A Childhood Crush and 36 Years To Understanding

A note about this story

Reading time: 4:40 (approx): I told this story at a recent Moth event in Los Angeles and felt it deserved to be published. I asked Julie if she was comfortable with me publishing it on my blog. She graciously said yes.

The Crush from My Perspective

My fourth grade year was marked with three main obsessions. Comic books, science-fiction/science fantasy, and the cutest girl in the fourth grade, Julie Olaco.

She was smart, athletic, pretty, and kind… and she liked me.. Cue Tom Petty’s Even The Losers

I was reasonably smart but, as teachers would say my entire life, “I lacked focus and discipline.” But I could make Julie laugh and that makes up for a lot of deficits.

an example of Goofus and Gallant
an example of Goofus and Gallant

She was the darling of our class.. I was more like Goofus from Highlights magazine.

If you are unfamiliar with Goofus and Gallant, it is a comic strip that portrays two boys in similar circumstances. Gallant does everything right.. Goofus was the perennial fuck up… And every time I read that comic I wanted to kick Gallant’s ass.

Our moms played tennis at a local country club. Once, my mom and I played Julie and her mom in a parent / child tournament. During the match, Julie hit the ball to me.. I overran it and in my attempt to hit it, I instead hit myself in the forehead. I’m not even sure how that is accomplished.

I’m certain it left a mark but it was nothing compared to my wounded ego.

Even with my awkwardness, our crush persisted.

Incentives and Auctions

Our 4th grade teacher, Mr. Hage, had an economic incentive program for doing good school work (turning in homework) and good behavior. He would award plastic tokens. He called them pesos..

In 1976 white-upper-middle class suburbia, plastic pesos were as close as we would get to cultural immersion and diversity.

Due to both behavior and school work, Julie was like a wealthy land baron. I, for a variety of reasons, was in a great deal of peso debt.

Every few weeks Mr. Hage would auction toys and other items so kids could use their pesos. For me, the auctions were not that interesting.. for obvious reasons. I couldn’t buy anything.

Julie's 4th grade picture
Worthy of the Franklin Mint

But one auction, Mr. Hage produced a class picture of Julie (included here). Overlook how creepy it is that a 4th grade teacher is auctioning off a little’s girls picture because, this was a hot property. It was like a rare coin from the Franklin Mint.

Julie, aware that I could not bid on her picture, told me to bid anyway.. She would cover it – adding sugar mama to the list of her perfections. This gesture was not lost on me. It wasn’t that she would cover the bid, it was the sweet knowledge that she wanted me to have her picture.

I won the bid. No one else could match my enthusiasm and her pesos. Unfortunately, Mr. Hage – aware of how I was funded, told me the money would be applied to my debt. He did not give me the picture. It was humiliating.

Dances & Demons

In 7th grade, Julie began attending a private Catholic school. I went to the local public school.

In 8th grade to avoid busing, my parents sent me to that same Catholic school.

But some things had changed.. Namely puberty…. well, for one of us.

Julie was now 4 or 5 inches taller than me. She was wearing bras.. I, on the other hand, was carefully cultivating a lone pubic hair and trying to avoid being seen in the showers by the boys that looked more like my father than an 8th grader.

Jump to the end of the year dance. As with most 8th grade dances, there were boys that seemed comfortable with girls – and even kissing them.. And then there were boys like me..

I was a little shocked and excited, but mostly embarrassed when Julie asked me to dance. Apparently, she still liked me. I know I could still make her laugh.

But for me, the dance was terrifying. I assumed this was a sympathy gesture on her part before she moved on to boys who had something to offer.

When the dance ended, and I’m not proud of this… I didn’t say anything, I just walked away. I never really spoke to Julie again.

I have 4 children, two daughters – both of whom live with me. I’ve had the privilege of watching them and helping them navigate their teen years.

I suspect that almost anyone reading this realizes that the dance, while embarrassing for me, was rejection for Julie.. I couldn’t see it then… but I do understand how my daughters would see it.

Over the years, I’ve often searched for Julie. Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. No trace.

Porter Ranch Tennis Club
from the day of the tournament

A couple months ago, I was organizing my office and found a photo album where I have some of my class pictures.. And a picture of Julie, her brother, and her mom at the tennis club – from the day of that tournament.

I searched for her again and couldn’t find her.. But then I recalled the name of another girl in our class who was a friend of hers, Kristin.. I searched for Kristin on Facebook and found her.

I nervously went to Kristin’s friend’s list – shh…  let’s not call it stalking. I searched for Julie and…. She had a different last name but there was no mistaking that smile.

And, you know what? I felt those same 4th grade crush feelings.. It made me happy to see her. Maybe that’s weird.

I sent her a message, she responded, and a few weeks ago we talked on the phone for a long time. It was a good conversation… for both of us.

We talked about our lives now and some of our shared memories. She told me that she was also humiliated by Mr. Hage denying me her picture. (I do want it noted that she later gave me one of those class pictures.)

An Apology 36 Years Later

And then I brought up the dance .. 8th grade. She knew immediately where I was going – which surprised me – but didn’t. She remembers me walking away from her. She shared that it was a very painful memory- a significant rejection for her. Of course, she had to mention that later she saw me dancing with Mindy Milbauer – the cute blond girl in 8th grade. Yeah.. doubly busted!

I apologized to her and I let her know that she was still my crush then.. But I felt like a boy with a woman. And that I wished I understood then what I know now.

And then Julie told me, “Even though it was many years ago, it is nice to hear your perspective. I understand it and it feels better.”

I’ve told her I would like to make it to Seattle to say hello and, if possible, redo that dance. I’m guessing I’ll be just as nervous but I’m certain I’ll say thank you at the end and won’t walk away.

We probably all have a few demons we’ve created in our past, built on insecurity and misunderstanding. We can’t revisit yesterday.. But every day offers us a chance to exorcise those demons.. Even 36 years later.

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