His name was Vincent. He may have entered Pine Elementary School when we were both in 5th grade or may have been in my classes all along, but that spring he moved directly to the center of my awareness. He had silky black hair that fell low over astonishingly blue eyes. Unlike other grubby, snickering elementary school boys he was quiet and attentive.
It was probably no coincidence that I fell for Vincent soon after hearing Don McLean’s classic American Pie album. It was his song about Vincent Van Gogh that captivated me. The lyrics told of a misunderstood visionary, a man with “eyes of China blue” whose soul was too beautiful for an uncaring world.
Although I’d never really paid attention to boys before, somehow I merged the intensity of those words with a look I was sure I saw in Vincent’s eyes. My girlfriends claimed to have crushes all the time over celebrities. The symptoms of their crushes included shrieking and silliness. I had none of these signs.
Once, as the teacher told us to line up at the door for music class, I found myself standing behind Vincent. I was sure he was aware of my presence. There could be no other explanation for the sudden frisson between us. Surely his skin prickled and his breath deepened as mine did. I wanted to touch his dark hair. I wanted him to turn and smile at me with causal ease even though I knew that was not possible at school. The boys’ loud obliviousness and the girls’ sharp watchfulness kept any such thing from happening. Boys and girls were friends only in books. Together they wandered moors or solved crimes or dreamed up new inventions. They talked openly and sometimes held hands. I wanted that with a longing more intense than I’d ever known.
Vincent kept me awake at night. His reserved nature made it easy to develop idealized concepts about him. I decided that he was smart and kind. I imagined that he was secretly drawn to me, but too shy to look my way. As I lay in bed, sleepless, I felt the injustice of being eleven years old. Too young to have love taken seriously, too young for anything.
Yet I felt old. Sorrows I’d carried for years became more intense because I’d lost the childhood distraction of play. I was on the verge of adolescence without sports or hobbies to keep me busy. All I had was this secret love for a boy named Vincent.
Over summer vacation I painted my toenails, rode my bike, tried to write poetry, and wondered if God existed. What kept me awake now was worry over how I might make myself pretty enough for Vincent. But I was also dreading the prospect that he might reveal himself to be something less that the person I’d imagined.
Vincent didn’t come back to school for sixth grade. No one knew where he’d gone. That made him, in my mind, more mysteriously alluring than ever. Sometimes at night I opened my bedroom window to breathe in the night air and look at stars. I hoped he might be at his own window. I no longer ached to hold his hand, I only wanted him to be happy.
I can still easily picture Vincent’s face even if I’ve forgotten his last name. My secret love for him taught me the first gentle lesson in becoming a woman. Unrequited love isn’t always painful. Sometimes it’s as tender as a moment never shared with a beautiful blue-eyed boy.
This piece appears in the new anthology Heartscapes: True Stories of Remembered Love, which features 150 tales of mystery, intimacy, and tenderness.