Spring had just begun to tiptoe in, ignoring the heckling of Old Man Winter, who as usual was violating his seasonal curfew. It was a late March afternoon and love was in the damp air.
A seventh-grader at Nokomis Junior High in Minneapolis, I was smitten by Jay (all names have been changed to protect the innocent and not-so), a boy who wore long bangs that flipped up at the ends, and bell-bottom jeans whose frayed hems swabbed the ground.
After the dismissal bell a group of us headed down the Parkway, strutting, ambling and racing in that particular way of adolescents who’re trying to prove something but aren’t sure what. Yellow crocuses and red tulips, their petals still wrapped tight against the chill, poked through patchworks of mud and snow, bright flags staking their claim. Trees showed off their new green finery but the sky scowled, gray and overcast, and a brisk wind blew back the ponytails and home-permanents-gone-wrong we girls wrestled with between classes in front of wavy lavatory mirrors.
Raw and windy as the day was, we left our corduroy jackets and poplin coats unbuttoned and unzipped, untamed as the season.
At Minnehaha Park, behind the stone wall that overlooks the falls, we elbowed and poked one another, watching the finally melted ice curtain gush over the stony gorge. From the jostling, a game of tag arose, and we chased each other around the Pavilion and the rickety old bandstand. When Jay was It and his hand slapped my shoulder, I almost swooned, recognizing a love tap when I was nearly knocked over by it.
A goofy, flat-chested girl with a chipped front tooth, I had a big personality around my girlfriends but it went undercover around boys, especially around Jay, who was out, way out, of my league.
“Just say ‘hi’ to him,” counseled my best friend, Robin, when he passed us (me in full blush) in the school halls, but my greetings and declarations of love were only telepathic, sent to him — or more accurately, to the back of his head — during Assembly.
On cue, April was filled with showers, and one rainy morning in Geography, I furtively paged through a Slam Book. Furtively, because teachers confiscated these outlawed notebooks, filled not with diagrammed sentences but with diagrams of one another. Each page heading was the name of a classmate, and underneath we gave anonymous pats (‘David Cassidy’s twin!’) and punches (‘Pizza Face!’).
Raven, who wore Capezio ballet shoes and at least a B cup, had a page crammed with plaudits like ‘Total fox!’ and ‘Super fine!’ On mine, one comment jeered, ‘Flat!’ but most read ‘nice’ or ‘funny’ and scrawled near the bottom were the words, ‘Kinda cute.’
Despite the lack of forensic evidence (I had never seen his handwriting), I knew the insightful poet that was Jay had written it, and Cloud Nine was too low for my spirits to dwell.
May sashayed in like the gorgeous diva it is, draped in perfume and jewel tones, and one afternoon midway through this merry month, Robin and I strolled the after-school teen promenade that was 34th Avenue, passing the Skylane bowling alley, the shoe shop and the bakery on our way to Zipp’s Pharmacy for a cherry phosphate and the latest issue of Tiger Beat.
By the Nokomis Inn, Robin whispered a reverent, “Look who’s coming.”
Bounding toward us was the bell-bottomed, flip-banged Jay, and I froze, the only movement in my body the racing of my heart. He was carrying a bouquet of lilacs, but just as I was about to reach out and accept this token of love I’d never doubted, just as I was about to speak to him for the first time with a sophisticated yet playful grace, Jay turned to cross 50th Stre et.
In front of Marty’s, the malt shop that served as the cool kids’ clubhouse/smoking parlor, a girl leaned against the window sill. It was ‘Super fine!’ Raven, and I could only stand and watch as Jay, with a little bow, presented her with my bouquet.
“Well, that stinks,” said Robin, which were my feelings exactly.
In springtime, crabapple trees sporting boutonnieres of pink blossoms join lilac bushes decked out in ruffly white and purple petticoats to pose on the green carpet that is Minnehaha Parkway. I live near it, just blocks away from where Jay probably purloined the flowers he gave to the wrong girl. Like junior high, spring will always be for me a season of possibility, exuberance and awakening, of colors and scents and crushes so tender you know they can’t last, but while they do you are present in them and they are a present to you.
Lorna Landvik’s latest novel, “Once in a Blue Moon Lodge,” is out this month. Her other books include bestsellers “Patty Jane’s House of Curl” and “Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons.” She also performs the one-woman improvised show “Party in the Rec Room.”