The first serious crush I ever had was on this boy who sat next to me in the fourth grade. He had light brown hair, the kind we used to call dirty-blond, and wore a lot of buffalo plaid. Let’s just call him Peterbilt for the sake of this anecdote; things the kid loved included trucks, sports cars, and holding his pencil at crotch level under his desk so it looked like a boner. I thought he was hilarious.
After weeks of plotting, scribbling feverishly in my Garfield diary, and not learning any math because I was busy making Peterbilt tell me he loved me in my head, I had a friend of mine call him into an unsupervised classroom at recess one day. I popped out of the closet wailing with preadolescent lust and kissed him, wrapping my arms around him so he couldn’t get away, nine-years-old and already livid with the need to touch and to be touched. My lips landed somewhere between his lips and one of nostrils, and when I released him and ran he made theatrically exaggerated gagging noises, scrubbing his cheek with his plaid sleeve.
For the rest of elementary school, he kept a safe distance from me, while I watched him creepily from the outskirts of the playground. My favorite song that year: “Every Breath You Take” by the Police. I can’t explain what I found so captivating about Peterbilt; I just remember that his eyes were darker than his hair and that he had all his adult teeth in early and that he made me laugh. I would cry myself to sleep, luxuriating in the adultness of being in love, wanting him to love me back.
Being in love, I remember reflecting, is when you want someone bad enough that it makes you cry. This would be my functioning definition of love for years to come.
In adulthood, I have developed a weird reflex to this sort of unreturned affection. I can be totally into someone, but if I get no response from that person, I lose all interest almost immediately. It is a strange, self-protective thing, as sudden as if a hook had been inserted into my heart and the infatuation yanked out. I don’t chase people who don’t want to be caught. Only at age nine was I tough enough to want someone who showed no signs of wanting me back. The possibility of unrequited love today is too scary and too painful.
And yet, I’m back in New York now, and I can’t stop thinking about Squeeze and our last night together in Paris. I just love the narrative of it; we first crossed paths near the Louvre, we kissed on the Seine. I’m already mentally drafting the deeply satisfying story of our relationship to tell some casual acquaintance I will meet in the future. It’s just so different that my usual dating arc, which is usually along the lines of we first crossed paths on Tinder, we kissed on the sidewalk outside my building next to some trash. It seems only right that this story continues with Squeeze moving to New York, where we can fall in love under the turning leaves. Then, a white space, followed by our wedding in his hometown of Venice.
When I have this fantasy, we’re not actually getting married; in the fantasy, I am telling somebody about getting married. The fantasy is about what an incredible story it would be, as I float off in a gondola with this man I know absolutely nothing about. Not knowing him makes it so much easier to tack all my hopes on him; there is plenty of room for all my projections.
I keep reminding myself that Squeeze is a person, not some actor put here to speak the lines I want to feed him. We have texted since I got home, and his texts are perfectly nice. He wishes me a safe flight home, for example. Polite. Perfunctory. I do not want these things; with one date between us, I want passion, I want a pet name, I want exclamation marks. I look at his picture so many times that my phone burns out in the middle of the day.
I am burning.
I do not like to feel this hot, this bothered. I don’t want to want somebody this badly. It is too risky. Better to divvy my attention up between three or four men that I will tell people are alright “for now.” I am plagued by the sense that Squeeze is simply too elegant, too worldly, too beautiful for the likes of me. Insecurity stacks on top of insecurity like a tower of boxes, each housing something I don’t like about myself.
You would never guess the depth of my infatuation from the studied casualness of my texts to him, which say things like: Enjoy your last week in Paris! Try to make it to the Catacombs before you leave. The single exclamation mark is my only concession to the subtext of this message, hidden subtext which reads I LOVE YOU AND YOUR FACE PLEASE COME TO NEW YORK AND BE MY BOYFRIEND.
Hope kind of sucks. Hope hurts. It’s hard to want things. It feels greedy, to want Squeeze to want me back. It should be enough that I found him, and spent a night with him in Paris. What do I expect? Waiting for him to come to New York, fantasizing about a future that likely exists only in my head, I feel like I am back in the fourth grade hiding in the closet, waiting for the boy I want to come so I can spring out and kiss him.
I do a little Facebook digging, to see if I can find Peterbilt. I want to see what he looks like now, the sort of man he has become. I want to find out if he grew into his adult teeth and if he ever managed to acquire the sort of sports car that graced the cover of his Trapper Keeper.
Instead, I find out that he died the year after high school, drunk, behind the wheel of his very ordinary vehicle. We don’t always get the things we want, or the endings we deserve. We don’t always get to see people again, and the narrative arc is not always satisfying. Sometimes it’s just an ending.