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I learned yesterday that my former classmate Annette Cassidy has passed away.

I can’t believe it.

Annette was my very first crush. Being seated alphabetically in so many classes, I often found myself sitting behind Annette, whose last name at the time was Deguire. My crush may have been the product of proximity plus her first name – Annette – which was also the first name of my first celebrity crush, Annette Funicello, of Mickey Mouse Club and Hollywood fame.

I would spend my Saturday mornings watching the Creature Double Feature on channel 56, followed by Annette Funicello in films like “Beach Blanket Bingo” and “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.”

No joke.

It was an interesting pairing:

Godzilla vs. Rodan followed by teenage girls in bikinis. I can’t imagine a better combination for a 12 year-old boy.

But I suspect that my crush on Annette had more to do with how she treated me. In the many years I sat behind her, Annette was nothing but kind to me. Generous and thoughtful and sweet.

The perfect first crush.

I saw Annette just a few months ago in Providence at our 30th reunion. We hadn’t spoken in nearly three decades, but she was just as kind and thoughtful to me that night as she’d always been.

Near the end of the evening, I found myself sitting beside her, chatting about our lives, when she shared a story with me that I’ll never forget.

She told me that sometime near the end of elementary school or the start of middle school, she had invited our entire class to her pool party, but I was the only boy who showed up. She remembered me arriving to the party with my mother in a red convertible – our limping, rusting Mustang – and walking to her front door together. Annette and her mother answered the doorbell and were shocked to see me. Her mother sheepishly explained that I was the only boy who had answered the invitation. She said that I was more than welcome to stay but thought I should know.

I stood there, apparently frozen in terror and uncertainty. Then my mother said, “You don’t have to stay, but it would be great if you did. They’re just your classmates.”

So I did. I was the only boy at Annette’s pool party that day. It was just me and a bunch of girls in swimsuits, oddly recreating the scenes from moves like Beach Blanket Bingo.

“I was always so impressed by that,” Annette said to me that night in Providence so many years later. “Impressed by your mom and impressed by how brave you were to stay. Not many boys your age would’ve stayed at an all-girl’s pool party. And we had a good time. I remember you were funny. You made us laugh a lot. I was always so impressed by you that day. I’ve never forgotten it.”

My mom passed away in 2007, so it’s rare that I get a new story about my mother. When a person dies, the stories of their life eventually slow to a trickle, and every new drop becomes so damn precious.

Annette offered me a real gift that night. She offered me a tiny glimpse of my mother helping her son navigate an awkward situation. A sunny day on the front step of a girl’s house, when Mom said exactly what I needed to hear to be brave.

I don’t remember any of it, but it made a lot of sense considering all that followed.

The next year, Annette’s party was girls-only, which probably made a lot of sense. As funny as I may have been the previous year, it must have been odd to have just one boy at your pool party. But I somehow found out about her party and was angry about not receiving an invitation. I was so upset that I rode my bike over to her house on the day of the party and spied on Annette and her friends from the top of a stand of birch trees.

I also took photos of the party with my mother’s camera.

Creepy, I know. But give me a break. I was a stupid boy, and it was a far more innocent time.

Eventually the police arrived. Annette’s parents or a neighbor probably called them. As I climbed down from my perch at the top of the trees, I tossed my mother’s camera into an old well, thinking that if I disposed of the evidence, the cops couldn’t do anything to me.

I was wrong.

I was driven home in a police car for the first (but not the last) time in my life.

Listening to Annette’s story about me being the only boy at her pool party brought some much-needed light to my attempt to spy on her party that day. I never understood why I was so angry about not being invited to her party,.

Now I know.

More importantly, I have a new vision of my mother on a sunny day, driving in a rusting convertible, walking me to the front door of a girl’s home, and offering me the gentle push I needed to be brave.

Thoughtful and kind as always, Annette gave me that gift on the night of our reunion. It’s a gift I’ll never forget.

My thoughts go out to her friends and family on this terrible day. Annette was a special person who will forever be missed.