By late August, we’d exhausted our summer nights with the sort of innocuous chatter that in hindsight can only be defined as endless foreplay – coyly beating around the inevitable. Chris would park his car outside my house, just barely seventeen, a shiny license tucked into the wallet kept safely in one of the deep pockets of his baggy, faded Levi’s. We’d sit on the curb, shooting the breeze, picking at the grass, and allowing Jay-Z’s latest to guide us in discussing topics we knew nothing about.
We entered high school that September with sand seeping into the crevices of our sneakers and our bodies toned and tanned from hours spent at his and hers soccer fields. We both made varsity that year, and by that point we’d been dabbling in the sort of teenage romance that teases the pg-13 threshold. Chris’s lips had moved from my own to my neck while my fingers naively fumbled with his belt buckle. And by the homecoming dance, we were officially a couple.
We kept it steady for approximately eight weeks. He’d give me rides home after practice, tutor me in math, and hold me close throughout our beer-soaked weekends. One time, we even went to Chili’s. But despite his surfer-kid good looks, Chris played by the rules. While school meant something to him, I spent my weeknights crafting poems instead of isolating variables. Chris wanted comfort and convenience. I wanted a Dashboard Confessional music video.
He went away for Thanksgiving weekend to visit family in Connecticut and the night he came back, we went to Shane’s to watch the guys play video games. While sitting under a blanket together on the couch, I turned and told him I had missed him and loved him. We’d been saying those three words for a couple of weeks now, and while he usually returned the declaration, that night he said, “I’ve actually been meaning to talk to you about that.”
For the next few days, I feigned content while generally ignoring his existence, but my patience with this uncertainty wore thin. As the bell rang, ending the class we had together, I asked for a ride home. Perhaps if it were cold and rainy, we could have gotten into a screaming argument that led to kissing in the rain and falling madly in love, but the sun shined bright without a cloud in the sky.
As we closed the doors and buckled our seat belts, his small, maroon sedan became a large elephant. I attempted to calm my anxiety with a long sigh, but I could hear the backseat giggling with the memory of that time we reenacted the sticky, suburban version of that scene from Titanic. “I feel like this relationship is hanging by a thread.”
He didn’t have much to say as I attempted to pinpoint where things went wrong. Chris was a cautious driver so I didn’t press him to multitask but instead allowed my words to mix in the air with the scent of gym bags and stale McDonald’s. He parked in front of my house, but we sat there staring out the window as if the car was still in motion.
His voice cracked when he tried to explain that he cared about me and didn’t want to hurt me. He said something about APs and college degrees. I said, but I love the color of your eyes and the way your arms around me feel like home. Tears fell down his cheeks and he said, “I love you. But I love you like I love Charley.” And I said, “What?”
Perhaps he meant to say he loved me like a friend, but to specifically compare his feelings toward me to those he had for his tall, goofy pal felt heartbreaking and inaccurate. I watched him drive away, my heart full of that angsty despair I’d been both craving and dreading. I cried myself to sleep that night wondering if we’d get back together in the morning, but we didn’t. Our attempts to mold each other into the things we wanted had finally come to a halt. He couldn’t be my Romeo, and I couldn’t be his Charley.