Mario Stories

Princess Di

THE REQUEST: Write about a memorable encounter with a girl

She was blonde, she was cute, she was eleven, and her name was Princess Di. And I knew EXACTLY who she was.

But the only problem was, even though we were both students together in sixth grade, I wasn't supposed to go anywhere near her.

Princess Di, circa 1986

Here, let me explain.

This story, one of my all-time favorites, happened in 1986, which was my first year (sixth grade) at Highland Middle School. And that's an important little detail to remember, that it was my first year at a new school. Because the only reason this story happened at all was because a couple of strange variables that were unfamiliar to me came crashing into each other around me at school one day, all at once.

For starters, to explain one of the variables that was new to me that year, let's talk about how middle school (or junior high, as you might know it.) And let's talk about how it's a MUCH different experience than going to elementary school.

Highland Middle School, my home between 1985-1988. Go Eagles.

To me, a meek little eleven year old boy who barely ever talked, I always found middle school to be absolutely intimidating. Because basically what happened was, you had all these smaller elementary schools in the area that merged and fed into a much larger middle school. Which meant that, if you had gone through five years at your local elementary school, and you knew all the hundred or so kids in your grade, all of a sudden that didn't matter anymore because the minute you got to middle school, now there were suddenly THREE HUNDRED kids in your grade. And it was like yikes, who the hell are all these new kids?

It was a very drastic change for kids like me, who were quiet and who were nobodies. That jump from elementary school to middle school.

It was a really easy way to feel like a very small fish in a suddenly VERY big pond.

It also didn't help if this was your daywear

So yeah, as a shy little eleven year old, the idea of being in middle school was a little intimidating. I mean, seriously, have you ever seen the size difference between an eleven year old boy and a fourteen year old boy? Being around all these new giant eighth graders all of a sudden was absolutely TERRIFYING to me. These kids were ENORMOUS!

Middle school locker rooms - a visual


Even though the jump from one hundred kids to three hundred kids in your grade was incredibly intimidating to me... as a boy, there was also an unexpected PLUS side to this sudden new development. Because when your school basically triples in size, what that also means is... well, to be blunt... it means you are also suddenly surrounded by hundreds of new girls. Girls you have never even seen before.

And this, of course, is how I was introduced to the legend of this new girl in my grade, Princess Di.

The Queen of the Tennis Racket

Side Note: The word "legend" is going to be thrown around very loosely in this story, of course. And I know Princess Di herself is already reading this essay, and her eyes are probably rolling so hard in her head. "Yeah sure, I was a legend at eleven. Whatever." But you'll see why I call her a legend in a minute. It's important to the story.

So anyway, yeah, I'm in sixth grade now, and it's my very first time in this big giant middle school. And I'm meeting all these new kids-- HUNDREDS of new kids-- for the very first time. Kids I had never even known existed until a couple of weeks ago. And one of these new kids I had met was a boy in my science class, who was named... well... I don't want to use his actual name.

Let's just say this kid's name was Jimmy Coolguy.

Not the real Jimmy. But we'll just say this was him.

At this point in the story, let me little paint a picture for you. So I'm sitting in sixth grade science class one day, and this guy, Jimmy Coolguy, is my new seatmate. And for whatever reason, this kid-- who I barely even know-- grabs my science book, and he starts doodling in it. He starts writing this one sentence in pencil, over and over and over. And when he gives my book back to me, I see what he has written. All over my science book are now the same four words:

I love Princess Di

Naturally, because my book has now been graffitied to death, I inquire about this. Who is this mysterious Princess Di? And why has he chosen to memorialize her?

"She's the most beautiful girl in the world," Jimmy Coolguy swoons. "She's my girlfriend, and I love her."

Then he decides he's not done doodling in my book. Now he starts writing "I love Princess Di" all over our desk. He eventually writes it hundreds of times. And oh goodie, this is fun. Apparently this is what I'm gonna have to deal with all year in my new sixth grade science class. I'm gonna have to deal with this shit.

Welcome to Sixth Grade. Here we have stalkers.

Now, keep in mind I had NO idea who this Princess Di actually was. I just knew she was some blonde girl who was supposedly in our grade somewhere. And her name was Diane something or another. And apparently she looked a lot like Princess Diana. That's why Jimmy always referred to her as "Princess Di."

Oh, and then Mr. Coolguy decided to drop THIS helpful little piece of information on me, too: "By the way, if anyone ever talks to her, I'll kill them."

And oh good. Now I'm sharing my desk with an obsessive psychopath.

So anyway, this was my introduction to the Legend (see, I told you it was a legend) of Princess Di.

