A tale of love and working its way back.
Part 1: Special delivery.
His name was Jesse*. I met him in fifth grade. Today is his birthday. And I loved him. I loved him so much that I couldn’t stand it. And I wanted him to love me back more than anything in the entire world. It never ended up happening, as this is a tale of unrequired love, but it doesn’t even matter at this point. Though he never loved me the way I wished he would, he at least pretended to love me back. And that, turns out, was enough for me.
He was a new import from Northern California, the first person I had ever met from the state. He came with the typical Golden State Cool look; blonde hair, brown eyes, tanned skin and freckles. He’d do his hair like early-90’s Devon Sawa, gelled and parted down the middle. All the boys in my class were doing this style, and I thought it was the pinnacle of cuteness. We were friendly enough; I just wanted the new kid to feel welcomed into a class where many of the students had been together since first grade. And he quickly became part of the family. He wasn’t the brightest, but I’d always cheer him on academically. And he started to become part of the cool group. Definitely as BMOC one could get in a class of twenty. One day he came up to me during free period and said, “You know what? You’re cool.” It was both the greatest moment in my life and the most awkward. I had no idea what to do, so I just stood there staring, whispering “Thanks?” at him until he eventually just walked away. Nothing came of it, and I never mentioned it to him, or anyone, ever again.
Sixth grade was when I started realizing boys weren’t the enemy, and I developed an actual crush on him. But by then, it seemed like then he had already moved on to other girls in the class who were a lot cooler than me. My best friend Charmaine* and I even had an unspoken rivalry for his affections. She was the clear winner, as she would speak to him on the phone and even went over to his house one summer to hang out in the pool. Jesse and I would also talk on the phone, but only if Charmaine was over and my mom said it was okay. I was eternally jealous of her relationship with him, but never really expressed my frustrations about it to her. She might not even know to this day. And somewhere in the middle of it all, even as my crush on him grew, I concluded I was meant to remain in the background, as whatever ‘love’ alignment we may have had was never to match up again.
Seventh grade was the worst grade of them all, as everyone’s hormones were running rampant and my frustrations at not being the “cool girl” with the boys had boiled over. They were always speaking about girls they thought were pretty, which made me angry that I was never on their lists. They were acting like lewd and lascivious twelve-year-old boys and never directing it toward me, no matter how hard I’d try and be one of the pretty girls. I’d just get told I had a man voice and needed to shave my legs. I was coming into my body at that time, in full first-year period mode and being one of three girls in the class with a B+ cup size. It infuriated me hearing the boys making references to women’s bodies and breasts and completely ignoring mine. I’ve got two gigantic basketballs uncomfortably stuffed under my shirt and I don’t even get a second glance? My confusion over budding male-female attraction was compounded by the fact that I heard it through the grapevine that the boys were all having their first “nocturnal emissions” about me. It was the worst grade school experience of my life. And unfortunately for Jesse, he got the brunt of my rage. I’d scream at him and tell him to stop being gross, I’d get mad if he was talking about a girl he liked. I even one time took a note he was trying to pass to another kid and threw it in the trash. I was so angry and there was no one I could talk to about it. Especially not him.
Eighth grade everyone had finally calmed down. The personalities were out in full force and I wasn’t mad at anyone anymore. This would be everyone’s final year together, as my school only went to eighth grade. I was quite emotional all year, knowing these people I had grown up with and loved would no longer be my classmates. Sure, some of us all matriculated to the same public high school, but it wouldn’t ever be the same. Jesse was off to a private all-boys high school. I somehow knew I wasn’t ever going to see him again. But I needed to let him know how I felt. It was now or never, even though I was positive I wasn’t going to get the same affections back.
Part 2: Knowing the sell-by date.
Our final class trip was one afternoon at the Woodloch Pines Resort in the Poconos. They wouldn’t let us stay overnight because we were all such good little Catholic kids. Which was too bad because somewhere in my hormonally raging mind I thought I could somehow score my first kiss on this trip. If only we just could stay overnight. Still, we had a nice afternoon go-karting, playing at the arcade, boating on the lake and bringing it home for a nice, catered dinner. I was Ms. Drama Queen the entire day, as I had been the entire month prior. Graduating eighth grade had become like being forced to leave my family behind. There was no other choice, we all had to go our separate ways. It was inevitable and getting harder to say goodbye. I was weepy the entire three-and-a-half-hour ride home. My friends were comforting me, talking about the amazing time we just had, hoping our photos from the disposable cameras came out looking great. Somehow, and I don’t entirely remember how this happened, during the last hour of the trip I ended up sitting next to Jesse. Just him and me in a two-seater. The moment had finally arrived, and I knew something life-affirming was about to happen.
