A year ago, I wrote this line in my journal:
“I’m really scared that this is it.”
Without context, that line meant more to me during that phase of my life than I knew while I was writing it. I was scared that I wouldn’t ever be able to leave high school behind or that I was slowly becoming less understandable to people because I felt too much and too little, all at the wrong times. My head was turning into a place I didn’t like to visit for too long and I could feel myself transforming in accordance with the cruel world around me.
With context, that line is simpler. I was in love with a boy who didn’t love me back and who wasn’t going to.
Fast-forward a year: I’m living in New York City, sitting in my dorm room, writing this document I started three months ago and searching through dated notes in my scrawl to relate to the pain that not too long ago was fresh, a pain that now feels almost healed…most of the time. Some days it feels quite raw, sporadically…well, I guess time is a droll concept. But I’ve come a long way and I’ve only had myself – not that I don’t have friends, I do. Kind of. I have friend. Still, there are some things you can’t explain even if all you want is to unload your brain garbage onto someone close to you.
My life is a lot different now than it was a year ago when I was writing that entry in my journal, hidden underneath my duvet and feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I quite literally left everything behind in California and that’s why I find it easier to exist here (despite lacking money, food, and clothes). I feel safe enough to venture back in time to the different versions of myself I have been at one point or another.
I don’t envy the girl who wrote those seven painful words in her secret diary one year ago. I wouldn’t want to be her ever again.
If I were given the opportunity, I would like to go back to middle school. It all felt so huge back then, didn’t it? We were so certain that love was, at the very most, as deep as a Taylor Swift song and as easy as Troy and Gabriella made it out to be. Love was temporary; It was the nervous, giddy feeling that sparked in your stomach when your crush put an awkward arm around your shoulders.
I know – all of that seems pretty ridiculous to look back on. We tend to dissociate ourselves, as we are now, from the ridiculous people we once were.
Stop it – don’t do that. I’m begging of you: don’t forget how it felt when you first realized that your heart was big enough to make room for another person. I’ve found that this feeling gets lost with time.
I can tell you about the shitty side of love; I like to think I’ll get to experience the good parts someday soon. But there was a time, for everyone it seems, when love wasn’t so scary. L-O-V-E: the most subjective word in the English dictionary. Sixth grade me – braces, knee socks and all – would have defined these four letters much differently than eighteen year-old me.
I had my first version of love in sixth grade. It was sweet – and short. I was crazy for this boy. I was also twelve.
In accordance with the basic rules of puppy love, the kid eventually found another girl to chase, leaving me feeling pretty unwanted. I dealt with that blow in the only way books and movies had ever taught me how: I made a playlist on my iPod touch, titled it with a broken heart emoji, and ate an entire tub of Vanilla ice cream. Then I swiftly got over it.
I still flip through the pages of my turquoise sixth grade diary to read entries from that initial puppy love phase of my life. I sketched this boy in my journal and wrote about my fear that I would “love him always.” It’s sweet to reminisce on how easy that version of heartbreak was. Knowing what I know now, all I want is to travel back in time, find myself, and warn her to guard her fragile heart.
“You think this is bad?” I’d tell her. “Just you wait.”
Then came the boy who was my first kiss.
For many reasons, my heart will always save a bit of room for that one. He was my first kiss and I think that in itself cemented him as a key character in the unfinished memoir of my adolescence. I have no doubt he’s reading this now. But that love, it turned out, was less romantic than we originally thought.
“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” It’s one of my favorite Hemingway quotes. The rest of this hurts me still. I don’t say this to attract sympathy or pathetic compassion; if anything, I’m simply excusing myself from attempting to relay why this piece has taken me so long to finish.
Writing this, for me, is removing the stitches from an already healed wound. It’s experiencing the pain again – not nearly to the same extent (I don’t think I could handle it twice), but painful nonetheless. He was the first feeling I felt too much. Far, far too much.
Our story, complex as it became, began very simply. He was, long before anything else, my best friend.
Let’s give him a name: Jack.
I don’t know when it changed – one day it was all different. We were at the beach, climbing over rocks. That was it – that, and the realization that I would happily remain within that day, with him, for much longer than it lasted. It was a notion, sort of like the soft transition from summer to fall; of knowing the gentle warmth of our friendship was dissipating and a new season was arriving.
