I’ve decided to share my latest book (The All-Important, Well-Fed, Giant White Man) with my followers here, free of charge, one chapter at a time. So… Where were we on this read-along… Oh, yes…
Chapter 2: Awkward First Love
Outside my family’s home on Elwood Way, there was a mailbox. There was absolutely nothing special about this mailbox. It was made of tin, slightly rusted, and more than a little wobbly. The numbers of our address were clumsily attached to its side. It looked like every other mailbox on the street.
I was ten years old. I only got mail to that mailbox once every year in the form of a birthday card from my grandparents. Every other day I would watch Mom or Dad carry in a big stack of mail and sort through it, always hoping they’d, just one time, stop in the middle of their routine, look up, and enthusiastically say, “one for you, Danny!” It never happened.
Of course, now that I’m an adult, I understand why they never had enthusiastic smiles at all. Mail sucks. Almost everything that comes is either a piece of paper saying “PAY ME!” or an advertisement saying “GIVE US YOUR MONEY!” But as a kid, I thought that just about every envelope they were opening was as wondrous as a birthday card, and I really wanted in on some of it.
Then one day, Kari, a little sandy blonde girl who lived down the street, stuck something in that mailbox. For me. It was a plain white envelope, and across the top it just said, “To Danny.”
Mom and Dad never saw that envelope. They never had the chance. In the middle of the day, my older sister came bounding into my room and interrupted me while I worked on a jigsaw puzzle. I was really good at jigsaw puzzles. Like really, really good at them. I could do a 1,000-piece puzzle before I was even old enough to start getting complaints about B.O. But seriously, this isn’t about me. Or my amazing jigsaw puzzle skills. Or the fact that I could somehow do puzzles that were practically solid colors. Stop thinking how awesome I am for that. This is about Kari, and the envelope she left in my mailbox.
Anyway, Tomi Ann came bounding into my bedroom. She had a huge smile smeared across her face. That wasn’t like Tomi Ann. Not when it came to her and me. We were mortal enemies more often than not, and our entire co-existence as children could be summed up in two words: eternal tattling. Yet there she was, standing above me, glowing. “Go check the mailbox! There’s something in there for you!” she screeched.
I’m pretty sure I was at the mailbox before she finished her sentence.
I yanked the front open, stuffed my hand inside, and pulled out the white envelope.
Suddenly that mailbox wasn’t just some rusty old tin clunker. It was my deliverer from all things mundane and ordinary.
My heart doubled its pace. Next to the words were two little colorful hearts. What was this? Who would send me this? My sister was standing over me, eagerly waiting for me to tear into it. “Open it!” she demanded. I never paused to wonder why she was taking so much interest in it.
I ripped open the flap, and pulled out a bright yellow sheet of paper.
“Dear Danny, I like you a lot. Tomorrow you will get a present from me.”
There was no signature. No identifying marks of any kind. It was a love note from a Jane Doe.
Tomi Ann began grilling me to see if I had any idea who might have sent it. I had no clue. I had no friends who were girls. I had no crushes on any girls. I had no memory of even talking to a girl. Ever.
But I fell in love with the sender of that letter immediately. It could have been from an eighty-year-old cat lady and I would have devoted my life and heart to her in that moment. I had never experienced butterflies or a rush of excitement the way I did right then, and that night I didn’t get much sleep as I waited for my surprise the next day. What would it be? Money? Some Garbage Pail Kid trading cards? My own Atari? A king-sized Kit Kat bar?
The next afternoon, Tomi Ann snuck Kari through my house and in to my mother where Kari asked if she could be allowed into my bedroom to put something on my bed. Mom told her sure, go ahead. And according to Kari, she insisted, “you can like him, but nothing more.”
Geez Mom, way to blow my first chance at a hot make-out.
I was ten. I was still a solid year away from puberty. To me, “something more” involved making weird hand gestures taught to me by my dad, remember?
And it didn’t matter, I was already in love before I even walked in and saw the next sheet of paper laying across my pillow. Taped to the paper was a Now & Later candy. Next to the word Now it said, “I’ll love you.” Next to the word Later, it said, “I’ll marry you.”
I had finally found my forever sweetheart. I would marry this woman. But who it was I still didn’t know. There was no name attached to it. Not even a hint to help me solve the riddle.
I turned around to see my older sister peeking around the corner into my room. I looked at her with wide eyes and she misread that as an invitation to come in. “It’s from Kari!” she screamed and snorted all at once in her excitement. “She’s in love with you!” Kari was one of Tomi Ann’s best friends.
We made our way outside, sat down on the porch together, and made a plan for how we were going to make this union come about. Sitting next to my sister that day is one of my best childhood memories. It was one of the few times we found ourselves on the same team instead of at each other’s throats. She was genuinely excited for me and determined to have a hand in something happy coming to me.
And boy, did the happy times come…