A Few Short Love Stories
I had a crush on Josh all eighth grade. He knew, but for a long time, he liked my friend, Kristin. It depended on who we were with when he started to warm up to me. But eventually, something switched. It might’ve been around the time I started only eating 1000 calories a day and dancing five of those a week after school. He was a rail and that turned into my type for a long time.
One time, he touched my boob on the top of the ferris wheel at the town fair. Over my shirt.
We finally started dating on the last day of school that year. My best friend Olivia had asked him over the phone while I stood next to her. We had a wonderful couple of months in the summer. His mom would drop him off at my house with her big tan and teal van. She was nervous about me, or for her baby boy.
As I opened the door to the three season’s room that lead into my kitchen one afternoon, he told me he loved me. I felt bad saying it back because I didn’t want to.
After a month away at sleepaway camp, the distance was enough to forget why I went after him for a year. I broke up with him at Annie’s birthday party and he didn’t seem sad at all. I regretted that decision for a whole year, but at the end of every year of high school, we’d remember why we liked each other again, and pick up where we left off the summer before.
Freshman year, I dated a bad boy. He didn’t do well in school and didn’t have many friends, but he had a sweet side, and beautiful blue eyes and floppy brown hair and was covered in freckles. He played hockey, but mostly he did motocross. He would pick me up in his friend’s Jeep, because he didn’t have a car, and we’d drive through back roads and sand dunes where they’d jump off mounds of earth on their bikes. I sat on his lap in a collapsible lawn chair one spring afternoon after school, and he asked me why do you take such deep breaths? It is something that has carried me to adulthood, and it was the first time I noticed that I did, but I’m sure I said some line about having my breath taken away.
One night before I left for another year of summer camp, this year in Sweden, I snuck him into my basement, where we fell asleep on the mattresses that were once used for a bunk bed upstairs. He told me he loved me in the pitch black and I don’t remember if I said it back. I just remember closing my eyes really tightly, making the pitch blacker. Once I was gone, my friend Taylor told me over the phone that he had a new girlfriend, Brittani. I had been at a homestay for one night, away from my best friends. I cried on the phone to my mom and told the family I was staying with that it was a family emergency. My mom told me I was only allotted 20 minutes of being upset because that’s all he deserved. After that, I enjoyed salmon for the first time. Even though I had a feeling about Brittani the whole time, it was also the first time I used the hurt of a heart break to write a story that healed me, because at the time, I had to figure out a way to work through it alone.
My sophomore year boyfriend Ian and I met through a friend at dance, Kenny. I really had a crush on Kenny. We had numbers together, and one time during an acro rehearsal, the top of my head went straight into his butthole on a double somersault.
Sometimes he’d come down across the border of Massachusetts where he lived, to Connecticut where I lived, and because it was the closest movie theater, and we’d hang out. His name is still Kenny Baby in my phone, but I haven’t reached out in years. We live in the same neighborhood, the last I heard.
His cousin lived in my town. Ian was two years older and smoked cigarettes and listened to Sublime and had big front teeth and loved Saturday Night Live. He lost his mom in a car accident before we got together. I knew about it, the way you always know in small towns, but I never asked about it or her, once. One night we had made sushi from scratch, and joined his family at the kitchen table, and his grandmother was there and heard something upstairs and asked if you could hear that their mom was there.
There’s an alcove of grassland along the river that runs through the edges of my hometown. It’s got a small cliff to jump off of into the water, and a small sand bank for tanning, and a large tree that shaded over all three where they connected. It was a long walk from the park entrance through the woods, but it was a straight shot if you happened to head there at night, the dirt path illuminated by the glow of an open cell phone. There had been parties there. There had been a few woods parties throughout the years. I never went to the biggest ones where the cops showed up. One was on Rosh Hashanah so I had to be with my family instead.
But we all used these spaces in town for a place to rebel. One night, we were drunk, both horizontal on the grass. I asked him if we loved each other, and later didn’t remember his answer in clear enough words to be satisfied with. We didn’t speak about it again until I brought it up while we were watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on his living room couch after school, in the hours before his dad came home from work. I would jolt up straight when he leaned against the doorframe or stairs, or really any entry that connected the living room to the rest of the house. I never allowed myself to feel fully comfortable in my boyfriend’s homes. It wasn’t polite.
I asked him if he remembered that I asked him if we love each other that night. I asked him again, then, and he said he did.
