Here’s what I remember about the summer between seventh and eighth grade: sitting on the front porch of my house, eating peaches, and a boy from whom I wanted to hide.
This boy had spent the last days of seventh grade sitting across from me at the lunch table I shared with my friends, staring at me while I drank a juice box, forsaking the rest of my lunch because I was so nervous that I couldn’t bring myself to eat in front of him.
The consensus among friends was that I should say yes when this boy asked me to a party. I agreed, having no idea that saying yes meant that he would be my boyfriend. It’s hard to imagine what could have been less attractive or interesting to me at that time in my life than a boyfriend, especially one who called every day and showed up uninvited at my house, but among my friends, and according to my mother, attention from boys was a thing to be desired, and not rebuffed.
So this boy called, and sometimes I answered the phone and we had weird, empty conversations that I would end as quickly as possible. There was nothing interesting about this kid, which wasn’t his fault, but there was no time I spent talking to him when I wouldn’t have rather been reading or making up stories. He came over, and instead of telling him to go away because I did not, under any circumstances, want to hang out with him, my mother gave us peaches to eat while we sat on the front porch.
We never made any physical contact in a relationship that lasted maybe three weeks. My friends talked openly at sleepovers about their aspirations to “get felt up” at the party they were throwing. If I hadn’t already been 150 percent sure that I wanted out of having a boyfriend before, the idea of being touched by this boy I didn’t like in the slightest would have been reason enough to hit the button on the ejection seat.
“What are you, a lesbian?” a friend asked me, when I said I wasn’t really interested in participating in any of this. If it wasn’t mentioned in the books I read about the Titanic or World War II, I didn’t know what it was. I managed to clarify the technicalities of the concept via the library, and figure out that I wasn’t, but apparently not being interested in boys at that moment in our lives equaled being a lesbian.
This whole thing—the phone calls, the porch sitting, the fact that I was apparently supposed to be thinking about this boy constantly, enraptured by him, wanting to be kissed and touched—was totally ridiculous. There was no part of me that did not think that then, and so, a couple of days before the party was happening, I called him and actually said the following: “I don’t want to have a boyfriend. I’m not ready for a relationship.”
My friends reported that this boy cried (sorry, dude), and in the end, he didn’t show up to the party. My mother was weirdly furious at me for ending it with him, so much so that she told me I had made “the biggest mistake” of my life. It’s hard to write off a statement as wacked out as that, but in spite of it, I knew she was wrong, and I was still proud of my 12-year-old self for taking charge.
I have no idea what happened to that kid, but the only thing I can make of the whole thing, sitting solidly in my thirties, is that it was the first time I remember being told that my instincts, what I wanted, didn’t matter, especially when men were involved.
In my freshman year of college, it happened again. I met a boy in the first days of being at school that lived in the dorm next to mine. I had had one boyfriend between Porch Dude and then, for eight months in high school, so I had a sense of what it felt like to be genuinely into someone, and to have my 17-year-old heart broken.
This boy, let’s call him Rollerblades for the sake of confusion, and because that’s what he used to get around, had played football in high school and aspired to own a sports team after college. In other words, he was the opposite of what was attractive to me. He was persistent. Not in a scary way, but in a manner that could be considered text book romantic. (Jewel songs, okay? It was the late 90s.)
College was academically exhilarating to me, but socially terrifying, and it was nice to have someone who just wanted to hang out with me, even if it was out of loneliness. I wasn’t physically attracted to Rollerblades, but I was curious, and flattered. I’d never been pursued like this before—on some level, I don’t think I really believed it could ever happen to me.
In this case, the instincts I was ignoring were the ones that told me I wasn’t so much into the sexual shenanigans. Rollerblades had done a bunch of stuff (allegedly) and I had not—I had kissed one boy in my life, the high school boyfriend, and stubbornly believed that you shouldn’t kiss someone unless you loved them. I let Rollerblades kiss me, though. I let him do most things. Flattery, apparently, will get an 18-year-old boy a lot of places.
My friends who knew me during the time of Rollerblades would say that he wasn’t smart enough for me, but I don’t think that’s what it was—not all of it, anyway. I worked really hard during that whole semester we were “together” (or something) to create and maintain a barrier between me and what I was actually feeling, which was that I wasn’t into Rollerblades, that I hated pretending I liked the sexual parts of our relationship, but that I thought I was supposed to, so maybe if I stuck with it, with him, it would work itself out eventually. There was so much wrong. I couldn’t rescue myself. I waited until Rollerblades and I faded away from one another, which is what happens when one of you rushes a fraternity and the other one joins a society of poets.
The last time I saw him was my third year of college. We were walking on opposite sides of the street, and he crossed, and we debriefed for a few minutes before fleeing one another. It’s sad now, when I think about it, that he might have remembered me as someone who rescued him from being sad and alone, and I just wish he could have met 12-year-old Chanel.