Golden Mary

The loves of my childhood and youth were for the most part purely romantic obsessions which fuel and inspire my soul to this day. Until the end of 9th grade, I had never even kissed a girl. The most magical of my loves were the earliest, the most sublimated—and the most childish.

My first love was Mary of the golden hair. I was confused about beauty as a child. For many years I thought that being blonde meant the same as being “beautiful”. Perhaps this notion came from fairy tales, sappy TV specials, or Barbie commercials. Maybe even religious art (?) In Mary’s case, this conception was absolutely true. From Kindergarten to 6th grade, I dreamed vague dreams of Mary. An incoherent yearning would affect me when I thought of her. I longed to impress her. I became self-conscious and show-offy when I talked to her. I recall having hero-fantasies, in some mythical context, about saving her. I imagined myself as Tom Sawyer and she as Becky and we two trapped in the cave. I wanted to be good at sports—for her. I wanted her to like me and applaud my grade-school triumphs. I would write her initials, like some sort of magic cipher, on my composition book and then scribble over it or erase it before anyone could read it but me:

I LOVE M.W.   I love M. W.

Two anecdotes, two jewels of memory I will always cherish from the days of Mary:

I was actually not in her class that year. The obsession must have begun in 2nd grade the year before. My friend Charles and I were in third grade. I remember craning my neck often to look through the door that joined the two 3rd-grade classrooms, hoping for a glimpse of golden tresses of the distant Mary. One day, Charles invited me to his house following school. After being shown his glow-in-the-dark monster models, eating a snack and exploring the spacious garden, we played on his swing-set. In the elegant shadow of his family’s imposing home, Charles suddenly confided in me shyly. I recall to this day his foot scuffing lines in the sandy dirt below his swing to the sounds of passing traffic beyond the garden wall as he revealed his secret:

You know what? I love someone . . .

I found this intriguing, since I also loved someone in my heart of hearts.

I love somebody too, I said.

There ensued a couple of pregnant seconds of silence.

Then I asked him:

Who do YOU love?

Mary W, he murmured.

I was elated and crestfallen at the same time; elated because my playmate had confided such a world-shaking secret to me but also alarmed and disappointed that we both loved the same girl.

I said to Charles:

Guess what: I also love Mary . . .

I don’t remember anything further about that afternoon with my friend Charles. I only know that there was a slight confusion and momentary alarm, which passed quickly enough, as I realized that others besides me also loved Mary. We went on playing in the way all 3rd graders play and the afternoon lengthened into dusk . . .

The second fortuitous coincidence of my grade-school crush occurred the following year, in fourth grade. My yearning for Golden Mary was as strong as ever (although a new girl from California was beginning to glimmer and vie with the Marian magic). It was December. Amid the grey chill and icy slush of New England winter, the inner flame of Mary burned warm as Christmas vacation drew near. We were picking Secret Santa recipients out of a can held by our beloved Teacher, Miss P. I drew a small piece of paper and thrilled as I read Mary’s name upon it. I was amazed and elated at this marvelous and auspicious providence. I knew just what to get her. This was the early 70’s a everyone played with trolls, those pug-faced shiny-eyed plastic figures with long colored hair. The fateful last school-day of 1972 arrived. I am sure there were cookies, games, Christmas songs and assemblies . . . but what stands out 47 years later is this: when it came time to exchange gifts, there was a double delight from heaven for me. Now, this secret-Santa affair was strictly random; the 17 names of my classmates had been mingled in the can from which we all drew. The probability was slim that it could happen—but it did. Mary had also picked MY name and so we exchanged gifts that winter afternoon, as far as I know the only pair in the class who had picked each other. I think she also gave me a troll. Tell me there is no omniscient God ruling in fourth grade affairs.

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