As we slow danced to Wonderful Tonight at his Senior Prom, I looked at him and felt like I was in love with him, in the ballroom of a Hartford Marriott, a live band doing Clapton enough justice. It didn’t rock my soul, but it made me happy in this moment. I smiled at him with a mouth full of invisible braces (they were supposed to have come off by now).
I wasn’t sad about Ian like I had been when Josh and I broke up. I was excited for him to go to college. We talked like friends afterwards.
I thought that’s what it meant to be in love, closure that it would actually happen.
My boyfriend junior year was the hottest guy in the whole grade. I sat across from him in chemistry and helped him through a break-up. I guess he liked how I handled it. The ex said things to me that would have gotten her kicked out of her private school if any adult ever saw them. Some did, and apologized to my Mom. But it’s too much energy wasted to add fire to fire sometimes. Years later, she messaged me on Facebook asking me about my experience on Birthright. I don’t think she was Jewish.
When we broke up four months later, he said he wasn’t ready to be in a relationship, and I stayed up a lot of nights that summer talking until five in the morning with my best friend as we lay in her bed, looking up at her canopy, watching the morning come up through the trees when nothing was solved.
I needed a distraction. I cried a lot during my shifts at Cold Stone. So my best guy friend Dan set me up with Matt, who I chose from the year book. I chose him between two other guys with dark scruffy hair, kind eyes, slim, but in good shape, and that I’d never spoken to before.
Matt and I spent two weeks together before we were in a relationship that same summer. Two weeks after that, when he dropped me off at my house, he told me he thought he was in love with me. I asked if he was sure and if it was okay that I couldn’t say it back yet. A few weeks after that, I took a trip to New York City with my grandmother and I cried every night I wasn’t with him. I sent him pages of reasons why I loved him so much. For the first few months, we traded pages and pages of notes full of reasons why we loved each other. Handwritten and those that would be lost in old devices that flipped open.
I’d never been sucked into someone like that.
Nearly a year later, we fought a lot. I filled out his Common App to college for him, because he didn’t think he was smart enough to get into the schools he wanted to go to, so he didn’t. We’d go on adventures around town, linking our friend groups. I went on vacation with his extended family. In the Spring, I cried in his car in the parking lot that lead to what was more or less a public country club, telling him we weren’t working anymore, and I didn’t know what to do. He told me he wouldn’t take me to prom if we broke up, so we didn’t, and that weekend, after a fight in the car with our friends on our way to a beach motel filled with 18 years olds, I fell in love with him all over again.
On the night of graduation, he told me I probably shouldn’t go to Dan’s house afterwards, and that was the end of our relationship. But we had a whole new summer ahead of us.
It took three years to fully get over Matt. Though we were at different colleges, we wouldn’t let go of each other completely. He reached out every few months and I got reeled back in again. I think I liked when he reached back out, that he was thinking of me, as messy as it was. But he had once been a part of me, and it was so hard to let a part of yourself go like that when you were so used to getting sucked in.
We finally detached when I left the country to do a study abroad in London. I was too preoccupied, or he finally stopped reaching out.
I spent St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland in 2013 and fell in love with the shapes of the city, the cobblestones and crooked facades. After the semester, brandished with a new “secret” tattoo, I couldn’t just go home to the slow summer of Connecticut or behind a computer screen at an internship in Boston. I found an au pair job in Dublin so I could be back in the grey city that had somehow felt like home.
Dating apps were new, but I had already found them addicting. You could find anyone you thought was interesting or attractive, and without needing to put in the work or bravery, from your bed with a face mask, or toilet, or wherever, find someone who thought you had something to offer that no one else could.
I met Connor my first night out in Dublin. He was going to a party for a friend I would years later share a wall with, and asked if I wanted company, he’d be in town later, anyway.
He took me around to hipster bars, climbing through windows and seated on horse saddles, we joked like we knew each other. I told him how I wanted to work for E! News, which I wish painted a louder picture of how different I was then: it was a time blurred by alcohol but each descriptor I gave myself, I’d wear like collected nametags at a networking function: Malleable. Impulsive. Grasping. at everything life could give me and Running. with it. And it seems, also, that I am a different person when I’m abroad, because I then have the opportunity to be what I am right now, instead of a collection of all the things I have been.
Connor and I spent most of the following days together, after I got Luella ready for school and when I had time between cleaning the house, and preparing dinner for her and her mother, and doing a lot of things I didn’t sign up for. One night, before I would take the night bus home after drinking until early in the morning, Connor and I sat on the curb of a sidewalk with Chinese takeout and I told him how I thought about life: how it was flexible, how we are given so many chances, to lead with kindness, all reiterated from my Buddhist mother, whose values I’d take on as my own. He looked at me in a way that I had never seen anyone look at me before. Something inside him lit up because of what I’d said. He smiled at me, and for the first time I could see what it looked like to be loved in the clarity of his green eyes. In the way his cheeks rounded. He didn’t say anything, but I knew.
