I’ve never been in love.
We met in fifth grade. I had a crush on him and made the mistake of telling Cynthia, the loudest girl in my class. By the end of that school day, he came up to me as I was gathering my books and stray mechanical pencils from my locker.
“Hey Miriam, I heard that you like me.”
“Whattttt? Where did you hear that from? Couldn’t have been from me. Ok, see you later.”
I scooped up the remains of the supplies and left barely mid-conversation before he could even respond to me.
After our incident, the next day, I ignored him but he came up to me at recess and asked if I wanted to play kickball. I said yes. I grimaced internally as I remembered that time Patrick Hazen kicked the ball right into my gut. I put up a facade to make it seem like I wasn’t in pain. I had a bruise on my abdomen for a week.
We were the only two kids on the kickball side of the field. The other side of the green was habitually scoped out by rowdy boys named “Cooper” whose parents allowed them to come to school in sub-zero degree weather in athletic shorts. We spent those fifteen minutes throwing the ball around and laughing after we both tripped and fell into a mud patch. We hung out every recess after that.
“Flats or drums?” He said in front of our KFC bucket. We sat at a picnic table outside of the mall food court. It was two days after we celebrated his nineteenth birthday, mine was coming up in February.
“Drums, of course.”
“See, this is why we would be perfect,” he said.
“Perfect as best friends, right?” I nudged him. I noticed the brief break he took from the dangling bone meat. It was so short that I could have missed it if I blinked.
“I mean, maybe perfect in a different way.”
“What do you mean?” I knew what he meant but I wanted to hear him say it. Either to affirm what I have been feeling or to have him be the first one to say it out loud. I couldn’t decide.
“Maybe we should try this out. Like a Boyfriend-Girlfriend thing.”
I let the moment simmer.
“Nevermind– this was stup-”
“Okay. I’m down to try.”
“Okay, Cool.” He suppressed his smirk a bit but I could still see the outline of his dimple.
“Hey, don’t get too excited,” I said.
We both laughed out of joy and discomfort at our silly, little feelings.
He cooked eggs in butter and let the pan get too hot. The milk fats turned from cheddar to chestnut. I asked him for story ideas while my blank document kept me company. I worked at a small newspaper in Brooklyn, sometimes we had the option to do creative pieces for our website. His hand raked through his dark brown curls. I could smell Old Spice under his sturdy arms. He told me about his idea of a girl in college during a pandemic who “has an accident like a piano hits her head or something,” he laughs, “no that’s not funny…” He suppresses, and then continues, “She is stuck in a coma for twenty years. When she wakes up, she still has the mind of an eighteen-year-old college kid.” His hands stick out as if waiting with bated breath to see if I’ll actually take his suggestion. I lie and say “I’ll think about it.”
He sat down next to me. He put his plate on the Spanish Oak as I quibbled about the lack of placemats. But, today, he didn’t hurl back any comebacks. The room grew somber.
“Can I talk to you about something?”
“Ok… what is it?” I stopped drinking my coffee because at this rate this man had already given me three shots of espresso worth of anxiety.
“I’m moving to Singapore.”
“Miriam, I have never left the state. Never been on a plane. I want to be able to look back when I’m old and decrepit, on my deathbed, and say ‘it’s a shame this is the end, but at least I went to the Singapore Zoo at some point.’”
“Henry, this isn’t a joke.”
I stood up and started to pack my bag for work.
“I am being serious. It’s now or never. I would really love it if you could go with me.”
“Why would I go to Singapore when I have a job and a life in New York?”
“Because we could finally take a break from our day to day. We can do something different and not be apart.”
“Henry, I’m sorry but this isn’t going to work.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you want to travel and leave everything here behind, this includes me, I don’t know what to say.”
“Miriam, you are too dramatic.”
“Oh really? If I am so dramatic then you should know that there are probably plenty of other women willing to go to Singapore with you on a whim. It just won’t be me.”
I shut the door.
After that afternoon, he never called me again. I ran the sequence in my head every night for four weeks until he left. The weird thing is, the person I disliked the most in every rendition in my head, was myself. My complacency and sheer ability to let him go made me angry. Who knows where he is now: Singapore, Nigeria, Moscow or back in New York. I stayed in the same place. I hoped that he would look for me, without my number or my address, someway, somehow.
I’ve never been in love. But, if I had, I wish I never chose to be with him.