Somehow the discussion came around to how old you were when you first had your heart broken. It's an odd conversation to have with your wife, especially after you've been married for almost 13 years, with a previous marriage to boot. I think it was even my topic of conversation, but however we got there it produced one of those time-travel wormholes that dropped me back into Mrs. McBride's sixth grade class, circa 1972. This was an era that still had sixth grade as part of the elementary school curriculum where you stayed in the same classroom with the same teacher pretty much all day.
I was one of those precocious little turds that for some reason was allowed to start first grade a year early, so I was a year younger than all my classmates. I was also the product of rather old parents, which is quite a burden to bear. They were approaching the age of most people's grandparents, and in my grade-school years my closest older siblings were starting or were already in college. This tends to make you functionally an only child, but instead of being extraordinarily doted over, your parents are completely over the whole child-rearing thing and pretty much just let you free-range your formative years.
1972 was an awkward time fashion-wise, made even more so for a wormy, year-too-young sixth grader whose wardrobe was straight out of the Sears Catalog's groovy-ass plaid cuffed pant and puffy shirt collection, along with big funky high-heel brogan-style Hush Puppy shoes. I looked like a reject from the fucking Bay City Rollers, except for the hair.
My father was a career military officer who was traumatized by the 1960s and anything that was even slightly reminiscent of the era was defined as being as, from, or like "a bunch of goddamned hippies." Needless to say, my hairstyle was inspired by a mandate that hair could not touch the collar or the ears. The desire to have something other than a buzz cut allowed me to only grow long hair on top, given my father's length restrictions on both the sides and back. Dad was dubious of the clothes themselves, but they couldn't be traced directly back to "goddamn hippies," and they had the conservative bona fides of being ordered from the Sears catalog. My mom would pretty much make only two seasonal clothing buys from Sears each year, so she would buy oversized belts and "button extenders" for the pants. The faux cuffs on the Sears-Best plaid baggies could be let out to gain extra length for those awkward growth spurts between buying seasons.
Older parents are just tired of kids, so you're left to your own devices most of the time, and for my generation that meant local television. In some ways that allowed me a small cultural blessing to develop an encyclopedic knowledge of 1930s-1950s culture such as Warner Brothers cartoons, Universal Horror movies, Laurel and Hardy shorts, and the Marx Brothers. Such fare played incessantly on non-primetime TV since most of it was either cheap or in the public domain.
This was picture of me in 1972: decked out in the most early '70s mod-rocker attire the Sears catalog could muster, replete with bowl haircut. As a bonus, I was extremely near-sighted, so tiny, square wireframe glasses were de rigueur. I was a child who looked like fucking Paul Williams with Moe Howard hair, who spouted 1940s pop-culture references incessantly. "It ain't Vendell Villkie!"
To say that my teacher Mrs. McBride hated me would be an understatement, but I probably deserved it. I had two aces in the hole however: I could outwit her in a back-and-forth discussion, and my father was the local District Attorney (mad props to the GI Bill) who had looked the other way on her husband's repetitive DWIs. As a result of this odd social dynamic, a wildly dressed, myopic, immature, eleven-year-old trivia fiend held sway in her classroom as the school year started. I had my first taste of power, and I wielded it broadly.
Because of what shenanigans I could get away with, I became an unlikely hero and erstwhile babe magnet. Susan McGuire was the hottest girl in Mrs. McBride's sixth grade class. She was starting to get boobs and had hair exactly like Susan Dey of the Partridge Family. She was so perfect for the sample set we were dealt in that classroom that for one brief, shining moment we were the Alphas. In a bit of cruel biology she towered at least a head over me, but still it didn't matter. Status was king, and we were royalty.
The mating rituals of the time were compromised of fervently passed notes. Trusted lieutenants and third parties would surreptitiously pass notes that led up to the penultimate question of "do you like me?" and would finally be consummated by a first person communique from the male that posed the question "will you go with me?" The actual question came from the status of how you classified couples that were "going together." To "go" together, one must first be asked to "go." My sixth grade stardom was as sudden and heady as an ascension from bar singer to rock star. School started after Labor Day, when I was a schlub. By Columbus Day we were the royal couple.
All was not completely preordained however - a token was required. To prove that a couple was "going together" the male had to provide a singular bit of '70s kitsch – an ID Bracelet. These bracelets were a heavy chain-link faux-gold affair, with a solid middle piece that had your first name engraved on it. If you held one, you were proven bonafide – a suitor. I was not bonafide. I was a product of the Sears Catalog. And whether ID Bracelets were a catalog item or not, my mother's answer was "you don't need that" which was her answer to anything that was outside the seasonal purchasing band of the catalog inventory. I was stuck without the goods. My father considered my request for an ID bracelet "nonsense" to begin with and the notion that I would then give it to the object of my affections was met with my father's ultimate damnation of "foolishness."
The consummated relationship normally consisted of secretive notes circulated that basically praised and adored the object of affection, combined with stealth hand holding - broken up by teachers who pulled recess duty. There was no kissing or other physical contact at this stage.
My lack of the appropriate token caused a schism in the relationship however. Within a few days, the usual note protocol was breeched and I was directly, boldly, verbally approached by one of Susan's lieutenants as to why there was no binding token. Where was the bracelet? I mumbled an excuse that it was still being engraved, but the prevailing opinion as disseminated by note traffic was that a suitor would already have the token in place.
Other slackwitted suitors saw this breech of protocol as an opportunity and made overtures with bracelet in-hand. I was outmanned. I appealed to my oldest sister (by 14 years) who was now an elementary school teacher, on one of her weekly, expensive long-distance family calls. She understood the rituals of sixth grade and agreed to buy me an ID bracelet as a present upon hearing my plight, but she had to wait two weeks until she got paid.
Susan couldn't wait that long. In fact, her agreeing to a pending ID bracelet caused her to lose status to Emily Longaburger who paired with Jack Richardson to make top couple. She was livid, and I was exposed as a fraud in every way. She eventually recovered and "went" with middle-of-the-road Phil Chapman, and I was once again exposed as a geeky imposter. No amount of witty Bugs Bunny-inspired repartee could fill this credibility gap.
My sister dutifully delivered my ID Bracelet by early November, but by then my reputation was shot. I was a poseur. As we all graduated to the hustle and bustle of seventh grade, everyone else seemed to go through hormone-induced changes of pubic hair, breasts, huge cocks, and towering bulk and height. I was a year behind all that and really didn't get (or achieve) the physical concept of it all until a year later, when being the straight Oscar Wilde of eighth grade fell far behind all the brutal conquests of the athletic field.
Upon reflection since my discussion with my wife, I don't know what broke my heart more – the lack of Susan's affection or my failure to ascend to the mantle of top couple, however transient that may have been. I still have that unused, unworn ID bracelet, and for that my sister is still my hero.