It was late in seventh grade when I was invited to my first “boy girl party.” I was thrilled to be included, but the murmuring rumors about what might happen there echoing along the green linoleum corridors of Lincoln Hall put a lump of fear in my throat.
I had heard that at a recent party, one of the many to which I had not been invited, one of the cool boys put his tongue in a girl’s ear. I’d never heard of such a thing, nor could I imagine why George or the girl would want anything to do with that, but George was clearly someone who knew what he was doing and I clearly was not.
In the Wednesday fish-stick smell of the cafeteria we sat nerdily discussing if there would be spin the bottle at the boy girl party.
Come Saturday we approached the host girl’s townhouse, a girl I hardly knew who lived with her mom (and no dad). The mom was vivacious and showed us three nerd musketeers through the kitchen and into the heart of the party: bright lights, scratchy plaid couch, awkward tension.
I sat alternating handfuls of Fritos and M&Ms for what seemed like hours. There was no dip, only me (the drip) and chips. Dancing happened, but I remained sewn into that couch (although my comparatively cooler friend busted some moves that made me realize he’d been watching “American Bandstand” rather more closely than I would have suspected).
It was announced that we would be playing, not spin the bottle, but “Postman.” The rules were set forth: one person went to a private room and sent a letter or package to a second person. A letter was to signify a kiss, while a “package,” or the number of stamps on the letter were code to clue the recipient about whether they would be going to first or second base or, gasp, beyond.
I was too nervous to fully take in the rules, but as the party went on and a few popular kids went back and forth up the narrow stairs to a land unseen and unknown by me, I grew bored and resigned to the notion that one could “play” Postman and never actually get any mail.
I was picking crumbs out of the Fritos bowl when someone whispered into my ear that I had a letter. I had so completely checked out by that point that I had no clue about whom it was from, but my heart raced as I climbed the stairs and entered a tiny bedroom where a girl stood in the dim light of a slatted closet.
Dreamy yet trepidatious I approached this towering girl—the very tallest child of all the kids in my class while I was the shortest of the boys. Wow, who would have possibly guessed that she was into me? She leaned down and planted a kiss on my cheek—about as sexually charged as being kissed good-bye by one of my mom’s friends.
I briefly thought about making a slightly more aggressive move, given that she had invited me up there and put it on the line like that when she said, “Maybe for your letter, you should pick someone who hasn’t been picked.”
All at once the briefest illusion about being desired, about being part of the cool kids, about being part of the Postman game crumbled around me as I realized that my letter was a Jerry’s Kids, March of Dimes sort of missive, a “please give,” letter and not a “Postman always rings twice” deal.
And so I picked a girl who no one thought was hot, although I really did think that she was cute, and when she came upstairs I kissed her innocently on the cheek as I had been taught, but I skipped the motherly suggestion and let her breathlessly request one of the oft-chosen boys who already had a sack of mail and probably needed some Chapstick by this point. And so I turned and trudged languid and bittersweet down the stairs to bring my message to the kissable boy—my last bit of action in the Postman game.
As a parent I look back and am delighted with the tall girl who was so kind as to include me, even if she wasn’t mature enough to leave me thinking that it wasn’t merely charity; but then again, now I’m also mature enough to consider that she might, just might, have actually liked me, but would have been too shy to admit that (and I certainly was too clueless to pick up any sub-sledgehammer level clues); maybe she was like me—too self-conscious to actually believe that anyone would really like her, being so tall and different and everything.
In a way maybe her tallness, her differentness, was also a sort of foreshadowing, as Andy tells me that she was the very tallest kid in her class and felt self-conscious and awkward about it in middle school. I almost always liked girls taller than me, sort of a Boris and Natasha archetype perhaps?
While we all want our kids to know that they are beautiful, wonderful and more than good enough, every one of them will face moments of uncertainty, feelings of being the imposter, the loser, the disappointment or the ugly duckling. Yet as parents we can stand together, not comparing and competing, but rather sending the big vibe, the big care-package that’s more nourishing and sustaining than a middle school letter here and a groping moment there, intuiting that all these splendid children will consciously join our group one day, but that even now, today, they are already in—loved and recognized as an inexorably part of our unity—that the group wouldn’t be a group without them.
So, as we struggle to not “go postal” in our darker moments (no offense to our valued actual mail carriers), neither rain, nor sleet, or snow nor gloom of night will stay us couriers from the swift completion of our appointed task: to love our world and all its collective children. Thus, ask not for whom the doorbell tolls, it tolls for we.