Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reminiscing about my favorite girl…

Sometimes people come into our life and have such a profound impact in such a short time with just their “being”, that – even though we may not get to spend as much time with them as we would like or even get to know as much about them as we would like – at some point, we just have to sit back, accept, and appreciate that somehow, for some reason, we were deemed special enough to be blessed by someone truly special – even if just for a moment that is quite fleeting in the whole scheme of things.

In the Fall of 1980, when I started 1st grade, just such a special person came into my life only to exit far too soon when I moved away in the Summer of 1983 after the end of 3rd grade.  She had long brown hair; big brown eyes; a beaming smile that could light the darkest of Grinch souls; and an angelic niceness tempered with a heaping helping of sass and cleverness to keep one in line (which I needed at times).  Her name…Melissa VanOsdol.  Such a powerful, unbridled joy I felt with her that I’ve never felt since – oh, I’ve searched for that same feeling…through many avenues – but, 30-plus years later, it’s remained elusive.

She was the first girl to tell me I was “cute” (hello, ego boost!).  She was the first girl to say the words “I love you” to me who wasn’t my mom or grandma.  Obviously, the expression/meaning of those words when you’re the age of a 1st grader are comprised of a far lesser complexity than when you’re an adult – but – it still evokes a special feeling just the same.  Along these lines, she made this birthday card for me in class which I’ve kept in a safe place after all these years:

Outside of card

Inside of card

I do regret, as innocent as those three words were at the time, that I never said them back (to be fair, I’ve never said those three words as an adult either – they’re powerful words, more valuable than gold, so I keep them locked in a box labeled: “Open only in case of an extraordinary woman who is cool with my nerdiness”).

Anyway, that 1st grade year was pretty calm.  I don’t recall doing anything stupid, thus, I don’t recall Melissa and I ever being mad at each other – it was just a really special friendship…but always a bit different from the norm (I’ll explain later).  A lot of my memories of that year have faded away, but there are two that still stand out quite vividly. 
In the latter half of that grade (early 1981), Melissa was talking and giggling a bit too much for the teacher’s taste.  Well, back then, teachers still took us out in the hall and paddled us for misbehaving (I was never paddled…thank you).  She was taken out to the hall; our class got silent; and soon we heard the SMACK of the wooden paddle.  A few moments later, she came back in with tears in those big brown eyes…it devastated me.  I wanted to run across the room and give her a comforting hug and kiss right then and there.

The second memory happened after the school year was over and we were on Summer break – I’m pretty sure anyway – the event timing is fuzzy now, but the details are forever (I hope) engrained into my brain.  Well, I received an invitation to her birthday party (I was the only boy invited).  I wasn’t able to go on the day it was being held, so my mom drove me over to her house a couple days before the party to give her a birthday card.  When she answered the door, she was eating little powdered sugar doughnuts and had powdered sugar all over her face – sporting her patented beaming smile the whole time.  It was so funny!  I never mentioned to her that she had powdered sugar all over her face – I just gave her the card, shyly blurted out a quick “Happy Birthday!”, and just as quickly, turned and went back to the car.  I heard her say “Thank you!” as I walked away and the door shut soon after.  To this day, when I see those little powdered sugar doughnuts in stores, I think of that moment and get the biggest smile on my face.  That memory is one of my most prized possessions.

1st grade class photo
UPDATE 3-18-2015:  Out of respect for the privacy of my old grade school classmates, whom I've always cherished (even the ones I didn't always get along with way back then - haha), I have removed my old classroom photo.  If I knew for sure that people would be respectful, then I would keep it up - but for now, it will stay down.

2nd grade: 1981- 1982
2nd grade began the series of “tug-of-wars” in our relationship. 
This was the year I fancied myself as being quite the “ladies man”…a disastrous endeavor on my part that would prove doubly embarrassing years later (just keep reading).  Anyway, 2nd grade began well enough with me walking into class shyly with my head down (I had a tendency to do that in later grades as well), when I heard a sweet, familiar “Hi, Jason!”.  I looked up and saw eyes that were just as excited to see mine as I was hers (and if I may digress for a moment, is there a better feeling than to see that someone is just as excited to see you as you are them?  I want to experience that feeling again before I keel over…I’ll put that on my “Bucket List” along with space travel) – yep, Melissa and I were once again in the same classroom (two classrooms per grade)…this was going to be a good year.