I had no idea who this girl actually was. I just knew that Jimmy Coolguy had the hots for her, and that I was supposed to stay FAR away from her. And I should point out that I was not the only kid in the class who had been given this warning. Senor Coolguy made sure that EVERY guy in that class was soon a hundred percent aware of not only WHO Princess Di was, but WHY she was a big deal. And also that if Jimmy ever saw you anywhere near her, EVER, he was going to hurt you.

And honestly, as silly as this sounds, this is the kind of boundary that most eleven year old boys will generally respect.

In the words of Roy Munson in the movie Kingpin, one of the key rules of maledom, one that most every guy in the world knows, even at eleven, is...

So that was the first variable that was new to me in middle school. Kids having girlfriends. And because kids now had girlfriends, that meant that certain girls in middle school were now COMPLETELY off limits to you.

As a guy, you just had to accept that and be cool with it.

Sorry girls, the Mario train can't be for all of you

And with that (the variable about boyfriends/girlfriends all of a sudden being a thing), we now come to the second variable that was completely new for me in middle school.

I actually feel bad mentioning this variable in a story, because it doesn't make my mom look very good. Because the second variable that was new for me in middle school was... well, I mean, let's be honest here... it was my mom.

Specifically, it was what my mom thought of these new, older, much more worldly, Highland Middle School girls.

Basically, my mom hated them

You know what? There's no way to write this any way other than bluntly, so I guess I'm just gonna come right out and say it.

The first week of middle school, my mom drove me to Highland. And right there on the curb were a couple of teenagers making out. And my mom didn't like it.

My mom's first view of middle school

The second week of school, my mom drove me to school again. And this time, she saw a girl and a boy holding hands. Then she saw ANOTHER girl and boy holding hands. And again, my mom wasn't thrilled about this.


The third week of school, my mom drove me to Highland again. And this time she saw displays of public affection between girls and boys all OVER the place. Hugging. Kissing. Making out. Holding hands. Girls openly sitting on boys' laps. My mom absolutely HATED it. In fact, at one point at the start of the year, she actually went to the principal of my new school, and she lodged a formal complaint about it. How she didn't think it was appropriate that there were so many public displays of affection (PDAs) among twelve and thirteen year olds.

And this is the part of the story I guess I have to say bluntly. My mom did NOT like the girls at my new middle school. She felt they were all just a bunch of cheap dirty sluts.

In my mom's eyes, Highland was basically Bangkok

Side note: This was actually a BIG issue when I was a kid. My parents did NOT want me in the Bellevue public school system anymore, the minute I hit middle school. It started at Highland, when my mom saw all the PDAs right out in the open. And it continued all the way up through high school, where my parents absolutely HATED the way that Interlake kids would just mill around the track during football games, and they would smoke, and most of them wouldn't even watch the game. There was just something about Bellevue public schools that my parents both inherently disliked. I can't tell you how many times they tried to yank me out of public school and move me over to Seattle private school (where my dad had gone) instead. The threat of "Hey Mario, you better not fuck up, or we're switching you to prep school tomorrow", that threat hung over my head for at least seven years, like a guillotine. In fact, one day, I will probably write a story about this, about what a big longstanding battle that was. And how hard I always fought my parents over this. I didn't want anything to do with switching to private school. I wanted to stay with my friends.

Side note #2: For the record, my dad went to private schools all of his life. My mom didn't go to private schools all of her life, but she DID to school in Port Angeles (a small, mostly Lutheran town) back in the 1950s. Which, to me, meant she might as well have grown up in Candy Land. She had absolutely NO idea how to relate to modern kids in a modern public school in modern Bellevue in the modern 1980s. To me, THAT was the problem.

I always thought the girls at Highland were perfectly nice. But my mom sure didn't. She literally thought they were all succubi who were going to seduce me and then kill me and then eat me. And you think I'm exaggerating about that, but I'm not. She told me about it in the car every day.

Welcome to public middle school. Look, we have hookers.

So anyway...

THAT was variable number two that was different about middle school. My mom. Because you wouldn't believe how often I had to hear the... I guess we'll call it The Lea Thompson in Back to the Future... rant from my mom. EVERY single day as we were driving to school. EVERY single day as we were driving back home. How back in her day, girls never made out with boys, or held hands with boys. Or sat in a parked car with a boy. And if you're wondering why I have most of the Back to the Future script memorized, well you shouldn't. I know it because I HEARD it. Every single goddamn day when I was in middle school.

This was my life.

"Back in my day, we didn't sit on boys' laps at the bus stop."

So these were the two new variables in my life that first year in middle school. Jimmy Coolguy (and guys like Jimmy Coolguy), who openly had girlfriends, and who would openly call dibs on them so no one would touch them. That definitely wasn't something I had ever experienced back in grade school. Oh yeah, and then there was the second new variable here in middle school, that was my mom. Who would openly tell me... EVERY SINGLE DAY OF MY LIFE... that every girl at Highland was just a cheap dirty hoor. And they better stay away from her son if they knew what was good for them. That was, uh, ALSO something I'd never had to deal with back in grade school.

