Features | February/March 1998

Love Elementary Style:

From Pencil Fights on the playground to Valentine's dedications, un hombre Latino reflects on his earliest QV roots and childhood daydreams.

By Trebor Jacquez

This Valentine's Day, February 14, 1998, I'm going back to the basics of love-elementary style. Back when Valentine's Day was more of an art project that needed simple tools like an empty Kleenex box, construction paper in the three basic colors of love, scissors, crayons, markers, glue, and an enormous amount of imagination.

In the sixth grade class of Room #201, we ruled the school. We controlled the playgrounds, the fights, the gossip, the crushes, and the breakups. But nobody could control my crush-my secret crush on my B.O.F. (best of friend). His name was Carlos Campos. Carlos was another sixth grader who sat on the other side of the classroom. He was this cool Latino boy who had perfect teeth. He was the best in all the sports he played. Whether it was football, basketball, dodgeball, or kickball, he was always the top player. He had all the sixth grade girls gasping over him. The hello-kitty crowd, with their leather coats and their tight-fitting Jordache jeans, was always waiting to see his next bold move.

I, on the other had, was the class clown, the trouble maker, and the pencil fighter-always challenging any sixth grade punk to a pencil fight. It was Carlos who always took my invitation of trouble. Pencil fights were a big taboo in school. The teachers couldn't stand the waste of a good pencil, the school police was always on the lookout, and the girls were tattletales with ponytails. So most pencil fights were fought in the bathroom among the urine stalls, the spit wads on the ceiling, and the sink stalls. There was a pool of boys who were always waiting to participate in this elementary male bonding ritual.

That's what made our friendship-the broken pencils, the tuff-boy-kid attitude, our common Spanish language, and the fact that we made our Room #201 peers laugh their heads off. Carlos and I pencil fought as much as possible, often searching for pencils on the way home. We would face each other with such intensity you would think we were competing in the Olympics-our pencils being our weapons. I can still remember the way he would bite his lower lip and how his hands would tremble as he lifted his heels and raised his arms to strike with force, usually snapping the pencil in two. He would raise his hands and claim victory bouncing back and forth as he hummed to the Rocky theme. Of course, I felt like the real winner, for my B.O.F. was the most popular kid in school. Best of friends, that's what we were. We always hung out together, whether it was at school, soccer club, church, the library, or the Boy Scouts. I found every possible breathing minute to spend time with Carlos.

All my actions were explainable and reasonable. Yet in my thinking hour, after I kissed mama buenas noche, I would lie awake and converse with God and the demon who made me feel inexplicably different from every one else. This feeling was a monster of emotions that kept me tossing and turning on many lonely nights. It had no name. All I knew was when I was with cool Carlos, I felt right. I felt like I belonged, like somebody cared about me as much as my family.

Valentine's Day arrived with much anticipation. The empty Kleenex boxes were now on each student's desk displaying their proud work of fine sixth-grade art. The boxes were magically transformed into mail boxes of love. Students from first to sixth grade all had Valentine's cards to pass out. Valentine's Day was about friendship, love, laughter, happiness, tacky messages on heart-shaped candy, and those notorious Valentine's Day cards with the simple messages. Many Valentine's cards represented popularity, friends, crushes, and ooohhhs and aaahhhs through out the entire student body.

During lunch, after the classroom party, it was show and brag for each student. Carlos and I sat in our usual place with our recycled paper lunch bags as we counted our boxfuls of cards. I finished counting first and my heart sank as he continued counting, "32, 33, 34, 35..." almost losing his breath.

"I got 21 cards," I said as I bit into my tasteless cold burrito.

"Rob, are you bum, amigo?" he asked with his brown eyes bulging with such concern of a sixth grader .

"Nah, Carlos. I'm cool." I sipped into the bitter lemonade trying to conceal my hurt.

"If it makes you feel any better better, I gave you two Valentine's Day cards." He continued as if trying to find the right words to comfort me. "But you, my friend, deserve not just two cards, you deserve 3, 4, 20, 100," he stared at me intensifying our conversation. His words were like rain on a desert highway. I felt a sudden change in me, almost breathless. I suddenly felt powerful, prideful, and I honestly didn't know what to say.

He continued his silliness. "Cuz you are my besto, pesto, festo, amigo....what do you say Robby, wobby, hobby, lobby!!!"

Repeating his rhyme, he got up and sang it to me as he put his arm around my shoulder. Chills, the size of a hailstorm, ran up and down my bare arms. I started laughing. Carlos laughed louder. He lowered his voice and whispered in my ear-the chills intensified.

"Come on Rob, let's go make some trouble and kick some butt on dodgeball." We headed toward the field and he continued the embrace, the arm, and the smooth talk. "And later buddy," he paused slowly and breathed deeply, "we'll pencil fight and maybe, I'll let you win." I pushed him and slowly laughed the great Valentine's Day away.

I held the queasy secret feeling for two years all the way until eighth grade. But it was that Valentine's Day, among the children playing jump rope, the hello kitty brats, and teachers on lunch yard duty, that I understood friendship and I understood Valentine's Day. Yes, right there under the cloudy LA skies, the waving American flag, the hearts and arrows across the school halls. My best friend, secret crush, pencil fighting friend, Carlos, gave me words to believe in me, in him, and in our friendship. And nothing else mattered more than what I took home that day. My Valentine's mail box, three broken pencils, and the two cards he had given me. It wasn't the quantity but the quality of his cards. I smiled and my eyes swelled as I guarded my secret more than ever. He made me the happiest boy on Earth, and made it the best Valentine's anyone could wish for at that age.

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