It might not seem plausible for a 13-year-old to know what love is, but I can tell you even now with the feeling still resonating twelve years later that what I felt back then was real.
The emotion shaped me as I grew into a young woman. It tainted the relationships I had with others to come, and it stuck with me despite being perfectly content within the happiness that came my way. For it was that one “what if”. The one that got away. The one you read about and watch as it burns slowly on screen but never happens. It never resolves. And that, above everything else, is what hurts the most. Even to this day.
For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call him THE BOY. He’s no longer a part of my life, but we’re friends on Facebook, and well... even that’s a little too close for comfort. Given time and space, we are both now two very different people. I can’t necessarily speak for him, but I know that a decade has changed me in the best and the worst ways of which I wouldn’t want to trade for anything. My experiences have taught me valuable life lessons, and I have no doubt that he too has lived. That is, if you call having a job, a relationship and kids living. I’ve taken part in two of the three, but I have no interest in the other. It’s a personal decision, and I’ve settled on it. But does that mean he’s happier than me?
I have a best friend. Well, technically I have two, but the first came about in a very different way. He was my boyfriend for seven years, and then one day he wasn’t. The thing is, we still tell each other goodnight. He hasn’t gone anywhere, because the connection we share remains the same, regardless of relationship status or society’s way of forcing sex as a necessary evil. You see, I believe in emotions in their truest forms. I believe that you can love someone and it not be about titles. About sexual orientation. About whether or not you hold hands. I believe in friendship - companionship - and because of what I have now, I understand what I had back then.
THE BOY was a crush. For a very long time, I had a different crush, and THE BOY’s insistence that the other was a douchebag is what drew me to him in the end. It was sort of like opening your eyes and finally realizing that the thing you cherish most is right in front of you, and it has been the whole time. On the surface, THE BOY gave me attention. But back then, I thought there was a price to pay in return. Don’t get me wrong, there very much was… but THE BOY refused to let me pay it. I tried. I offered. I made it known that I was willing, but never once did he accept it. Never once did he allow me to be that girl.
Unfortunately, several years later, without his knowledge, I became that girl for many others, and I think it’s because back then I wasn’t aware of what he had done for me. I’d taken his distance as rejection. I’d taken his lack of a formal proposal to go steady as his way saying I wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t his type. Because he got what he wanted from other girls. But never from me.
Now, I look back on my journal entries - at the excruciating detail of every conversation and every movement of his body language - and I realize that he really did see me. He really did care. His attention was given in other ways that back then I didn’t appreciate for what they were. We talked on the phone about nothing. He was the first boy I ever did that with, and I remember being so nervous to hear his voice on the other line even though we spoke face to face almost every day. He made a point to sit beside me at school - not all the time, but just enough. We wrote notes in class, made up funny jokes and wrote them all down, and he hugged me. I vividly remember him hugging me. Sometimes for no reason. THE BOY just knew how to do the little things. And that was what kept me afloat.
I wasn’t incredibly popular. I was included in a very specific crowd, but I wasn’t the girl that the other guys talked about. At least, not in that way. I think THE BOY protected me from that, and I know now it’s because he loved me. He was my friend. A real friend. One that I still miss so many years later. You see, that’s what feels unfinished. That is the “what if” I always come back to. Like the seven year relationship I had with my once boyfriend, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. We went to separate high schools. We didn’t talk anymore. We ran with different crowds. And the one time we ran into each other after graduating, I looked at him, and the boy I knew was gone. In a way, I think he protected me from that too. He knew who I was - saw the person I’d become - and he was smart enough to acknowledge that he had no part in my world.
I dream about him all the time. So much that I forget he’s part of my past and not a piece of my present. The dreams are always simple. He’s just there. Sometimes taking part in the plot and other times he’s just in the background. But his presence is unwavering. I’m not an interpreter of dreams, so I’m not exactly sure what that means for me and my psyche, but it gives me incredible comfort when I wake up the next morning and remember those emotions. That connection and what it did for me as a girl trying to make it through middle school. I cherish every single memories, and like everything else, I wouldn’t trade them.
I guess the point of all of this is to say thank you to THE BOY. I’m too afraid to share this where he’d actually see it, and I think it’s because I’m even more afraid he won’t know it’s about him. But I needed to say it regardless, so here it is:
to the very first boy I ever loved, thank you for not being my boyfriend.