I remember when I was seven and had just started my first year at primary school. There was this boy in my class with the cutest haircut ever that I had a bit of a crush on. For some reason – I have no clue why – we always sat next to each other on the school bus. He didn’t live very far away from me – perhaps a mile – and even less when you took a shortcut. Wolfgang – that was his name, seemed rather quiet and shy to me but I still liked him – secretly, of course.
I remember one time when we were on our way back from school and all the other girls had already left the bus. Two boys that were known for being rascals, one called Simon – which was a neighbour and friend of mine – and the other one called Daniel, took their seatbelts off and started messing around. Wolfgang was still sitting quietly beside me. Until the two other boys suddenly got this crazy idea that I had to be kissed by him. I acted like I was disgusted and turned away so that Wolfgang – who found the idea hilarious and was attempting to plant a perfect smooch on me wouldn’t be able to accomplish his mission (I secretly didn’t mind at all, but of course I couldn’t just show them that I liked their idea), so I struggled as hard as I could to avoid Wolfgang kissing me until the boys figured out I wouldn’t hold still and get kissed unless they held me against my will. Wolfgang then successfully kissed me on my bright red cheek with the two other boys cheering in the background and I got off the bus the happiest person on the planet.
I will always remember the first time I met Rene. I was around 8 or 9 years old and my mother told me one day that I should get ready for a party/barbecue we would be having that evening. My parents had invited lots of people over and I would be knowing none of them, hence my attitude towards said event was rather negative. But since I had no say in the matter, I did as I was told. Mother explained to me that there was a society of foster parents that usually met up once a month. One of the members had recently come up with the idea that it might be great to meet up one day and bring the fostered children along so we could all get to know each other. And what, for this occasion, would be a better idea than a barbecue?
I remember lying down in front of the TV set, until my mother exclaimed that the first guests had arrived. I was not excited, but opened the front door. All I saw, at first sight, were plenty of strangers as well as cars. A little boy was complaining that the car ride had taken far too long. Then I spotted him. He was just standing there and wearing a blue jacket, which was nothing unusual. Something about him struck me like a lightning though so before I knew what I was doing, I marched towards him, shook his hand and said “Hi, I am Susanna” and welcomed him. The poor boy looked terribly confused. I left him standing there and started to gather all the candy that the rest of the guests had brought for me and my brothers. Most children – as far as I could see I was the only girl apart from a 3-year-old that wouldn’t leave her parents’ side – ran off to play in the sandbox.
The boy in the blue jacket just stuck around me and followed me wherever I went. There would be a surprise awaiting us in the kitchen, which was why we weren’t allowed to enter the house, so I decided to head for the barn, where I jumped off huge piles of hay along with a couple of boys including the one wearing the blue jacket. When we were alone, I asked him what his name was and he said “Rene”. We struck up a conversation as we both petted a couple of baby cats. I asked him how old he was and he replied that he had just turned 9 a couple of days ago. I congratulated him and said that I was still eight, but that my birthday was only a few months away. We were finally allowed to enter the house and there was indeed a huge surprise awaiting us. It consisted of cakes as far as the eye could see – and we were allowed to eat as much as we wanted to. So me and Rene, who was sitting next to me, stuffed each other’s faces. While we were doing so, I explained that the hayloft above the barn was actually a labyrinth. Rene got all excited and wanted to go there, which we later on did. Up on the hayloft, we just strolled around randomly. I asked him whether he had ever been to a farm before. “Yeah”, he replied “my grandfather owns one”. Suddenly we heard two voices saying “I wonder where Rene and Susanna are. Let’s go and search for them.” “Come, let’s lie down on the floor so they won’t see us”, Rene whispered. I giggled and did as he told me. “Oh, they’re not here”, the voice said, “let’s go downstairs”. Rene and I grinned at each other and then also went downstairs to where the barbecue had already started. Again, we sat down next to each other. We even shared a piece of banana cake on one plate, as – as his mother put it – there was no dishwasher and they’d rather not waste too many plates. Later, a picture of all of us kids was taken. Rene was standing underneath me which made me incredibly proud. After this, everyone had to leave soon, so Rene and I sat down outside in the backyard at the swings and just talked until it was time for him to go home. I was really sad that he had to leave but his mother and my mother exchanged addresses and she promised me that she’d arrange for us to meet again in summer. My mother later told me that Rene had never gotten along so well with a girl. I also found out that he had only learned how to speak at the age of four.
