Young Love by Maria Millsaps
I met my childhood sweetheart when I was eleven years old. We were from two different worlds. I was a bookworm focused on education and volunteer work. He was focused on hanging around with his friends and sports. He did not care for school or getting a good education.
He really thought, because his family was well-to-do, business owners and he had everything an only child could have, he would be set for the rest of his life.
My thoughts were different. My family was poor. My dad worked hard and long hours in a restaurant as a chef and my mother worked in a factory as a seamstress, to provide for our family of ten. I was the oldest, so much of the childcare was laid heavily on my shoulders.
I did not have the leisure of time. After school, I would rush home to make sure all the kids had arrived from school. I would then fix them something to eat and get them started on their homework. On the weekends, I would babysit, and in the summertime, set up a lemonade stand to make money so I could have the extras.
My life was very routine and regulated by the roles and responsibilities expected from me, so school was very important to me. I figured if I could get a good paying job, I would not have to work as hard as my parents and have time to enjoy the sunsets, ocean, and mountains.
Salvador was different. He was an only child. His parents spoiled him with everything he needed. He dressed like a movie star and acted as a celebrity. He was highly respected by his peers and very popular with the girls. He loved sports and played basketball, was a swimmer and a champion karate fighter. He was also very handsome and personable.
I remember I was flabbergasted when he approached me in the school cafeteria. I was eating lunch with my bookworm friends. He started walking toward our table which was surprising because he was always sitting with the popular kids.
My group of friends was not popular with the other kids, we were popular with the teachers. They liked us because we were disciplined, did our schoolwork and were smart. We were the bookworms.
Looking back, I wondered what attracted Salvador to me. I was not pretty. I was not a good dresser. In fact, I dressed like a boy, jeans, tee shirt, bucks shoes, and a pilot jacket. My hair, though long, was always braided. Salvador was a good dresser. All his clothes were tailored or from the finest stores. He was a jock.
My friends were as surprised as I was when this prince charming approached our table. We all wondered why he was heading in our direction. We were all in awe.
He sat next to me and I could feel my mouth getting dry. My heart beating, thump, thump, thump. I swear my friends could hear it beating.
On the other side of the cafeteria were the popular girls. They were watching also, wondering where was Salvador going? Popular kids did not cross over like that. They always stayed on their side of the river. One of the girls was Irene Boz.
Irene Boz did not like me. I had beaten her in the spelling bee contest, and the speaking contest. She hated me.
I could feel her eyes burning right through me. I felt threatened. Irene was privileged. She came from a well-to-do family, pretty, Ivory skin, long silky dirty blond hair, tall and slim. She was the best female dresser in the school and was known for having elaborate parties in her house. I was never invited to any of her parties, but I had heard about them.
The kids on the invitation list always came back with stories of things they did, forbidden things, like drink and smoke pot. Some kids were even taking LSD and having sex. There were always crazy stories floating around the school after one of her parties.
Salvador sat next to me for a while. I pretended to be invisible. I was shy and speaking to boys didn't come easy to me. I could tell he was looking at me. I tried to bury myself in my lunch. It was an awkward moment. It's like everything around me got silence and I could hear a pin drop. My friends who were very talkative suddenly became silent, lost for words. Maybe we all felt intimidated.
I started feeling uncomfortable and got up to leave. Salvador asked. "What's the rush? My name is Salvador. What is your name?"
My throat was dry. My answer came out hoarse, like a mule wanting to speak. I wanted to run and hide. I kept thinking Irene must be having fun with this awful moment in my life. I wanted the ground to swallow me up, but it didn't.
From the other side of the cafeteria, I could hear Irene saying, "Why are you wasting your time with that skank?"
I started turning red, my face flushing, heat rising to my head and out my ears.
Thank God for my friend Liz. She came to my rescue. She knew I was stuck on stupid and wanted to keep me from making a jack ass out of myself. She was a once-in-a-lifetime friend.
Liz also got up, "hurry up Mary, we are going to be late for music practice."
We didn't have music practice until 4:00 p.m., that day, but she knew I was embarrassed, and blinded with anger.
I quickly followed Liz'and exit the cafeteria without another word.
When we got away from the stares of everyone in the school, we laughed all the way to the candy store.
Several months later, Salvador approached me again. I was in the handball court with my friends, chasing a ball, when I ran into him. He had deliberately positioned himself so that I could collide with him.
He lay on the floor moaning as if he was seriously injured. I immediately went to see how bad he had been hurt, stooping down to him. My friends also came running to help. Salvador could have won the academy award that day. We were all convinced that he was in pain. We helped him to a bench. One of my friends ran to get the schoolyard teacher, as the rest of us tried to comfort him.
