My first love was Jill Dwyer in the 3rd grade. I was attending a catholic school at the time, Our Lady Queen of Peace in West Milford NJ, and she was my classmate. Jill had long fiery red hair, white skin with freckles and bright green eyes. I had never seen this combination before. To me she looked like an angel, or one of Strawberry Shortcake’s friends. Either way I wanted to be near her.
Jill was a little taller than me and wore the school-required plaid skirt and solid, short-sleeved dress shirts. Always buttoned up to the neck. Always smiling in her patent leather shoes with silver buckles. Having feelings for her, I didn’t know how to act around her so I remember treating her “just like one of the guys”. This non-special treatment I showed her did not make her notice me (which I found to be odd) but she was always kind. Always smiling.
One day on the playground, a boy noticed me looking at Jill and figured out I had a crush on her. He jabbed an elbow into my ribs and chuckled, “Well, you know what they say about red heads!” I did NOT know what they said about redheads and starred at him blankly. He starred back just as blank, apparently waiting for me to finish the thought. When I did not, he just turned and walked away. Looking back I don’t think he knew what they said at all. He probably just overheard someone else use that phrase and was trying to find out for himself. I don’t remember what his name was, just that he was twice everyone’s size and never tied his shoes.
Third graders at Our Lady Queen of Peace in North Jersey got to participate in “Show-and-Tell” on a pretty regular basis. This was similar to an Oral Book Report, although no reading was required. Nor was there any real attempt in learning anything. It kinda went like this:
“I have this thing that I keep at home, but today I brought it with me. It’s not my favorite thing. I never bring my favorite thing outside, let alone across town on a school bus full of idiots. I’m not meaning you people of course — you idiots are on a different bus route. Honestly, I wanted to bring something else, but Mom said it was too nice and it might break. I don’t see what the big deal is. Christmas is a month away and if it broke Santa could just make me another one.”
On this particular Show-and-Tell day I was thrilled to be bringing in one of my Star Wars action figures. Luke Skywalker! This…THIS will make Jill Dwyer notice me! Once she sees that I am into Star Wars she’ll have to like Star Wars too! And then we can play Star Wars together – forever! I had cleaned up Luke the night before for the Big Day and had placed him in my book bag next to my bed. I wanted to set him directly on the bookbag so I could fall asleep looking at him in anticipation, but we had a dog at the time. A dog that clearly worked for The Empire. So Luke was rolled up neatly in some napkins and tucked safely inside.
The next morning I dressed quickly, shoved Sugar Pops into my mouth and was early for the bus. The bus drove uncharacteristically slow this day. I was so anxious I wanted to pull out a lightsaber and slice the driver in half! However, it would be another 9 years before I got my driver’s license, and another 15 years before I got my bus license, so I spared him. Just drive faster. Idiot.
Twenty minutes later I walked into class. It was there that the height of my excitement was met by the depth of my disappointment — Jill was home sick. (If this was a movie, we would begin slow motion here.) “What???” I cried. “Why?”
The why didn’t matter. My heart sunk so fast and so heavy it brought me to my hands and knees on the dirty tile floor. How will Jill Dwyer know that I like Star Wars if she’s not here? My book bag slid of my shoulder and landed next to my right hand. I could feel my Sugar Pops coming back up. My classmates shuffled in past me as if they couldn’t feel the foundations of the earth collapsing… It was over between Jill and I before it even began.
I don’t remember her after this; it’s apparently the last memory I have of Jill Dywer. I had had my heart stomped out by a woman who never really talked to me even though I strategically ignored her in an attempt to make myself more attractive.
At my request the following year, my parents transferred me to another school, I grew out my hair and we changed religions. I was jaded.
I left Jill on her barren, desert planet to deal with her issues and (much like Luke Skywalker) I headed off to find my own destiny. A destiny that would take me well beyond any realm I could come up with using a 3rd grader’s imagination.
Funny how the movies we watch are not nearly as entertaining as real life.
My name is Curtis Johnston — and that was real life.