Throughout the year, Rene and I kept sending each other letters. I remember having received the cutest birthday card from him. As I was told, he would rush to the mailbox daily in order to see whether there was a letter there from me. In summer, Rene was invited to stay over for a week at my place. My parents and I went to pick him up. While Rene got all of his things ready and the adults got into a conversation in the kitchen, I created a huge havoc with his younger brother, Sigi, in the living room. Rene would not participate. To me, at that point, he seemed rather grown up and serious. He hardly smiled too. On the ride back to my place, we sat next to each other but basically didn’t really exchange a word. At home, Rene was tired and ready to go to sleep so we both disappeared into my room, where there was a mattress on the floor prepared for him. When he was fast asleep, I’d turn the lights on and just look at him and marvel at how beautiful he was.
The week went by fast. I don’t remember everything that we did, but one day we took my dog Daisy for a long walk and I showed him around in the little town I grew up in. I even showed him my primary teacher’s house. Another day, we went to the public pool together. I was a bit afraid of the water – always had been – therefore I only stayed in the shallow areas which Rene didn’t understand. He ran off to the more deeper ends and made fun of me with the other boys because I just wouldn’t muster up the courage to jump into the water from a bridge. (I was honestly convinced that I was going to die). One evening, Rene and I were in my room as usual, when he asked me, if I knew what sex was. I laughed, called him a fool and said, of course I knew what that was. “Do you want to do it”? he asked me. I replied: “Sure”. “Well, then you have to get undressed”. Which I did, thinking this was perfectly funny. I lay down on top of him and wouldn’t stop giggling. “You’ll have to take off your clothes as well or it won’t work!” I demanded and we got into a play-fight. We were interrupted because we noticed somebody opening or rather closing my bedroom door.
The next and last time that I saw Rene, was at the next foster children meeting, which took place in his hometown. Rene successfully pretended (or did he pretend?) not to like me, so I mostly hung out with the other guys. One of them, he was referred to as “Richie”, a bespectacled thirteen-year-old that everyone respected, even told Rene off for calling me names. “Stop messing with my girl” he said and invited me to his treehouse where there was a “no girls”- policy, a fact that one of the other boys pointed out to him. “Well, she’s an exception”, Richie declared and that was that. Up in the treehouse, Richie produced a pack of cigarettes. We all sat in a circle and he passed the lit cigarette from boy to boy. I remember my brother inhaling the fumes and some six-year-old that always wet his pants, as well. I didn’t feel like joining in, but I still liked the almost solemn atmosphere.
When I was fourteen and in my last year of junior high, I had a crush on about every guy I came across, it didn’t really matter to me whether I knew his names or not. I would keep journals where I’d rate boys according to hotness (if I didn’t know a guy’s name, I would refer to him as f.e.: “the guy with the striped shirt” or compare him to a celebrity). It didn’t help that the students in my parallel class were all boys. Of course, as I was rather plain-looking, the fact of me fruitlessly chasing after guys was met with both ridicule and escape. One week in April, the school had organized a trip to London for some students, including myself, so I was away for a week. When I got back from the trip, Nadine, one of the children that I shared my home with and who always knew the latest gossip, got all excited and said: “There’s a new guy. In the parallel class. His name’s David”. – “Uh-huh”. I said, not even trying to pretend as though as I was actually interested in what she was going to say. “And he doesn’t like fur” Nadine giggled, “he’s a vegetarian”. That’s when I stopped and listened, raising my eyebrows. I was a vegetarian as well.
The next day, I saw a guy walking down the stairs to the afore-mentioned parallel class. I only saw his hair and not his face, as he was walking with his head down, but I immediately knew that this must be the guy they referred to as “David” aka “The New Guy”. When it was time for Math class, a class that I generally dreaded, not because I didn’t like the subject but because of the fact that the teacher always arrived late and some kids would seize this opportunity to constantly tease me up to the point where I’d be at the verge of tears, the teacher entered the class as usual and behind him, there was David. “We have a new student”, Mr. Wolfgang announced. I told myself I didn’t care and just went back to business, doing some equations. Still I could not help but look at him. There was something special about him, something that I could not explain. David, at that point, had black hair, blue eyes and constantly wore a suit to school which I found very unusual. Even the teachers at my school dressed casually.
