Her name was Kelly Hensler, but we called her K.H. My progress over the years with her could be described as dismal at best. In first grade, I threw powdered chalk in her best friend’s eyes. K.H. turned to me and shouted “What did you do that for!?” then followed her friend into the bathroom. In second grade, I asked her if she wanted to see me make my face turn red. I breathed heavily for a minute, then let out all the air in my lungs. I put my arms around my neck and strained all the muscles in my body as hard as I could. I think this made me pass out because when I got up from the floor, she was in a casual conversation with a friend and it seemed like a considerable amount of time had passed. In 3rd grade, I stood right behind her in the ragtag choir our class had assembled for the annual school play. In rehearsal I thought it was funny to sing not just the boys part, but also the girls, with a much higher pitch voice. She turned around and glared at me when I did this.
Each year she got a circle around her yearbook picture, accompanied by two or three hearts. I would draw lines connecting her picture to the hearts as if they were radiating off of her. When looking through some of my other friends’ yearbooks, I would see multiple girls circled. I considered this tacky. While they would tentatively place circles around multiple girls with a pencil, so the mistake could easily be erased, I confidently drew a heavy circle around K.H. with a ball point pen. I paid no regard for any other classmates’ pictures I might be destroying in the process (sorry Keith Hayes and Jessica Hill).
Nate Lufkin, my best friend at the time, felt the same way about her. His success with her had been equal, if not worse, than mine. We decided to combine forces and collect as much information on her that we could, basically anything that might give us a better chance. We had plenty of practice observing our parents, neighbors and older brothers. We developed code words like “K.H.” to disguise our conversations, and we had safety spots where we would meet up before and after a mission. After my parents bought me a junior spy kit for my 9th birthday, equipped with 2 walkie talkies, binoculars, and morse code charts, I considered myself an expert. Perched in the tree out front of my parents house for about 20 minutes, I would hear a “KSCCCHH 5 minutes till SB over!” . . ” Copy that N.L. meet me in the L.R.. . .over and out.” We would then take a 30 minute break from our espionage to watch Saved by the Bell in my parents living room.
We knew that B.D., or more commonly know to outsiders as Brian’s Dad, would arrive home between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m. We knew that B.D. would park his white 1991 Toyota Corolla on the sidewalk out front and then walk to the front door with his brief case in hand. We also knew that if one dropped a rotten orange on him while making this walk to the front door, he would get extremely upset.
We knew that N.B., a.k.a Nate’s brother, would return from Junior High at about 3:30, sometimes alone but more often than not, accompanied by 2 or more friends. We knew that they would shut the door to his room and listen to Nirvana and Pearl Jam albums for hours at a time. We knew that if one were caught peaking through the blinds of the window or crouched by the door, one would have to go through intense interrogation and ridicule. The door would quickly swing open as I was hunched down trying to hear their conversation. “Hey John! . . I was just umm . . just you know, securing the purmataters,” I’d say as he towered over me. “I uhhh really like that song you dudes were listening to about smelly teens!” I’d plead in a diplomatic voice. “It’s parameters, you fuckin dipshit, and the song is called “Smells Like Teen Spirit!” he’d say as he quickly slammed the door in my face. I’d scratch down in my notebook “per-am-a-ters . . Smells Like Teen Spirit . . don’t disturb while in room.”
One day, we decided we were finally ready to put our finely tuned skills to the test. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, was one of grave importance. It would be the mission to end all missions. We were going to spy on K.H.
Time: 1300 hours
Destination : Indian Hills
Objective: Acquire all possible information on the subject known as K.H.
I rifled through my closet looking for my binoculars. I hastily shoved them in my backpack, along with my shoes (for hiking), my walkie talkie (for communication), my water bottle (for hydration and possibly catching tadpoles as a side project), and my bag of teddy grahams (for nutrition). After a small debate, we decided to put on our black hooded sweatshirts. Just in case we were caught, they would be the perfect camouflage for hiding in the dirt hills of Simi Valley during broad daylight. We laced up our rollerblades and headed out.
