I’m in the first grade and falling in love
for the first time. In alphabetical
order we sit—I’m the first A of A’s
so that she’s sitting next to me, both of
us at the vanguard of the first two rows.
I love her because she’s near—I don’t know
that then but have figured it out since. I
love you, I write. Do you love me? I pass
the note to her, she reads it (and smiles), writes
something down, and hands it back to me. I
love you, too, it reads. Do you love me? I
do, of course, and say so again with my
thick pencil and my tongue sticking out of
my mouth. I give the note to her—it’s
heavy with sentiment and I almost
drop it. Yes, I’ve written, I love you. Do
you love me? This goes on until it’s time
for recess. I’m too overmatched to play,
so I stand and watch my friends bounce kickballs.
When I look away she’s there beside me
—I don’t know what to say that I can’t print.
She won’t stop smiling and I don’t know how
to act, so I hit her, on the shoulder,
and make her cry. She runs away and I
don’t know what to do but join my friends and
wait my turn to kick the ball and get on
base—I hope. I don’t. Back in the classroom
I write another letter: I’m sorry,
it claims. I love you. Do you love me? I
dangle it across the aisle to her but
she won’t bite. She doesn’t even see me
though she does. I lean out farther and try
to waft it to her desk but it has wings
and glides to the dirty tile floor. I rise
to pick it up but Teacher says, Sit down,
Gale. At least I think it’s Teacher but for
all I know it could be God. I give up
love for the first time then—it hurts too much,
like something I really want but can’t have,
like superpowers, a big allowance,
no chores, good marks, and living forever.
When the final bell rings I’m reaching down
to pick what I’ve been feeling off the floor.
I read it again and then wad it up
and put it in my pocket. On the bus
I fish it out and smooth the creases flat
and read it until it doesn’t make sense.
After dinner I get the shovel and
bury my confession in the yard, where
all our dead pets lie until they go to
Heaven. Maybe my letter will go, too,
on Judgment Day, when I’m dead myself. God
will show it to me again. You wrote this,
He’ll say. Come on in. I will, and angels
will be singing about the kind of love
I really know something about, I mean,
the kind without people goofing things up.
I look back and see God shaking His head.
I’m not too bright but I’d make a fair martyr.