HER name was Jenny. She was a city girl. I met her in grade school in my hometown. Her parents transferred her there because the city’s smog was not doing any good to their asthmatic girl. And like any transferee from an exclusive school, Jenny was an overnight sensation.

Jenny might have been a flower in her past life. I remember smelling roses every time she glided past my seat on her way to the front to recite a poem I could not understand. But I knew it was about love. It couldn’t be about anything else.

I grew up in a town where it was mortal sin for kids to have crushes. “May gatas pa inyong baba,” our parents would admonish us. Having a crush on someone brought with it guilt, which made things even more confusing: how could guilt result from something beautiful?

But fate had its way of poking fun at Romeo-wannabes like me. Jenny’s family lived far from the town proper, so my mother, a good friend of Jenny’s mother, had to invite Jenny to spend noon breaks at our place, which was near the school. But Mother had no idea of the torture I suffered while eating in the presence of my girl. I had to apply all that I learned in Home Economics about table etiquette. My prayer before meals was “Lord, stop me from making munching noises.”

I was in love with Jenny with all the love a boy of 10 could muster, and I had to live with the guilt that went with dreaming of her at night, the embarrassment of growing love warts and the pain of unspoken affection at a very young age.

After graduation Jenny and I enrolled in the same high school. It was during this time that I started writing love letters. High school was the time when everybody thought they were ready for love.

Classmates treated me to banana cue in exchange for prose that oozed with passion and deep longing. Not a letter failed. I was good. But I felt sad watching relationships bloom around me because of the letters I wrote while I couldn’t even look at my Jenny in the eye.

It was the last day of school when I finally summoned enough courage to write my own letter to Jenny. In sheets of stationery that smelled of roses, I scribbled all there was about pimples and lunchboxes and how they wove a story about a girl named Jenny.

I inserted the letter in her Araling Panlipunan book while she was not looking, then went to the chapel to pray. Jenny would have the entire summer to consider my proposal.

My prayers were not answered. One summer morning, I saw the letter on the breakfast table, next to my scrambled egg, crumpled. I knew how the poor thing landed there — Jenny squealed on me and betrayed my trust.

“What’s this?” Mother asked. I didn’t say a word. I reached for the letter, placed it in my pocket and left the dining table without touching my food.

I never got the chance to see Jenny again. For the next school year, Mother transferred me to the city to be with my older siblings. And there I continued writing love letters for other people, imagining I wrote them all for Jenny.

(Written 20 years ago, when love was a lot simpler. Reprinted here with the permission of the wife. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.)