And this, of course, leads us up to the THIRD new variable in my life that first year in middle school. Princess Di herself!

Who very early on during sixth grade I had learned, wow, this girl is cute. And wow, this girl is also in my band class. And wow, this girl walks home down the exact same street as me. She actually lives near me. That meant that one day, when we're both walking home from school, there's a chance that the two of us might actually run into each other.

And this, my friends, is where we delve into the wonderful psychological concept of "forbidden fruit."

Hi, I'm your cute neighbor, but if you so much as talk to me, two people are going to kill you.

Choose wisely. :)

With ALL these factors in mind, let me now give you a little glimpse of what my life was like during most of sixth grade.

Most days after school, my mom would give me a ride home in her car. But my mom was habitually very late in picking me up (I've already written about this in one of my earlier stories, my mom was to "late" what Chris Farley was to "enjoys donuts"). My mom had absolutely no concept of time.

If my mom was late enough picking me up from school (spoiler: she usually was), I would eventually just say fuck it, and I'd start walking home. I didn't really WANT to walk home most of the time. My house was actually a couple of miles away. But the reality was that if I wanted to actually be home before dinner, I should probably walk. And then if mom randomly remembered she was supposed to be picking me up, maybe I'd get lucky and she'd drive by and she'd spot me. Maybe.

Anyway, long story short, I walked home from school about sixty percent of the time.

My walk home. It was long but it was actually quite pretty.

So one day I'm walking home after school. It's probably the fourth or fifth week of the school year.

And lo and behold, who do I spot walking directly in front of me this day, but this cute blonde flute player from my band class. Her name is Diane Bailey. And oddly enough, she apparently walks the exact same weird route home that I do. Neither one of us lives anywhere near school.

Well little did I know (I didn't know a thing about this girl yet, other than the fact that she was pretty, and she played the flute), but Diane Bailey was actually the mysterious Princess Di!

I didn't realize this yet, but there she was, the legend! Jimmy Coolguy's girlfriend! In the flesh!

Walking home the same route I was, about two hundred feet directly in front of me!

Now, in a normal story, you'd think I would have found a way to catch up with this girl, and maybe attempt to walk home with her. I mean that's what a normal guy would have done in this situation, right? Play the "hey look, we walk home the same way, want to walk together and just talk?" And then, who knows, once you're in good with her... I don't know... a couple of days later, make some sort of a play for her?

That's what a normal non-rainbow-shirt-wearing guy would have done

Well keep in mind that I was most definitely NOT a normal guy when I was in middle school. In fact, at eleven, it's possible I had never even spoken to a girl before in my life. Even if I HAD walked up this girl, who I thought was incredibly cute, by the way, I was pretty sure I wouldn't even know what to say to her. I figured the most likely outcome was that she'd open her mouth to talk to me, and I'd instantly piss my pants right there in front of her. That seemed the most likely scenario.

Not sure I was ready to meet the needs of a girlfriend just quite yet

Oh yeah, want to know the other reason I had no interest in walking up there and talking to miss Princess Di, the flute player?

Well, this one should be pretty obvious.

Again, because of the situation with my mom, and her variable maybe-she's-picking-me-up-today-and-maybe-she's-not car schedule, I was CONSTANTLY aware of the fact that my mom could just come driving down the street at some point during one of my walks. And if she did, she was going to see me walking and talking to some strange girl. A Highland Middle School Girl. A HATED Highland Middle School Girl. The ones who were my mom's personal arch nemeses.

Needless to say, I knew this scenario wouldn't be a good idea for me OR for the girl I happened to be talking to at the time.

If my mom ever saw me talking to a strange girl she didn't know, on the way home from middle school, her hackles were going to instantly go up, to the highest point that hackles could possibly go up. And I was certain that wouldn't be fun.

Be gone, succubus. Take your evil over to Tillicum.

Needless to say, whenever I saw Diane Bailey walking home from school, I stayed way the hell away from her.

Which is something I'm sure Jimmy also approved of

So again, this was the reality of my life for most of sixth grade. I'd be walking home after school, around 2:45 or so, and I'd see this cute blonde flute player named Diane Bailey walking along the same stretch of sidewalk. It was literally just her and me. We were pretty much the ONLY two kids who ever walked home in this direction. And no matter how fast or slow Diane walked, I would always walk the exact opposite speed.

If she was walking fast that day, I would walk slow. I'd try to lag waaaaaay back behind her.

