You all know that famous song:


I was five, and he was six,

We rode on horses made of sticks,

He wore black and I wore white,

He would always win the fight...



In my case, it was April of 1991 and I had just joined a new school. I was ten and he was eleven, I sat in the front row because I liked to be able to pay attention and because I was already a little short sighted. He sat in the back and paid no attention to anyone except his group of three or four people, including the long limbed athletic girl with whom I had nothing in common.


But once—he smiled at me, and I was undone.


This to be clear, was my first crush. I knew about the concept of a crush, I had read about them in the book series that were popular with young adults then like The Babysitter's Club or Sweet Valley Twins and Friends. I always thought they sounded interesting, but a bit pointless. I couldn't imagine like-like-ing someone, let alone having someone kiss me like the forward twelve year olds in faraway imagination America seemed to be into. I had always gone to a co-ed school, but before this time my classmates were my playmates, and because I went to a school that modelled itself on the Montessori model, some were younger than I was, and some were older. Boys held no mystery for me, I had grown up with too many of them, I knew their ways better than I knew the Girl Code, which even then, unknown to me, was growing in the background. Because I read everything, I was interested, in a scientific way, about everything—from Gerald Durrell's naturalist adventures in Corfu, to love. It was something that happened to other people, and I was fully planning on being the observer, the person who took a back seat and watched.


My first crush was very much that—and a lot of the crushes that followed. For me, it was enough to be in the sphere of the person I admired. When I saw my eleven-year-old sweetheart brush his straight fine hair away from his face, or laugh at something his friends said, I was happy and content with just that. He asked me for a sip of water once, and as he drank, I gazed—not at his face—but at the desk I was sitting at, cheeks aflame, wondering if he could guess my secret thoughts. When a teacher scolded him for not paying attention, I squirmed in mortification, as embarrassed as if it was happening to me. This was a crush then, this feeling of flutters in your stomach and a day that could grow better just by him being in it.


And just as abruptly as it came, it was gone. By then, I had made new friends, some of them even his friends, and by proximity grew indifference. We could chat—not for long, I was caught so unawares by the strange new feelings I had, I would be shy around boys for years after that—and I would be able to use his name casually in a conversation, not feel it lying heavy on the tip of my tongue begging to be mouthed over and over.


Sometimes I wonder when the concept of love changed as I grew older, from something you just feel to something you must possess and own to be truly happy. Never again was I so content to just have emotions, never again, then was my love so pure. And so it makes sense, for this—my new space—to start at the very beginning. Why do we feel love? How do we feel love? And where do we go from here?


Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of five books, most recently a YA novel about divorce called Split and a collection of short stories about love called Before, And Then After. The views expressed here are her own.