Updated: Mar 10, 2021
When I was 7 years old, I had my first crush on a classmate. It was a defining moment for me that made me question my identity at a very young age. Now 28, I thought it would be interesting to write down my experience of that time—I understand that memories from such a young age are not exact, and that's exactly the point. I want to know how 28 year old Reena would describe those defining years from 7-11. I wonder how I have interpreted the realities of what actually happened, and whether my version of reality says much about how I view myself today.
If you want to laugh and maybe shed a small tear, carry on reading.
Note: Remember, this is only an interpretation of what I remember and how I felt. I have used initials of characters involved (i.e. AT). Let's see how this goes.
The story of my first crush...
There was something suave about the way he carried himself around the fortress of books, paints, pots, and games — that being my Year 3 classroom. Yes, at the age of 7, I experienced my first ever 'crush'. AT had walked into my life and buried himself into a little cavity on the left side of my chest.
There was something about him that all the girls drooled over — maybe it was his too cool for school attitude. For me, it was his love for rock music, skateboarding and getting his hands stuck in nature. Every girl fought for his attention — bickering over who sat next to him, who’s turn it was to marry him in the playground. All the girls fought for his attention, apart from me.
Now, for context, this is probably a good time to introduce you to little Reena. Compared to the other girls, I had always felt like a misfit. In summer, I looked up to the girls that were allowed to wear the cute baby blue checkered uniform dress with crisp white socks. Instead, I was dressed for convenience and cost-effectiveness, wearing an oversized polo-shirt, grey boys fitted trousers and shoes that were two sizes too big. My hair was tied back, with a thick fringe sat across the top of my greasy eyebrows and rectangle spectacles. Eczema climbed up my hands, arms and the back of my knees, eating away my skin and leaving me exposed. I felt like a laughing joke, ugly and alone most of the time.
While AT was being chased by picture-perfect girls, I was often walking around the playground hut, with my hands in my pocket, and eyes to the ground. I finally made friends with two girls, and as we had skin tone in common, I felt that this was a way that I could finally identify. But as usual, I found myself feeling lonely — I wasn’t like them — and in fact, they had better handwriting than me, they were smarter, and bossier compared to me, and so I buried myself away, even deeper into my own mind.
Eventually, I had a realisation — and quite a mature one for my age. If I couldn’t be seen as one of the 'cool' girls, the only way I could be closer to AT was to join his friendship group. I played football with the boys to show my competitive spark and banter, I declared my loyalty as we attempted to scale the playground walls and endured the consequences at the headteacher’s office together — ultimately, I earned my way to becoming a respected member of the boy’s club, just to be noticed.
My cunning plan started to work. Fast forward a few years, AT and I had cemented our bond. At school, our exchanges were about our playtime plans, and after school, we started to ‘play out’ together. The boys would knock at my door, and after begging my parents, I was finally allowed to run free with them on their skateboards and bikes. In fact, I was the only girl in the squad, which meant that I was definitely thought of highly.
As the months went by, our bond became evermore tighter — where before the whole gang would ask me to ‘play out’, it now became a more intimate affair, with AT knocking at my door by himself. We would stand outside, sat on our skateboards talking, until his mum would come yelling ‘dinner’s ready’ from the end of the street. At this point, I was certain that I had won. He had chosen me over the cool girls at school. It was time to make the first official move towards confessing my love. It took me a few days to think about how I would tell him, and I was sure that once I had told him, our lives would be transported into Avril Lavigne’s music video to ‘Sk8r Boi’, or something even better.
The day had come, and without fail, AT knocked at my door at 4pm after school. Butterflies gushed around as I opened the door. We spoke about the usual skateboarding nonsense, laughing and jabbing each other in the arms. Then, just like that, I found myself at the end of a cliff with a bungee rope tied between my feet, with my heart and brain in the deadliest fist-fight. The butterflies turned into a knot of anxiety. My jaw trembled and I could feel my heart winning the battle — and before I knew it was happening, 10 year old, awkward Reena with her baggy jeans, chubby cheeks hiding behind Specsavers’ under 13 glasses and a thick fringe, blurted out
“We have so much in common, we should be boyfriend and girlfriend.”
I immediately felt sick, but waited silently.
“What the hell?! No. You’re like my brother.” he replied in disgust.
And that was that. My heart sat on the floor beside me, while my brain rushed to the rescue, “Just joking. I can’t believe you thought I was being serious.” I replied.
Joke’s on you Reena.
The next day, with my heart still dragging behind me, I walked through the school gates, once again, wearing my oversized polo-shirt, navy round collar sweater, grey boys fitted trousers and shoes that were two sizes too big. My hair was tied black, with my thick fringe sat across the top of my greasy eyebrows and rectangle frames. Eczema climbed up my hands, arms and the back of my knees, eating away my skin and leaving me exposed. And if things couldn’t get worse, I found myself wandering the playground alone once again, eyes to the ground and hands in my pocket, until a little ceremony caught my eye in the entrance of a locked doorway in the playground. There sat AT and J — whose Mauritian skin and hair made her look just like me, but just prettier, and better dressed — holding hands — it dawned on me, he had never picked me, who would.
My chest tightened, my eyes filled with tears, and off I went on my lonely walk around the playground again.