Blue Skies, Starry Starry Nights and Chalk
What does a ten-year-old know about being in love?
When I was ten I knew I got a spacious feeling inside my chest when I lay on the grass looking at the blue California sky.I knew I felt like the world would never end when I smelled the ocean.And I knew something inside of me stood up and paid attention the first time I saw Michael Potrero.
"This is Michael Potrero, class. He's a new boy who'll be joining us.”
There he was standing next to Sister St. Thomas at the front of the room and an invisible ribbon of energy immediately unfurled from my heart, wrapping itself around his young body.He was the cutest, the smartest, the funniest, and the most athletic boy I’d seen. He wore his shiny brown hair parted on the side and by lunch time curls had popped out and fallen down over his eyes. He never just walked to his desk, but raced to it at a near run, unfolding the seat and sliding into it in one swift motion.
I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
I wasn't sophisticated enough to call it love, but whatever it was called it felt like blue skies and ocean breezes and every morning I would take all my feelings to class with me where I waited for Michael to walk in the door so my day could begin.
"Mr. Potrero, please put today's homework assignment on the board."
Strong even letters would flow from Michael's upraised arm in straight lines across the board, his hips moving from side to side as he wrote.I loved his handwriting and I loved looking at his homework assignments on the board.It gave me a delicious feeling in my legs.
At first Michael acted like I didn't exist but every now and then he would flash a beaming boy smile my way for no obvious reason at all.
I was thrilled.
On the girls' playground I began to get teased."Carmie loves Michael. Carmie loves Michael."Their teasing hung in the air.It wasn't friendly teasing though, or even envious teasing.It was mean teasing.
Michael hadn't been accepted among the tight-knit groups at St. Christopher's. In those days conformity was a virtue and his spirited ways and latent sexuality disrupted the norm.He also came from a "broken home," a frightening concept in our Catholic world.He didn’t have a father and it was whispered that he and his mother lived in strange circumstances on the other side of town.Most of St. Christopher's students lived in the neat bungalows near the school and they all walked or took the bus together.Michael was dropped off by his mother on her way to work.After school he’d play basketball by himself until she came to get him, sometimes not until dark.
Kids had absorbed their parents' murmurings and the rumor mill ground away at his life.His outsider status didn't put me off.Coming from a working-class immigrant family myself, I didn't judge his home life.In fact, I happened to see Michael being dropped off by his mother one morning when she leaned over to him pointing a slender finger to her cheek.
It was a tender kiss that Michael gave her and I wished I could have had it for myself.
After Easter break I had to start doing after-school chores to help pay for tuition and would take my bucketful of erasers to the breezeway behind the buildings. One day, Michael showed up.
I put the bucket down and sat on the ground next to it wanting him to go and wanting him to stay all at the same time.Clap. Clap.Floury clouds of dust puffed into the air in front of my face.
"Want some help?"
I looked up at Michael through the chalk powder.There was a bright outline around his head and shoulders where the sun shone through the blue sky into the breezeway.Without waiting for an answer he reached into the bucket, picked up an eraser, and sent it flying toward the wall across from where I was sitting.It hit the bricks with a solid thud and fell to the ground.Again and again he threw erasers at the wall.I watched mesmerized as bursts of chalk turned the dark brick wall into a starry, starry night.
On the first day of sixth grade I was walking to my bus stop when I saw some marks on the sidewalk a ways in front of me.As I approached I could see it was a drawing in chalk of a big heart and when I got to it I was stunned.
Written for all the world to see were three simple words:
"Michael loves Carmie.”
I knew Michael had written it.I recognized his handwriting.
We lined up on the playground in a buzz of anticipation about the first day of school.
"Has anyone seen Michael Potrero?"
He wasn't there.Didn't I know?He had to go live with his grandparents. He wasn't coming back.
I would never see him again.
Stunned, I remembered my chalk heart bravely waiting on the sidewalk for me to pass by.
As the line of new sixth graders began to move toward the classroom I turned off and headed for the girls' lavatory.In the mirror I imagined Michael’s smiling face and knew that even though the chalk heart he had left me would eventually get scuffed and faded, it would never disappear.I also knew that 10-year olds do know about love.Of course they did. I loved Michael and he loved me.He said so.
"Michael loves Carmie."