Well, at recess we started playing this game called “Catch’em and Kiss’em”.  The name of the game pretty much explained it all – we boys would chase the girls; catch’em; and kiss’em.  Surprisingly, the teachers never broke up the game – it wasn’t until a month or so later that the Principal got a call from an angry parent and in turn gave us a talking to, ending that little game.  Anyway, this was the game that started my ill-fated “ladies man” persona.  It was the same group of us that usually played – Melissa did not play…until it was time for her to teach me a lesson.  She would often watch from the edge of the pavement (we played our game in the grass) hanging out with her friend Rosie (I think) and as I ran by and tried to get her to play, she would usually just give me a look – not of anger – but of disappointment.  I continued to have fun and play, winning many “battles” (i.e. catching and kissing many girls in front of her); but she ended up making a shrewd move that won the “war”.  I continued to try and get her to play, and one day, to my amazement, she did.  She ran out on the “field” and immediately got chased by other boys.  Then she got caught by other boys…a little too easily I thought.  Then she got kissed by other boys...wait a minute, this isn’t cool!  The next boy that went after her, I chased behind and, maybe not too accidently, tripped out of the way and began the chase myself.  Well, she sure was making more of an effort to evade my attempts at catching her than she did with the other boys, and the more I missed, the more she laughed!  I eventually caught her, out of breath, tried to kiss her, but she dodged me (I got a bit of her cheek as I recall) and instead led me over to a big tire that stuck half out of ground (we had a bunch of those around the playground).  We got under the tire, each with our back to either side of it, pressing our feet up against each other’s in the middle.  We spent the rest of that recess just watching and laughing at all the others playing and just enjoying each other’s company.  It was great.  We spent the next few recesses going to that same tire and doing the same thing.  Point, Set, and Match to her but I still felt like the winner.  It wasn’t too much longer when the Principal put the kibosh on that game and we all found other games to play at recess.

However, during the time of this game I developed another of my “ladies man” techniques.  A technique that, outwardly, was done to woo all the girls in class; inwardly, it was done for just…Melissa.  Besides my habit of wearing big belt buckles with my name on them (Urban “Dammit, Sissy!” Cowboy and The Dukes of Hazzard were popular at the time so I wanted to be like Bud and the Duke boys), I also had to have my hair perfectly combed – not one hair was allowed to stand up!  If water wouldn’t do the trick, then I resorted to dousing my head with cheap cologne – I shit you not.  I basically ended up with a perfect helmet of hair that would make any Lego figure jealous.  It was all so ridiculous but the girls liked me that year for whatever reason.  So, when we re-arranged our chairs to watch the Electric Company in class (on what had to of been the first VCR’s ever made – the tapes were huge!) I usually had a rotation of girls on either side of me who each had asked to sit by me.  I thought I was pretty cool.  Every so often, I would look in Melissa’s direction and she would just give me this look like she was going to kick me square in the balls before she would ever ask to sit by me.  I don’t know why I did what I did because Melissa was the only one I really ever wanted to sit by.  When I look back at it, I was basically just being a d-bag who took her feelings for granted and pretty much wanted every girl to like me.  I was so stupid.  Eventually, I did ask her to sit by me and luckily she did…and…she mentioned that my hair smelled good – thank you cheap cologne!

2nd grade class photo
UPDATE 3-18-2015:  Classroom photo removed - see reasons above.

3rd grade: 1982-1983
3rd grade was a rough one.  It started out well enough just like 2nd grade did – I walked shyly into class the first day with my head down and there was Melissa greeting me with a “Hi, Jason!” and her great smile.  However, a couple of new kids in the mix would see our friendship go a little topsy-turvy.

The one who would be the bane of my existence was a new boy named Alex.  He was our age yet he acted like he was 20 years older, and had a streak of gray hair on one side (seriously, who has gray hair at that age?!).  He always liked to spout off various facts like he was so much smarter than everyone else…what an asshole.  That aside, he would soon become the “Khan” to my “Captain Kirk”; the “Wil Wheaton” to my “Sheldon Cooper”.  The reason: he became Melissa’s boyfriend.  Aaarrrgh!  What added insult to injury was that he treated her the way I should have treated her the whole time – he was always nice and spent every free moment of the school day glued to her side…pissed me off.  Well, I semi-routinely made snarky comments about them being together in front of them.  I don’t remember what I said, but I just know Melissa wasn’t too happy with me.  I did it not only because I was jealous of course, but I noticed a change in her personality…she was still as nice and sweet as ever, but the sassy, clever side of her that I liked so well seemed to fade away.  I guess I wanted to get a rise out of her somehow.  Well, during one recess, things came to a head and I got my reaction.  After I said something stupid, a couple of the boys mockingly held my arms and told Melissa to punch me.  I looked at her, she looked at me, and she reared back and actually punched me square in the stomach!  The two boys couldn’t believe it, but I smiled at her thinking “Now, there’s the spirit!  That’s the Melissa I know and love,” and she ended up cracking a smile in my direction – she was trying not to, but she did.  Eventually, Alex and his cavalcade of useless facts must have worn thin on her, because they stopped hanging around each other much.  Yes!

