Madeeha Hassan

“I know you, I walked with you once upon a dreeeeaaaammmm.”

My four-year-old self wandered around the playroom at St. Mary’s preschool, trailing closely behind her oblivious Prince Charming. When he didn’t acknowledge me, I decided to sing louder. “I KNOOOWW YOUUU, THAT LOOK IN YOUR EYEEES IS SOOOO FAMILIAR A GLEEAAAMMM.” 

He kept walking. He wasn’t intentionally ignoring me; of this I was certain. In my mind, it was a cold hard fact that I would grow up, become a princess, and marry Tory, the boy who sat next to me at the arts and crafts table. 

We were perfect for each other for a variety of reasons, the most prominent being our shared fear of the Toy Taker from the low-budget Rudolph sequel, “Rudolph and the Toy Taker.” It was because of this that there was no one I liked more than Tory — except maybe his best friend, Gavin. Neither of them realized it, but we were in a complex love triangle for a while, until I saw Gavin pick his nose and eat one of his boogers. Then my mind was made up. 

The playroom at St. Mary’s was my favorite place in the entire world, because it had a plastic castle that you could climb inside and stand on top of. It took me years to realize the reason I loved it so much: it was the perfect place for my preschool self to act out all of her deepest romantic fantasies. I would stand at the top of the castle and yell: “My prince, come save me!” And then Tory would run over to the castle and sweep me off my feet as much as any four-year-old could. 

If you had asked me back then, I would’ve insisted that what I felt for Tory was more than just a crush. We were co-parents of Arnold the plastic caterpillar, after all. I even have a vague memory of us maybe accidentally kissing while trying to hug each other goodbye on Valentine’s Day, but there’s a strong possibility that my preschool imagination made that up.

My feelings for Tory began to fade when one day, on his way to rescue me from the tower, he tripped and fell on the playroom tile. I remember standing at the top of the castle, watching him cry as our teachers ran to care for him, and all I could think was, “that wasn’t very princely. How dare he leave me alone, stranded in the castle.” I thought that the real prince charming would have just picked himself up and finished his rescue mission. The real prince charming would never have tripped in the first place. 

Unsurprisingly, Tory and I fell out of contact shortly after preschool graduation, and our whirlwind romance seemed to end as quickly as it had begun. I forgot about him for the most part, but my mom loves to bring him up from time to time and show me photos of him that his mom posts on Facebook. “Remember Tory, your preschool love?” she laughs. “Look how tall he is now!”

I don’t think I’ve seen Tory in person since preschool, so he exists in my world as nothing but a cringe-worthy memory. Still, I can’t help but wonder how much that first crush has influenced my love life today. Why do so many of the guys I’ve liked have that same light-brownish-blond hair that he had? Do I have a type? Did he create my type, or did he just happen to fall into it? And what about my flirting skills? I’d like to think that I’ve grown, but would I still follow my crush around singing Disney love songs to attract them? (I fear the answer might be yes…)

Or maybe none of this is poor Tory’s fault. The truth is, I’ve been a hopeless romantic all my life. Growing up has meant realizing that I went through a Scooby Doo phase not because I cared about the mysteries they had to solve, but because I wanted Daphne and Fred to get together. I had a Wall-E-themed sixth birthday party, but only because I shipped him and Eve. Even now, I find that all of my favorite songs and movies have something to do with love.

I suppose it’s not fair of me to blame my first crush for my current romantic struggles. Four-year-old Tory is not the reason that I have unrealistic standards and can’t read a book without a good romantic subplot. It’s my own fault that I expect everything in life to work out the way it does in the movies. 

But Tory, if you’re reading this, just know that your preschool girlfriend is still here, waiting to be rescued from her plastic castle.