Larissa Goes into Business
You can’t blame me because we were in second grade, the economy was based on lunchtime desserts, and I never had anything good. That’s why I sold my boyfriend Chris to Jenny for two chocolate cream-filled cupcakes. Chris had refused to marry me and wouldn’t even kiss me on the playground behind the slide. As part of the deal, I had to take Jenny’s boyfriend Mark, and everyone knew Mark picked his nose and ate it. I made Mark bring me a candy bar every time he kissed me on the cheek, and I told him he had to kiss me because that’s what girlfriends and boyfriends did. I didn’t breathe when his lips touched my skin so I wouldn’t sniff the boogers on his breath.
By the end of the week all the girls in second grade had realized my brilliance and claimed a boyfriend, except for poor Kate who had to take Doug since no one else wanted him. Doug lived with his grandparents who were from some country that no one could pronounce. He wore glasses and smelled funny, like the weird rice and vegetable mixtures his grandmother packed in his lunch. Everyone knew it was stuff that she picked out of the garbage disposal and threw into a bowl.
But Doug brought Kate a bracelet on the Wednesday after he had been declared her boyfriend. It was the fake-gold-chain kind with shiny paint that wore off in a few weeks, but it was better than a candy bar. We clustered around Kate to examine the present. On Friday Doug gave her a little sampler box of chocolates, and Kate kissed him on the cheek without Doug even having to ask. He and Kate held hands as they waited in the bus line to go home.
Doug’s value skyrocketed. Kate was offered candy, dolls, one week of lunch desserts, even Eric, the most popular boy in class, in trade for Doug. She refused. I was sick of Mark, so I convinced Hillary that Mark was a great boyfriend because he brought you all the candy you wanted and he didn’t smell that much like boogers. Hillary agreed to trade me her boyfriend Nick if I threw in some gumdrops. I sighed but gave her the gumdrops since Nick’s mother made the best chocolate chip cookies of any mother in the second grade. Then I had a “talk” with Nick by the slide at recess, and quietly explained that if he didn’t bring me at least four cookies the next day I’d trade him to Mallory. Everyone knew Mallory still wet the bed.
Some of the boys didn’t care whose boyfriend they were. They were assured of their value because they were cute or athletic and in no danger of getting stuck with a bed-wetting Mallory in the near future, or even having to surrender half of their dessert. But other boys, those who hung their coats on the lower racks in the back of the classroom, realized that there was status to be gained through being paired with the right girl, and status to be lost through being attached to Mallory.
After Nick brought me cookies and I told my best friend Trish what I’d said to Nick. Soon she was dragging her boyfriend Aaron away from his soccer game and to the slide for a “little talk.” Aaron just drank milk at lunch the next day and told the cafeteria lady he wasn’t hungry, but after school in the bus line, Trish showed us girls her four packs of gum.
The next day we heard Chris was grounded for a month because he’d tried to steal two bags of red licorice from the drugstore across the street from school. They were for Jenny, but since he didn’t have them, Jenny traded him to Mallory. Chris escaped lunchtime in the cafeteria, and Trish whispered to me that he locked himself in a bathroom stall to eat his sandwich and pretzels. He was scared that someone would make him kiss Mallory on the playground at recess.
Rumor had it that Aaron and Sean were working together to lift candy bars and gum from the gas station across the street–one kid distracted the cashier with questions while the other kid slipped candy into his backpack–but this was not our concern. This was second grade, and the law of the jungle prevailed. Pretty soon Aaron and Sean topped the social ladder along with Doug, even though they all had glasses and everyone knew their mothers sent notes in their lunch sacks.
We never found out who squealed to the teacher. Probably Chris. We got a half-hour talk on how trade was mean, and after that the lunch and recess monitors watched us like prison guards. There could be no more exchange of cookies or candy or jewelry until later, years later, when we were wearing lipstick and mascara, short skirts and high heels. Now the trade meant bras and back seats, dinners and diamonds. Now the competition was serious. But we already knew the rules of the game.