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I’d always been sick of love. Sick to my stomach. I just didn’t get it. Not like I’d ever experienced love, not that I was oh-so-highly experienced about it that I could tell you. Guess you’ll just have to figure it all by yourself.
But here’s one thing, if this will ever help:
My name’s Arni. And this is how I didn’t fall in love.
He was a short guy first time off. Short guy, brown eyes, and brown hair that didn’t move at all but he still ran his fingers through it like it did. His lips were thin, and when he was little he had this really cute round head that soon grew to become long with a full-round jaw. His laugh had a jump to it, like he was surprised. Jump! I’d whisper to myself whenever he laughed. I loved his laugh. It would make my heart beat hard.
And whenever I had hard, tough days that beat me up and wore me out, I’d think of his smile and feel my face go red in a blush. I never told him this, but it was his smile that made me feel like everything was going to be okay.
He never said he loved me. Spoke to me like a friend, even referred to me as one. Let me tell you, we would’ve been an odd couple anyway. I had odd teeth, crazy, wild hair, and was tall. Take that for odd. But it didn’t stop me. It didn’t stop him.
You see, this is what I didn’t have back then: Confidence. It was something he didn’t have either. We were both shy and both very, very lame.
“Hey,” he’d say. He’d always do that. He’d always ignore me and then later come and talk to me at times as if he didn’t want me to feel like he’d forgotten me. I think that was the up and down hill I couldn’t stand.
“Hey.” I had to keep my lips sealed. Whenever I let myself talk freely, the only thing I’d ever end up doing is embarrassing myself. “What’s up?”
He’d shrugged. “Nothing.” Then he’d leave. Yes, that’s it. It’s hard to live life when you build expectations so high, you cry when they don’t really happen.
Then we’d be on the bus and he’d be staring at me. “What?” I’d say, because we weren’t really the sharp-kinds. We didn’t talk with hidden meanings, we didn’t go back and forth with clever phrases, and we didn’t even have to talk. Sometimes, we’d just stare at each other. It wasn’t awkward because we were both lost in thought. I’d always be the one to break away because somehow I was afraid if I gazed at him too much, he’d read my mind.
He’d shrug. “Nothing.”
Sometimes, I’d come up with something to say just to talk to him. Like: Hey, Sam. Did you see the poster? Sam: Yeah. (Laughing). It’s mine.
When we grew up, it was more of the same except that he grew taller and my hair was much, much more uncontrollable. It curled so much but I was too boyish enough not to care. When it came to Sam, though, I was nothing but girlish.
And I thought that nothing would ever, ever happen between us ‘cause he wasn’t going to make a choice and neither was I. What I’ve given you right now is nothing. That’s right. I haven’t given you a single thing to remember when you leave.
But then came Tom. I name him Tom ‘cause he reminded me of a cat. He pounced. A lot. On ideas, on dodge ball games, on his crushes. And yes. Sadly, I was one the girls he had a crush on, and he never really pounced on me. The closest thing he did was grab onto my strand of hair and comment on it. I made sure he knew I didn’t like him back.
The bus was our sanctum then, for me and Sam. Soon, he started sitting next to me and ignoring Tom who’d try to get into our conversations. But Sam would look at me, just me, and we’d talk and he’d talk about anything and everything and soon I remembered why I liked him so much. I was used to him. I’d known him ever since preschool. I wasn’t in love, I was in my comfort zone.
“Nothing” grew to something, though. And then on the weekends, I’d realized just how much I missed him and how I couldn’t wait to see him on Monday. We’d talk regular because we’d known each other since forever and it wasn’t so awkward anymore ‘till the day Mr. Tom asked the popping question right in front of Sam.
“Do you have a crush on Sam?”
Oh, Tommy. If only I’d had enough courage to drive a bulldozer over your cat-body. Or the decency. But I didn’t. I’d gained courage, but not the courage I’d thought I registered.
“I used to,” I replied. If you have the urge to whack me across with a shoe, I wouldn’t blame you. What happened after that is unexplainable. Here, I thought that Sam only considered me as a friend. And only as a friend. I mean, in addition, I was a curly-haired goof full of pots of corniness, and he might’ve been tall enough to be mine but I just didn’t have the guts.
His mood shifted after that. I got the feeling of distance and irregular anger or disappointment and I wanted to shake him and tell him that I really did love him and could spend my whole life with him but we were already graduating. I could’ve just told him how I felt, I wouldn’t ever see him again until later. But I chose not to.
The day of graduation, I smiled nicely for the cameras, hair straightened and cured out of its curls. I wore high heels, stood in a blue dress, and turned my head just far enough to see him watching me. And even when we locked gazes, he didn’t look away, lost in thought. After we did our traditionally letting go of the colorful balloons outside, I searched for him.
He had left without saying goodbye.
All the days we talked, all those seconds we stood gazing at each other, all those laughs and awkward smiles and odd choices and ups and downs and days that would alternate between happy and sad because of him, they all faded. It didn’t matter. He’d left without a goodbye.
After two days, he was forgotten. I decided to remove myself from anxiety and completely forget him. I didn’t shed a tear. I didn’t miss him. I didn’t want to ever see him again.
I saw him today. It was so casual when he looked at the floor before looking at me because he was shy, and then he leaned over and we hugged. It was so ordinary when we talked and sometimes he’d yawn because he was so nervous, and I’d turn away because it was too awkward to even talk. Sometimes, I’d turn back and he wouldn’t be watching me. It’s the only thing that changed about him.
And I wanted to lean over and whisper, “Do you remember? Do you remember in preschool someone said we’d get married? Do you remember the day when we were alone in the classroom and I asked you a question and you just stood there and gazed at me like I was the most beautiful thing you’d ever seen? Do you remember the day I came in fourth grade to our new school and you told everyone I had a crush on you? If you knew, why didn’t you do anything? Did you know? Did you care?”
But I left today, again, without another word. And I think, just before I turned my back to him to walk in the other direction, he looked up and took just one glimpse because for a second, we were there, back in the old days. Just for that second.
And maybe one day I’ll get the courage to tell you how I don’t feel. How I hate the way I care so much. How you make me so confused. How I think that maybe, just maybe, this is all in my head. Maybe one day I’ll get the courage to tell you I lied that day Tom asked. I had a huge crush on you, Sam, and to this day I still do.
Again, I pick myself up and walk. I convince myself that I don’t care. I don’t shed a tear. I don’t miss you. I’m not in love.
I’m in denial of it.