When I was in kindergarten, I had a crush on Katie Gomez. She started the school year a little later and sat at a table different from mine. Her lunch box was always filled with all kinds of goodies that she shared with anyone around her. All the guys liked Katie. Even boys in other classes liked Katie. She was very popular for a 6 year old. That year, I learned the basic concept of competition. I wanted to have her all to myself. This was a lottery I couldn’t win if I had to compete with every other boy in the grade.
One day at recess, Jamaal Cummings told her that I liked her. She said “Ok.” It was that simple. We were a couple for a week. It was the happiest time of my life.
As I got older, love became a super-sized version of my kindergarten class. All the Katie Gomezes of my life became increasingly beautiful each passing year. They also became harder to obtain. Like a game of Tetris, where each level is faster than the last. After “Do you like me? Circle ‘yes,’ ‘no’ or ‘maybe,’” there was no turning back. You had to do your homework on these girls, and sometimes, in my case, you did their homework as well.
Girls were a puzzle I wanted to solve. I thought I found the answer in third grade, when I’d give my weekly allowance to Makeeda Wilson, and she’d let me kiss her and touch her in the back staircase by the lunchroom. She’d ask to use the bathroom, and I’d wait a while before I asked for the boys’ pass to leave as well. My little hands would bathe in sweat as I’d find her smiling, waiting anxiously for me. Her tongue tasted like cherry Now and Laters, her clothes smelled like they were fresh out of the drier. In the presence of all our classmates, she’d ignore me. When she wasn’t ignoring me, she was making fun of me, but she was all mine in Staircase B near Exit 5.
One day, I heard from Tiffany Valentine that Makeeda was telling everyone that I smelled like fish and had bad breath. I don’t know if it was part of her disguise, but we never met in the staircase again. At the end of that year, her parents moved down south. I never saw her again.
Kandy Rivera called my house one day when I was eleven to tell me that she didn’t like me anymore. In fact, she never did like me, and she had a boyfriend all along. When I was thirteen, after a month of kissing and finger popping, Vanessa Acevedo sent her friend to tell me she didn’t want to “mess” with me anymore. I still hadn’t figured out the puzzle.
I found myself studying girls. I’d do research on them, trying to find clues and hints as to what I could do to make them mine. I’d go to the library and take out books with titles like “Are You A Good Kisser?” “Flirting 101,” “How To Make Every Girl Want You,” and “Secrets of Body Language.” I’d devour the books and keep everything I read guarded. I had a new secret weapon.
By the time I reached high school, I became an expert at attracting the ladies. I wasn’t exactly a ladies’ man, but I was quite popular amongst the girls. The trouble was, though I could lead them to water, I couldn’t get them to drink. My guy friends didn’t have that trouble. They were the ones with stories of conquest in the locker room. They were the ones with crazy filled weekends. They were the ones with numerous flings. All my actions had garnered me an anti-reputation. I was the nice guy. I was the quintessential friend.
Girls knew I was the one they could talk to when they needed to unload. They’d cry on my shoulder and vent their stories of hurt and betrayal. I developed a knack for listening and understanding. Those were the cement shoes that kept me at the bottom of Lake Friendship.