The Aches and Pains of a Kindergarten Heart


Believe it or not, this could have been the face of a married man. (Courtesy of Jim Weddell)


When I met my first girlfriend, I was four years old. I use the word “met” because I really had nothing to do with us becoming a couple. She claimed me on the first day of preschool; I was just an innocent bystander.

Believe it or not, this could have been the face of a married man. (Courtesy of Jim Weddell)

The boys were on one side of the room; I was sitting on the floor, building Lincoln Log cabins with my best friend in the whole world, Sam, whom I had met an hour previous. He liked dinosaurs, too.

While we were playing, the girls were sitting in a circle on the other side of the room, being mysterious. We were oblivious as the girls discussed classroom romances, an indicator of the love-life dynamic in the years to come—dopey men, unaware of the important conversations that take place amongst women who give them too much credit anyway. Clueless, an instinctual urge told me to continue stacking blocks and banging sticks together, as my cave ancestors had done in their day, when I heard the question from across the room: “Who’s your boyfriend?”

Sensing danger, but not fully comprehending its power, I lifted my head in time to see a blond-haired girl aim her index finger straight at me, like she was choosing a puppy in an animal shelter. The other girls turned to assess our newly formed relationship. I stared stupidly back at them, and they giggled. The more mature girls nodded their approval, and turned away.

Her name was Maura. She was 35 pounds of finger-painting, freeze-tagging charm, and I accepted her challenge. I would sit next to her when we made Mother’s Day cards. I would lend her my favorite crayon. I would be her friend that was a boy. Whatever that meant. I would not take her crackers.

Unfortunately, my first girlfriend was also accompanied by my first love triangle, completed by a 40-pound terror named Tyler.

Tyler hated me with every inch of his bony body, and expressed his love for Maura by punishing me for the next two years of my preschool life. For a young boy unable to adequately express his emotions, it was still very clear how he felt. In lieu of saying, “I am jealous,” he opted to push me off the top of the slide. Instead of holding Maura’s hand as they shared a fluorescent-lit snack over a bottle of juice, he held my hair as he ran through the playground.

It didn’t help that the teachers thought Maura and I were adorable, and Tyler just didn’t like that “Maura and Mario” looked better on a wedding invitation. He pushed me into chairs whenever he could. He broke my crayons, and I silently accepted his abuse as something that just came with the territory of an unsolicited romance. One day though, I snapped.

Tyler was following me around at recess, poking the back of my head. I asked him to stop. He didn’t stop, so I turned around and punched him in the stomach. It made me sad; I was never a fighter. But the teacher who was supposed to keep order in the playground was ecstatic, and told the story to my dad that afternoon, complete with Mike Tyson references and Notre Dame Fighting Irish poses. Tyler never bothered me after that. I assume Maura and I continued to be happy, but I don’t remember much about us after the day our triangle became a straight line.

Time passed, and Maura faded. Oops. I don’t mean that she died. I mean that we went to different elementary schools and forgot about each other. But sometimes I look back and think, what if you only get one soul mate? There aren’t many people you can sit with while eating glue, and what if my one shot became just another victim of public school district zoning laws?

I fantasize about meeting her 10 years from now. I’ll be in the park, sitting on a blanket and reading a book. A blonde woman will walk up to me and say, “Mario? Is it really you? Oh my God, it is! I almost didn’t recognize you without your bowl haircut.”

Then she’ll sit down and slip her hand into mine, and it will be like nothing changed. We’ll curl up in a blanket and watch the sunset. She’ll reach into her purse and pull out a small bottle, and we’ll take turns eating the Elmer’s glue.