The first time a boy said “I love you” to me I was eleven years old and grossly unprepared. His name was Darryl, and I knew him from the skating rink, where I spent most of my time when not in school. In addition to private and club lessons, I often stayed for Saturday public skate sessions, and that was where someone first came up to me to whisper, “Darryl told me to tell you he likes you; do you like him?” I’m guessing my answer was something like “Uhh, sure.” I was a nice girl, very polite in addition to being clueless. There I was, a cute girl practicing spins in my short skirt, but I only knew that my skating partner David, who was two years older and to die for, hated my guts. We were paired because were at similar skill levels and we looked good together: he was slightly taller than I was and we were both blond. It killed him to be condemned to skating with a girl with braces and knobby knees who was two whole years younger.
Not Darryl. He was an average boy, just a Saturday skater. And he liked me. He liked me enough to corner me the next Saturday during “Couples Skate,” when the purple and red spotlights were on and the disco ball was slowly spinning stars to Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way” or Johnny River’s “Slow Dancin.” If Darryl said something to warn me, I don’t remember it; I just remember standing behind one of the steel beams at the back of the rink, knowing it was coming but not sure what to do about it when he gave me my first inexpert kiss. I was underwhelmed. It wasn’t quite “ick” but it definitely wasn’t “yum.”
It may have been the third week when Darryl called me at home. I was painfully aware that I didn’t talk to boys on the phone much, and although I was sitting in my parents’ bedroom and they were down the hall in the den, they were probably listening to every word I said. I knew I was way out of my depth when he closed our phone call by saying “I love you.” Were his parents not at home?? Did he just go around saying this to girls all the time? How could he say “I love you” when we’d hung out with each other for a grand total of three skate sessions? That was the break point for me. I stammered and stuttered and finally came out with the lamest response ever recorded in history. “Me to you, too,” I told him, like a perfect idiot. Then we proceeded to enter broken record hell, with him saying, “Huh?” and me repeating myself ever more slowly and clearly, feeling like I had been rolled in molasses and sand, then forbidden to bathe or scratch. I didn’t think I’d die of it, but it was pretty miserable.
I don’t remember seeing him at the rink after that.