The atmosphere of our friendship wasn’t the same after that. We grew closer, more dependent upon one another. If something happened in my day, he was the first to know. Keep in mind, I was fifteen and afflicted with the crippling suspicion that anyone I got close to would eventually leave me in the dust. Even when so much as a glimpse of Jack and I being more than what we were crept its way into my head, I would habitually push it away. I never allowed myself to picture a future where someone like him could feel anything more than companionable love for someone like me.
A funny transition occurred. During the summer between freshman and sophomore year, I learned that boys actually liked me. Well, at least some of them could. It was a profound discovery on my part, since I was under the assumption that everyone saw me the same way I saw myself: boring, brace-faced, and indifferent so as to be purposely unapproachable.
I think it’s necessary at this point to inform you that I was a total prude. Even when I lost sight of my emotional independence, I never gave up control of making executive decisions when it came to my body. This, combined with friendly engagements with boys my age and an aversion to pretty much all girls my age (the reason being they have always been pretty uninteresting and untrustworthy), created a difficult situation for me in high school.
It works like this: if you’re a heterosexual female, have enough intellect to hold a meaningful conversation with a male counterpart for more than thirty seconds, and are subjectively attractive – but won’t put out – then you’re a bitch.
I never questioned how I had managed to earn the titles I was given by peers who whispered a little too loud when I would turn away. Boys fed my ego with comments like, “How can you be smart and beautiful!?” Or my personal favorite: “You’re not like other girls.” And look, I know this might sound like a bunch of whiney baby bullshit, but for a girl whose grandfather was the only male figure in her life, men proved themselves to be temporary. Jack was the only exception.
On some level, it was impossible to deny a kind of underlying chemistry between the two of us. Still, it was nothing blatantly obvious; we spent a lot of time together, so I never questioned the little things, like why his hugs were the most comforting feeling in the world or how I could see him in my life forever.
Call me naive; maybe I was, because to this day I’m not sure how I missed the signs that Jack was developing more-than-friendly feelings for me. I think a part of me didn’t want to believe it, while another part of me simply couldn’t.
I was nothing like the girls he was so often with. I was his shadow; I wasn’t anything special. I was under the impression that he meant much more to me than I did to him, and I was okay with it because that was how I’ve always felt about the people in my life. I didn’t prepare myself for the possibility of him wanting more for us.
When I found out about Jack’s feelings for me, I flipped. I was in a state of disbelief. I felt uncomfortable and didn’t even stop to question my own feelings; emotions which I had, in truth, hidden so well that even I didn’t recognize them. I reacted on instinct and I fled. I was absolutely terrified – not that Jack would hurt me, but that I would, in true tornado fashion, ruin our relationship as it was. He was one of the few things I was so sure of. He was supposed to be permanent.
Inevitably, humans cannot be permanent. Permanent things are not living things. Homes can be permanent, and I had, in a way, made a home out of this person. How odd was that! How terribly, horribly odd that a person can become a place, for places are meant to stay forever and people are always leaving.
It happened gradually, starting with the messages that no longer came. Next was the table where he no longer waited between class. And then it was her.
He had talked about her before in the same way that people talk about paintings: beautiful, but unreachable. Something must have hit her, because one day she reached for him. I knew the second he told me that I had made a grave mistake in letting him go.
At first, there was still a crazy theory in the back of my mind that everything would be okay; he wasn’t going anywhere, and maybe with time and less anxiety over the whole thing we could make it work. I was stupid to think he would still be waiting around months later, when I was finally ready for what I had previously rejected him over. He found her, and she was breathtaking and sweet, and he was so ready to love someone. Most of all, more than any of that, she had been able to love him when I couldn’t. I had no chance.
So I gave up without trying.
We became friends again, close, but different. When all was said and done, I was never okay with him placing her as his number one, but I was also smart enough to know that was exactly what he should have done. They were in love – together. I was in love – alone. They had won, fair and square, and I had to respect their relationship. But that didn’t mean I wanted to. When a person is such a huge part of your life for some time, it’s painful to rip them out of a future you were once so sure of. I’m still working on that part.
I eventually told myself that Jack wasn’t everything – I needed to experience love before I could claim to have met my soulmate at sixteen years old.
