The Spanish Boy Who Wrote Poetry
We met at a book-nerd summer camp in Connecticut. He was from Spain (‘Thpain’), handsome, and at 13, I thought he looked like he was twenty. Wrote forced-rhyme poems about beautiful Spanish girls and asked for my feedback. I took this as rejection. A month after camp, sent me an email revealing that all his poems had been about me (!), professed his ‘never dying’ love (!!), and proclaimed me his ‘half-orange.’ (This is, apparently, very romantic in Spanish.) Went so far as to say he would convert to ‘being a Jew’ for me. (I’m not really religious, but I guess the Catholic-country romance in that is more obvious.) Unfortunately, he sent this declaration to the entire camp mailing list in some freak, international-Hotmail-account accident. I was flattered but mortified and I think I replied in some awful, ‘you’re so cool, let’s just stay friends, okay?’ way that would have absolutely broken my tween heart had the roles been reversed. He sent a sad reply in broken English and we stopped talking after that.
The One I Thought Of As A Brother
We met when there was a bomb threat at my boarding school (yes, I know how ridiculous this sounds) and I stayed at his parents’ for the weekend. Took me drag-racing in his car, which I didn’t really know happened in real life or Massachusetts. Asked me if I had a boyfriend and I said something coy like, ‘There’s someone back home.’ He was three years older and read ‘serious literature’ and smelled like cigarettes, not smoke but a live, lit cigarette. I saw him as the cool older brother I never had. (I am an only child. I have brother issues. I realize, now, that this may be a bad habit.)
When I went back to visit friends on the East Coast, I needed a place to stay in Boston so I crashed at his apartment. We watched Paris Je T’Aime and went to dinner at a fusion restaurant with tiny plates. Evidently, this, in addition to the fact that we were both single for the first time in our friendship, meant that something was supposed to happen. I was unaware, and uninterested.
The next morning he took me to the train station without saying more than ten words. Shortly thereafter, I received string of manic texts, accusatory, then apologetic, then angry again. We don’t talk anymore. (Ironically, I remain very good friends with his sister. His actual younger sister.)
The Bassist Who Fixed My Heart (And Then Punched It In The Face)
Fixed my heart with his bass guitar when I was 17 and heartbroken and ill-prepared to love anyone. I said, ‘This is a bad idea,’ and then we fell in love for a year. I decided we should go on a ‘break’ when I went to college. I earnestly believed this was a good idea. (Ultimately, I still do.) When I saw him a few months later, he looked physically ill. We cried and then fell into each other and I said ‘This is a bad idea,’ but it wasn’t, at least not for a while, until I flew back to California, and I would call him, crying at the darkest part of Pacific Standard, which is Eastern Standard dawn, and we would say ‘I love you,’ which we shouldn’t have. Said it, I mean. At the lowest point in my life, his voice was the one I most needed to hear. We video-chatted while I was in the hospital and he said, ‘You are the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in months.’ (This is something I will never forget.) But then I got better and life went on and a few months later we were seeing other people and screaming at each other at 2 a.m., which I guess is just what happens, our secrets became our weapons and I called him a miserable coward and he called me a horrible bitch and we deleted each other from our phones and Facebooks and we haven’t talked since.
My ‘First Love’
The only apt description of this relationship, aside from turning it into a beverage, is that of two people melting into each other. A week after we met, we were best friends, the world was the size of a twin-sized bed and the future was a guarantee. Locations of future country homes were chosen, promises were made. When everything fell apart a year later, our break-up was like trying to extract one liquid from another, so messy and undefined that the only way we marked a real end was by ceasing all communication. For a year.
It might have gone on longer if we hadn’t run into each other when I was visiting after graduation. We laughed uncomfortably, agreed to meet for coffee. We ended up getting brunch at the restaurant where we used to go on dates. It had since switched ownership, twice, and had been completely remodeled, a massive silver buffet set in the middle of the dining room where we used to feed each other desserts and those promises that we would come to break. We talked about California, archaeology, and other safe topics. When I reached for my wallet he said, ‘Please, Jenn, we’re not Dutch,’ and I remembered how he used to make that joke and was surprised at how indifferent I felt. I had sobbed over him for months and now we were civil, we were smiling, we were eating eggs Benedict. It was surreal. It was sad. We hugged, hugged again, assured each other we would talk soon, that we wouldn’t let another year pass.
Just another promise we failed to keep.
I started smoking in November and I knew that he smoked too, when he was alive. It’s not what killed him, but he died young anyway. I was seven.
I’d inhale and grow lightheaded and blow the smoke upwards and say a silent apology. I’d tell him how much I wished he could be there to tell me what to do, to tell me I was still his princess, no matter how inconsequential I felt. My throat would ache and my eyes would tear up. It was probably just the smoke.
The last time we spoke, we didn’t. It was summer. I was running around outside, wild-haired, happy. My mom appeared on the porch and said my grandfather was on the phone and did I want to say hi? And I said, ‘Not right now!’ I don’t why. He was sick and I don’t think I saw the consequence of that beyond the fact that it made him a little tired and made me a little sad to hear his voice. I didn’t know that was the last time he would be on the line. I couldn’t have, but I should have.
But as much as I sometimes wish I could dial those deleted numbers that I never had to learn by heart, as much as I mourn the circumstances under which we lost each other and then lost touch, what I miss the most is the voice of a girl, whose number I know but cannot call, the girl I lost to time and experience, the girl who remains only in the tainted memory of another, and is perhaps lost there too, to the overwriting power of uneven endings, or the-girl-who-came-next, or the will to forget.
The girl I was at 13, unaware of what it meant to turn away from a boy’s affection; at 17, when I really thought that emotions could be put on pause; at 15, quietly admiring the boy in the driver’s seat.
The girl I was at 16, falling in love for the first time, unabashed, unafraid, completely brave in a way I know I will never be again.
Or the girl I was when I was seven years old, running barefoot through the backyard. The girl who could not yet conceive the weight of a call on hold, who didn’t yet understand that at any moment you can lose someone. That sometimes a conversation is a last, and eventually one will be.