There were practice runs before this mission. I would tell my dad we forgot something at a friends house in Indian Hills. He’d drive us around the neighborhood as we scoped things out and took shrewd mental notes of the landscape and terrain. After weeks of detective work, in and out of the classroom, we had compiled 15 numbers.
581 2756: telephone number
7: times we thought she looked at us during recess
11: times we thought she looked at us during lunch
We had driven by her house only a couple times. Each time we did, Nateand I would sink down so low in our seats that it looked like the driver of the vehicle was alone. I would look up at the blue sky and tree branches covered with leaves as they spun by in a chaotic manner. I would always wait an extra 5 seconds longer than I needed to before finally lifting my head up past the door where it would be visible to outsiders. “Did you see anything?” one of us would ask excitedlyafterwards. “Yea I think so, what about you?” . . “Yea I think so.
We took off our rollerblades where the gravel met the dirt and started hiking through the hills that separated our neighborhood from the Indian Hills neighborhood. We passed by the creek where we would normally look for tadpoles. When we got to the top of Bald Hill, we could see the cul-de-sac where K.H. lived. From here on out, it was whispers and hand gestures. We set our backpacks down behind some tall bushes that separated the mountains from suburbia. We started making our way to the target destination, jumping behind parked cars, trees, and bushes every time we heard a car drive by. When we got close enough to the house, we assessed the situation from a side yard nearby.
“I think we can get a clear shot of the front door from behind those trees across the street. What do you think?” Nate asked. “Too risky.” I replied. “I say we hide behind those bushes in the neighbors lawn. We won’t be able to see the front door but its got a clear shot of the mailbox. Someone has to go out and get the mail right?” He looked around further to see if there were any better options. “Ok,” he whispered.
We were wedged between a row of trees and bushes, concealed from all angles. We sat impatiently, watching and constantly shooshing each other every time we heard a twig snap. “Do you think K.H gets the mai. . ” My question was interrupted by the loud obtrusive sound of a garage door being opened. I looked to my right and Nate was in a full sprint down the sidewalk, already 2 houses down. I dropped the binoculars in my hand and started chasing after him. We ran back to the spot where we left our backpacks. “Did . . . you . . see . . .anything?” I asked, in between taking big gulps of air. “I . . think. . so, ” he replied. “Did . . you?” . . “I . . think . . so.”
We caught our breath and then discussed in full detail what had just happened. What we heard, what we saw, what we were thinking. “I have to go back!” I exclaimed, realizing I left a pair of binoculars in the neighbors yard with the initials B.P. on them and my parents’ home telephone number. “She finds those and calls my number and we’re dead!”
Time: 1500 hours
Destination: K.H.’s neighbors’ bushes
Objective: Safely return binoculars without being caught
“You stay back here and be on the lookout, in case we get ambushed. If you see or hear anything just yell PEA SOUP.” I started to walk out when I heard a car driving by. “Pea soup!” Nate said in a screaming kind of whisper. I jumped back behind the cover of the bushes. Whew, that was close!
I walked down the sidewalk, back towards the house, crouched down like I was ducking behind some sort of invisible wall. I jumped behind the side of the house where we had met up earlier and looked around to see if there was anyone out. I darted across the street and into the bushes where we were hiding before. “Yesssss” I said in a Napoleon Dynamite kind of way as I picked up my binoculars. Just as I did this, I heard the front door of the neighbors’ house open. I ran back to our spot with my hood over my head and my binoculars in my hand. “PEA SOUP!” I shouted. “PEA SOUP!” Nate timidly peeked his head out of the bushes to see me frantically running. I waved my arms at the direction of the hills, indicating for him to “Run! Save yourself! It’s too late for me!” I jumped behind the bushes and grabbed my backpack. We both started running down the dirt hill.
“What happened?” Nate finally asked when we got far enough into the hills where we couldn’t see civilization anymore. “The front door started to open when I grabbed my binoculars. I ran as soon as I heard the noise.” He stopped and thought about this for a second. “Was it K.H.?” he asked in a very excited tone. “Yea . . . I think so”