The Boy in the Pink Helmet

July 3, 2011
My favorite of the boys was the one that always wore the pink helmet. It’s not like he’d ever love a girl like me, but it was nice to know he would stay constant throughout my life. Whenever I returned home, I would see the pink helmet bobbing from across the thinly wired fence. The neighbors put up the electric fence after the boys kept climbing over it. But I found a way around the fence. Our basements were attached, I figured out, by a small door. The door led to a tiny hallway where the boys kept their treasures. I would open another door, even smaller than the first, and enter into the magical world of masculinity. Bird bones and basketballs lined the floor of the room, which was already full of stinking clothes and lumbering beds. I would touch all of the objects scattered across the carpet, getting lost in the scent of Axe and marijuana. The grown-ups never caught me, though once I got close. But the boy in the pink helmet let me go…

The boys were all older than me but that didn’t matter in our hearts. As I grew older, they began to whistle at me as I walked down the broken streets. They were never good whistlers, but I enjoyed the song. The boy in the pink helmet kept his helmet as he grew—he would not whistle at me. I was upset by his reluctance. My sister told me after I went home crying about it that he was a gentleman, and gentlemen do not whistle at noble ladies. I disagreed, telling her I was not noble. I was a poor drunk’s daughter who made her own living. My sister slapped me hard, tears welling in her eyes, not mine. She obviously felt noble. I never cared to ask.

My first kiss happened in the little hallway between the pink helmeted boy’s home and mine. It was when he caught me sneaking around his, and his boys’, room. He asked me very bluntly if I loved him. I told him yes. He led me to the hallway, kissed me lightly, and blushed. It was not his first kiss, I knew, but he must have felt some obligation to me afterwards. He was older than me. He knew more of the world than me. But still I loved him, and he needed someone to love him. Brushing my ratty hair from my eyes, he said I should leave. I asked why. He said because he needed time to think over this blasphemous life full of melancholy and pain. I asked him what that meant. He told me I was too young. Then he let me go. I didn’t tell anyone about the kiss, even to my grave. It was my secret comfort. My secret love.

The kiss happened before I became something to whistle at. After the other boys began to take an interest in my mossy hair and curvy figure, the boy in the pink helmet lost his. I hadn’t gone into their little room since the boy in the pink helmet caught me. Suddenly I wanted to again. I went to my basement, travelling through the door into a completely different realm. I knelt in the small hallway, realizing how long it had been since I had been in this little space. I pressed my longing ear to the door, hearing boys laughing and music blaring. My heart leapt at the concept of being so close to the boy in the pink helmet. The boy who was my only love. I clutched at my heart, gasping softly. I scraped my knees trying to get back to my own home. I didn’t want to be caught—not again, not then.

I walked with pride the next morning by the boys. They whistled at me, singing their dutiful song. My chin rose, and for the first time I gained the courage to look at the boy in the pink helmet. The helmet was not on his head, but in his thin lap. His eyes bore into mine, confused. Without pause, the blue diamonds glanced towards my knees and filled with a strange, hungry look. He glanced at my knees, his face flushed with delight. He understood me at last—but I was caught. He knew what I had done. But he was not angry, which made me happier than I ever felt in my entire life. I continued to walk away from the boys, but my heart stayed with the boy in the pink helmet. It remained with him, he who would never return my love but would feast off of it instead.

For the rest of my time in my little apartment I would return to the small hallway between our homes. But I would never make it into the boys’ room, their sanctuary. The boy in the pink helmet would come into my basement and sneak into my room with me. We would kiss passionately, going as far as he dared to go. A true gentleman, I will always say. I would ask to go farther and he would refuse. He was saving himself for marriage. I think by the end of our final year together he realized he might want me as a wife, just because I would love him forever. He recognized it was not fair to me because he did not love me like I loved him. My love was unconditional—his was false. He needed me, though, and he valued that as a good characteristic in a husband. He needed my love more than food, which meant he would always stay loyal to me. However, I needed a bigger education.

I went to college. He visited me once near the beginning, and we got tangled up in our oversized feelings. After cleaning up our mess, he proposed with a diamond as real as his need for me, but as false as his heart. He told me he loved me, and I soaked in those tragic words. Then, I broke off my doleful relationship with the boy in the pink helmet, which he finally took off in adulthood. Though unlimited, my faithfulness to him was too perplexing. I spent more time focusing on him than I did in my classes. I wanted to be a lawyer, which I couldn’t do with him in my life. I wanted to have a life while he wanted to be a husband—the father of the child of the woman he could never love. I would not be that woman. I refused to do that to myself.

Like the boy in the pink helmet let me go when I was a child, I let go of the man in the pink helmet. I returned home that summer to discover he was engaged with a child on the way. He was marrying my sister. He told me the night they were getting married that she had seduced him; he had tried to remain faithful until he remembered I had broken his heart. Tears, for the first time in my life—though not the last—leapt into my unwilling eyes. I was not sad, I told him. I didn’t blame her for choosing to be with him. He was confused, he was upset, and he wanted me. He needed me again, but I could only be his friend. I put my hands on his shoulders and told him I couldn’t blame either of them, especially her. I knew she chose him because he was such a great man—a true gentleman.





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