Meanwhile, the new girl from that year, Jessica, and I eventually hit it off and she kind of became my girlfriend.  She was pretty neat from what I remember…but she still wasn’t Melissa.  Our little relationship started not too long before Alex and Melissa stopped being an item and was going along for a bit afterwards until one day out of the blue…Jessica had to move away.  The day she left is the only real memory I still have of her.  We were all in class when the Principal drops in and announces that Jessica is moving to Louisiana and is now leaving.  I was sitting by the door and she was sitting on the opposite side of the room across from me (our desks were arranged in a “U-shape”).  We just sat and stared at each other for a minute – I still remember the sad look in her eyes.  Then she got up, and we just continued to stare at each other as she walked out the door to what I hope has been a good life.  That was that.

So, at this point, I had some work to do.  I needed to know that Melissa didn’t think I was a total booger.  I couldn’t just ask her of course, that would make too much sense.  Rather, I tried to impress her with my soccer skills at recess.  Soccer became a big deal at recess at that time; me and my best friend, Bobby, liked taking turns being goalkeeper – we even wore gloves like the pros…we looked like dorks.  Sometimes I played in the field though too.  Well, while I don’t recall Melissa playing (she might have at times though) I do remember when she would be watching from the side.  When I saw her looking in my direction, I always made sure to step up my game or try and make an ordinary play look a little more spectacular.  Who knows if it had any effect?

However, I finally got my answer when it came time to do the dreaded Square Dancing in gym class.  We did the ol’ dancing in 2nd grade as well and I remember being Melissa’s partner on a regular basis.  This time, the girls got to pick who their partner would be.  Sure enough, Melissa was one of the first called up to pick.  Both of our classrooms were combined in the gym so she had the whole 3rd grade class to pick from.  I didn’t like my odds.  I remember her scanning the group while I waited to hopefully hear her say my name – or at the very least, not hear her say Alex’s name (Blech!).  She finally looked in my direction and kind of gave me this look like “I don’t know, you’re kind of a booger.” –  I didn’t take my eyes off her – then, I had my answer – she flashed that beaming smile of hers in my direction and said my name.  Yes!  She didn’t think I was a total booger!  Now, I was pretty excited on the inside, but on the outside, I had to stay cool so I walked up to her like “ok, cool, whatever”.  It was pretty great standing up there next to her waiting for others to pick their partners though.  I honestly don’t remember how the actual dancing went, just the picking process and the joy I felt from that is what remains in my brain today.

3rd grade class photo
UPDATE 3-18-2015:  Classroom photo removed - see reasons above.

The school years afterward: 1983 – 1992
After the 3rd grade, I moved to a new home and ended up at a different school.  I didn’t see Melissa again until the Summer before 6th grade at the Gladstone swimming pool.  I was there with my best friend, Bobby, as we had still kept in touch after I moved away.  Bobby reintroduced us (two years away in kid years was an eternity back then).  She had gotten even prettier than she was before and it made me feel a little awkward as I was still a skinny, little runt.  She hung out with us a bit before heading off with her friends.  That was the last time I ever talked to her.  I saw her once more the following summer at the same pool, but I was still awkward and skinny, and I was too chicken to go talk to her.  She was beautiful.  It was the last time I ever saw her.