We were each told to do our own calculating. The teacher would be sitting at the front desk and we’d queue up if we had a question or needed our results to be corrected. I lined up right behind David, who, when he turned around to me, smiled at me. I got suspicious. People normally didn’t smile at me. Heck, I didn’t even smile at myself, what was his deal? His behaviour both irritated and confused me but still I couldn’t help but smile back – whether I wanted to or not. The next day, I arrived at school at the same time as David. I hung up my jacket at the wardrobe, and David would smile and say “Hello”. I’d turn around to see if anybody was standing behind me but there was no-one. When I wanted to say “Hi” back, David had already disappeared. This kept going on for a couple of days, until we both finally accomplished to say “Hi” to one another.
David soon became a rather popular student. He was cheeky yet charming and knew who not to get in trouble with. Of course he soon realized, that those, that you did not mess with, were out to get me. One of the guys that had turned my trip to London into a living nightmare, his name was Felix, would always say things to me like “Susie, are you going home after class? Oh, excuse me, I forgot that you didn’t have a home”. He was also the author of my nickname “Eskimo”, a title I had earned for going to Canada each summer. “Susie, why do they keep calling you an Eskimo”? David asked me cheekily. Since I knew that he knew and also knew that he was just asking me in order to make an impression on Felix and his gang and earn plenty of laughter, I turned around, stuck out my tongue and watched as the smile on his face froze.
Another day, I was sitting in the back row and putting up with some other guys calling me names, shooting items at me as well as taping adhesive tape to my hair and force-feeding me my own pencil case. David happened to sit right before me. At one point, he’d turn around and again he’d have that cheeky little look on his face that really annoyed the hell out of me. Well, maybe deep inside within me I actually found it cute, but the fact that I didn’t want to find it cute, amounted to me finding it annoying. Either way, he leaned on my desk, stared at me bluntly and chewed on his gum for a couple of moments before pointing at the back of my hand, which had the word “Cocoa” written all over it – I had forgotten to pay this month’s bill. “You drink cocoa?” he asked me. “Yeah. So?” – “I drink Cocoa too”. Good for you, I thought. But David didn’t stop right there. He pointed at my pencil case, which was decorated with pictures of my then favourite band, Busted. “Boo-Sted”, David exclaimed. Although I didn’t want to find this funny, it made me laugh. “Look at this guy”, David continued, “he’s got such a funny face. And this one, just look at his eyebrows!” David grinned and then turned back around.
Whilst trying to do my English homework one day, I discovered that my dictionary was missing. I saw that in one of the lockers next to mine, there was a dictionary and said to myself “Oh I am sure its owner won’t mind if I borrowed it for just one day”, so I took it home. There, when I opened the first page, I got shell-shocked. It had David’s name written all over it. I ran over to Nadine’s room and we both marvelled at the dictionary. I marvelled at it even more than her because I had no clue how on earth David’s dictionary could end up in my class. The next day, I’d just put the dictionary on his desk. David looked at me like I was the strangest person he’d ever met and didn’t know what was going on. I tried to make clear to him that I had found his dictionary, so I just said “Open it”. A part of me facepalmed hard inside of me for getting all tongue-tied. How hard was it to say “I’ve found your dictionary”? David frowned and opened the dictionary just to exclaim “Oh, it’s mine”. (DUH).
Another time, during Math class, David went past me to the teacher’s desk. I don’t even know why I did it, but I coughed. It was not like I needed to cough or that I had anything to say that would require a cough, because I didn’t, but of course David’s attention was all mine. I turned bright red, so red that all I could feel was heat rising up in my face and my ears starting to burn like fire. I didn’t want to think about myself blushing because I thought that would only make it worse, but what was I to do? I couldn’t stop focusing on my face. I also couldn’t move nor speak a word of reason. I felt like the whole class was aware of what was going on. It didn’t help that David actually bent over my desk to see what I was doing. I thought I was going to die, now finding it hard to breathe. I was so glad when class was over and I could go back to my classroom. The whole scenario just repeated itself the next few days. David, if he knew, and I am sure he did, just went about it in the same cheeky manner as he always did. “Who stole the Math book”? He’d ask “It was you, Susie, wasn’t it? Oh come on, just admit it”. I told him to shut up.
It was nearly time for graduation and everyone was heading into different directions. Some would go to Senior High, some would start looking for jobs and others would start an apprenticeship. I overheard David saying that he wanted to go to an art school in Styria because he was one of these people they call “art fanatics”. I found it a real shame that under these circumstances, I’d never see him again because I detested art and really wanted to attend Senior High School. It was the school that David had flunked out of before he became a student at our school. “I’d never go there again”, he once told me when we were talking about our plans for the future.
It was the summer before I started High School. I had more or less gotten over the fact that I was never going to see David again. Until I found out that his application to art school had not been successful and his second choice had been “my” Senior High School.