I'm sitting in a circle in the backyard of a friend's house on Pinto Lane. Its one of the shorter streets in the neighborhood, and the one I often had to run down to catch the ice cream truck. Its summer, so I might have just eaten one of those ice creams --my favorite was the strawberry shortcakes, but they were more expensive, so I usually settled for another favorite, fifty-fifty bars for only 50 cents.
In the circle around me are friends and acquaintances from the neighborhood, from my best friend to kids I barely talked to. Most of them were from two families who'd been fruitful and multiplied, as the saying goes. The gathering is inspired by the the visit of our friend Courtney (no relation to current Courtney's in my life, I've lost track of this one) who had lived on perpendicular Palomino Avenue and had moved away. And I believe it was she who initiated playing Truth or Dare.
It comes to be my turn, and Courtney asks the inevitable question: "Truth or dare?" I had seen what some of the other kids had to do when dared, so I thought I'd stick with the safe one. "Truth," I reply. Her next words will prove me oh-so-wrong.
"Do you have a crush on Matt?" she asks. My world collapses. I don't have space to exist, let alone breathe. My whole face tenses up as I try not to react. The world is ending.
"No," I say.
A small explosion of outcries bursts from the various parts of the circle.
"Yes you do Meagan, don't lie!"
"Its Truth or Dare, you have to tell the truth!"
"We all know you do, just say it!"
But I won't. To confess to my crush on Matt seems somehow like the worst thing I could possibly do. And I never wonder why. I just know I won't say it, can't say it, even though everyone truly does know. There was some small glimmer of telling the truth, but it quickly vanished. I ran home in shame.
Back. Back further, deeper in the recesses of my child mind. Four years earlier. I am five years old, riding in the car with my mom and her boyfriend's daughter, Tiffany. We are delivering presents to Nathan, my best friends older brother, for his birthday. Because you see, before there was Matt, there was Nathan. Before the sun rose and set on Matt -- which it did for many years -- Nathan had my love. He, also, could never know.(Do all small children crush this hard? I don't think so, but I also doubt that I am alone....)
We pull up in front of their house, and pull the presents out of the back. I'm apprehensive. Tiffany and I (for she has decided to have a crush on Nathan too) have enclosed small, short love notes with our presents. I am terrified. I wrote one because Tiffany did. At six years, she is bolder than me. More self-assured. And lives in the next town, meaning she doesn't have to see him often enough to be embarrassed. The note has fallen off my present in the car. This is exactly the excuse I need! Mine does not have to be delivered. I began to pout, pretending unconsciously that I am upset because Tiffany's note will be delivered and mine won't. Some part of me knows though, that I am pouting because I felt unworthy. Unworthy. I am unworthy to have a crush on this older boy, or any boy for that matter. I am ashamed of wanting him to like me back. Of wanting love.
The note is found though. My easy way out is blocked. I continue to pout though, and say, no, its too late now, never mind. It doesn't make any sense. I am just afraid to be seen for any attachment, any desire. I am not worthy.
This sense of unworthiness has not gone away, though I have acted in spite of it. For I did finally tell someone that I had a crush on him, when I was 14. And it led to a relationship of sorts (the junior high kind). It was one of the scariest things I've ever done. Since then I have expressed romantic feelings many times, but never without initial fear and awkwardness.
I passed a flower in the rose garden earlier this week, a white rose that smelled like vanilla. I wouldn't have noticed her among the dormant rose bushes had I not chosen to cut a corner through the garden rather than follow the right angles of the alternative path: a small gift from my choice to be present.
Today I walked by to discover that the roses have all been pruned back aggressively. Had I waited just one day or two later to cut through that path, I would have seen no roses, only stubs of thorny branches. I thought about picking the flower, but decided to let her live. Had I known she would be cut down soon anyway, I probably would have taken her. Its OK though, because then I might not have noticed the change.
I'm thinking of this rose as my Valentine's Day rose. Thank you flower. I honor you.
Maybe this story is my gift to the community for the season of love awareness (though in my spiritual tradition it is later in the Spring that we celebrate love). It is a sad story, but it is real. It comes from a distant time, a time of experiences and emotions as children know them, somehow deeper and more profound in their simplicity. Thank you for reading my story, for witnessing some of my memories of love.
Happy Valentine's Day.