1992, my Senior year in high school…through pure happenstance, I had a chance to meet Melissa again…but my previous d-baggery from 2nd grade reared its ugly head again and I wrecked it all.  I remember having my wallet out in class for some reason, and the next thing I know, a girl’s hand shoots over my shoulder and snatches it away.  “We want to see what’s in your wallet,” the one girl behind me said.  I didn’t care, I didn’t have any money in it.  However, I forgot about one thing I had in my wallet…up through my Senior year in high school, I kept the school picture of Melissa that she gave me back in 1st grade in my wallet.  Yeah, it was probably a little weird and creepy that I had that with me still, but she never stopped being special to me and I wanted the picture with me (luckily, my other girlfriends during that time never found it – whew!).  Anyway, of course the two girls pull out the picture and ask about it.  I told them that Melissa was “my favorite girl back in grade school”.  I got an “Awww, that’s cute!” out of it…but, it turned out that one of the girls, Becky, was actually friends with Melissa.  A day or two later, Becky comes over to me at lunch and tells me that she talked to Melissa and told her about the picture.  I held my breath not sure what to expect.  Turns out that Melissa told her that – yeah, she remembered me, but she was surprised that I had kept the picture of her the whole time.  The reason, she said, “I always liked Jason, but he always chased all the other girls instead of me.”  Ahhhh crap!  My 2nd grade d-baggery is what she remembered about me.  My uphill battle became unbeatable just moments later…one of the guys I was sitting with made a rude sexual comment relating to me possibly meeting Melissa again, and instead of putting that guy straight, I tried to be cool and went along with the comment and chuckled.  I’ve made some bad decisions in my life, but that may go down as one of the worst.  Following that comment and my reaction, Becky gave me a look so menacing that, if looks could kill, I would have been dead a thousand times over.  I was so embarrassed, I didn’t even have the nerve to ask Becky what I really wanted to ask – “Did Melissa have a boyfriend, and if not, do you think she would talk to me if I called her?”  Yep, fate tried to extend me a potential helping hand and I spit all over it.

Life goes on
The carefree days of high school soon ended and real life began.  I can’t believe 20 years have now passed.  I can’t say I consistently thought about Melissa in these past 20 years, but every once in awhile something would happen that would snap me out of my regular life and get me to thinking about her again.  I’ve never stopped thinking the world of her, and in fact, I think unconsciously I still compare new women I see or meet to her (I have a mental checklist), but I hadn’t consciously thought about her all that much…life goes on as they say. 

Well, there’s been two rather odd experiences during these 20 years that I’ve never been able to wrap my head around that involved her.   Both were dreams…very, very, vivid dreams – the kind where you think what’s happening is real until you actually wake up.  In early 2000, I had the single most intensely real/surreal dream I’ve ever had in my life.  I was walking around what looked like a big drive-in theater filled with cars from the 40’s through early 70’s.  People were hanging out and enjoying themselves.  I came up to a 1940’s-looking car with two couples hanging out by the rear.  I had no idea who they were, yet it felt like they were old friends.  They looked happy to see me and they told me that “She’s up at the hood of the car.”  I was like, “Ok?”…I didn’t know who they were talking about.  I went up by the hood of the car and when I saw her I was instantly hit with what was the most overwhelming feeling of love and pure joy that I had ever felt.  Also, I felt like I had known this woman (we were same age) my whole life – like I had met a long lost love or something.  She looked somewhat familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  The rest of the dream was us just talking a bit and enjoying each other’s company.  Just before she was about to tell me her name, I woke up (alarm went off to wake up for work).  I was so pissed that I had woken up that I got tears in my eyes because I wanted to go back to that dream and stay there with that woman.  It took me a few days to get over that one.  Fast forward to early 2006…I have another similarly intense dream, except this time it took place in some non-descript room (was almost like a waiting room in a dentist’s office or something) and this time I recognized the woman I was talking to.  I asked, “Melissa, right?” “Yes.  Hi, Jason!” was the reply.  I had no idea what Melissa really looked like at that time – hadn’t seen her since the time at the pool in 6th grade – but I just knew it was her.  We just talked and caught up on each other’s lives…it was so weird, yet so great.  Once again, I was pissed when I woke up because I wanted to spend more time in that dream.  The significance of those dreams? – I have no idea.  Why those dreams? – I have no idea.  All I know is that they were amazing experiences.  Afterwards, it was the last time I really, consciously, thought about Melissa…until a month ago. 

Last month, I found out that Melissa passed away in March, 2009.  I could not believe that the obituary I was reading was actually hers…yet, it was.  The bright, smiling light from my childhood, the source of powerful joy in two surreal dreams as an adult…was gone.  How is that even remotely fair?  The relationship we had was special but not typical…we never knew each other’s favorite movie, music, food, etc., or even each other’s hopes, dreams, fears, etc…the type of things that more typical close friends and family get to know about each other.  We just never bothered with that – we were kids after all.  We just took each day as it came and enjoyed the experience of just being in each other’s company.  It was brief, but amazing, and I feel like I’ve lost someone who I’ve known forever.  So, to think that those in Melissa’s life who actually knew her better and for a longer period of time than I could have ever hoped to, calling her “Daughter”, “Mom”, “Wife”, “Niece”, “Cousin”, “Aunt”, “Best Friend”, “Co-worker”, are also without her, just makes my heart break even more for them.
Melissa, you were always my favorite girl.
Your friend, with love,

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