“See that boy over there?! His name is Garrett Brooks and he’s cute and I like him.” Shari Tate confided; I anxiously nodded in agreement. It was my first full day of kindergarten and my first afternoon at after school. When Shari, a super cool first grader, picked me to be her best friend and protege she also introduced me to crushes, boys like girls like boys, and the dirty word ‘sex’, and to the male gaze. Garrett was also a big first grader with an expressive face, a whiny, scratchy voice, and round head with large ears. For the next couple years Shari and I would be best friends. We’d join hips in the cafeteria after school and put our almost matching book bags together as we rehashed our days. She had a rectangular Beauty & The Beast book bag and I had the Little Mermaid one. We’d visit each others’ homes for playdates and when her dad died, I’d go to her dark house and play with her as her mom laid in her bedroom and cried. I was so proud to be her best friend. She chose me and I chose her and the after school staff couldn’t tell us apart.
Shari taught me the ancient art of having a crush on a boy. Scientific things like: yes, boys do have cooties, but not the ones you have a crush on. So Garrett was clean. Her jerk friend CJ was cootie free too, but we didn’t have a crush on him…because he’s white and fat and rude. She taught me that we should do things so the boys will notice us and like us back, but it’s not okay if a boy is mean to you, he doesn’t deserve our crush if he is. She taught me about making-out, which is also known as ‘sex’, and we practiced with these masks over our face at her house. I really enjoyed that. Shari taught me that being a black girl was actually pretty cool, this was contrary to what I had been conditioned to think during my preschool years. Shari taught me that’s it’s okay to be friends with your crush and to let him know you have a crush on him, but to not force the situation. He may not reciprocate the feelings, and that’s okay. She taught me to only have crushes on smart boys, dumb ones are a waste of time.
Shari taught me everything I knew about how to crush on boys, but she never once told me how it should feel on the inside. I wouldn’t learn that feeling until much later. Also, it was Shari I had the crush on.