My family moved from the small town of Winchester, Indiana to Fort Wayne, Indiana the middle of my sixth grade year. I said good-bye to kids I'd gone to school with since kindergarten and known for even longer. Kids who had joined me in playing house, office, doctor, hide-and-seek, Monopoly and 45 rpm records. Kids I fought with, had crushes on, dared to do things and who's dares I often accepted. It's where my dreams of becoming a stripper took root. I walked the same path to and from school for nearly seven years in that little town. It was all I knew.
Dad had received a job promotion that resulted in a transfer. He and Mom both acknowledged the fear and uncertainty involved in a move while giving my brother and me positive things to hold. The new school is great! We'll have a larger home! The neighborhood is nice and there are lots of kids your age! We'll visit Winchester, and you can be pen-pals with your old friends...
We made the move during our school's two-week Christmas break. I returned to a new sixth grade classroom in a new town after the holidays.
My teacher was wonderful. He was a man. I'd only had one man teacher prior. [Except for a man music teacher, but that one didn't really count.] My new man teacher had been raised by deaf parents so he made it a point to teach all of his students sign language. I still remember quite a bit of it. My maiden name is Hautem [sounds like scrotum, not autumn], and he called me Hauty [ho-dee]. I melted. Thought it was the coolest thing to have a nickname from a smart, funny man teacher.
Valentine's Eve 1978
I covered my shoebox in foil, carefully glued cut-out pink and red hearts to paper doilies and taped them to my Valentine box, which had my name in large, purple letters above the slot in the lid. As the new girl, kids were still calling me ChrisTy instead of Chrisy. I always politely corrected them. "No, there's no "t". My name's Chris-ee, not Chris-T." In my mind they were two very different names, and the kids might as well have called me Sue, if they called me Christy.
The Valentines I'd selected and addressed for my new classmates were ready to go. I'd chosen each one purposefully for the recipient. Studying the graphic and little saying to make sure I didn't convey the wrong message to anyone. I decided the over-sized, special Valentine [there used to be one in every commercial box] would go to a taller than average, blond-haired boy named Ryan. One day he looked at my face for a long time, then he said, "Your eyes sparkle," and walked away. [More like skipped away. He turned out to be gay and wear lip gloss and flowing scarves around his neck every day in high school.]
Valentines Day 1978
It was time for the party. Cupcakes, cookies, punch, conversation hearts, atypical noise in the classroom. There was nothing like the feeling of a party at school. Teachers were happy, and sometimes I could overhear them talk about real things with each other, and laugh. "We were playing Bridge last Saturday with the Jamison's, and you wouldn't believe Richard's opening bid..."
I distributed my Valentines, timing the delivery of Ryan's when he was very far from his desk. I had two close friends in class, so the three of us giggled and chatted while eating treats. The end of the school day was approaching, and the buzz of the party was calming. I returned to my desk.
A few kids were still delivering their Valentines. I didn't want to appear too anxious, so I discreetly lifted the lid of my foil-covered box and quickly peeked inside. There were only two Valentines. My heart started to pound.
I understood exactly why it happened. I was old enough to follow the logic. My name wasn't on the new class list. It was an innocent oversight by 11-year-old kids, maybe even teachers and parents. I was still mortified and didn't want anyone to know and feel sorry for me. It was a giant feat to not cry, or sweat, or have my voice waiver. I worked hard to manipulate every conversation and social interaction away from my Valentine box.
Ten minutes prior to dismissal backpacks were ready, coats and hats were on, and most of the class had dumped their Valentines on their desks and were rifling through them. My man teacher walked around and told everyone to put their "love notes" back in their boxes and get ready for the bell to ring. He saw me sitting there with my tidy desk and nervous smile... waiting.
"You didn't open your box, Hauty?"
"I'm going to wait 'till I get home."
I walked home, had a good cry in my room that afternoon, with a solid understanding that it wasn't personal, yet unable to deny the pitiful scene I'd just played the leading role in.
February 15, 1978
I returned to school, grateful to have Valentine's Day behind me. Ryan skipped around the classroom and I tried to make eye contact with him so he could see my "sparkly" eyes. My beloved man teacher called upon me for every task that required a lovely assistant. I wrote things on the chalkboard. I erased things. I distributed worksheets, and collected them when students were finished. I walked important papers to the Principal's office, and was selected to help the girl who broke her pelvis sledding, get her hot lunch from the cafeteria. [I didn't know her very well, and the body cast intimidated all of us. She only came to school three days a week.]
He knew. And I felt better.
Have a Happy Valentine's Day.