Irene came to see what all the commotion was about. She saw Salvador laying on the bench in what we all thought was agonizing pain. She saw that I was trying to comfort him and was not going to be outdone by me.
She came running, pushing me out of the way, nearly knocking me to the ground. Salvador realized what was happening and sat up. When he did, Irene immediately sat on his lap and started kissing him.
Yuck, I thought to myself. How is spit going to help him? I hope he doesn't catch anything contagious from her and walked away. I had never kissed a boy, and in my mind, I never would.
I wanted nothing to do with him, nor her. I thought he was tainted and used, like a hand-me-down Christmas toy. I do not know why I thought that he was a nice guy.
One day I was in the schoolyard when I was approached by Irene and her minions. She grabbed me by the hair and told me, "If you ever dare to mess with my boyfriend, I will cut your braids off, do you hear me?"
I knew how to choose my battles. I was not messing with her boyfriend. Salvador was not her boyfriend. He was nobody's boyfriend, but I was not going to challenge her claim.
I walked away without a confrontation. In my mind, there was nothing to confront. I will deal with her later, I thought to myself.
Patience is a virtue I developed from reading. It takes patience to read William Shakespeare, Norman Vincent Peale, the Holy Bible and my favorite of all times Ernest Hemingway.
"Something must be radically wrong with a culture and a civilization when it's youth begins to desert it. Youth is the natural for a generous idealism that is eager for action. Any civilization which has the wisdom of self-preservation will allow a certain margin of freedom for the expression of this youthful mood."
There was some radically wrong with Irene. I was more self-preserved, but I had a margin of freedom to express my discontent with her and I would do just that, in due time. I was a believer that life is basically the sum of the choices we make. I wanted to make better choices for my life so that I could lead a happier life down the line. Sometimes I had to tackle the problems, block the fears and score points toward my opportunity.
I waited, patiently.
It wasn't long. Irene wanted a confrontation in her own turns, with her minions but I like to play fair and square. It was on a Friday. We got out of school early that day. My mother had stayed home from work, so I didn't have to rush home. I was not without fault. The kids conspired to go, to Central Park, that day. I also went, not knowing Irene was going to show up.
The minute she saw me she started with her attitude and knife-cutting looks. That day we decided to play Hots Peas and Butter. In the game, one person hides a belt and asks a group of people to find it. The person who hid the belt can help the people find it easier by saying degrees of temperature, hot, warm, cold. After the person finds the belt they yell, Hots peas and butter! The other kids run to the safe haven before they get their butt whooped with the belt.
My friend Liz, Gidget and Sonia, had decided we were going to help each other find the belt so that we could whoop the prima donnas of the school and show them that the bookworms were smarter. That was my opportunity to face Irene and deal with her.
I know, it was a bad thing, but it was so much fun. Irene had no idea I could run, hop and jump so fast. She was slow and sluggish. I guess it was all the alcohol and pot she consumed, but she got her whipping and I made her cry. I felt bad afterward, but at the time, I felt justified. Irene never messed with me again. For the rest of the school year, I avoided her and Salvador.
Summer was in the air and we were ready to go on school vacation. I remember my friends were all sad because we were not going to see each other for several weeks. I didn't like the summer. It was work for me. Sitting in the hot sun all day, selling lemonade by the subway to the commuter was not my idea of a good time, but the money was good.
It was a hot day, I had made fifty dollars in sales that day. I had run out of supplies. I started packing up for the day when I noticed two older boys eyeballing me. I knew they were going to try to take my money. I quickly packed my stuff, looking around for a familiar face. There was no one I knew. The only people in the street were returning home from work, tired, and hot.
I started walking home. The two older boys were following me waiting for the opportunity to ambush me into a building and take my hard earn-money. That's when I saw him again, Salvador. He was walking toward me with his two friends, Angelo and Robert.
He immediately approached me with a winning smile. I smiled back and he came and offered to help me carry my equipment. Of course, I accepted his offer. He and his two friends walked me all the way home, and the two bullies went the other way.
It was not until years later that Salvador confessed to me in his death bed. He had fallen in love with me from the moment he saw me. I was all the girl he ever needed and ever wanted. He wanted to protect me. All summer long he had been scoping me. He knew the streets of New York City were rough, and he was concerned for my safety. He kept his distance waiting for an opportunity to speak to me, but he did not want to offend me, or seem presumptuous. When he saw the two boys, he also knew they were going to try to mug me and take the money I had earned that day. He knew the boys were from another school and they were troublemakers. This was his opportunity to protect me and earn my trust. He did earn my trust and protected me to the day he died.
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