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The soft press of his lips, the slight twinkle in his eye, and the way his hands intertwined hers. I watched him curl up next to her and walk away happier than I’ve ever seen him. I remember back to a time when even the thought of him with someone else would’ve sickened me. But I can now turn the other direction with simply memories in my heart, and realize how much has changed from what could have been to what will never be.
It was October 31st, a day in which every child in America gets set free to disguise themselves as anyone they aspire to, or secretly want to be, Halloween. High school had just begun and I was in love. Not the love you’re probably thinking, it wasn’t as if I had met the man of my dreams or anything, I was only fourteen years old. Love has many layers and connotations to what it can truly mean. Love to me at that time meant freedom and new experiences. High school was a realm in which I had never been able to express myself or engage in before. Hallways filled with hundreds of students every 45 minutes so tight and compact you barely have time to greet them with anything more than a quick wave. There were a variety of different age groups, ethnicities, religions, and creativity among individuals I had never come into contact with before. Classes you could choose to preference, not only requirement, with teachers who made the classroom filled with debates and arguments where lines were crossed in a fun and adventures atmosphere. High school was beyond my expectations.
That night of Halloween I was most excited because I thought I was on top of the world. As long as I was with friends and people who wanted to have a good time, I wasn’t worried about future outcomes of anything. Life was carefree and exuberant. I was in high school now, life had no limits.
Knock. Knock. Knock. The words echoed from children, “Trick-or-Treat” to every doorstep in America. Including me and my friends. Despite that we were in high school and some people saw us as too old for something as childish as trick-or-treating, we didn’t care. We held onto our childhood as long as we could, wanting independence and freedom all at the same time. My best friend Heather and I looped arm in arm skipping with laughter rolling off our lips without containment. Life never felt so good. I felt on top of the world.
But on this night, there was something different than usual. Or I guess I should say someone. He was different. He directed a certain unidentifiable presence. I didn’t notice him right away because of his reserved confidence and identity. But due to those qualities, it attracted me right away. I saw him laughing with our friend Drew, as we were walking from house to house.
He was quiet, but you could tell he was comfortable with who he was. High school had been in session for over 2 months and all I could think was, ‘Why have I never noticed him before?’ His name, Zack. Everything about him kept me intrigued. The way his lips curled up into a crooked smile showing more teeth on the left of his mouth and the way his eyes light up whenever someone said his name. It was strange. I had this tingling feeling in my stomach and every time he even would even glance in my direction, I felt my face suddenly fill with heat.
I must be crazy. What’s wrong with me? I don’t even know him. Why? All these thoughts rolled through my head in a continuous cycle throughout the night. We hadn’t even spoken two words to each other, but I wanted to make myself noticed.
As darkness crept up on that crisp fall night, we walked through the open field of Franklin Park soaking up the brisk cool wind that hung in the air. I had all these emotions built up inside of me. The feeling to be noticed by him was overwhelming every part of me. Before I knew what I was doing I shouted in his direction, “I hope you’re ready!”
I took a few quick steps toward his 6ft stature and leaped up in the air. It all seemed to move in slow motion. Without hesitation he held me up as I sat on his back and felt like everything was just right. But as quickly as it had all happened, we collapsed and landed in the grass filled with dew and moisture. Despite this complete embarrassment, I couldn’t help but just roll over and laugh hysterically. I was overwhelmingly happy to see that as I looked to the side of me, he was doing the same. I felt on top of the world.
Heat rushed over my entire body as I stepped into the warmth of Heather’s house. Covered in grass, water, and mud we toppled into the house slipping over the slick tile floor. The rest of the night, flowed with ease and laughter. Yet I felt this tension throughout lingering in the air, not an angry or awkward. It was like there was unspoken message trying to be communicated between him and me. It has never been easy for me to feel close to people. I’ve always felt as though no one really knew me and maybe that’s partially because I never let anyone close enough. But that night, I knew that if anything, I had made a life-long friendship.
From then on, it was like we had known each other our whole lives. Our friendship came so easily, I knew I could be myself around Zach without worrying about trying to impress. It was something completely unfamiliar to me. My whole life had felt like a show where I was trying to please everyone and do the same things as the rest. But between us two, that no longer existed. I felt on top of the world, then.
It was the end of life, as I knew it. Well, I’m being melodramatic here, but as an overemotional now fifteen year old, that’s what it seemed. My walls were crashing down all around me and I didn’t know how to prepare myself or fix the damage I had done. It all started with Girl’s Choice. The thought of it alone stressed me out. There was only one person on my mind of who I would ask. Zach. But how? How could I do that? No. Yes. The weeks were quickly passing me by; if I wanted do ask him, I needed to do it fast. Anxiety tore me apart. There was nothing more in the world that I wanted than to be dancing for one night in a world that I only fantasized about in my dreams. But reality kept waking me up.
‘Be serious Sam. How realistic is it that someone like him would even consider you?’ Self-doubt and my own insecurities took the best of me. But that’s when it all came crashing down. For weeks, I had been hearing from friends at school who I was planning to ask. Anyone who knew me well enough knew my ideal prize. They kept encouraging me, ‘JUST DO IT!’
