When I was 13 I met a boy on vacation, and that moment, though I did not know it yet, would have an impact on the rest of my life. He was sweet and funny, and waited ’til we were at the tippy top of my very first roller coaster ride to take my hand and say “I like you.” No, I’m not about to tell you about my first kiss or teeny bopper romance. I’m going to tell you about If Things Had Been Different.
For years, I had kept in touch with the boy from vacation. It wasn’t exactly hard — our families spent summers at the same place the same time every year — but even in between he would write me letters and leave me voicemails on my see-through, neon green answering machine. I had always found him handsome, but he was a bit younger than me and until you reach an age where that all evens out, there’s a weirdness about dating a younger guy, at least there was in my mind in then. So it wasn’t until after my relationship with My First Love crashed and burned and Indecision had done a number on my heart, that I finally connected with the boy from vacation.
Now both adults, in a very basic sense of the world, our online chats turned from the basic keeping in touch, to you look beautiful in that picture, and you’re not so bad yourself, and why don’t we hang out and when and where. On our very first “date” that summer he asks me if I remembered that roller coaster ride. I say, “Of course,” and he tells me how he’s been in love with me since eleven and I tell him I was sorry it took me so long. Before I can finish the sentence he’s kissing me, and my faith in love is restored.
The boy from vacation parades me around to all his friends the rest of August like a trophy and as shallow as it sounds, I enjoy it. After being hidden away by My First Love and feeling not enough in some way for Indecision to choose, I was now the center of a guy’s world and front and center in it. And not just me. He loves my family, takes care of them, and does things I would consider making an effort to make my younger brother happy, but with him I know he’s not even giving it a thought. It’s just him. He’s a kid at heart in the sweetest way, and lives to make people happy. I know why he’s such a people pleaser (that’s his story to tell, not mine) but it makes me want to make him happy even more, give him everything he’s never had, and most of all protect him, even though he’s twice my size and could dead lift me over his head.
This is how it’s supposed to be, I tell myself yet again, and the amount of love and attention he lavishes on me has me on top of the world. We spend almost every waking hour together, and it’s exciting, and hormonal, and intense. I can see myself being with him forever, telling our children, who he would undoubtedly be an awesome father to, how it all started with a three words on a roller coaster ride.
Then summer draws to an end and I have to go back to college, not a far distance, but far enough to dramatically decrease the amount of time we spend together. He helps me move in and meets my friends, who at first don’t realize he’s my boyfriend and accuse him of trying to steal the food we’ve ordered in a ridiculous encounter that results in much laughing and bonding, and I think my two worlds are going to combine seamlessly. And they do for a while, but then things become even more intense, and not in a good way. He skips school to come and stay at college with me, and I miss classes for extra time with him, and it’s no good for either of us. There are times where it seems like his world is going to come crashing down without me constantly by his side. He becomes suspicious if he can’t reach me on the phone and does immature things in return to make me upset. I get caught in the rollercoaster ride of emotions, and don’t know how to keep us on track.
We fight and make up, break up and reconcile on a weekly basis as I insist that I need to concentrate more on school, and he becomes increasingly more self-destructive in his free time. I try to to talk to my circle of friends about it, but they’ve all made up their mind. I need to leave him. But I can’t. When things are good, they’re really, really good, and even when they’re bad I look into his green eyes and still see the boy who looked at me wide-eyed and asked “Really?” when I told him I wanted to make love the first time, the boy who’s so tough on the outside, but so fragile, needs to be loved so badly in return. The boy from vacation who waited for me.
I make the mistake of confiding in the only person I feel like won’t judge me. Indecision is living directly above me this semester and has been doing everything in his power to rekindle our friendship. I keep him at arms length until he comes by one night with a bag of popcorn to entice me to watch a movie. He announces this through the closed door as he knocks, and I almost pretend I’m not there, but I’m hurting and alone, so I call for him to come in from my spot curled up on the floor in the corner crying by a phone that’s not ringing. He drops the bag and runs to my side, thinking it’s my health again, or I’m hurt, and throws more questions at me than I can process. I finally take a breath through my tears and tell him about how the boy from vacation just hung up on me and that I think it’s really over this time. Indecision doesn’t ask any questions, doesn’t try to placate me with it’ll be alrights or other niceties. He just picks me up off the floor and places me on my bed, scooting in next to me and holding me while I cry unabashedly.
From that night on, Indecision and I are friends again. We’ve forgiven each other’s transgressions and I think this time we’ll truly be “friends.” It feels good to have someone right upstairs who still wants to be my friend after having to carry me to the bathroom to get sick when medicine made it impossible to keep food down, someone who laughed at me when I fell off a couch dancing in a t-shirt and boy shorts after a celebration consisting of cheap vodka and warm sprite and then told no one how I got the huge bruise on my leg, someone who appreciated the simple gesture so much that he still wears the Christmas gift I gave him as if it’s a prized possession. He even sticks by me when I start taking the boy from vacation’s calls again.
One night as I’m sitting in my ground floor room, I almost have a heart attack when I hear someone knocking on my window. I raise the blinds and it’s the boy from vacation. He stands at my window with flowers, and a note, and asks me to buzz him in. I do, and he reads from the note because he says otherwise he won’t get it all out. He cries as he tells me how wrong he’s been. How he doesn’t know how to deal with me being away. How he loves me. I wrap my arms around him and want to make it better, want to make him stop hurting. I love him and I know if we both try harder we can make this work.
I begin spending every weekend at his house instead of at school or at home with my family just so we can have more time to see each other without anyone flunking out. I wait around doing homework, or spending time with his best friend, we’ll call him Tom, now my friend too, while the boy from vacation works, and I even take up working with him for awhile when he begins to get jealous of the amount of time I’m spending with Tom. We both try hard for awhile, but it begins to become too much on me physically and emotionally, all the travelling back and forth, lack of sleep, and partying — something he seems to be doing more and more. I have a relapse of my health issues and decide I can’t keep going there every weekend. He doesn’t take it well.
Back at school I retreat from my social circle. Having a major health issue can be hard for young people to understand and my friends just don’t get that I’m not like them. I have restrictions and limits that don’t coincide with their college lifestyle. Instead, I’m back to spending the majority of time with Indecision, who doesn’t mind if I’m too tired to go out, too sick to eat the slop they’re serving in the commons, too much of a mess to want to be seen in public. He’s a good friend to me, except when he’s antagonizing the boy from vacation by answering my phone, or showing up when he’s visiting to get things he “mistakenly” left in my room to show he’s been there. I know I should be mad at him for it, but he’s my lifeline at school. I need him…until he comes to blows with my boyfriend and I’m forced to make a choice. I make the wrong one because I suck at love, but that’s a story for next week.
As Rebecca Wells so brilliantly put it, “There is the truth of history, and there is the truth of what a person remembers.” I’ll try to bridge that gap as I tell you the story of how I eventually figured out I suck at love. Come back weekly for new installments.