Californian Emmy

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.

In 1972 a secret love began smoldering deep within my Fourth grade soul. A new girl, Emmy, had joined our class in the first weeks of September. She was unremarkable; pleasant and present. It became known that she was from distant and mysterious California, a state I knew nothing about. As the first weeks of school became months, I found myself strangely attracted to this new arrival from distant coasts. I don’t know why Emmy B. made such an impression on me. I recall intense details about her: light brown wavy hair, a silvery laugh, and a slight accent, indefinable, something that set her apart from the New England kids in the cohort I had known since preschool. California began to appeal to me in some vague exotic way; notable because Emmy was from there. Her name began to take on significance and magic. I began to notice what she wore, how she smiled, what kind of jokes she made.

This was the first time I got a ten-speed bike. It was a Christmas gift, and it seemed to me a very extravagant thing. The down-curved handlebars and the dual stick-shifts really had me dazzled. I remember I had coveted this bike at the store and probably pestered my parents about buying it for me. It cost in dollars something close to the date of that romantic year of ’72, which seemed an impossibly high price to my mind. Later, as spring warmed the Northeast, kids began biking to school. It seemed noteworthy that Emmy B. rode a Motobecane racing bike, another exotic name I always associate with her in memory. My friend once mocked her by calling it a motor-pecan, and I flinched at this callous outrage.

It must be partly due to Emmy that I developed a love of rhyming poetry. Miss Prescott had asked all of us to memorize a poem. It may have been in late winter, I’m not sure. I chose Tennyson’s The Eagle, mainly because it was short but I also liked the sound of it. Emmy had developed an inseparable bond with another girl; it was one of those grade-school best-friendships where the two students are so often together their names meld into one, in this case DebbyandEmmy. They requested permission to memorize their poem together. Finally the week of recitation arrived. I had no problem rattling off my six lines of avian intensity . . . but later, Debby&Emmy blew the whole class away. They stood up and flawlessly intoned Alfred Noyes Highwayman in its entirety. I can still see them before the grey-green board and smell the chalk-dust of that hallowed moment. Those two girls looked us all in the eye, stated title and author, then launched into it, every galloping rolling stanza. I had never heard of it. I can never forget it. They did the whole thing from memory.

We presented a Greek drama that spring outdoors in a sacred grove .
It was the abduction of Persephone to the underworld by Hades.  I was Hades.
I think Emmy was Persephone but she might have been Demeter or a member of the chorus, not sure. The fact that I remember her as Persephone to my Hades says a lot. In any case, I recall adoring her in her chiton. As spring grew warmer, Emmy started wearing these embroidered girl-shorts to school. I have a distinct visual memory of the floral designs along the hem. By this time, I was smitten. I found her very . . . fascinating. She had said she was moving back to California at the end of the year. I learned that she lived on Appleton Street, about ten blocks away. That name began to conjure up magic in my fourth grade soul. Sometimes I would ride my bike past her home, a grey house with high walls enclosing a shady yard. With racing heart, pedaling past those high barriers, I would think to myself: somewhere inside that house lives Emmy, the mysterious Californian whom I adore. The place held my soul in bondage and enchantment. But I knew she was leaving in June and would not be in fifth grade with all of us.

When school ended that year, after the Mayday celebration and with the plaintive melodies still ringing, the reality that Emmy was leaving hit me very hard. I had not even said goodbye and now school was over. I rode my bike alone past her house, but did not know if they had already moved out. A great melancholy overwhelmed my mind. I never saw her again. I sometimes pray for her still.

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