But my introverted side of me kept whispering, ‘You’ll ruin everything.’
It was more than just anxiety of rejection, but of change. Change, I know now, is and will be inevitable. But I felt as though somehow I was out of control. Life will change with or without you alongside it. We can choose to accept it and try to make the best of it, or we can begrudgingly stand aside and become consistently disappointed. I became swept up in despair and could not face the reality of risking everything.
I never asked. He went with someone else.
After Girls Choice, things weren’t the same between us. It became slightly awkward and uncomfortable. There was a period of time in which we didn’t talk at all but after some time had passed we slowly worked our way back into our normal patterns. Life was back to normal, and I stood there, with him, on top of the world.
Then, summer. It was as if nothing had ever happened. Well except that now Zach had a girlfriend. Girlfriend. Girlfriend. But, she wasn’t me. It was hard to grasp. Surreal and seemingly unnatural. But then it confirmed every insecurity I had ever had. It was true, I wasn’t worth it. I tried my best to let it go. However life around Zach wasn’t always easy, especially since we told each other everything. Which included Sarah, his girlfriend. Problems, arguments, good times, intimacy, everything. I heard it all. After awhile, I began to become numb to the pain and it became more of an annoyance than anything. Was I really so small and insignificant that he couldn’t remember anything that had happened? I know we had never talked about it face to face but I thought it was more than just my feelings. Nevertheless I was once again proven wrong. This continued throughout the entire year, their relationship sustained until the summer going into my sophomore year. And feelings that had subsided were coming back into play.
What was he doing to my heart—tearing it apart without consideration of my feelings, my pain, my thoughts—he pulled me in every direction, I couldn’t get out—life with him was a hot mess, life without him was almost unbearable—I was yearning and wanting and aiding and seeking and finding and searching for every possibility, pro and con. What to do.
One late summer night things finally unfolded. The music was loud, and the atmosphere was hectic as me and tons of friends cramped into the tiny basement where our legendary parties always took place, but I felt a constricting pull on my heart. It was going in two different directions and my mind was trying to keep up. Zach must have noticed because he never left my side the whole night. Only dancing when I was up on the dance floor right next to me, and coming to my aid as soon as the song ended. He sat there patiently and waited for me to talk and was eager to listen to every word that leaked from my lips. Suddenly words began coming out like vomit, I couldn’t stop them. I felt myself unraveling my deepest thoughts and desires of what I always wanted from him, us, together. I could see his eyes moving, changing, processing everything that I was saying. I could tell he was becoming overwhelmed but I couldn’t stop. Finally as if the he had hit the mute button, he grabbed my hand and quietly spoke my name.
I was instantly silent. Aware of my rattling and stared intently into his warm chocolate eyes awaiting any type of response. I waited and waited and waited. He just kept staring, finally I spoke. “Zach?”
He looked at me and said at barely a whisper, “How could I not want you?”
Those are the words I’ve always wanted to hear. But now was not the time for this. The music was pounding so loud through my skull, the beats pulsating every three seconds making me extremely aware of everything around me. The heat. The closeness between us two, how easily I could give in to my deepest desire right in front of me. I was sure that I hadn’t heard him right but as I sat there quietly not sure of how to react, his hand touched my knee and my heart skipped rapidly in a matter of milliseconds. “Sam?” my heart melted.
But deep inside of me, I knew what I had to do, I knew what was right. No matter how much I wanted us to be together, there were so many factors fighting against us. He still had pain from Sarah, how could he not? She had moved halfway across the country forcing them to break up only two days before. I was in the middle of a complicated and confusing relationship with someone else because I had gotten tired of waiting around for two years contemplating if anything would ever become of Zach and I. Now here it was, hitting me in the face, and timing was once again, fighting us. I had to be the strong one here, for both us. I mean, in all honesty, what would you have done? Would fight and abandon all you believed in to be with the one you loved, even if it could ruin everything? Or would you reign in your emotions and be practical of what could be best for the long haul? It’s easy to say one thing, but a whole other ordeal to actual follow through with it.
I made the choice I thought would be best for both of us. I know that he did not feel the same, but hopefully someday he’ll understand my perspective and view on everything. Hopefully someday he’ll know just how heart-wrenching this decision weighed on me.
So as I stood there watching the two of them walk away in seemingly perfect harmony, I felt memories wash over me. I felt a release of built up tension in my heart and mind. I was so clouded before with thoughts consumed of him that I couldn’t see so much right in front of me. These thoughts of simplistic things that I’ve always wondered about what it would be like. How it would feel to have the warmth of his palm intertwined in mine. To feel the rush of heat as he embraces me close enough and our faces our just inches apart. The moment when both our feelings mesh together and we have that moment of clarity and serenity.
But there were other things that were more important. Family. School. Friends. College. The future that lay ahead of me. The realization of how different we really were also struck me as a relief to know that I had, in fact, made the right decision. No matter how difficult that was to do.
But I cannot deny that there will always be that thought and image in my mind. The two of us, what could have been turned into what would possibly never be.