We went out on late lunches, and walked the piers he familiarized himself with growing up on the water. We went to museums and we laughed a lot. We had our first “official date” on one of the last nights before I left for the summer - two months earlier than planned. He took me to a French restaurant in a basement with only a handful of tables which were anchored by tea light candles on each. It had a good wine list. He was a sommelier by trade, and never once in three years taught me anything about wine. But this was only the beginning.
That night, I had to catch the last bus home, and he offered to pay for my cab so that I could stay just a half hour later. I watched him from the safety of a bar while he stood at the ATM in the rain. I’ve never trusted my gut, I’ve logic-ed most things in my life. I’ve never said I love you to a guy before I heard it from him, to confirm my feelings were valid. Somehow, this is one moment that settled it. But I didn’t realize it then, because how could this image be the one that marked a feeling so massive in just a monetary transaction?
We texted all the time when I got back to school that fall, and at one point, I told him we should just date. He told me I was crazy. We never spoke on the phone, or Facetimed. I’d been a senior in college, doing things seniors in college do. I had a boy from the fraternity that my sorority was closest with who would nap in my bed with me in the afternoon on a weekday. He slept with my friend one night, but she didn’t know that we'd been together. We lived in different houses, so I never blamed her.
He told me it wouldn’t be fair to come to my formal with me. But it was my senior formal and I was NOT going without a date. On impulse laced with possibility, I as I sat at Starbucks working on a research paper, I asked Connor if he wanted to come and be my date. He said he would.
I hated rom-coms (I still do) I rolled my eyes at suggestions to see the latest Nicholas Sparks movie. I hated the stories they sold to my younger self who desperately wanted to know what love could look like in a way that drove everyone crazy with jealousy, the kind that people talked about to their friends, the kind that my eight-year-old self wouldn’t subscribe to, because everyone had a boyfriend in third grade but me.
I drove the hour and a half to Boston to pick up Connor from the airport a few nights before Halloween. I made sure I had good songs on my iPod, and programmed radio stations, in the event we’d run into the awkward silence that comes from months apart. I got out of the car and he kissed me. It was easy to be with him and he made me laugh, still. I never needed to turn the radio up.
We walked around the strip mall in my college town looking for a costume for him that we could whip up last minute. He would go as a lumberjack, but his frame suggested exactly what he was: a European who’d gone to art school. He could wear my jeans if he wanted to, and my arms could wrap all the way around him to hold my own.
That night, we took shots of Jameson in honor of him, and I cut the line at the bar’s bathroom to throw it up immediately in the trash can. I walked back out like nothing had happened.
We went to the dance floor, a purple peacock and a lumberjack, and he told me he loved me. That he’d felt this way for a long time, but it wouldn’t hold any weight if he said it over the phone, that when I asked him to come visit, he had to jump on the opportunity. It was enough to jolt me to understand that it was exactly what I had felt and I said it back.
The next morning we woke up and talked about how drunk we both were. I asked if he remembered anything. He said of course he did. We drove to have breakfast with my parents that day in Connecticut, too hungover to sleep anymore.
I’d be under an influence of alcohol the next time I said it for the first time, too. But not as drunk as this time.
I’ve wondered how many first kisses I’ve had sober. Past high school, there haven’t been many, if at all. I wonder if it takes away from the impact these moments could have, if we’ve numbed ourselves to the jitters, demanding more excitement from life than the small connections we make, sharing in intimacy we rarely allow for even ourselves. That perhaps we’re afraid of what might happen to us if we move without protection over our hearts, that we feel we’ve been hurt too many times before to face it all with a clear head.
I think eventually I’ll grow out of that.
I met John in a way that I’m sure I manifested. I had always (always) looked for how the next person would come into my life, and at one point, I was sure it had to be because of my job. If I wasn’t working at my day job, I was working on a side job. In my head, it was why I hadn’t met anyone, but it was also where I’d meet them. Two years went by and I’d scrapped the whole game-plan by then, confessing to my mom for the first time ever that I really didn’t even want a boyfriend right now when she asked me in her car, reminding me she waited a little too long to have a third child.
