How It All Began

I like to believe that the beginning was marked by a glorious day with singing larks, golden rays, a sky so blue, and leaves so green that it made you think that it was the stuff of dreams and fantasy.  But it was not.  It was nothing more than an ordinary day, with ordinary weather, ordinary colors, and the numb bustling of everyday life.

I do not know why it happened that day.  After all, I had seen him week after week in the same white uniform and blue belt, sparring endlessly first with friends, later with worthier opponents, and not infrequently as a means to impress those who were watching from the sidelines.  I had practiced with him, too, but he was not impressed with my mediocre attempts and I had no intention of challenging his assessment of my abilities.  At least not until that day.

As always, my dad dropped off the three of us in front of the dojo.  My sister had a handful of coloring books that she never opened in her earnest absorption of the attending mothers’ gossip.  My brother walked silently towards the entrance with a solemn intensity in his eyes that later become a defining characteristic of his persona.  I walked behind them all and, for the millionth time, wondered why I had agreed to take karate lessons.  I was mortified by the possibility that someone from school would discover that I, the same girl who could not catch or throw a ball, climb a tree, play tetherball, or dribble a ball, was the same girl who was taking karate lessons.  I sighed, tugged my jacket, and whispered a silent prayer that Sensei would not make us practice summersaults.  Of all things related to my karate lessons, the thing I dreaded most were summersaults.  Every time we practiced them I feared that during one of those cumbersome and inefficient defense moves, I would break my neck and die in a most embarrassing rolled-up, tangled heap.  Unfortunately, Sensei did not share my fear.

The magic began when I walked up to the practice room’s entrance and reached out for the clipboard to sign my name and noticed for the first time the careless scribble of his handwriting.  There was nothing remarkable about his name other than the fact that it was written on the line above mine.  The closeness of our names pleased me unexpectedly and brought a smile to my face.  I set the clipboard back and carefully bowed before entering the room.  I quickly spotted him across the room goofing around with his best friend – or was it his cousin?  I could not remember.  Not wanting to be caught staring, I looked away and unintentionally caught my reflection in the mirror.  My hair was hopelessly ruffled and frizzy.  I frowned and walked to a corner to begin stretching.  As I stretched, my mind began to wander and focused on him.  Had he always looked this…what was the term?  Cute!  Had he always looked this cute?  Did it matter?  No, not exactly.  What was his favorite color, show, song, movie, season, game?  Did he have a girlfriend?  No, don’t answer that question; I don’t think I could bear it if the answer is ‘yes.’  The three-hour lesson went unnoticed by me.

Whether or not he actually saw me that day – or any other day for that matter – was of little importance.  What mattered was the fact that for the first time in three years I actually had a reason to want to execute perfect kicks, punches, and blocks.  I wanted him to see me because he was all that I cared to see.  His obnoxiously loud kiai became a thing of pride.  His exaggerated moves became a thing of majesty.  His sparing became a delicate, elaborate, graceful dance.  Even his face lost its resemblance to a garbanzo bean and became a most cherished sight.

I went home that night with a secret treasure.  He was my first crush.  Correction.  He was my first human crush.  Before him, my heart had belonged to the Japanese anime soccer player named Oliver.  Now, my heart belonged to my very own flesh-and-bone Oliver; except that instead of a being a soccer player he was a samurai warrior.

This sweet torment lasted a mere weeks; but those weeks felt like years to my young heart.  Time ceased to exist and was replaced by a cadence of emotions: anticipation, revelry, disappointment, idolatry, joy, indifference, insecurity.  Each emotion was more intense than the one before and they all awoke a part of me that I did not know existed.  Every night I prayed to the gods that the love of my life and I could grow old together after overcoming all imaginable obstacles that came our way.  Did it matter that he was two years older?  Did it matter that we attended different schools?  Did it matter that we had never had a proper conversation?  Absolutely not!  A family feud had not stopped Romeo and Juliet; why should these encumbrances stop us?  We had a lifetime to make things work!

Unfortunately, that dreamed Forever never came.  My parents put an end to my karate lessons one innocuous day when they sternly informed me that now that I was older it was inappropriate for me to wrestle with boys.  They’re ultimatum came like a death sentence.  How could I explain to them that my best friends and I had spent countless hours conjuring and refining my knight in shining armor while making daisy chains on the school playground?  How could I possibly justify wanting to continue the sport I disliked so much without revealing why I wanted to continue?  How could I do anything but walk silently to my room and cry?  I couldn’t.  So I cried for love for the first time.

———
“How It All Began” by Azul Serena

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