i was in third grade.
i was nine years old.
it was recess.
i was on the playground.
i had just mastered the paper-clip and rubber-band weapon.
i took a shot at jimmy vanbuskirk, who was reloading after a wicked, errant shot he had just launched at me.
unfortunately my paper-clip also went errant, missing jimmy to the left but catching joan peterson in the eye.
she reached for her socket as she bent over startled and sobbing.
i ran to her side as the "you'll poke an eye out" mantra rattled around in my head like a herbert w. armstrong declaration of the end of times.
by the time i reached her, i had figured a good portion of my life was about to be spent up the river.
i put my arms around her, rubbing her shoulders, asking if she was all right.
she slowly lifted her head.
i nervously prompted her hand from her eye.
to my glee, a small, undetectable welt had formed an inch or so below her lower lid.
an unlikely crowd of curious boys and girls had circled around us.
jimmy barked, oh you'll be fine. it ain't nothin'. i got hit in the cheek yesterday and you can barely see nothin'.
jimmy pointed to a tiny bluish mark on his cheek to the "oohs" and "ahs" of some of the more squeamish girls and timmy ricedale.
i looked at joan and said calmly, i'm so sorry. i didn't mean to—
joan interrupted, i'll be okay. it doesn't really hurt all that much and i'm not bleeding right?
i said, no, it's not ... just a little mark like jimmy said.
i was relieved.
the boat heading up the river was making a sharp u-turn.
but during that disarming split-second of relief, something else occurred.
i became acutely aware of how her hand felt smooth as i cupped it in my grubby, nail bitten paw.
how her narrow shoulder struck me soft beneath my ponderous touch.
how the radiant stare of her glassy brown eyes spoke to me in a voice i had never heard before.
for an instant, a single moment, i was close to a girl in a very new way.
not in a tag or boy-girl-boy-girl line way.
instead, in a way that i did not understand very well but knew i would want to very much revisit some day.
revisit, that is, after i regrouped, reloaded and reshot jimmy in the ass, and then completed a whole bunch of other obligations required by my uninformative years.
but at least i knew right then and there what made the old heart thump out of rhythm, even if it had that feeling of yuck dripping all over it, the same kind of yuck that oozed when teenagers smooched during a three stooges matinee.
and as time passed, i was discreetly reassured by all observations that the joan peterson affair was the only way to go.
that any other way, like the route timmy ricedale was rumored to be taking, was tantamount to a real sickness, a man retardation if ever there was.
of course reflecting back on this now, how impossible it must have been for the timmy ricedales out there to feel the weight of all the approved social signals closing in on them while wondering if the joan peterson effect would ever kick in.
how sad to believe from all they gathered that their disabled hearts might be the result of a diseased brain and in the worst cases, not even worthy of their god's love.
that they should hang their sick souls in the darkest recesses of a closet like an old moth riddled suit.
i'm not so sure it's much better today.
not for the young ones anyway.
i wish i had a way to tell them they are just fine without causing alarm.
that for whom the heart thumps is not a matter of choice but a matter of wiring, no different from that which determines how tall they might grow up to be.
all this other nonsense is a lot of unnecessary angst we place on their shoulders in a world filled with enough trouble to cripple the toughest among us.
there's no rational reason to be diminishing the collective human intellect this way when it's gonna be all hands and minds on deck around here soon enough the way we're going.
so there you have it.
i knew my orientation when i was nine.
i just didn't understand there was disorientation afoot as well.