I swear, if it weren't for Duane Garland, I would probably be illiterate.
On the very first day of first grade, we were told to get in groups of six and do our best to read a small excerpt of The Weekly Reader. Those who could read well would be taken out of our classroom and moved down the hall to a new class that would combine first and second grade students.
My crush on Duane from Kindergarten had outlasted the Summer. Somehow my short attention span was outwitted by his blond hair, his blue eyes, and his quiet, mysterious demeanor.
One by one, our group read the excerpt allowed, each kid perfectly pronouncing the words on the page. How did they all know how to read so well? How was it that I was the only one who had no idea how to link words into an entire sentence?
The laminated piece of paper was passed to me. I held it close to my face so no one could see the worry in my eyes. I uttered the only words I knew: "and"... "the"... "cat." It was useless.
Small tears crept up into the sides of my eyes and I feared that Duane would know the truth: I couldn't read.
After a few attempts to combine syllables into words, Duane grew impatient. "You need to read it out LOUD," he said before being shushed by the teacher monitoring our group.
I defended my struggle. "I'm reading silently to myself."
That afternoon Duane was moved to the smart kids' class. I stayed with the group of non-readers.
Over the next few months, I made learning how to read my mission. There was no way - of all people - Duane Garland was going to think that I was a dumb girl who cried at the sight of words. I sat up late at night reading books, studying spelling, and asking my parents to quiz me.
By Winter I had sped past the reading levels of the rest of my classmates. When it came to "reading time," I would walk down the hall to the smart kids' class and read with them. Every Tuesday, I felt bliss as my handsome blue-eyed escort would come to the door and would utter my name, requesting my presence. Storytime awaited us.
We would walk together, fifty kid-sized steps down the hall in silence as I would write the story of our loving future together. I read as many books as possible during our reading time, absorbing every newly discovered word, just so I could spend time sitting next to Duane before we made our silent journey back to my classroom.
I worked so hard that I managed to advance to the strongest reader in our group.
There have been many times in my life when I wondered what the point was in having a crush on someone. For weeks, months, or even years, my heart would canter at the very thought of a certain boy. I would hope he would look at me, breathe on me, accidentally bump into me. And why would I invest so much in unrequited love? What was its purpose other than ending up crushed?
Whenever any of my crushes turned into something romantically plausible, I would end up disappointed that my fantasy of perfection wasn't true. Why couldn't they all be like Duane Garland? He was unattainable and yet so extraordinary in what he'd done for me.
But crushes were sometimes the very reason for my existence. Crushes ended up being the main reason why I got up to go to school everyday. Or to church. Eventually, crushes were the main reason why I showered or shaved my legs. The sheer hope of a boy noticing me noticing him somehow convinced me to be a participant in life until I finally found my own desires to do, well, anything.
Today I celebrate my crushes. For teaching me to push myself further. For getting me where I needed to be. And for helping me learn how to continue reaching for seemingly unattainable possibilities.