I’ve known what the word “unrequited” meant since I was in fourth grade. I learned it during a Shakespeare workshop sponsored by a local theater company and embedded into the curriculum at the public elementary school I attended, which is an independent clause that reveals a few layers of the weirdly privileged life I’ve led.
Anyhow, in that workshop we played a game where we threw and caught a ball in an established order, saying a randomly assigned, decidedly Shakespearean vocabulary word that we’d been tasked with defining and creating a sentence with before all the ball tossing could happen.
It was all very educational, and I mean that with minimal sarcasm because to this day I can still trace back my understanding of “unrequited” – the word that I was assigned to belch out as I tossed the ball to Ryan, after receiving it from my classmate Joe, who was assigned to mumble “woo” to me while throwing the ball my way.
(This was also the day I learned “woo.”)
Joe was one of the cute fourth grade boys and I was not one of the cute fourth grade girls, so I blushed at the irony of Cute Joe throwing “woo” to me while I tossed off “unrequited” to poor Ryan, who was not one of the cute fourth grade boys. Nice, maybe, but “nice” got you nowhere in fourth grade. Especially when the Shakespearean theater coaches put you on the receiving end of “unrequited.”
Fourth grade was rough for a lot of us.
It was also the last honest year of my life, because once fifth came around and I had to begin studying geography I decided I what I really needed to study was how to cheat. My spatial reasoning has always been garbage, so when tasked with remembering which weird geometric shape was Chad and which was Namibia on a completely blank map of Africa I concluded that this was just not something I had the patience to train my brain to do. To solve the problem, I taped a map to the bottom of my desk during every geography test so I could “drop” my (whatever) on the floor about five times every Friday when it was time for a geography test.
I never got caught, and always got great grades and high compliments in parent-teacher conferences – aside from the time my fifth grade teacher outed me for having a glittery dragon temporary tattoo on my stomach. Regardless, for whatever reason – and the reason probably wasn’t my taste in temporary body art – everyone believed I was a smart kid who wouldn’t possibly tape a map to the bottom of my desk so that I could remember that South Africa was the one on the bottom and Madagascar was all by itself, over there.
It is notable to divulge that, while writing that last paragraph, I consulted a 4′ by 6′ world map on the wall in my living room at least five times to ensure my references made sense, and initially had Madagascar mixed up with Morocco. Culturally, politically, socially, morally, this is a despicable mistake. Alliteratively, I think I’m justified.
The point? I’ll be 29 in two weeks and I don’t know a damn specific thing about the world map, but at age 9 I could appreciate the irony of receiving “woo” and giving away “unrequited.” Although my privileged childhood provided the setting for the revelation, this is no feat attributable to my mind. This is simply an example of how god damn simple it is to understand the relationship between words like “woo” – which essentially means “to try to do sex stuff with/to” – and “unrequited,” which is the high diction equivalent of “nah.”
Geography? That’s hard. States and countries have jagged lines, and boundaries shift, expand, and dissolve with the passage of time and war. But the line between “I want you” and “you want me back” is easy to recognize, even at age nine, even with Cute Joe making eye contact, even with crunchy granola Shakespeare theater coaches rasping directions like, “breathe into your tummy!” and “visualize the vocabulary!” behind us as we threw balls and words around.
So I’m not necessarily invigorated by the fact that it’s taken practically a billion years for the levees to break on the god damn epidemic of sexual assault and harassment that very bad men (and some very bad non-men) have wreaked from positions of power for all billion of those aforementioned years. If nine-year-old me – who couldn’t even figure out how to not cheat on weekly rote tests – could recognize the broad line between “woo” and “unrequited,” this is no momentous societal revelation. It is, however, a revelation that needs to last more than a moment. Let’s make sure it does.