It was the homecoming dance of freshman year. We’d been going out for about a month, which back then felt like a lifetime. Leading up to that night we’d had several dates, only one of them being official. It felt weird to have a boyfriend, and I was embarrassed when people started finding out we were “going out”. Most of my friends thought it was funny, but were supportive. My ex-friend, Kelli, who was one of my best friends all through 8th grade, would never call me friend again.
He and I had a code word, and the code word was “bored”. At the freshman bonfire, this is the word we’d use to describe what we were new then to feeling. It was our way of saying we no longer wanted to be there on the haybale with everybody else. We eyed each other, nodding toward the trees. There were too many of our classmates to just walk away into the woods. There was nowhere else to go, so we stayed there.
It happened again the night our class was working on the freshman float. We left the garage and walked around the back. It was dark by now, though the streetlights made sure we could see each other easily. He was already 6-feet tall by then, 5-10 at least, to where, standing that close to him, I had to look up at his face. Matt came looking for us and awkwardly ruined the moment. I liked him too, but our nights would be different. He’d invite me over to watch movies with his brothers, but never anything more.
His family raised cattle. We’d broken up not long after the day we kissed in the empty hallway after school, but here he was again, and there I was with him. I spent half that summer riding in his parents van to go to his basketball games. They’d bring food and an extra chair for me, and I’d spent the whole day talking to his parents and Matt’s parents during hours of basketball. I was mostly over the embarrassment at this point, but I distinctly remember a time when before I left for one of the games, my dad asked me a few more questions. It’s been a joke in our family for years, how dad would always ask about our lives when we were leaving. He was never one to hold back his deep life advice. “Just remember”, he said, “no guy has the right to touch you.”
I appreciated that, and never forgot it, though I didn’t feel like that was my problem. What I didn’t know how to tell him then, what I had nowhere near the courage or even remotest first idea how to express or ask, was that it was already too late. My dad knew nothing about the times in this boy’s van, not far from our house. We’d park beside the empty basketball court. My sister knew something was going on, and would dress up in hilarious disguises with sunglasses, letting me know with her hand-motions that she was watching me, and also watching out for me. I never told her then about the details, and because I felt like getting pregnant would be the worst thing I could ever tell my dad, that I could never and would never be able to do that to him, all through those days, in any other times of engagement, he was my reason not to.
I threw out every year book, every dance picture, and most of my pictures from high school one day. The oldest two kids were little and I was going through boxes. Most people probably wouldn’t have thought it was all that big of a deal. Compared to what others were doing, it wasn’t that bad. But I’d crossed something, to an extent I didn’t realize until after he was gone. No one knew, or seemed to notice the depth of the depression I fell into for years. He’d brought me with him where his family was set up for cattle showing. For the entire day we hung out with his parents, scanning the exhibits, petting the fair animals, riding the rides with our unlimited ride wristbands. Unlike the night of the bonfire, or the float construction, there were no friends or sisters keeping an eye on us or keeping us nearby. We disappeared into the night sea of farm trailers. That night, after his dad dropped me off, I woke up at 3AM and threw up my Pepsi.
“I need to be honest with you”, he said. I’d finally found him after searching through the halls of my old elementary school, looking for his name on every name plate above the doorways. I don’t know what I expected, but I thought that he would’ve been more excited to see me. I’d missed him terribly, more than I could’ve ever put into words in that moment. These are the dreams that you wake up remembering. “You need to be done with this–we–need to be done with this.” I felt ashamed to hear him say that, like what did he think I’d been doing this whole time. He told me I was beautiful, that what I had written was beautiful too. That’s not what I wanted. I’d already told him, this wasn’t about him anymore, that none of this stuff is about him anymore, that I really needed him to understand that, to just let me have my space. He refused to hold me.