Because of work, I was invited on a trip to Argentina. We spent the first few days in Mendoza, in a haze of wine and sun in a southern hemisphere’s winter. We were surrounded by white capped mountains in the distance and rows of grapes to wander through in front of us, never having to lift a finger or pull out a credit card. I was elevated.
Pushing through the activities and eating and traveling, by day four, we had been on countless planes and bus rides, weighed down by bricks of red meat that ran the length of my arm, and finally back in the city of Buenos Aires. We had new guides and were slowing down, exhausted by the excess.
Out to dinner in an Argentinian-Japanese fusion restaurant lit by a glowing, bleeding red, our new guide, a slim blonde who was trying very hard to be the cool girl, worked on convincing me to download Tinder because I was the only person who was single on the trip. And because Argentinian men are beautiful. Everyone else was on board, but as much as I protested, of course I would do it. Our guide ended up leaving us that night to go on a date, and we were left with her friend as a replacement.
I matched with a guy from Australia and had enough to talk about because he said he liked coffee and I liked coffee. When we got back from the restaurant, alone in my room, I told the guy from Tinder I was just fucking around and I would be deleting the app. He gave me his Instagram handle, and I gave him mine, and I had zero intention of ever speaking to this human again. But that’s always the way it goes.
The next night, we had a tribal drumming performance that’s outside and is for young people on our itinerary. That gave us absolutely no information on what it would actually be, and both married women who were on the trip had already backed out. I felt like I had to go, because it was on our itinerary and someone made arrangements for us to go, so my friend Jessica and I decided to go for an hour, show face, and get picked up so we could go to sleep.
Not shortly after we showed up, I saw the guy from Tinder, standing with two other friends. They came over. Before you get too excited, almost immediately, I knew he wasn’t going to be for me. But his friend John was really cute. The three of them had been backpacking South America for a month, and apparently this was the thing to do on Monday nights. We all started talking and drinking beers the size of our heads, and when the try-too-hard PR girl let us know that our ride was here, we had a choice to either leave or take an Uber home.
I looked at Jess. I would have let her make the decision that night. And she decided we’d take an Uber home. There were a lot of opportunities that could have made us go home that night. Her phone got stolen leaving the outdoor space, rampant with drunken tourists, but we stayed out then, too.
We headed to another bar and then to a hostel bar, for more drinks before the club. On our way, the kid from Tinder hailed a cab and grabbed the front seat. And if he’d wanted me, it was a dumb choice, because I couldn’t sit with him in the front seat. So I sat on John’s lap in the back and felt completely comfortable in his space. Maybe it was the conversations we had that brought us together, over the existential depth of Rick and Morty, or the ethics of cloning.
We sat on a couch at the back of the bar and asked questions back and forth learning about each other: how I’d earlier that year visited where he was from in Australia, our completely different lives, until he asked me if I was a good kisser. It was only a ten minute walk to my hotel, but I was terrified to walk him back in case we’d run out of things to talk about in that time. I had always felt responsible to fill a silence with noise.
Later, I’d try and turn on the shower and couldn’t figure it out. We had switched hotels that morning from across the city. We were left with the bath running, and so I asked him if he wanted to take one instead. As I sat with my back to the faucet to face him, we talked about life and politics. In more of a statement than a question, he said, you like to get deep, don’t you? Although I filled space with noise, I’ve never wasted any time.
I saw him the next night and the following day after that and everyone on my trip tried to convince me to move my flights and stay longer.
I didn’t. But a month later, he had rerouted his flights to finish out his backpacking trip with me in New York. In an effort to make it a bit more special, I arranged a night at an inn upstate in the mountains, because I knew he’d like it better than the pace of the city, which is not for everyone, and definitely not for him. We split a bottle of champagne and like the first night we spent together, sat on the couch in the back of the room, asking each other questions. This time, it was from the New York Times’ 25 Questions to Love, but we never referred to it as such. I’m not sure he even knew its title, either, though he read the list off of his phone.
I wish I knew which question hit it home, but it’d been bubbling under me for a while. Drunk at a friend’s party earlier that week, I told him I won’t say it first.
John wasn’t anything like anyone I’d been with before, starting with his stature trained by the military - built and broad, contrasting with my petit frame. With my legs draped over him, he looked up at me, and he told me he loved me. I saw it in the soft brown of his eyes under hooded lids, and in his strong, furrowed brow that pleaded with me to be heard as truth. I held onto it a moment before I said it back, but the admission of such a building, pent up feeling sobered us both enough for me to drive us to dinner through the dark, where we’d finish playing the game of back and forth questions at a bar whose dark wooden beams were decorated heavily with local tzachkes. Later, it snowed.