All he did was hold me and listen as I got all of my feelings out. I was at my most inconsolable at this point. I was going to miss him so much. I was going to miss my entire class so much. I was comfortable here. My ‘senior’ superlative was “Funniest.” They all liked me. I liked all of them. And now it was all over. So I told him how much I really loved him and how much I cared and that it was just sad that we had to leave each other this way. He told me he loved me too, even though I knew he was just being nice. I told him how I always wished he’d liked me more than just a friend, and felt comfort when he said I’d always be his friend. I remember looking up at him and being met with a warm smile, which only served to make me cry harder. I kissed him on the cheek and he kissed me on the forehead, and we sat there holding each other until we pulled into the school parking lot.
When I got off the bus, I knew it was over. And it was okay that it never actually began.
I haven’t spoken to Jesse in over two decades now. Yet I still remember that it’s his birthday today. I’ve never forgotten the date. Before you judge me too harshly, just know that his AoL screenname was his initials, followed by 82285. The date always just stuck with me. He was the second oldest in our class, behind the one student who had to repeat a grade. His birthday always kind of started off my year. It’s how I knew another school year was about to begin. Fall was about to happen because summer was coming to an end. I suppose this date is going to be something I think of every year. Right now, I have no way of contacting him, nor do I have any real strong desire to. I do wonder what someone would think if a long, lost friend said they still remember their birthdays. It might make someone feel good. It might creep them out a bit. But maybe it’s not as crazy as I think.
Part 3: What rolls back around.
When someone touches your heart, no matter if they see the mirror image in theirs, you can still carry what they gave you all throughout your life. I had a hard time getting through parts of writing this because I was crying so much. My heart just felt so full speaking about a boy from my childhood who cannot really know the depths of what I once felt for him. I wouldn’t want to disrupt whatever life he’s made for himself now, which I’m sure is a good one. But it’s forever separate from mine, and that’s okay too.
Back then, I was precocious enough to know when a ‘love affair’ was over. And that feeling has followed into all the boys I’ve loved after that. What I wished would be forever somehow kept telling me it wasn’t so. That’s why I think I’ve remained single well into my thirties. Everything I’ve ever felt for those boys may have returned to me, but it always came with an expiration date. It was clear as day. And when it was over, it would hurt, and I’d have trouble accepting it. My high school boyfriend said “we should take a break” and I still loved him. I ended things with a guy when I was twenty because he wouldn’t text me back, and I still loved him. But one day, all of that hurt would just stop, and whatever feelings I once had would just go away. I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and just kept walking in the direction that would lead me to the forever person. One who I never had to give back at the end of the day. Someone who could return all that I had to give. And I’d be able to express all what that means in a manner more mature than crying about it on a Catholic school bus.
It’s so clear to see that for a long time, I wasn’t getting back what I was putting out, no matter how much I wanted to force it into place. I wasted so much time on absolutely nothing, even if I did walk away with a list of all the things I’ve learned for next time. Jesse was the first to allow me to see that, and he wasn’t even officially my boyfriend. I have to thank him for what he gave me, even if he, in the technical sense, doesn’t give a shit. I have my life, he has his. That’s fair enough.
This feeling washes over me every time this date rolls around. And it couldn’t have come at a better time this year, as I feel at a crossroads over what direction I want in life. One side is telling me to leave, the other to stick it out. But the one constant is family. Beginning my own. And even after everything I’ve seen over the years, I can’t help but feel that this time, implausibly, impossibly, this love I’m putting out is actually coming back. Only time will tell on that, and only if I active work on changing myself first.
So Happy Birthday, Jesse. Thank you for being a part of my life. Thank you for giving me something you may never know the depths of. But it’ll live on in that soft spot in my heart, where the door’s always open to whoever is ready to give back. I’ll be waiting. Forever and ever, Amen.