I didn’t even notice the first note myself. My buddy did. We were running late to our next class so I just shoved my jacket into my locker and grabbed my biology book, then locked my locker, when he picked it up from the floor.
“Hey, you dropped this,” he said, and handed me a piece of paper that had been carefully folded over a couple of times, just enough to conceal its message, but keeping it thin enough to fit through the small opening under the locker door.
I took the note, flipped it over to see what it was, and saw my name written on the other side. In a girl’s handwriting. I slipped the note in my pocket.
“Yeah, great, thanks,” I said, and I could feel my face turn as read as a beet.
“It’s my cheat sheet,” I added, and then we ran to class. My buddy didn’t ask me more about it, although, it must have seemed odd to him that I would have a cheat sheet when we were just three weeks into a new semester.
But I was the new kid in town. Maybe that was how I did things. After all, I also stuffed my jacket into the locker, even though you weren’t supposed to.
For the next 45 minutes, all through biology class, the note seemed to burn a hole in my pants. What was it? Right after the class, I excused myself, and ran to the bathroom to read it in private. My hands were shaking as I unfolded the piece of paper, and saw what it said:
I didn’t fold it, I just crumbled it, and shoved it deep into my jeans pocket again. I had moved to the new city just four months earlier, and with the exception of a few hockey buddies, I barely knew anybody in my class.
The second note came the same week, delivered the same way. They both smelled good, the handwriting was neat, but a part of me suspected that it was all a prank.
And if it was a prank, I knew the culprit would come forward at some point because surely he – and if it was a prank it was a he – wanted to see some kind of a reaction. So, whoever would ask me about notes would be the sender.
The third note came the same week, delivered the same way. I didn’t tell anybody about them, but I saved them all, hoping to get a clue of the sender. The messages were always short: “You’re sweet”, or hearts, or – just one time – an imprint of a pair of lips.
There were more notes, about two a week for about three weeks, and when nobody came forward, I told my buddy about them.
“Nice! A secret admirer!” he yelled, and raised his hand for a high-five.
“Do you know who it is?” he then asked me.
“Nope. No idea. It’s a secret admirer,” I said.
The thought of a secret admirer annoyed me. I knew it was probably flattering, but I felt vulnerable, left alone out in the open, at somebody else’s mercy, so I was very relieved when the next note was handed to me in the cafeteria line. I didn’t see who it was, I just felt somebody grabbing my wrist and press a note into the palm of my hand.
“Meet me at the library after school”.
And so, two hours later, I went straight home after school, not because I was such a savvy player of that game, but because I was too scared to play the game at all. Turns out, that was the best possible move in the game, because the next day, a girl walked up me at school.
“Have you been getting notes from a secret admirer?” she asked.
“Uh huh,” I said.
“I sent them,” said the girl. “I think you’re cute.”
Then she walked away, and left me standing alone in the middle of the schoolyard.
In the weeks that followed, the notes stopped coming, which was a bummer but now we were talking. Not a lot, just a few words every once in a while, but we both knew where the other one was at all times. Her name was Päivi.
And then came the tape.
I was in the middle of a hockey tournament, which my club was hosting, in my home town. On the third day of the tournament, I heard from a buddy that a girl we all knew was at the arena looking for me. Shocked and scared, intimidated by the new, public nature of her approach, I went into hiding, and spent the rest of the day sitting at the commentator’s booth and when the pressure got to be too much, I even escaped it all into sleep, hiding underneath the commentator’s desk in the booth.
My coach-Dad, who had also heard the rumor about a girl looking for me, on the other hand, didn’t go into hiding. Somehow he found Päivi, and they chatted for a while, and then she gave him a mixed tape to be forwarded to me.
It wasn’t a full-on mixed tape because the bulk of the songs came from the same album, by a pop artist called J., who had had a huge hit that summer with a love song. My level of maturity is summed up by the fact that my favorite song on the tape was not that hit single, but another one, called “Superman”.
Maybe that was it, maybe she got frustrated by my non-response, or maybe she found an even cuter boy somewhere – unlikely, but possible – but we just, well, drifted apart. By the next summer, though, it was me, riding by bike around her neighbourhood, listening to J’s new album on my Walkman (and especially a song called “Batman”), looking for that serendipitous encounter with her.
It never happened.
We ended up in the same high school, but in different classes, and our paths practically never crossed. She was one of the cool girls in school, I wasn’t. I wasn’t even one of the cool guys.
We did, however, share another moment. Face to face.
It was in our junior year, a few weeks before the big dance after the seniors left and we ruled the school. I had been rehearsing the dances with a girl in my class, as we all did, because it was a part of our curriculum that year, but with just a few weeks before the dance, I had no tailcoat, I had no official partner, and I had no intention of getting either one of them.
One day, I was sitting on the teacher’s desk in our math classroom, swinging my legs, waiting for the rest of the class to come in, when I saw Päivi at the door. She was there, as pretty as ever – I did mention she was pretty, right? – smiling and waving at me.
With her, she had a friend, another one of the school’s cool girls, Kristina.
I waved back, and I smiled back, and I kept on swinging my legs, counting on my boyish charm.
“Hi,” said Päivi.
“Hi,” said I.
“Are you gonna dance?”
“I think you should,” she said.
I just sat there, swinging my legs.
“You think? Yeah, maybe I should,” I said then.
“Wanna dance with Kristina?” Päivi said.
“Sure,” I replied.
“Great! It’s done then,” said Päivi.
Kristina smiled at me, the young women turned around, and left the classroom.
I sat a little while longer on the teacher’s desk, with a smile on my face, wondering where I would find a tailcoat on such a short notice.
I also decided to leave a thank-you note in Päivi’s locker.