COURTESY OF GABI SWISTARA.
A letter to my sixteen year-old self: “It’ll get better babe, trust me.”
It’s still one of those things you don’t talk about. Over three years since your break-up-versary, you still get the feeling of stumbling off of a high dive when your thoughts return to it: tennis, Seattle, Nike, the color blue.
These are all things that still remind you of him. They’re like children pulling on your sleeves that you want to ignore but no matter how much you get used to the feeling you cannot. Maybe because you are still confused.
He did not show you the ropes. There was no how-to guide. Looking back, the ropes were all there. The issue wasn’t that these things were absent from that period of your life. He just left each one dangling in mid-air.
Step 1) You are that chubby, brace-face, olive-wired-glasses-wearing eighth-grader. When you bend over to get books out of your backpack, you worry about how straight your legs are because you want to look flexible between class changes. Your locker is around the corner from his.
He with a capital “H” and “E” is in homeroom purple. You are blue. Him: the cool, new, American kid in your school, the athlete that’s sponsored by Nike, the tennis player that travels the world and makes money, the guy that wears the puka shell necklace and walks like a rapper, the guy that always wears blue polo shirts and is surrounded by the prettiest girls and coolest boys in school.
2) Friend him on Facebook (this is back when Facebook was cool). Message him one day to ask how he’s adjusting to the new school, the move, the change. He will ignite your loins and light your life with a ping on a screen. Start conversing.
3) Your best friend at the time, the new girl from China who for some reason finds you funny, will think your crush on this boy is a joke. She will call him “blue” for the shirts he wears. She will mimic his walk: hand holding crotch, other hand swaying, shoulders rocking like a boat. He will turn around and see her, and she will laugh like children laugh.
4) You are messaging him, bing, about your trip to Tanzania. You send him photos of cheetahs, and he says he’s jealous. But when you tell him that you sadly didn’t see any baby cheetahs, he will say you’re my hero and laugh.
5) You move to Texas. He moves to Seattle. Don’t worry though, you stay in touch. You are a persistent little f*****, like a fungus growing on the bottom of his foot, like a tsetse fly that just won’t die.
Keep messaging. Keep trying to flirt. Come on, girl, you’re in high school now. Spill your heart out. Complain to him because he is objective.
You can share your side of the story, and he will agree wholeheartedly. When you have a fight with your mom one night about a concert you don’t want to attend, he will give you good advice and say, if you think that you are mean, you are lying to yourself and you are the kindest person he knows.
6) Soon you’re seniors and planning for college. He has tennis scholarship offers to Stanford, Penn, Duke, you name it. You, on the other hand, are straggling behind. You tell him that you want to go to California, and he says that, if you go to Stanford, he’ll consider it much more! He asks if he can call you “babe.” Say yes. Send a kissy face. He will send one back.
7) This is where the story gets messy. There are moments that you don’t even remember. You remember sitting in the parking lot of school one day, just sitting on the sidewalk in your high school plaid skirt, talking to him on the phone because he promised to call you after biology class and did.
His voice sounds deeper, and it’s weird to think about how long it’s been since you’ve heard it in person. He asks what you’re doing and you say sitting here in the parking lot, talking to you. But you are so nervous, your heart pounding so loudly he can hear it from Seattle. Your tongue seems to stop working and you just say mm-hmm to whatever he says.
After he hints one way, you ask, “Oh, are we dating? So it’s official? It’s you and me?” He says “Yeah, we’ve been dating for weeks.” This is probably the most awkward call you will ever have. At least you got it over with.
8) You will start planning trips to visit each other. He’s slower than you at preparing. Yet he insists that, since you’re the girl and he’s the guy, he should be the one to fly out to see you first. Say OK.
Plan a Valentine’s present for him, a drawing you made of him playing tennis, a hand-written card, a kissy-face pillow. Wrap it up in pretty ribbons. Ask him about his address so you can exchange gifts in the mail. He will be weird about it, say something about how he’s always travelling, and how his brother steals his mail.
9) Text him to get a contact photo since his photo now is just a circle of initials. He sends you four photos of him making out with another girl. You’ll go tingly all over and think, “What the f***?”
Since you’re done now anyway, you’ll text him (all in separate messages): “What. The. F***. What the f***. I think it’s a good thing you and your “tennis” balls ain’t in Texas right now or I may just rip ‘em off.”
He will not reply for a few days. Then you’ll get an, “Of course I didn’t send them. The girl in the photo is jealous of you and wants to be with me, so she sent them. But she showed me how you replied, and I’m scared.”
You, being young and dumb, will forgive him. He cheated, but you forgive him anyway. In fact you even go so far as to apologize for being scary. But not until after you cheat on him, too. Not because you genuinely wanted to but because you thought he was gone. You ask yourself why you can’t do the same. This is how broken you were.
10) Over Valentine’s Day (gift still unsent), he is at a tennis tournament out of state. He told you it was in Florida. On Valentine’s Day itself you want to know how his tournament is going. But since he doesn’t like to lose focus, you check his scores online. He, right now, is in Texas.
The tournament is in Texas, not Florida. He is twenty minutes from your house, fifteen from your school. But he doesn't message you until he is back in Seattle. You, being young and dumb and broken, don’t say anything. You ask him about Florida instead.
11) The first time you are intimate with him, he is strange about your “inexperience” and says out loud he finds it off-putting. The second and perhaps more revealing time, he dumps you twenty minutes later, saying, “I think we should take a break.”
You will not remember what you reply, but you remember it being raw and long and sad. Your whole conversation is long and confusing and sad. This is the first time since you were a baby that you sob in your mother’s arms. You sleep in her bed for two nights, and she tells you everything will be OK.
12) You, idiot, want to message him for closure. You do and all he does is disappoint again. He lied to you, so why would he tell you the truth now?
The best advice your mother ever gives you is, “You cannot get closure from anyone but yourself. If someone lies, they will lie again, and they will never give you what you need.” It takes a long time, but you realize now how true that is.
13) Two weeks after the break-up, he texts you to see if you’re alright. You think, “How can I be alright after only two weeks?” But you reply to him and say that you appreciate his reaching out and just need more time until you can be friends again.
You block his number the next day, and it is the best decision you’d made in a while.