Falling in Love Young
The part of me that made rational decisions and kept her cool would immediately evaporate every time I saw him.
He was of standard height and a forgettable frame. He had a scruffy beard and a simple haircut. And his smile was something magnificent. It was so worthy of remark yet impossible to encapsulate in any words. It glowed, casting a shadow across the room and radiating a pulse into my stomach. It was perfect — not by a metric such a straightness or whiteness — but of a feeling that it elicited every time it cracked.
I would see him every day of high school and wonder how I became the girl with weak knees in all my cynicism and skepticism. He was a thing of beauty locked in my high school sociology classroom.
As a junior in high school, I had had many crushes by that time. There was my fifth-grade boyfriend and my seventh-grade sweetheart. There was the upperclassman I had once kissed and the secret guy I had been seeing on the side. There had been first dates and hand-holding, notes in class, and late-night texts, but there hadn’t been this feeling before — one of deep, young love.
The first moment I looked at him, I had a feeling of peculiar nostalgia, as if I was falling into a past that wasn’t mine. I remembered old birthday parties, past due assignments, soccer games, and sitcoms. It was as if everything in my whole world was rushing behind me and stopped short immediately when my eyes locked.
Weeks that felt like years went by before he approached me. If I thought he was charming from afar, up close was entirely more. One conversation led to a routine of making each other giggle: I became hooked on anything I could do to feel the rush he fed me. We became objects of suspicion, sharing secrets and swapping smiles in class. He became my after-school activity, the first thing I fell for, and I fell hard.
What does it mean to love someone when you are so young you are just learning to love yourself? It’s an anxious kind of exhilaration. As a teen, if you break your arm, you get a cast. If you get mono, you skip class. If you fall in love, you’re lost without a doctor. You can’t “saltine and ginger ale” your way to normalcy.
Falling in love young hurts more than perhaps anything known to humans. When it happens during your teenage years, you endure the obsessive craze of a heartthrob mixed with the nuance of novelty and the agony of angst. You are idealistic and adventurous. You are exploring the world and understanding yourself in it. You think war is bad, peace is good, and there are no in-betweens. You cry in your parked car while the pep band plays in the background. You share smiles while pushed up against lockers. It is a distinctly high school love, and it is as pure and innocent as it is raucous and relentless.
Loving young means loving hard and carrying that weight for the future. Actual years — not just seemingly long weeks — have passed since I’ve seen him. I still play our songs when I pass our parking lot, still, subconsciously trace his name when a relative asks if I’m seeing anyone special.
I remember lamenting to a friend, “the days aren’t the same when I don’t see him. They aren’t worthwhile.” I remember her asking why. I remember him, remarking at the beginning of our friendship, saying that “every so often, I meet someone like you. And that really doesn’t ever happen.” I remember telling him I loved him too.
I remember tucking his letter away in my sock drawer — to be gingerly opened when I feel as mature, fearless, and full-eyed as I did at sixteen.