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first love: how to ruin it
a true story
by ken mohnkern

One day Ted Williams* handed me a love note. It read,

I like you. Do you like me?
__ Yes
__ No
__ A Little.

I looked at Ted, my neighbor in the back row of the classroom. He pointed to the other side of the room. Cindy Monroe sat and smiled at me from her desk over by the windows. This must have been in fifth grade, though it could have been sixth or even fourth. I know it was just before Easter. The classroom would have been decorated with cardboard cutouts of Easter bunnies and Easter eggs, and draped with pastel-colored streamers. All the students celebrated Easter--heck, this was the whitest, Christianest town north of the Mason-Dixon. So no parents cared to complain about church-and-state issues.

I smiled back at Cindy, then showed the note to Ted. He snickered silently. We were supposed to be working quietly on classwork and getting caught with the note would have been tragically embarrassing. I don't remember Cindy ever paying any attention to me before this, so the whole thing flustered me a little. I recognized, even at that age, that she was pretty. She was a little shorter than her peers, and I remember that I liked her blond hair. But this must be a joke, I thought. I would handle it as if it were. It was the only way I knew how to respond.

I marked "A Little" and sent the note back across the classroom. A second later I saw Cindy and some other girls peeking at the note. That was the end of the affair, I thought. It had been so easy.

Ted handed me another note a minute later. It said, "What do you want for Easter?" with a long line drawn below for my answer. Ted found that funny too. This was harder: an essay question. I wracked my brain for an answer.

This was during the "I hate girls" phase that all of the boys were going through, so my aim was to be funny, avoid embarrassment, and keep myself from any long-term commitments. I took my time. I flexed every comedic muscle I had. Finally I wrote, "Bowling Ball." I was pleased. Ted approved. The note went back to Cindy.

In those days the boys spent most recesses stomping around the playground in a long chorus line, our arms around each other's shoulders, chanting, "WE HATE GIRLS! WE HATE GIRLS! WE HATE GIRLS!" ad nauseum. If a girl was careless enough to let us get close to her we would run after her, curving around her like a huge, toothless mouth, threatening to close over her until she ran away. I don't remember ever catching one, and I'm not sure any of us would know what to do if we had. The Cindy Monroe affair might even have happened at the very end of that phase, when we changed our chant to "All except our girlfriends, WE HATE GIRLS!" It had a nice cadence to it, but of course none of us had a girlfriend. It just felt like the right chant for older, more tolerant boys.

The "bowling ball" reply arrived with Cindy and I got no more notes from her that day, or ever. In fact, I don't remember that she ever talked to me after that. I was surprised to feel a considerable amount of disappointment in the following days and weeks and months. I had blown my first romantic brush with a girl, not by losing out on her attentions (which no respectable girl-hater would want anyway), but by coming through it feeling like I had hurt her. Cindy, where you at these days?


* His real name.


There's a fifty-fifty chance that Ken is wearing a shirt with a stain on it.

more about ken mohnkern


on relating stories in a humorous manner
the struggle for funny
by ken mohnkern
topic: writing
published: 11.27.06

a story
by ken mohnkern
topic: writing
published: 6.9.07


alex b
1.7.07 @ 6:53a

Oh my God Ken, this is hilarious. Especially since I meet guys still in "We Hate Girls! We Hate Girls!" mode.

adam kraemer
1.8.07 @ 12:02p

A friend of mine married his high school sweetheart. They started dating their senior year, did college together, now have a kid together, everything.

But he tells a story about how freshman year, her friends were all bugging him to ask her out. He didn't know her really well, didn't care about going out with her, was tired of her friends' meddling.

Finally one day he got fed up when someone again suggested he ask her. "Jen," he called across the classroom, "do you want to go out with me?"

"Sure!" she said.

"Okay, you're dumped."

They didn't talk for two years after that.

tracey kelley
1.8.07 @ 12:54p

* His real name.


This whole thing was a laugh riot.

Man, Adam, your friends have one of the best "how we met" stories I've ever heard.

sandra thompson
1.17.07 @ 9:19a

I've been in love with some damned body or other since I can remember: with my three-year-old playmate when I was three; with Roy Rogers a year or two after that, with Tyrone Power when "Blood and Sand" finally got to our little town, and with a whole parade of Jimmy's and Johnny's, a Tommy, a Lewis and a Louis from first grade thru high school. When people discuss that phase when boys hate girls or girls hate boys I am at a complete loss to understand the idea, because we didn't seem to go through it. We played baseball and football together, went skating with each other on Saturday nights, met up at the picture show and shared our popcorn with each other, and walked to and from school in a pick up bunch that included about a dozen of us (the bunch "picked up" more kids as we got closer to school). My best friend was a girl who lived across the street, but my second best friend was a Jimmy who lived a couple of miles away and with whom I spent a lot of time on the phone. This Jimmy was not a boyfriend. It was pretty much universally understood that this Jimmy was gay, even as early as the fourth grade. You're gonna think I'm making this up, but cross my heart and hope to die, he grew up to become a congressional aide. Thus we can see that even in little bitty bible belt small towns the more things change the more they remain the same..... I'll bet the boys still don't hate the girls there, even the gay ones.


ken mohnkern
1.19.07 @ 5:15p

This Cindy Monroe thing was, I think, my least embarrassing relationship.

marki shalloe
6.20.07 @ 10:35a

I passed a note to a boy with a lipstick kiss on it. I was very proud of this, thought it was romantical and perfect. I took DAYS considering the right lipstick, which would obviously be red to show I was not a girl, but a woman of deep mystery. I didn't realize that the folded note would get smushed around before it got to him and my perfect lips would morph into what looked like a Rorschach test done in my own blood. He didn't reply, and twenty years later, I still can't do anything but clear gloss.

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