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He fell into the category of those kids you know by name, but know nothing else about. When he sent out an all-school e-mail, I didn’t pay any special attention, nor did I analyze its contents in hopes of finding a window into his soul. Our paths didn’t cross at school. He, a mighty senior, and I, an unassuming sophomore, had no reason to interact. We shared no common interests, no apparent academic or extracurricular ties. And yet he ambled carelessly into my life one day, unaware of the magnitude of the scar he would later leave when he ambled back out.
The month of January concluded, marked by unending rains and gloomy skies. February began similarly. One Sunday night in the first week of February, I received numerous calls from a friend Gabriel, who pinpoints my weaknesses and exploits them mercilessly. His intentions always remain pure, however, as he tortures me with his sense of humor, and demonstrates his immense care and respect for me when necessary. Gabe called, bellowing into the phone in order to override the background noise.
“EMILY! I have someone in my house right now who is dyyyying to get to know you!”
Then Gabe announced the name of the person allegedly writhing in anticipation of spending time with me. I was taken aback. Him? I suppose I could call him a friend, but only by Facebook’s definition. We had never spoken or even made eye contact in my year and a half at our high school. I laughed and reassured Gabe that I would see him in the morning, forgetting all about the ridiculous content of the phone call.
Monday passed seamlessly, falling into step with the other dreary, rainy, winter days. By the time Tuesday rolled around, my bizarre conversation from Sunday night could not have felt more distant. Tuesday evening, however, I received a school e-mail from my suitor, applauding my sardonic response to the all-school thread begging for a day off in honor of the World Champion Giants, initiated the previous October. Of all things? A school e-mail for an event three months past? Astounded by his lack of creativity , I responded lightheartedly.
We exchanged e-mails for a few days before taking a momentous step: moving to texting. While my friends urged me to foster this budding relationship, I hesitated, dragging my feet while he attempted to make plans. Finally, the weekend came and one of his strongest enthusiasts, my sister-like friend Alana, proposed that we venture out into The Delta on her family’s boat, and suggested that I bring along this boy and a friend of his. Alana, purposeful and determined, did not stop until I had agreed to invite him for an afternoon cruise. The morning of our jaunt on the boat came, and brought with it the rains typical of February in the Bay Area. I rejoiced at the thought of a potential “out” for the day.
No such luck. Alana insisted that we continue as planned. After sufficient complaining, I grudgingly agreed to meet my admirer at the boat. The skies were gloomy and my prospects were bleak; my expectations set very low. Yet as we sailed from the shore, the sky brightened and so did my outlook. Awkward moments were few and far between, and this boy and I found plenty to talk about. When our boat got lodged on a sandbar in the middle of the Delta, the two hours we spent waiting for the tide to rise passed effortlessly. As the engine started again, I allowed the whipping winds to carry my inhibitions far away.
Alana and I reconvened at the conclusion of the afternoon. We agreed wholeheartedly upon one thing: he most definitely exuded wonderful energy. Undoubtedly a keeper. He stood proudly over six feet, accentuating his gargantuan muscles with crisp white t-shirts. His short blond hair, impish smile, and mesmerizing blue eyes had me hooked.
Valentine’s Day came the following Monday. While I remained hesitant to immerse myself fully into my new friend’s magnetic field, especially given the magnified expectations associated with Valentine’s Day, he was fearless. He wrote a charming Valentine, packed with inside jokes we had developed during our time stuck on the sandbar the previous weekend.
Following Valentine’s Day, we spent considerable amounts of time together. At school, we made repeated eye contact, exchanging meaningful looks in the hallways and coordinating our free time. Every moment I spent with him brought us closer. He seemed to worship me, and I ate it up. We introduced each other to our favorite restaurants, watched obscure movies of his choosing, played Call of Duty (badly, in my case), enjoyed evenings of board games at each other’s homes. He took me to his rock climbing gym and boosted me up the boulders when my dancer’s arms proved incompetent. I showed him some of my dance pieces, allowing him a look into the most important part of my life.
