Julie Townsend Maigret's avatar
Julie Townsend Maigret

3 min

Love & Listen

The Real Surprise

It wasn't all about the fish

by Julie Townsend Maigret

Our first introduction to New Wave makes us feel superhuman — it’s unlike anything we’ve ever heard.

The Real Surprise | It wasn't all about the fish

Jessie and I were 5th grade loves. We were classmates at Yardville Elementary School in small town NJ, and he was crazy about me.

Here she comes again
When she’s dancing ‘neath the starry sky
Oo, she’ll make you flip

One day a rumor starts to swirl that Jessie wants to ask me to the 5th Grade Dance. He is freckled, funny, and sensitive beyond his years. For the past few weeks we have been doing a little dance of our own during recess: he comes up to me and insults my curly hair by stating that I look “like Shirley Temple on the warpath,” and I kick him in the shins. He then rolls around on the concrete, hugging his leg while I stand over him with nostrils still flaring from an insult I am not even sure I understand.

With a confusing combination of shyness and bravado, Jessie finally asks and I say yes, fully aware that committing to be his date to the 5th Grade Dance means that we are boyfriend and girlfriend. Shit’s about to get real. Real grown up.

And then the real wooing begins. Out go the insults and in come the daily presents. Each morning, as we are lining up on the playground to file into our classrooms, Jessie presents me with a brown lunch bag full of Swedish Fish candies. He heard that they are my favorite, so every day is Valentine’s Day. Sometimes they are all red, sometimes multicolored. I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THEY CAME IN MULTICOLORS. Even at the age of 10 I recognize this blatant disregard for my oral health as being so sweet and so pure. This kid is special. And we are happy.

We 5th graders have our own special something planned for the dance: we are going to perform a choreographed number for the chaperones — an obvious harbinger of the future flashmob fad, but a lot more cute and a lot less cool.

A few times a week we shuffle down to the cafeteria, push the tables aside, and practice our routine to “My Best Friend’s Girl” by this new band called The Cars. Our first introduction to New Wave makes us feel superhuman — it’s unlike anything we’ve ever heard. And we own this song.

Here she comes again
When she’s dancing ‘neath the starry sky
I kinda like the way she dips

Over and over again. Spinning. Dipping. Probably, definitely white man’s overbite-ing. I feel so grown up, moving as one with Jessie and my classmates as we dance our little tween hearts out.

Picture the “Hot Lunch Jam” from Fame.

This is nothing like that.

Just a bunch of awkward, uncoordinated 5th graders blindly spiraling towards the abyss of an even more awkward, uncoordinated adolescence.

You’re always dancing down the street
With your suede blue eyes
And every new boy that you meet
He doesn’t know the real surprise

The real surprise is that I am a little bitch.

A few weeks before the dance, in a mood, and in true Mean Girls fashion, I confide in my friend that I want to break up with Jessie but don’t want to part with the Swedish Fish. I don’t even know why I say this to her; I don’t really want to break up with him. I like him. Perhaps more than I like the fish. Or maybe it’s a tie.

And in equally true Mean Girls fashion, she rats me out.

Panic. Analysis. Decision.

My surprisingly astute 10-year-old self ultimately deduces that, in order to preempt the possibility of Jessie breaking up with me first and damaging my rep as well as my ego, I have to follow through. When I break the news, he is crestfallen.

Well she’s my best friend’s girl
And she used to be mine
She’s so fine

Like all young love, ours has a shelf life. But, considering it is based on preservatives such as sugar, corn syrup, and red dye 40, it should have lasted longer than a few weeks.

The dance is upon us. I sleep in curlers the night before, so my curls haphazardly frame the fluffy white Easter dress recycled for the occasion. In white, patent leather shoes, I gracelessly shimmy across the gym floor to the song that will end up catapulting The Cars to superstardom.

Jessie dons an ill-fitting suit that matches his suede blue eyes perfectly. A consummate gentleman, he still dances beside me despite my transgression until the 5th grade version of the wee hours of the night.

As kids do, we move up the rungs of middle and high school. Our special bond cemented by kicks to the shins and the poor man’s gummy bear, we remain friends well after our dramatic breakup. He still holds a special place in my heart. We still make each other laugh.

We even drunkenly make out once during senior year, and he confesses that he has always been in love with me. But alas, freckles are no longer my jam; I have moved on to dimples. Plus I am going away to college, and planning to move to California after graduation. And I use boys for confections — so he can likely do better anyway.

But it turns out that he doesn’t even remember the ridiculousness surrounding our breakup. I kicked him, used him, and broke his heart but he, mercifully, only kept the good memories of me. We should all be so lucky.

That song still gets me to this day. It represents choreographed dance routines, bad decisions, lost opportunities, and the pressure to sell out. Of mean girls and The Great Swedish Fish Controversy of 1979.

But above all it reminds me of a sweet, melodramatic love that perhaps died too soon.

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