Twenty years ago I walked into a classroom situated in the back of Middletown High School and took my seat next to my best friend. As we giggled and wondered who would be joining us at our table in Environmental Science, in walked a boy with dirty blond hair and blue eyes that from the very moment I saw them staring back at me from across the table I knew my heart belonged to him. In the short time it took for me to inhale and catch my breath, I knew, my life would be amazing with him, though I didn’t even know his name. His hat caught my attention after his eyes and his purposeful silence. “No Fear” lined the top of his black baseball cap. That hat became a theme in my life even when he did not until many years later.
The whimsical fairytale that I felt and lived out in that brief moment where all I got was literally a smirk across his face when I said hello would sustain a piece of my heart for years that I would not reclaim until we were much older. Neither one of us had any idea of what was waiting ahead and if we had, we both agree, that we would allow it to play out the very same. As that particular school year carried on, our junior year of high school, everyday I was ecstatic to go to a science class that I detested, just so that I could see this mysterious boy. I wanted to know everything there was to know about him. He was so quiet but when he did talk his words were piercing. Every comment was laced with dry sarcasm that was easy to take personal, until that smile gave him away. His smile was in his eyes. It would peek out behind the turmoil that I could see so clearly. It was like we knew each other already and just did not know from where. We became fast friends and enjoyed each others company daily. He began picking me before school and we would daily drive in together. This began the exchange of notes, poems, phone calls, and my very first party! Toad the Wet Sprocket songs would be blaring when I got in and took my seat. I would sit in the passenger side praying that the car would jerk just enough to give me justified cause to grab his hand or he mine. Every morning and afternoon it felt like I was encapsulated safely inside the most amazing bubble with someone I truly had a 17-year-old crush on but also was falling truly in love with. The more time that went on we began to talk on the phone for hours each night, one night we talked from the moment he got home from his restaurant job until the moment it was time to go to school, little did we know the foreshadowing of that night and how it would play out 10 years later across the country.
I didn’t tell many people about the depression my mother suffered or the abuse that we all sustained at home. The school counselors knew my family, as did the support staff, and a few teachers that found me in tears when my mother decided when I was 14 that it was time for me to leave my home again during one of her episodes. There were not many amongst me that knew that the only safe hours in the day for me existed inside the Middletown High School walls. By the time I had met this young boy and saw myself experiencing aspects of myself that I could not allow out, it was just too late, my heart was head over heels and my soul had been imprinted upon. It had not been my home that he was picking me up from every morning and dropping off whole chickens from Kenny Roger’s Roaster, it was the home of a lady who went to church with my best friend’s parents. She had heard about my circumstances and wanted to help. The amazing part, to me, was that I knew both her daughters and had met them one of the times I was allowed to attend the church services with my friend.
So, I was sharing the bedroom of another 16-year-old girl’s home and she and her sister, they both welcomed me no questions asked. I however felt awkward and displaced. Their mother nor either girl ever made me feel excluded but I did not know how to feel included in a family anymore than I knew how to feel close to this young boy I was falling deeper and deeper in love with. Little by little I began giving him pieces of my story. I let them out in increments I felt were able to be comprehended, trying also to keep my own level of embarrassment to a minimum. He never judged me either. He never ran away from me. As I got to know him though he had his own basketful of life traumas as well. Whatever cosmic plan was unveiling at the time it is much more obvious now than it was back then. Our paths crossed as young teenagers just long enough for us both to experience what it felt like to be honest and true with another person and then it was over. The kiss he planted on my face seared into my soul and I held it deep inside my heart until I saw him again 10 years later leaning against a wall in his townhouse…..