When I discovered that I loved him, earlier that year, I stopped talking to him. A boy I had known since we were toddlers had become a blond-haired, blue-eyed prepubescent who spoke carefully and sang beautifully and I really didn’t know too much more about him except sometimes his golden hair got too long in front, and when he smiled, time stopped.
I stopped speaking to him after my cousin found out I had a crush and she looked him up in the phone book and called him and told someone who answered that I loved him.
I may have never spoken to him before I knew I loved him, actually, because it basically went like this:
Boys are gross.
Wait, this one boy isn’t gross.
I love this one boy.
I can never speak to this one boy ever again.
One day, when I was particularly twisted up about my crush, I went on a walk with my mother and I asked her, how do I get a boy to like me?
And she gave me the only advice on love she’s ever offered me:
Men are like cats. Just ignore them and eventually they’ll come around.
So I guess it wasn’t hardwired in. I learned that my only way through was to never talk to my crush. I was careful to pick places in the circle to sit where I could be near him, but not next to him.
I heard one day that he was going to take another girl to the movies. In that moment, all of my blood dried up and a thousand flat, wooden ice cream spoons scraped away my dried blood and I was just a cup of plain vanilla ice cream - the leftover cup that’s last picked, the one that no one wants. Melted.
And my little 6th grade heart hated everything in that moment. Life. Boys. Books. Grades. Cats. Sunshine. Sitting in circle behind his golden hair. All of it.
And then one day towards the end of 6th grade, we yelled at each other from across the parking lot at school. Either he yelled first or I did - or maybe it was one of the girls in class who hated me. Someone yelled that one of us loved the other one. And the other one yelled back that they loved the other one, too. I couldn’t see him. I yelled. And I went home alone. And I felt like the only 6th grade girl in the world without a boy to take me to the movies.
And at the very end of the year, we had a small graduation party at someone’s house. Ten of us went swimming in a small rocky runoff riverbed on a bright, humid, sticky hot afternoon.
The thick grassy green air, heavy with getting older and heading to middle school, but not quite yet, there’s a whole summer first, so first, we swim around in the river runoff, where the rocks are sharp and slippery, like middle school friendships, so I have to tread water the whole time.
And a small concrete dam about ten feet high where the water above pours over into the water below. And one brave girl who had swam here before knows the trick - she pulls herself up out of the water where it rushes and ducks herself under the waterfall where it pours onto the concrete, just maybe two feet wide, that’s all, it’s a tiny space, and it looks like she disappears.
She disappears like how people disappear into relationships and become something else - they get swallowed inside of something that swirls and pulls them apart and dissolves them - she can’t be seen in there but I know she’s there, like girls who go on dates and you hear things that people say about them but you never hear from the girl anymore, you never hear them say anything anymore, because now they have a boyfriend, they crossed over, there’s nothing they can say anyway, you wouldn’t understand, there’s no way to describe a first kiss, it’s like nothing else and there aren’t words for sitting in the dark next to the boy you love, so she won’t even bother trying to describe it to you, she’s actually kind of embarrassed for you that you’re even asking, what, are you afraid that you’ll never be liked? That you’ll never be kissed?
That’s the cascading whirlpool that sucks a person inside itself once they start to date in 6th grade, and the brave girl stepped through and was behind that loud, crashing door of water. She was gone for a few minutes, long enough for me to feel forever less-than, and then she reemerged laughing and called out, “Who’s next?”
And my crush got up on the ledge and if you’ve ever admired someone like how I admired this boy then you’ll know how the water rushed all around him in this perfect way, this symmetrical, molten glass, Moses with his staff, crashing, crushing way, and I really did, I really under my breath did say to him right then, “Don’t go,” because I was so worried for his dear life because maybe the brave girl had already breathed up all the air there was to breathe behind the endless watery division, but he went and he didn’t slip and he was gone and I held my breath for him as I treaded water and feared for his life on his behalf and I half hoped that he would need mouth-to-mouth resuscitation but no, I really didn’t, I just wanted him to come back out, he’s under there way too long and I think I just cut my toe on something sharp and I can’t get out of the water to check because I hate my bathing suit and this summer before 7th grade is going to be the longest summer of my life I can just feel it and Oh! My God, he’s back out! He survived!
I tread closer to the fall and try holding on near the concrete ledge.
“Sarah,” he says, and time stops. His eyes are tractor beams. I levitate up out of the water. I am on the ledge. He ducks back under the fall. What am I doing? What is happening? My crush’s arm sticks out into the sunshine from behind the mystery curtain. I let his arm find mine. He pulls me under. With him.
I can’t see. I can’t hear. It’s so small. We are standing so close. He is wet. I am wet. The brave girl took all the air. I can’t breathe but I am here and he is here. We are standing so close. We are on the other side. Together. Here. In this tiny magic place. And I am terrified. I don’t realize this is where we are supposed to kiss. This is where we are supposed to begin. This is where I am supposed to become the brave girl. But I can’t and I don’t. There is water and no air and I definitely cut my foot and it is slippery and I need to get out. I need to leave and never speak to the boy I love ever again.
Sarah Elovich is a writer and performer based in Oakland, CA.