Have you ever tried to forget someone? Really, truly forget another human being?
Not the crush that wouldn’t return your calls or the clueless boss that fired you. I don’t even mean the first person you kissed or the one that got away. No, I mean someone who was a part of you in your formative state, someone who played such a critical role in you becoming You that forgetting them meant ripping a little piece of flesh from around your heart and swallowing it hole, in order that you might exist without them.
I’ve done it twice. I’m here to tell you that you can. And also that it isn’t actually possible.
During my early high school years, like many of my peers I was awkward, shy and afraid of everyone else’s opinions. I spent my days reading books, practicing my flute, dreaming about a boy I didn’t have the guts to talk to, and trying to write poetry about feeling virtually invisible. Yeah, I was the very definition of a geek. If you were reading the first chapter of a novel, you’d be rolling your eyes about now. Type cast, to a T.
At the very peak of my introverted teenage angst, for reasons I may never understand, I inadvertently formed a friendship with an older, popular boy from another school. He was gregarious and effervescent and kind and sarcastic. We spent weekend afternoons watching Kids in The Hall, blasting Radiohead and Erasure and Jesus Jones in his car and laughing Dr. Pepper through our noses. I did something I had never done before and showed him some of my writing. He was the first person to tell me that I was born to be a writer, and a light turned on.
I started writing a book, despite knowing I was young and innocent and ignorant to the free world. He was the one person who made me believe I could do it in spite of those things.
I’d like to stop here and say that my feelings for him never went beyond friendship. But I can’t. I fell hard, not only because he was handsome and charismatic, but because he loved me even when I didn’t. (Again, a likely plot device.) I was the stereotypical lonely teenage girl. He was a beautiful boy who accepted me without hesitation. He loved me even when I had zits and cheap knockoff jeans and a messy ponytail. He saw things in and about me and my future that I had never imagined for myself.
But here’s where the plot becomes atypical. The predictable teenage drama did not play out. He didn’t end up as the catalyst for my first-ever broken heart because I wanted things out of us that he didn’t. None of these scenarios happened, none of them were ever possible. Because he was gay.
We were teenagers in the early 1990’s, in Northern Utah. Not exactly a time or place sympathetic to people who had different ideas about what “normal” should be. I was torn between the values I’d been raised to believe as truths and the opinions of my peers and the deep, in-the-soul kind of love I had for this boy.
Still, my knowing this about him added another layer to our mutual understanding. There was no threat of a relationship to alter our friendship. For a time, I was the only person in his life who he openly admitted his truth to. And though it broke my heart a little bit, I recovered, and because of his trusting me with his true self, I was unafraid to show the real me too. He was the only person I admitted to that I wanted to write. Not news articles, not essays. Books. Books about romance and mystery and magic and hope. He was a source of all of those things for me, at a time when inspiration was not so easy to come by.
During my freshman and sophomore years of high school, when I wasn’t at school, I hung out with him almost exclusively. People would ask if we were dating, his family even, and I would just shrug and say I didn’t know. I did know. I knew I was a solution for him as much as he was for me. He wasn’t straight and I wasn’t gay and none of that mattered. The only important thing was that we understood one another at a time in both our lives when no-one else seemed to.
There was a song that peaked in popularity during that time that still rings true when I think about him. I am not sure how many times those lyrics blasted through the car window without my knowing how ironic they would become.
I don’t believe that anybody
Feels the way I do
About you now
I say maybe
You’re gonna be the one that saves me
And after all
You’re my Wonderwall
My friend was nearing graduation when he told me he was going to attend a university in California on scholarship. I begged him not to go, and I was so surprised when he got mad at me. He said my spending time with him was a substitution. He said I loved him too much, more than he loved me. He said that what we had wasn’t real.
I cried. He hugged me but said nothing, and then he walked away. In the days after that I told myself I hated him for using me as his “cover,” and I hated myself for having let him in. I was young and stupid, and a small, very naïve part of me was still hoping he’d change his mind and we would end up together. Admitting that I felt this way, 20 plus years later feels like pressing a knife into an old, self-inflicted scar.
He moved on and away and I never forgave him. He sent me one letter, telling me about California, how strange and different the culture was and how he hoped I kept writing my book, but the words I wanted to read were not there. I’m sorry.
We never talked again. I forced him out of conscious mind and heart for the first time when I threw the letter away and made the decision to never look back.