Visiting my parents recently at the house I grew up in, I came across a two-page missive stashed in a blank envelope. It was a love letter I wrote at age 10 to Rider Strong, the bad boy with a parted mushroom cut on the '90s sitcom "Boy Meets World" -- my first celebrity crush.
It was a funny read (see below), because of its directness and sense of romantic entitlement: I wanted to meet him, so would he let me know when he was free, thanks. There's also a sweetness in my sense at that young age of what a boy would like ("I'm not one of those girls who are afraid of spiders") and a definite consistency with the person I've grown up to be. My awareness of the cultural narrative around romance is somewhat startling: I repeatedly employ "I'm the one for you" language.
More basically, though, it came as a much-needed diversion from an overwhelming time in my life. During my recent visit home, I had retreated to my old bedroom and began poring over all these symbols of comfort from my childhood -- treasured stuffed animals, blankets and books. Of course, none of them were the one source of security I most desperately wanted to keep around: my mom. Then I found the unsent love letter and it instantly transported me back to a time when my greatest fear was that Rider Strong might not love me back. It made me wistful for that innocence and simplicity, but it also made the complexity of adulthood -- particularly the extremes of life: love, sex and death -- seem that much more exquisitely beautiful. The appeal of such a relic goes beyond a good laugh or even providing a perspective on our romantic and sexual development.
I finished reading and instantly wanted more -- and not just artifacts from my own personal museum of crushes, which is immense and includes (nerd alert) printouts of the Leonardo DiCaprio fan newsletter that my 7th grade self emailed daily to a list of 1,000-plus subscribers. It made me curious to see the remnants of other people's childhood passions -- for celebrities and otherwise. So we've decided to put out a call for just that and we'll publish the standout submissions on Salon. We're looking for any material that authentically documents love and lust in childhood -- from unsent letters to emails, diary entries to instant messages. Send your submission -- a transcription is fine, but photos, scans or screenshots of the original are a plus -- to email@example.com.
Oh, and as for Rider Strong, it turns out that our paths did eventually cross. I ran into him a couple of years ago at a hip coffee kiosk in an alleyway in San Francisco. After paying for my latte, I turned around, recognized my childhood crush and then walked straight into a sign advertising the shop. I turned bright red. We don't ever truly leave behind our 10-year-old selves, do we? That's part of what makes these childhood missives so captivating.
I'd really like to meet you so could you write back telling me when you will be near Berkeley, where exactly and what exact time. I know you think I'm just another fan but I'm not. I really like you from what I read in magazines. I hear you don't have a girl in your life and I think I'm the one for you. I'm funny, love writing, love to rollerblade, like white water rafting, really enjoy windsurfing, love to cuddle by the fire, favorite food is pizza, I love to be just natural (no makeup!), love poetry. I love adventure, I'm not one of those girls who are afraid of spiders and I'm ten, please don't turn me down because I'm ten! I really am the one for you!
Please I beg you! Call me at [phone number] from four o'clock to six then from seven to nine, only on Monday, Wed and Fridays. On Tuesday and Thursday I have choir practice from four fifteen to six fifteen then eat dinner and am at home by about eight!