mean? Well, when in the 5th grade, I guess it meant you had exclusive rights to senseless and meaningless conversations with this person when school was over for the day. Ninety nine percent of the couples acted like they didn’t even like each other. I guess that was solid foreshadowing for marriage.
Stuck in traffic, on her way back from her new job as a weight calibrator for Big 5 Sporting Goods, my wife and I were talking on the phone. Yes, she was hands free. Since it was her first day on the job, we were going to celebrate that night. So, I did something I never did when we were friends in junior high. I asked her to go with me. Of course, she asked where I wanted to go, so I had to remind her of our childhood days when people would ask others to go with one another, meaning go steady with one another. Initially, she said she’d have to think about it, but when I told her I was cooking one of her favorite dishes, creamy parmesan chicken, she said yes. It then came to her attention that I never asked her to go with me when we were in the 8th grade. One, I just thought it was stupid, and two, our phone at home was only used for my guy friends and my father when he’d come home from work. That line would remain free because he was the first called when the business he worked for had a break in. Their security system, Sonitrol, would call dad before they would call the police. Anyone on our phone phone would soon hang up before he entered the door. We even used teamwork to keep the old man happy. I would be close to the door where I could still see the ballgame and picture window at the same time when he’d arrive. Tom would be in the upstairs kitchen guzzling milk from the carton, and Greg would be on the phone in the kitchen talking to either a girlfriend or guy pal. Upon arrival, I’d shout to Tom, “The old man’s home!”, and Tom would give the hand signal to Greg who would quickly hang up so we could give the old man a proper greeting. So, any chance I’d have to talk to Britt, who had her own phone in her room, would have to be at school. It presented a minor, yet significant challenge to our relationship.
Even though in the eighth grade we weren’t, legally, a couple, everyone knew we were steady. It wasn’t until she broke up with me that same year that I finally found out we were actually a couple. That took a whole new wheel off our wagon, and it would become a different story altogether…a story I will bore you with on a different day.
On the long commute home, Britt asked me if I ever went with someone before her. Sadly, my answer was yes. In the 5th grade, I befriended a girl during recess. Although it was innocent, we still had to hide our innocence from the recess Nazis. You know, the old stay at home motherly bags abusing their power because they wore paper mach’e badges. No swearing. (now referring to Cool Hand Luke) That’s a night in the box. No fighting. That’s a night in the box. No spitting. That’s a night in the box. No kissing. That’s a night in the box. No winking. That’s a night in the box. Oh boy, did they love having that power. I was once sent to the principal’s office for spitting while playing baseball during recess. Thank the Lord we had a reasonably smart principal or warden. When I admitted guilt regarding the crime I committed, he quickly rolled his eyes and told me to get back to the ball field and only spit when they aren’t watching you hit home runs. We both laughed and I knew he had larger issues to deal with as did I with this girl.
This friend of mine, Shelby, was very nice, smart and also funny. Three terrific qualities. I think she felt the same about me. However, she was a bit more mature than me. I thought we could have fun hanging out on recess, but only as friends. Not so fast. During reading class, while I had finished my school work early, I was busy reading one of the classics……..Mad Magazine, when I was handed a note looking like it had come from the office containing a chocolate bar. The note also contained a message reading, “Will you go with me? Signed by Shelby. I wanted to answer no to the question, but I also wanted to eat that bar of chocolate more than one of my mother’s delightful rice crispy treats. Therefore, how could I feel good about myself by answering no? So, ignorantly, I answered yes and gobbled up that delicious treat like a crow on a peanut. I guess I had a girlfriend. (Looking back in intelligent retrospect, I should have answered no, ate the chocolate and went to confession admitting my guilt and saying ten Hail Marys. Sin forgiven. Isn’t Catholicism sensational?)
Shelby had her own phone and now wished to call my home. When a girl calls a boy at our house, sirens blare and brotherly and sisterly vultures swarm your presence. Nothing but awkwardness. She did call twice. The first was during dinner, so I had a legitimate excuse to end the call quickly. The second one was a little more interesting. I answered the phone, wishing it wasn’t her, with a not so suave, “Hello”. It was Shelby, and the first sentence she uttered was, “I heard you broke up with me.” Now, that day, being very uncomfortable “going with” someone, I had mentioned to a guy friend I was probably going to break up with Shelby. Evidently, this person I confided in gave her the grave news before I could. So, when confronted on the phone by Shelby, meekly, I said, “Yeah. Is that ok?. Thankfully, she was cool about it. No tears, no screaming, just a simple, “Ok. See you tomorrow.” It was that easy. (Why can’t divorces be this easy?)
We remained only friends even through high school and I was even invited to her wedding years later. Just like in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, when the townspeople were leery of the relationship the Hunchback had with the gypsy girl, Quasimodo, said with an uneasy and defensive tone, “Twas the gypsy girl, she gave me water.”, I could, properly, during that 5th grade relationship with Shelby, say, “Twas the gypsy girl, she gave me chocolate.”
Over and out.