When I was in the fourth grade, I decided I was in love with Cory Schneider.* He was a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy in my class, skinny with a smattering of freckles on his nose.
And because it was circa 1998 and what I’d learned from 90s sitcom televisions about love up to that point was that you sent secret admirer letters to those you crushed on, I did just that.
I wrote three in total — with each one I became more daring than the last. And, let me tell you, that was the most thrilling two-week period of my entire life up until that moment.
I remember writing the first one. It was short, sweet, to the point. Said something like, “Dear Cory, I think you’re cute. Love, Your Secret Admirer.”
Then I snuck down to my mom’s room, pulled out a bottle of Chanel No. 5 — her signature scent, which I had to use in a pinch, having not yet acquired a signature scent of my own — and sprayed probably $5 worth of perfume on that piece of paper. I sprayed until the ink blurred a little, but it was still legible.
Then I put it into an envelope, and not having any lipstick to seal it with a kiss, as one must, and not being brave enough to steal any of that from my mother, I grabbed a magic marker, applied what was probably toxic dye to my lips, and then gave the seal a good ol’ SMACK.
I walked a few blocks down the street to Josh Haydell’s house. He was a friend of Cory’s, so I dropped the letter in the mailbox for him to deliver on my behalf. I think the envelope just said, “To Cory Schneider ” and I assumed Josh would know what to do with it.
I’d known where Cory lived, too, and could have walked to deliver it to his mailbox, but that seemed risky. Also, he lived a lot farther away, and I guess there were limits to the lengths I was willing to go to for my love.
That next morning, I didn’t have to wait long. Because it was the 90s and children were still familiar with how standard letter delivery worked, Josh had indeed known exactly what to do with his missive.
Upon entering my classroom, the room was already abuzz with what had happened: Someone had sent Cory — squeee! — a secret admirer letter.
Giving it to Josh turned out to be an even better plan than I’d originally thought, because it meant that Cory couldn’t pretend to never have gotten it. The deed was immediately very public.
And the news rippled like wildfire. I even heard teachers talking about it. “What’s all this about a letter,” one teacher asked my teacher. “Oh, just some girl crushing on Cory,” the other one said.
That was ME! I was some girl!
I waited a few days. The buzz died down. So, obviously, I had to send a second letter.
I executed and delivered this message in much the same way: wrote it, perfumed it, SMACKED it shut with magic-marker lips, and dropped it safely off at Cory’s for delivery.
But this backfired on me in the worst way.
My faithful, unwitting delivery man, Josh Gilstrap, started getting bullied pretty quickly the next day as a result.
The guys were saying it was weird that he kept getting these letters — was HE the secret admirer?
In the 90s, being gay wasn’t something you talked about freely. It was a shittier time. I felt terrible the other boys were teasing Josh, and knew I had to fix this.
So I did the only thing I could think of: I wrote ANOTHER letter.
In this one, I explained that Josh was most DEFINITELY not the secret admirer, that it was someone else, and that someone really liked Cory. I also put a dollar bill in the envelope this time, because what says love if not cold, hard cash?
Then I mustered up all the courage my little fourth-grade heart could manifest, and I dropped the letter into his backpack when he wasn’t looking so Josh wouldn’t be held culpable for my actions any longer.
That plan may have actually worked, too. And I could have maybe gone on the rest of the year dropping anonymous notes to this poor kid, embarrassing him to no end in my own need to feel important as the new kid at the school after moving to Shreveport, Louisiana, from Austin, Texas, in the wake of my parents’ divorce.
It was still fresh, the divorce — and I was desperate to ignore the hurt of it, I suppose. So I wrote these silly letters. But if I didn’t want to have to look at it too closely in the midst of this little mess I was busy making, dear reader, then neither should you. So let’s move on.
Where were we? Oh, yeah. I would have gotten away with it, too — except … this last time I sent the letter, I made a devastating boo-boo.
I’d met a new friend at school that week. Nicole Hernandez. She was funny and outgoing and smart and I wanted us to be besties. I wanted it so badly, I was going to will it into being.
Earlier that week, in an effort toward this goal, I’d asked for her phone number. She’d given it to me on a slip of paper which I then put into my pocket.
As part of my letter production, I always wrote my letter upstairs, put the note into my pocket, brought it downstairs, doused it in perfume, then brought it back upstairs, put the contents of my pocket in the envelope, and SMACKED the envelope shut with pursed magic marker lips.
Efficient? No. But hey, I was eleven.
This time, though, my methods totally failed me in the worst way imaginable, because … NICOLE HERNANDEZ’s NUMBER ENDED UP IN THAT DAMN ENVELOPE.
And, also, because Nicole — who was, of course, going to be my best friend — was the only person at school who knew I was the identity of the secret admirer! SQUEEE, indeed!
I’d told her in a moment of weakness. And I had probably also hoped the secret would act as collateral in establishing the foundation of a true friendship I desperately craved.
Things happened very quickly after that.
In homeroom, everyone was saying that Nicole liked Cory. How embarrassing.
Then, in the hallway, Nicole cornered me and told me either I could come clean myself and we could be friends, or she’d do it for me and would never speak to me again.
I explained that it was an accident! And begged her not to make me tell Cory that I was the one who liked him and not her.
She held her ground. (As she damn well should have.) And so it was decided that I would tell Cory in our next class together, art class.
Nicole was in that class, too, so she made sure I did it, practically shoving me over to Cory’s table where he was working on something. I interrupted his concentration to mumble quickly, “I wrote the notes.” He didn’t hear me. “What?”
I took a breath and said more clearly, “It was me. I’m the secret admirer. I wrote the notes.”
Nicole was standing next to me triumphantly. I wanted to die. I wasn’t mad at her, but my God, did she have to smirk like that? This was, after all, the worst moment of my life! I didn’t know what would happen.
Corey simply asked, “Why?”
And this was the moment in the movies where I would have told him it was because I loved him more than anything else in the world and could we please ride off into the sunset together. And then we would. But I was eleven, so I just said, “I don’t know.” And walked away. And left it at that.
Cory was a kind boy and never mentioned it again. Which, honestly, is even more than kind if you think about the politics of the fifth grade. He could have crucified me. He just let it drop.
We remained friends throughout middle and high school, up until we were old enough to laugh about it, I thought.
But when I brought it up in a moment hoping to clear the air, and just cackle about it together, my timing must have been too soon. Instead of the healthy belly laugh I was yearning for, he just gave me this sweet smile and said, “Yeah, Leigh. That was weird,” and then moved on, resuming our “let’s never talk about this,” contract before I’d gotten whatever satisfaction I’d wanted out of that interaction.
Nice guy. But not enough passion in him for me.
I wonder what he did with that dollar.
*Names changed to protect the innocent … and the guilty.
Leigh Katharine Camp is a writer based in Austin, Texas. She’s spent a lifetime learning that you can’t buy love — especially if you only have a dollar. With the high rate of inflation these days, forget about it. You at least need, like, $10. Leigh’s writing has appeared in The Hairpin and elsewhere. Read more of her work on her website, TrySomethingScary.com.