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Paula Sophia Schonauer, LCSW, continues a serial memoir. If you haven’t read the earlier parts of this series, follow the links at the bottom of this page.

“I saw a star, I reached for it. I missed, so I accepted the sky”

Scott Fortino

I fell in love for the first time when I was in 5th grade, a deep longing kind of love. As I tried to abandon my desire to be a girl, I began to externalize my feelings, becoming infatuated with girls who embodied the feminine ideals of the time. It began with a crush on Marcia Brady on the television show, The Brady Bunch, which I watched on syndication every day after school, sometimes arguing with my siblings for control of the TV, sometimes fighting. 

Now, it’s common for 10- to 11-year-old boys to have crushes on teen celebrities, but mine felt singular and pure. I studied Marcia, noting how her long blonde hair flung out when she turned from left to right, how her eyes brightened when she smiled. She was fashionable and cool, totally at ease with her body, with her role as big sister, and she was popular in school, surrounded by friends, talented and yet gracious and sincere. 

Inspired by the “Getting Davy Jones” episode when Marcia writes a desperate letter to the singer, imploring him to make a guest appearance at her school prom, I wrote a letter to Maureen McCormick. I found her fan-mail address in the back of a Tiger Beat magazine, and I declared my love for her, not realizing she was ten years older than I was at the time and that she could not possibly reciprocate my feelings even, if by some miracle, she was to respond to my lovelorn epistle. However, as days and weeks and months went by without a response, I was crestfallen, moping around the house, feeling like I was not worthy of affection or esteem. 

Mom noticed my affliction one evening after I came home from school, laughing at the iconic episode when a football impacts Marcia’s nose, making it swell more than twice its normal size. 

Paula Sophia
Paula Sophia (provided)

“What’s wrong with you? I thought you were in love with Marcia?” 

I had malice in my heart. Marcia was so blissfully ignorant of my plight, unmoved by my love, always effervescent. It was nice to see her in despair, to see her worry about losing a guy’s interest. These feelings were new to me, so strange how love could turn hostile. 

“I don’t love her. She’s just a TV show character,” I said, feeling like I had betrayed her, yet curiously relieved to speak the truth. My fantasy had run its course.

“Maybe you should fall in love with a real girl, then maybe you’d have a chance.”

And so, I did. 

I had been going to school with her for nearly four years, and yes, I had noticed how pretty she was from the very first day I attended Redeemer Christian School, but my attraction was more about being like her than in liking her as a person. She had long blond hair like Marcia Brady, bright blue eyes, and a sparkling smile, and she wore attractive dresses, colorful slacks, and baby doll blouses with puffed sleeves and lace. She had the same effervescent qualities I admired in Marcia Brady, but she was real and, in my life, almost every day. 

One afternoon during science class, Mrs. Leach let us go outside to see if we could find and identify a list of leaves she had given to pairs of students, and I was lucky enough to be paired with HER, Leah Haber. She and I sifted through piles of autumn leaves beneath a grove of trees in the front of the school. I found an oak tree leaf, yellow and tinged with red. She checked it off the list. 

“Good find,” she said, her voice taking on a melodious quality, perhaps as much illusion as reality. Her affirmation felt wonderful.

She found a maple tree leaf, red with crisp brown edges. 

“Good job!” 

“Not so much. There’s lots of maple trees here.”

We walked toward a tree with white bark, three separate trunks growing from its base. The leaves were still on the branches, bright yellow and orange, shaped like tongues of flame. 

“This is a birch tree,” Leah said. 

I looked around. Nobody seemed to be watching us. I got between two of the trunks and started to shimmy upward between them, my back against one trunk, my feet together on another. I got high enough to grab the base of a low branch, grabbed it and transferred my feet to each trunk, working myself into a standing position. I was able to pull myself onto the branch and climb several feet into the canopy where I grabbed one of the leaves. I dropped it toward Leah, watching float downward, her upturned face smiling at me. That was it. I was in love, and I would have given my soul to have her smile at me like that for all eternity. 

Leah and I found all the leaves on our list before any other pair of students had finished. We sat on a stone wall near the entrance of the school, having our first real conversation in four years. We talked about Little House on the Prairie, a television show that had been airing for two years by then. I had not been able to watch it very often because Dad disliked Michael Landon for some reason, and Mom liked The Waltons, another popular family show at the time. 

“Do you think Melissa Gilbert is pretty?” Leah asked. 

“Not really.”

Leah seemed to be happy with my answer. 

“She reminds me of Elizabeth on The Waltons.”

“Yeah, that’s true.” 

Leah smiled at me. She laughed but not in a mean way. “You kind of remind me of John-Boy. You’re quiet and think a lot, kind of like a writer.” 

When Mrs. Leach called the class together, I decided I wanted to be a writer to prove Leah right. I had written Maureen McCormick a heartfelt letter, a whole page, and I felt like I had it in me to be a writer. Leah had given me a wonderful gift. 

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Last Updated November 19, 2021, 9:56 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor