She was called Rose. Rose Pityriasis. Just as in Juliet’s balcony soliloquy, there were times I wished Rose had a different name. Maybe mine. Or maybe one I could pronounce.
I remember when I first truly noticed her in primary school. My friends and I were taking turns falling out of the walnut tree in the park. I was sitting out a few rounds, removing gravel from my knees, when she walked by. In my short life she must have passed by me a hundred times, but this time something was different. The imperial way she held her books, the way she rolled her eyes at me squatting in the dirt. I realized then that she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. (Until then the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen was moldy bread.) From that moment I was smitten.
In class it was difficult to concentrate. I spent my time stealing looks across the room at Rose. There weren’t many opportunities: our teacher was very strict and only fell asleep at his desk two or three times a day. Still, I would risk discovery and ridicule from my friends just to study her face for a second or two. And there were those rare times when I caught her actually looking back at me! Sometimes she grimaced, other times she protruded her tongue or silently mouthed, “What is your problem?”
Rose’s cheeks were like silk sheets—or so I’d guess; my family slept in second-hand horse blankets. Her shoulders sloped gracefully off her neck at an angle that made her an ideal left tackle for our football team. She walked like a dancer, light on her feet. (Unfortunately, she danced like a bricklayer.) And her laugh could soothe a crying baby—from two blocks away.
Mother insisted I couldn’t see her because she lived on the other side of the tracks. “What tracks?” I asked. Rose lived next door. So Mother crept out one night with my Thomas & Friends train set and assembled the plastic tracks in a straight line between our driveways. For my birthday she bought more track, to make sure it reached all the way to the backyard.
I was hurt, but love drove me on. I’d lie, telling Mother I was going out to “run the pigs on the exercise wheel,” which worked fine until Dad reminded her that we had no pigs, and that the exercise wheel was in the hamster cage upstairs. So I developed a daily routine of greeting Mother at breakfast, engaging her in friendly chit-chat, then suddenly pointing out the window and saying, “Hey, what’s that?!” to distract her before darting out the back door.
But fate conspired against Rose and me. Before every planned rendezvous she would suddenly cancel due to some new development: her dog had a cyst in its armpit; the weather forecast called for three days of darkness; her family were hosting exchange students from the Ottoman Empire. And then she broke the worst news of all: her parents had forced her into an arranged marriage with Barney, a big purple dinosaur on a TV show. I nearly collapsed with despair, but somehow Rose kept her wits about her, even summoning a tender Mona Lisa-like smirk for me, to help us both bear the pain.
Days later, as I sulked in my desk, eyes closed, trying to erase the image of Rose that was seared into my eyelids, a pencil dropped near my feet. Instinctively I picked it up, thinking it was mine. But then I heard the voice of Flora Candida, the girl who sat in front of me, saying, “Give it here.” I looked at her and something was different: the way she snatched her pencil back as if I had defiled it, the way her ponytail swatted me as she turned away. I realized then that she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. From that moment I was smitten.
In class it was difficult to concentrate, etc.