I met you at a college party. You were a year older than me. I was talking to two friends of mine and we were at the apartment of a girl I’d later date for like, two weeks before she got a boyfriend. My friends parted and revealed you, standing behind them. They introduced me. We shook hands. I felt a synapse snap. “This person is important to you,” it said. “You don’t know how yet but they will be very, very important.”
I reeled. I told someone I thought it was love at first sight or something that you know, actually existed. I didn’t necessarily feel lust. I just wanted to keep talking to you. I knew without ever saying a word that you and I would connect.
I’ve felt that way maybe two other times in my life when first meeting someone. Even my current boyfriend didn’t show up on my radar until two years into knowing each other. But you. You were important the minute I looked into your eyes for the first time.
Someone, later on at the party, told me you were in a long-term relationship. That you were probably going to marry that girl. I was so young it hadn’t occurred to me yet that people I knew actually got married. I laughed when they said that. I couldn’t believe it.
You and I stay friends. We hang out in large groups but always find ways to talk or to sequester ourselves or to walk home together. You complain about your girlfriend and I never meet her. You smoke even though you’re not supposed to. I date other people. Mutual friends warn me to leave you alone. Tell me I’m just causing trouble. You decline to take mushrooms with the rest of us and then when I am high, you tell me you’re going to propose to her and I throw a copy of Time Magazine at your face because I don’t know what to say. We continue to be friends. This goes on for most of college.
One night you show up at a party I’m throwing alone with a bottle of scotch. You don’t really have an excuse for being there by yourself and you stand by the sink and drink from the lip of the whiskey. I come and stand beside you, nervous that you’ll leave too soon.
You’ve become, at this point, like a fictional character to me. Like someone I made up in my head who appears when he wants to torment me with possibility and longing. A nerdier Jordan Catalano. This is college so everything feels tremendous and dramatic and related to pop culture.
What are we even doing? I want to ask you. But I can’t even do that because it would break this spell we’ve woven around ourselves. Nothing is going on, because nothing is going on. If I told someone else what I’d felt between us for years and years, I’d sound insane. Everything is subtext. We haven’t even come close to talking about how we feel about each other because it’s so severely inappropriate and has so many real-world consequences that we’d have to immediately stop seeing each other — and neither of us wants that. We’ve never held hands, never kissed, never done anything that to the outside eye would seem strange. Better to play at friendship than to say anything too real. Though my roommate picks up on something and starts referring to you as my “boyfriend” even though I have a boyfriend, a few boyfriends actually, as the years go by.
Nothing has happened. Nothing has been said or done. We don’t sneak around. We don’t see each other in private. We don’t text. It’s not a crush. It’s not an affair because I don’t want to “steal” you or cause anyone any pain. I leave you alone because that’s the right thing to do. But it’s too much of an unspoken thing, which becomes just as bad. Unavoidable. Terrible. A thing where in groups, we gravitate to each other like a mock-accident. “Oh, fancy meeting you here,” etc etc. Where we sit closer than with anyone else. Where we don’t ever flirt but there’s undertones and importance, a heaviness to every interaction. Whenever we say goodbye it feels very permanent, like one of us is getting on the Titanic.
We are so doomed.
It takes three years for us to touch. You put your hand on my back at another college party and whisper, “We’re breaking up.”
It is the first time we’ve ever said anything close to damning. So of course, I say, “No, you’re not.” I want to brush it off. It’s too much. I am shaking.
You nod, “We are.” I can feel your hand through my sweater. You slowly move it down and then up. On my skin. There’s no going back now. There’s no more pretending. I can’t breathe.
“Prove it then,” I say.
And you do. Like a car crash, you do.