My eighth-grade boyfriend died unexpectedly last weekend.
He was about to turn 42 and working as Director of Computing Facilities at a big university.
That’s all I know of his adult self. Even how he died remains a mystery – his passing discovered during a random scroll through social media.
What I remember most about Fritz was an earlier transition – one made over a long-ago summer after seventh grade.
Also our elbows touching during eighth-grade English.
Unlike me, he was also the “fat kid,” or at least, the “big boy” in our midst.
With others of our kind, we created a fantastic castle of styrofoam and clay in sixth-grade social studies. And we researched Louie Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald for fifth-grade Black History Month.
We also loved to draw – his sketches chaotic charcoal; mine exacting pen and ink. As I strove for precision, the “Rats of Nimh” crawled through his wrinkled, smudged paper beside me.
Those were the early years.
Then, to our middle-school eyes, the miraculous happened. The “fat kid” transformed.
Over summer between seventh and eighth, Fritz grew impossibly tall. And was no longer fat. And truthfully, was quite cute.
That fall, a popular girl asked him out. Suddenly, he was popular too.
But he, like me, was still awkward, shy…a nerd. Sitting side-by-side in eighth-grade English, I wondered whether he felt strange in his new form – in his new identity. Well, I wondered a little.
Mostly, I began to notice how our elbows touched in the space between desktops.
His baggie sweater brushing my arm, my eighth-grade self studied its meaning and intention. Accidental…or was this tingly excitement shared?
At a certain point – following messages passed between friends, of course – Fritz and I started “going out.” (And he became my short-lived “in” with the popular crowd that year.)
As middle-school romances do, ours came and went. But it was a beautiful, real, alive connection.
We could be our familiar, comfortable selves with one another…even as we watched ourselves and one another transition into something the same yet different.
Fritz was not the love of my life. But my memories of him are beloved and very present.
My heart fills with gratitude that our paths crossed and our elbows touched.
Do you hold an early love in tender remembrance? Someplace sweet in your heart?
I invite you to share in the comments…or even just linger in that sweetness awhile.
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