The thing is, I wasn’t just looking for some hot guy who spoke sweet words and offered comforting embraces. I was searching for a connection. I needed a “good enough” reason to like anyone for more than five minutes. It had to be organic and they had to be less interested in me than I was in them or else I’d get overwhelmed and bored and I’d run. That was my natural instinct to anyone giving a shit about me: to run. Run before they figure out how messed up you are and they leave.
Don’t be fooled – I’m not so innocent. I’ve hurt people, too.
I don’t like having regrets (except trading in a perfectly decent, free Nissan for a trendy VW Bug that left me stranded on the side of the freeway – that was stupid of me), but I do think that I’ve made split-second, thoughtless decisions that have had negative effects on the lives of people I should have cared more about.
That’s the thing about damaged people, right? Sometimes we do the most damage to ourselves. It becomes a sort of addiction: Self-destruction. Hurt yourself until you hit a wall of pain that can’t be jumped. Heal, and then do it all again.
It’s in my brain chemistry. Call it whatever psychological, analytical cockamamie or mental disturbance-label-type name you want to, but my head doesn’t work like it should sometimes. Especially with emotion.
Ruining yourself can be fun, but it’s only fine until you start using other people as pawns in your disaster narrative. That’s what I started to do. I hit a point when nobody meant much to me at all. If and when I did hurt someone, I typically didn’t realize it. I was so stuck on how I could numb my emotions to a brink of nonexistence (without, like, forming a drug addiction or cutting off a limb).
There was the boy from junior year who gave me more than a few reasons to take an interest in him for a little longer than usual. He was intelligent. He didn’t feed me empty compliments. He made me laugh, naturally. And we were friends; looking back now, perhaps that’s where I went wrong. Because eventually, I did hurt him. This time, though, I wasn’t just hurting a replaceable boy; I ripped up a friendship that actually meant something to me. I hated thinking that I had made someone feel as bad as the world made me feel – or, probably, much worse. I remember feeling all of the guilt piled on top of me and I swore that I wouldn’t dig a deeper hole for myself; I wanted a smooth senior year, and then I would cut off all connections, move across the country and start fresh in a place nobody knew my name.
Then came the heaviness.
Heaviness may not be the right term, but I’ve never known what to call the black cloud that followed me everywhere during this past year. It came about gradually, and for that reason I can’t pinpoint why I felt so lonely and empty, even in a crowded room or surrounded by people who loved me. Some days were worse; some days were really good, and then out of nowhere I would feel a pit in my stomach and my mind would feel foggy and my heart would be unexplainably, utterly sad.
I figured out that I could fake my way through each day if it meant going home each night, closing my bedroom door and staring mindlessly at the wall or scribbling meaningless words in my journal while pretending to do the homework I suddenly couldn’t find the power to complete.
I didn’t talk to anyone about it. When I was little, my mom would offer up the idea of getting me a therapist; my moms split when I was three – nothing unique, but for some reason I’ve never dealt with anything like a normal person. I would shoot my mom down every time she brought up therapy because I couldn’t fathom how I would be able to share the scary thoughts in my brain with a stranger, or anyone for that matter. Even if I wanted to, I didn’t know how to. I never have known how to talk to people.
I felt naive to label myself depressed, or to claim anxiety as the source behind the choking feeling in my throat whenever I had to wake up each morning, put on clothes, and go about a normal day. I had never experienced something like this before. I’ve always been a bit of a loner, introverted and independent to a fault, and not easily excited about much of anything. But this was different. I felt so heavy. I carry that with me still, and maybe that’s changed me a little, but I’m learning to work around it.
January was when I lost it.
I remember the night. I remember feeling so uncomfortable – with my surroundings, the people I was with, the feeling I couldn’t describe weighing so heavily on my mind. I just wanted someone to talk to who could help transport me anywhere else other than the place I was in at that time.
So I texted Jack. And despite needing just a few words from him, he couldn’t help me like I wanted him to. Maybe he could, but he didn’t. His response was short and indifferent.
I was hurt, but I had to understand. Even if all I wanted was to talk to him, he just couldn’t at the time. Maybe he really was just busy?
