There was this girl.
There always is, isn’t there? A girl, a dream, and some magic beans to make it all turn out the way we want it to, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. It’s funny how, when you’re 18, 19, 20, the world seems so small, the possibilities so large, how everything is within your reach, even when it isn’t.
So there was this girl. She wasn’t typically someone I would go after, because I thought she was well out of my league. Imagine on a scale of 1 to 10 — she was a 9 — I only trusted myself to go after 6’s and 7’s because I hated rejection, and most 9’s would dismiss me out of hand. It was okay. I knew I wasn’t 9 material.
But this girl…
She was beautiful in all the ways that counted, though I barely knew her. She was like Juliet, this wish list made real, but so dangerous in pretty much every way. This was obvious almost from the start. She wasn’t religious at all (and if she had been, it most certainly wouldn’t have been the religion I had been raised in), she was a very good dancer (or so she said), and she didn’t know she was a 9.
Isn’t that fascinating? So often people don’t recognize what they look like to others, how they’re perceived by the people they come in contact with. Usually 9’s know they’re 9’s because of all the attention they receive, but that’s not always the case, especially if they’ve “grown into themselves.” They’re used to being 5’s and 6’s so that’s all they see when they look in the mirror. I couldn’t tell right from the start, but when she started giving me those vibes I realized there was no way she could see herself the way everyone else did.
We never dated, by the way. I just wanted to put that out there now, in case you were thinking this was the beginning of some kind of love story. We were never as close as twins. She was never my forever, and I knew it at the time. It didn’t stop me from hoping, from wishing, from thinking things might end up differently with us, but deep down in my heart we were meant to be kindred souls, living in adjacent fishbowls, coming together when we needed fresh perspectives.
We started hanging out. For college students in the mid-90’s that meant malted milkshakes on Thursday nights, used CD shops on seedy corners, and night driving with the top down. It was obvious she had put me in the friend zone, though, (of course her friend zone was far better than being friend zoned by a 4 or a 5) but I had just enough encouragement from her to hope for more at some point. Of course “some point” would never come, but if you had told that to 19-year-old me, he would have given you the evil eye.
Despite being in the zone, there were certain firsts I shared with her. It’s why I can recall her to this day, when not much else from my 20th year of life has really stuck in my memory. I remember smoking my first cigarette with her in the park across from the library. I’m sure we had planned on doing something else, but she whipped out her pack of Newport Lights and asked me if I wanted one. I didn’t — I had never even smoked before — but her hazel eyes drew me in and made me nod my head. Suddenly, I knew why people were addicted to smoking.
It’s always a girl, isn’t it?
We sat there on the park bench, her on the back edge, me with my legs stretched out beneath hers, smoking Newport Lights. I coughed upon the first inhale, but I quickly got the hang of it, flicking ash like a pro, blowing smoke high into the air, and feeling dizzy. I figured that’s what was supposed to happen, the dizziness that added to the sense of euphoria I felt being with this 9 who didn’t realize she was a 9, enjoying the mixed smoky air and feeling like if that could be happening right then, then the sky was the absolute limit.
So it went, for several months, this yin and yang, this one-way yearning and the satisfaction of at least being around her. The smoking, the exhalations, the dreams at night when no one was watching — she was always in every one. But I kept my cool. I didn’t slip, because I knew once it was out there I couldn’t take it back, and our time together was too valuable to me to mess it up. I was the best friend she could have had, a sounding board for every little thing, a pseudo-therapist who kept her sane while she drove me insane.
It was such beautiful madness, such a delicate balancing act that it was doomed to fall apart at some point. But like most things in life, the fall wasn’t quite dramatic. It was rather anti-climactic. She moved on, to another school, to another version of me who would sit on other park benches, who would smoke Newport Lights, who would listen to her problems and give her solutions.
And she never knew how I really felt about her. I often wonder if she even knows at this point that she’s a 9. And I wonder, if she’s out there, perhaps reading this missive, if she will recognize herself in the brass or the cymbals, or in the silences between the words I deigned to speak. Or if she will just move on past, a ghost, keeping our world like a shroud to look back, in that space between being a girl and being a woman. In the space where I used to be.