Kitty Crush

john-byrne-uncanny-x-men-139-cover-shadowcat-storm-angel-colossus-nightcrawler-wolverine-and-x-men_i-G-51-5127-RUJEG00Z.jpg

By Daniel Heindel

With the exception of an epic crush on the girl who lived at the end of my street when I was 5, my first love was Kelly Goldman.  We were in fifth grade, Mrs. Knight’s class.  It was 1980 and we were 11-years old.

Mrs. Knight was a great teacher, we all agreed, because she understood teaching kids our age had as much to do with nurturing as it did with challenging.  Of course, we didn't think about it in those terms.  We knew that Mrs. Knight never made any of us feel embarrassed for being who we were; cracking voices, sprouting hair, and all the glory of puberty pre-deodorant.

Mrs. Knight felt that alphabetical seating in class was the most equitable of arrangements, and Kelly sat two desks in front of me during the school year.  On the plus side this meant she was within a mostly safe note-passing range, but on the minus side every time the class split into groups there was a guarantee that she’d be in Group 1 and I’d get stuck in Group 3.  On those occasions I'd take special care to find a seat that allowed me to steal glances at Kelly’s long, wavy brown hair and delicate smile from across the room.  I tried not to stare.  Honest.  But just one glance my way could be a signal that my interest was shared.  

It took me until the last week of school to work up the courage to pass the note to Kelly that I had written so many months before.  It was a Monday.  10:00 AM recess.  A quick handoff during the chaos of thirty students migrating to the playfield.  The note said:  “Do you like me?  Yes.  No.  As a Friend.  (Please circle one).”

About 30 minutes before class let out for the day I got the note back.  “Yes,” was circled.  And there was more: “Do you want to meet?” was written at the bottom.

I froze.

NO.  I WOULD NOT LIKE TO MEET.  I would like to be able to navigate this whole encounter without ever having to make eye contact with you.  But, and I don’t know how I feel about this, I sure would like to touch your hair.  And hold your hand.  Yeah.  That would be cool – and maybe looking in your eyes would be okay.  I’M JUST SO SCARED YOU WON’T LIKE ME.  You know…up close.

Like any other priceless treasure, I stuffed the note deep into the front pocket of my jeans so it wouldn’t fall out, only to extract it 10 minutes later in my bedroom.  I read it over and over.  “She likes me.  Why does she like me?  Is this a joke?  She must have misunderstood.”  And then I saw the heart she drew at the bottom.  How could I have missed that the first hundred times?  

I returned the note the following day and “bravely” (i.e. brave insofar as she had already made the invitation) invited her to meet at 4:00 PM on the last day of school, by the swing-set on the far end of the play field.  If this were a joke then at least I wouldn’t have to see her in class the next day.

The two hours from the time school ended to the time of our scheduled rendezvous were murder on me.  I walked around the school so many times.  I wondered if she would forget, or not show.

She showed.

We spent a wonderfully awkward hour together not saying much of anything.  I gave her a small, gold heart that I had bought her for Valentines Day and never delivered.  I told her how much I liked her, and she said the same.  And then, after a little awesome handholding, Kelly headed home.  

When you’re an 11-year old boy with a mutual crush it’s hard to remember little things like getting a girl’s address or phone number.  Growing up in a relatively small neighborhood meant bumping into people all the time.  Kelly and I didn’t bump into each other that summer, and I found out a couple months later at the start of my sixth grade year that she and her family had moved away.  That’s when I knew what it meant to have a crush.

In September 1980, just as the new school year was kicking off, Uncanny X-Men #139 hit the newsstands.  Kitty Pryde was center cover.  Slight of build, brunette, deep brown eyes, a delicate smile; Kitty was the mirror twin of Kelly, or so it seemed to my hormone-addled heart.

Kitty had been introduced in the title a few months earlier (issue #129) as a keenly intelligent 13-year old with the ability to phase through solid objects.  And she was a computer geek!  In 1980!  An original Felicia Day in a world that wouldn’t see the first consumer cellphone for another four years.  She was the perfect (mutant) girl next door.  More than that, she was someone that I could relate to as a friend and a nerdy peer.

John Byrne, Terry Austin, and Chris Claremont, the brilliant creative team working on Uncanny X-Men, gave Kitty a spirit of confidence, optimism, resiliency and tenacity.  Qualities that I now expect out of myself and value in my closest friends.  When I did eventually marry, my wife did not look like Kitty; she had honey blonde hair, a roundish face and bright green eyes.  But she demonstrated in generous abundance each of those other characteristics that helped me see Kitty as a dear friend.

I’m not sure that I understand the psychology behind transference, but I suspect that “meeting” Kitty the same month that I “lost” Kelly is probably a good example of it.   Regardless, the character of Kitty Pryde helped me find comfort and closure after losing a friend unexpectedly; through word balloons and four-color newsprint she helped me understand some very real truths about personal character.  These are, I believe, hallmarks of great art.

Kitty and I remained friends for many years.  I was beside her (in spirit) as she battled the N’Garai demon on Christmas Eve, thrilled at the magical bedtime stories she told to Illyana, and my 13-year-old-self felt her pain and chagrin at being “demoted” to the New Mutants in issue #168.  I felt envy at her relationship with Peter, fear and anger at her capture by the Brood and Morlocks, and imagined many times what it would be like to see her “around campus” at the Xavier School (my mutant power would be invisibility – the perfect yang to her intangible yin).

Somewhere around the early '90s we lost touch, but I still think of her fondly.

Art is the lie that makes us realize the truth.  – Picasso

Daniel Heindel is a freelance writer living in Seattle who is best known to you for the article you just read.  He’s been enjoying comics since the mid-70s and envies anyone who can remember the first comic they ever read.  Also, he in no way means to imply that Felicia Day is not an original.  She’s awesome.

Daniel gets his comics at Golden Age Collectibles.