So much slips away with time. I see it in my older pals, their knees and hips replaced, memories fading. Oddly enough the changes often take us by surprise, perhaps because they happen so slowly. Switching to number two reading glasses is a matter of course, nothing to worry about. Then suddenly a creaky knee turns into an ambulatory nightmare.

Recently I discovered something that doesn’t wane: romantic crushes. You know, meeting someone who sets your heart aflame. Maybe being single is the culprit. Or maybe hidden longing is cracked open like an egg — and the imagination takes charge. You don’t really know the person, but they are perfect in every way. The beauty, the intelligence — this is The One.

When this happened to me recently I found myself back in fifth grade. I couldn’t eat or sleep because I was laser focused on an imagined reality. I soared far into the future, dismissed the past. Even though I knew I was inhabiting an unreal and imagined stratosphere, I felt a kind of joy when I realized I was still subject to the meanderings of the heart.

I had thought the heart was dormant, that it was going the way of the knee. When finally I came back to earth, I could only thank the universe and the person in question, even though both were unaware of what they had done.

At heart I’m a hopeless romantic. It may be genetic, my forebears being Irish and French Canadian, heavy on the Irish. I thought back on all the crushes I have had in my life — all the way back to the first one. That was in fifth or sixth grade and Valentine’s Day was coming up. Whole classes were spent making cards from red construction paper and lace. I can still smell the Elmer’s glue. The cards would be taped to the windows and around the room, each person’s crush laid bare for all to see.

As for me, my budding romantic self decided to go one better and get a present for my heartthrob. I found the perfect thing in a thrift store downtown and it cost less than five dollars: a necklace of heart-shaped smiley faces. Perfect, I thought. I nervously went to the checkout counter hoping the person there wouldn’t find me out, discover my scheme to woo.

Of course the girl in question found out my plan when I presented her with the gift. It probably went something like this: “Hi,” I’d say, bag in hand. “This is for you.” And I’d practically throw it at her in my excitement and promptly run away. The days would then pass, love would remain unconsummated and new concerns would take the space in the minds of the fifth graders — recess most prominently.

We may never know the power of love, especially the naive kind. But I have recently discovered it’s still accessible. Years after that first encounter with Cupid and her arrows, I somehow was in touch with that crush of long ago. By then we were in our 40s. She surprised me when she said, ”I still have the necklace.”

These days I’m keeping my eye out for a smiley face necklace — and for someone to give it to.

Joe Keenan is a roofer, baker and musician living in West Tisbury.