By Jason Quinn Malott
I remember finding a book of my father’s matches when I was about four years old and setting my parent’s bed on fire. They were outside washing the car and thought it was cute the first time I toddled out to the front porch and said “Fire.” After I said it again they decided to investigate. Thankfully, the mattress was flame retardant, so only a dinner plate sized patch had burned before they threw a glass of water on it. They kept that mattress for the rest of their marriage and would occasionally call me into the room to remind me of
After my sister was born, I developed a penchant for elaborate stories. The most stunning one happened because I was bored, naked, and in possession of a green magic marker. I drew a line of dots up the inside of both thighs to my groin, then a line of dots up my arms and on each side of my ribcage. Where ever I thought bolts would go if I were a robot. If only it had stopped there, but no. I then dressed and went out to play with the boys and girls in my neighborhood. When I told them I was a robot, they demanded proof, so, I led them behind a tree in our front yard and showed them my green bolts.
It’s the only time anyone has ever gasped in amazement when I’ve dropped my pants, and may be the reason my love-life has been so spotty.
In the second grade I sprang a crush on a girl named Carla Eichman. She had curly blonde hair and dimples and wore those giant, late 70‘s, plastic framed glasses that made everyone look like owls. I was eight and sure I’d found “The One.”
We went to the same Lutheran church in Dodge City, KS, and from the second grade until the end of eighth grade we saw each other six out of seven days during the school year. I had a recurring dream we were married and lived in a tiny village under the church pews. We had a kid who set our bed on fire and showed the neighbors his penis.
And, of course, at least once a year for the next seven years, I asked her to be my girlfriend and each time she’d tell me she didn’t think it was a good idea, or that she didn’t want to ruin our friendship, or that opposites didn’t work out.
One colloquial definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. By that measure, when it came to Carla, I was insane, and she knew it. On Valentine’s Day, 1981, I crammed 23 Looney Tunes cards into an envelope and had to wait all day to give them to her. The quick and furtive exchange happened in the hall as school let out. Without a word, I thrust my little package of Bugs and Daffy and Elmer festooned cards into her hand. . .and then ran away.
In between the doomed efforts to get her to “go with me” I tried to ignore her. After all, I had crushes on other girls. It was like a hobby, or practice. There was Natalie, Stephanie, Cherity, Sarah, Rachel, Heather, Becky, Kristen and Jennifer. Lots more. I even agreed to go with a girl I only talked to on the phone, named Penelope, but who turned out to be these guys, Jim and Jeff, who thought it was a practical joke.
Anyway, my Carla affliction was evident to everyone, especially the grown-ups at church. If Carla was in the same room, my infatu-crush blazed like a lighthouse on a foggy night. So, when it came time for the Christmas pageant our fifth grade year, they thought it would be cute for us to be Mary and Joseph. Carla played her part well, kept her eyes lovingly transfixed on the manger and the plastic baby Jesus. I, however, couldn’t stop staring at her, hoping she would see it as a sign from God, like I did.
We started confirmation classes in the eighth grade, which meant we saw each other on Wednesday nights for our midweek catechism classes on top of school and Sunday services. Also, everything assumed a particular desperation when my parents decided we were moving to Wichita, KS. I was going to lose her forever if I didn’t do something. Problem was, I had no idea what to do until it was too late and, even then, it wasn’t a very good idea.
At the last school dance of the year, I passive-aggressively refused to take no for an answer.
“Come on,” I pleaded. “It’s the last dance and then we’ll probably never see each other again. Just one dance.”
“I still don’t think it would be a good idea,” she said.
And so we stood there staring at each other through the last slow song. You’d think I’d remember what the damn song was, but I don’t. It might have been something by Journey, or maybe Chicago. When the song ended and the dance was over, she slipped away in the crowd.
After the school year ended and before we packed up the moving van, I wrote her a letter. Told her I loved her. I didn’t expect a response, but when I got one there was a brief moment of hope – right before I started reading it. Her letter rehashed every reason she’d given for turning me down; opposites didn’t work, she didn’t think of me that way, it would ruin our friendship, etc. Then she told me to keep my faith in God and take care of my soul because “If we never see each other again, I’d kinda like to see you in heaven.”
It was that hedge, “kinda,” that finally broke the spell. I decided that if she wasn’t sure she wanted to see me in heaven then, well, I didn’t need to humiliate myself by being there. I’m not saying she was the reason I gave up Christianity, but it was the first catalyst to my departure. The dubious honor of killing my faith goes to the combination of an aborted suicide attempt and an apocalyptic, tongue-speaking Methodist youth group leader who hated heavy metal, claimed to know the date the world would end, and secretly harbored so much rage at girls he snapped off the trigger on my battery operated water gun while shooting it at the cute girl who lured me into the group.
I could write a memoir on all the stupid things I’ve done because of girls. All of it, oddly, some variation of setting things on fire or inappropriately flashing my junk.
Bio: Jason Quinn Malott earned his BA in Creative Writing from Kansas State University and his MFA in Writing and Poetics from Naropa University. His novel, The Evolution of Shadows was published in 2009 by Unbridled Books and was a November 2009 Indie Next pick and a 2010 Kansas Notable Book. He is a co-founder of the fledgling literary and arts website Eunoia Solstice (http://eunoiasolstice.com) and host of The Outrider Podcast (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-outrider-podcast/id707526920?mt=2).