If she was walking slow, I'd speed the hell up. I'd walk so fast there was no way she could ever possibly catch up to me. Just to ensure there was no way the two of us would ever actually interact.

In fact, most days I'd even try to stay on the opposite side of the road

Side note: I don't remember specifically when I put two and two together in my head, and I figured out that "Diane Bailey" was actually "Princess Di." But the minute I did, you better BELIEVE there wasn't a chance in hell I was gonna ever be seen in public, hanging out with her. Not unless I wanted to get beat up, first, by the guy at school who was dating her, and then later by my own mom. I wasn't into double ass kickings yet at that age, thank you very much.

So anyway, I'm playing this little walk fast/walk slow game with Diane Bailey for at least the first half of the school year. She walks fast, I walk slow. She walks slow, I walk fast. And I know she must have noticed it. In fact, there were times, if we ever actually came near each other, where I'd just blatantly cross over to the other side of the street. I always wondered what she thought about that.

Oh rainbow shirt boy, why won't you talk to me?

But then, one day...

One day, my friends.

One day, Princess Di and I ran into each other, and we actually SPOKE to each other.

Tee hee

I don't remember exactly when this happened. My guess it was probably sometime in January of 1986. It was definitely after Christmas. For whatever reason, I wasn't paying attention one day when I was walking home from school. Maybe I was looking down at a book or something. Maybe I was still trying to process the Cold War. I don't remember. I just remember that, for whatever reason, I hadn't noticed that Princess Di had been walking up fast behind me. Catching up to me. Actually intending to talk to me.

And this is where we got maybe the single greatest interaction that a boy has ever had with his first girl.


All of a sudden I heard this sweet female voice behind me, calling my name.

Oh shit.


Oh crap oh crap oh crap.

"Oh Marrrrrrrrrrrioooooooooooooooooooo."

After about three of these, I finally acknowledged that I wasn't actually deaf. That I had actually heard her. So I stopped, and I turned around. And I faced her. And for the very first time in my life, I found myself not only talking to a girl. But also talking to a girl that I DEFINITELY SHOULDN'T BE TALKING TO RIGHT HERE IN PUBLIC LIKE THIS!

When the Gatekeeper finally meets the Keymaster

This was an absolutely stupid move on my part. Speaking right here out in the open with Princess Di. With my mom and also Jimmy Coolguy both possibly still in the area.

Needless to say, the minute I turned around to face her, I was terrified.

RIP my bladder

"Hey," the Princess of Wales greeted me, very friendly, "How are you doing? How did you do on that test?"

Apparently we'd had some sort of a band test that morning.

I don't remember exactly what I said in response to this. But I believe the first words that ever came out of my mouth to a girl probably sounded something like this: "UMMMMMM BAND. ME GOOD. TRUMPET BAND FUN, NOT PLAY FLUTE."

I was so nervous to actually speak to her that she probably thought I was a special needs kid.

"Do you live down here?" she asked.


That's a paraphrase, of course. But I have to imagine that, if you'd had a camera that day, and you'd actually recorded us, my reaction really WAS something very close to that. I was THIS close to turning into the kid from Jerry Maguire, and asking her if she knew that the human head weighs eight pounds.

But Princess Di. You know, god bless her. The girl had patience with me.

"Do you walk this way every day?"


"Well can I walk with you?" she asked, very nicely.


And of course, you know how the rest of the story goes. Princess Di and I soon became best friends, and we walked home from school every day. And she eventually taught me many lessons about life. And the kindness she showed me as an eleven year old, I showed her back over the years, and I eventually paid her back tenfold. It's all just such a classic cliche.

She and I have been married now for thirty-two years

Just kidding.

No, it turns out this was the one and ONLY time Princess Di and I ever interacted at any point during school. And I'm talking middle school or high school. This was the only time we ever actually talked to each other, EVER.

Even though we continued to walk home the exact same way from school, for two years, I continued to go out of my way to always be faster or slower than her. And I made sure I NEVER actually ever ran into her ever again (mostly because of my mom.) And I'm sure whenever Princess Di saw me, she was probably wondering, dang, what the heck is up with that kid? And how hard did he get kicked in the head by a donkey back when he was a baby? Why is he so lame, and so frightened of girls?

And anyway, that's the story of the very first girl I ever actually interacted with.

Let's just say it didn't go very well.

148th Avenue was called The Street of Dreams, and it really was.
It's been thirty-eight years, and I can still smell the fresh paint.

P.S. Princess Di and I are actually pretty good friends on Facebook these days. And she's very nice and respectable and she has never tried to murder me, not even once. So there, mom.
You were actually wrong about those scary Highland Middle School girls.

P.P.S. Although to this day, Princess Di and I still have never actually spoken to each other ever again.

We do hang out together all the time though. See?

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