The next day came, and he never reached out. Then Monday came and I reached out, yet with no response. I realized something was wrong, but I couldn’t figure out what I had done to suddenly throw him off. We had gotten into arguments before, but never anything that caused prolonged silence for that long.
Weeks went by, and weeks turned into months; nothing. I knew he was alive, but it felt like my best friend had died.
I know what you’re probably thinking right now. Why didn’t you just reach out to him and ask? Surely he would have given you a reason.
You’re right, he probably would have. The thing was, this guy had just unknowingly broken my heart a few months prior, and I wasn’t prepared to get rejected again. I only wanted an answer – any sort of closure if this was really going to be our end. After all, I’d fought to keep him in my life more than I’ve ever fought for anyone before. I owed it to myself.
The only answer I ever got (kind of) came around March, through my best friend. In a series of texts, stemming from her craving for an answer to this entire situation that neither he nor I could provide (due to the loud silence between the two of us), Jack confessed to her that he had quite intentionally cut me out of his life, wished the best for me, but had to get rid of me if his relationship was going to work out.
And that was that.
In most stories, that part would be the climax, followed by a downfall which would eventually lead to a resolution involving Jack and I reuniting and falling more in love than ever. Sorry, not this one.
Since my friend’s conversation with Jack, I haven’t heard from him. Despite how much I used to spill my dreams to him about moving to New York, he never reached out to so much as congratulate me when I was accepted into college in the city. When I saw him once or twice in public at social gatherings, it was as if we were strangers. Strangers who used to be each other’s closest friends. Strangers who once knew one another better than anyone did. Strangers, at the end of it all.
You never think it’s the last time, do you? You think you have forever with someone, right? But then someone screws it up, or someone does something you can’t forgive, or someone walks away without a word. And you can never get those moments back and you sure as hell can’t get that person back because they’re gone – that version of them has disappeared; it is only so much as etched into a memory that you replay in your head again and again.
The truth is, I miss him a lot. I think my fear is real: I’ll miss him forever. But I don’t want him back. And I think that’s important: missing someone, but not wanting them back. Because you deserve better. You deserve to have someone tell you they love you and mean it. Really, if he was worth it, he wouldn’t have let go. It’s easy to tell myself these things.
It’s the “almost” of it all that gets to me. We almost worked. We almost loved each other. We almost made it. But we didn’t.
At the end of the day, if he ever did come back, it would take everything in me not to run to him and pretend as though he never hurt me the way he did. It would be easier to act like he never made me question everything than it would be to shut the door on him.
But I would have to. Out of respect for myself, I would not run to him. I would walk the other way. He closed that door and it’s my job to keep the locks bolted. I deserved a better goodbye.
So, here’s me: accepting. Accepting that I’ll never again be the fourteen year-old girl whose knowledge of heartbreak was about as deep as a Sam Smith song. Accepting that even the pain I felt a year ago will not be the only pain I feel at the hands of love. Accepting that I feel things, deeply (too much so, it seems). And, finally, for the first time, accepting that I loved a boy who couldn’t love me back when I needed him to.
I want to find the end of missing him. I feel like a kid searching for the end of a rainbow they know doesn’t exist.
When it all comes down to it, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that you can deserve love and still not receive it. I’ve learned you can love someone who was never yours in the first place. I’ve learned that everything can be going right, and you can still feel heavy with sadness that comes from a place unknown. I’ve learned that some people’s words never mean as much to them as they do to you. That sometimes love feels like nothing more than an ugly thing that stings. But I’ve also learned that I have to do more than just reflect on an almost that does nothing but hurt me. I have to not allow anyone to make me question why I wasn’t good enough to fight for. One day, I will figure out how to share something so breakable with another person and not have my sneakers laced up, ready to run before they can.
I mean, I’m better now than I’ve been in a while. Life is good here, and new and different. I’m fine most of the time, but every now and then I’ll see something random, like a bag of sour candy or a comedy bit, and I won’t be okay for some time. I’m better with people now. I have more patience with them because I imagine everyone is recovering from someone, or something. I can’t ever control when I’ll wake up wanting to punch a hole in the sun for being so bright, but I actually step outside to breathe now instead of retreating into my room. That’s progress, I think.
Today, one year after the beginning of the end, I wrote this line in my journal:
“I know that there is more than this.”