He told me I was the “most beautiful girl in the world, especially under the moonlight” and I subscribed wholeheartedly. And why not? He had never given me a reason to think anything less than the world of him. This strapping senior boy constantly occupied an essential portion of my mind. I made decisions based on his presence in my life. What will he say to me tomorrow at school? What would be best to wear to the climbing gym, considering that I’m a hopelessly untalented rock climber? If I make an extracurricular commitment, will it inhibit my ability to spend time with him? Reflecting upon my boy-based decision-making, I feel ashamed. At the time, however, he fit effortlessly into my thought processes.
He called me one Tuesday afternoon toward the beginning of March. With prom just around the corner, he said it was time to have a conversation on the subject. I prepared myself for the best, eagerly anticipating attending the quintessential high school event with the boy I liked more and more with each passing day.
“So, I really like you, but my friends aren’t quite as fond. I think I’m going to ask a senior to prom instead.”
The first bullet punctured my protective shield of boy-induced bliss.
“I still want to be friends with benefits, because I like the time we spend together and you’re cool, but you’re a sophomore and I really can’t take you to prom.”
Another bullet lodged inside my shield. Friends with benefits? The crassness of the term baffled me. Silence.
“Come on. You can’t have expected me to bring a sophomore to my senior prom!"
Actually, that’s exactly what I had expected. He hung up, promising to talk to me later. If he understood how hurt I felt, he never let on.
Later that afternoon, I walked into dance class as usual. I went about my customary pliès and grand jetès. With each pirouette, however, I became increasingly unsettled about my earlier conversation. Who was he to patronize me? Humiliate me? Why did he allow his friends to influence how he felt about me? “FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS”?
It was all too much. By the time class had ended and I had climbed into my car, I was fuming. Hot tears ran down my sophomore face as I sped away from the studio. Minutes into my crazed drive, I heard a siren and a motorcycle-riding policeman motioning for me to pull over.
"Excuse me miss, but do you have any idea how fast you were going? 41 in a 25. That's an entire sixteen miles over the speed limit."
I understood the math; thank you officer. After issuing my ticket, he turned to me with a paternal smile.
"Dry those tears. Your parents won't be too upset with you."
I allowed him to assume that I was crying for fear of the wrath of my parents.
As I carefully rejoined the flow of traffic, late for a play rehearsal and looking disheveled, I focused solely on getting to school in one piece.
When I arrived, the rehearsal was in full swing. The moment I walked in, however, several people rushed over, realizing that I wasn't well. After some prodding, I explained the story.
"God, what an asshole." Obviously.
"I'm really glad that hasn't happened to me." Yes, let's focus more on you right now.
"Where is he? I'll beat him up." I'm fairly confident that those rock climbing arms pack a strong punch, but by all means.
"If you continue to spend time with him after that, I'll lose a lot of respect for you as a friend." Supportive! Thanks.
The next day at school, my senior and I proceeded as though nothing had changed. The following day, he sent me tsunami footage from Japan. Yet over the next week, we didn't speak. He made no effort to talk to me or spend time with me, so naturally, I returned the favor. After two weeks of excruciating silence, I texted him.
"Tell me: are we over?"
"I think so."
I never got an answer to either of those questions. My senior boy and I went from being infatuated with one another, to sharing absolutely nothing, in 24 hours. At school, when we passed in the hallways, he averted his eyes so we wouldn't have to exchange meaningful looks. One morning, I sat in the Math Department at a large wooden desk opposite my teacher's, slaving over countless functions. My senior walked into the office to deposit a piece of paper on the desk at which I toiled. I looked up, startled, but he didn't say a word. In the silent office, his heavy breaths resonated in place of simple human conversation.
We haven't talked since March. He went to prom with a beautiful senior girl and graduated in June.
Looking back, I’m humiliated by the entire experience. I feel ashamed of myself for succumbing to his allure, but the scar he created throbs not nearly as much as it did in the Spring. He has made me less trusting, and I can’t decide whether or not that’s a good thing. It’s not that I mind the scar; I just wish it were not quite so deep.
Last weekend, at the Junior Talent Show, an event eagerly anticipated each year at school, I saw him standing with other alums who had not yet left for college. We made eye contact, and I hoped he would walk over, congratulate me on my performance, or perhaps offer a little wave. He didn't, but instead, averted his eyes. Maybe our paths will cross again one day. Maybe that scar he so carelessly created will heal. But I'm not holding my breath.