The Department of English
Student Essay of the Month
Children Wearing Grown-Up Suits
I am not an expert in psychology or erotology, but I am someone whose closet is full of boxes of mementos from former flames. Maybe I fall in love easily, or maybe I am just someone who is always pleasantly surprised by how wonderful people can be. I have been lucky enough to have gotten to know people who let me in enough to give me their best and trusted me enough to let me see their worst, but none will ever compare to the very first person who showed me what it’s like to completely lose oneself in another. Everyone says that there’s nothing like falling in love for the first time, and my teenage self would wholeheartedly agree. There is nothing like having no idea what to expect and feeling every high and every low as if nothing more intense is possible. Of course, the hormones that are at an all-time high during the teenage years play a part too, as does having a hectic home life with little adult involvement.
He had a broken arm, bad skin, and almond-shaped eyes. I could instantly tell by the surprisingly dark, prepubescent mustache adorning his upper lip that he was far cooler than all the other boys I had ever met. I had no idea what I wanted to do with him, but I knew I didn’t want him to do it with anyone else.
On my thirteenth birthday, my father moved out of the only home I had ever known. Our mother remained in our childhood apartment while our father moved a mile away to a neighborhood without the delis and late-night food we were used to; this was a neighborhood where the streets were empty by nine and the buildings were free of graffiti. It felt cold and soulless, so my little brother Brandon and I were having a hard time adjusting. Just as we were starting to get used to our biweekly routine of lugging our clothes and schoolbooks back and forth, high school was beginning and my fourteenth birthday was just around the corner. The night before my first day of high school, I sat in my half of the bedroom that my brother and I shared at our mother’s, desperately trying to pick out an outfit while fantasizing about what the year would hold. After having cared for Brandon for three years while our parents were too busy fighting to check homework or make snacks, I was sure that I was basically a grown-up and completely ready for all of the real-life experience that would come with being a high schooler. I took the train by myself, went out for lunch, and had my very own mascara. I smugly fingered my brand-new nose stud and silently gloated about how I was the first to get one. I was ready for anything.
Almost all of my friends from middle school ended up in high school with me too, but there were many newcomers that I hadn’t met before. A handful of them were from a middle school near my mother’s house that was known to be a bit rough around the edges, so I was worried I’d end up in a homeroom with a bunch of rowdy, lazy boys. It turned out that it wasn’t my homeroom that got the group of misfit skaters, but they soon became known by the entire grade after making one of the school’s sweetest teachers cry. As I saw them pushing through the crowd of excited teenagers, I saw a puff of big, black, curly hair bobbing through. As the owner of this rotund mop of hair emerged from between the broken embrace of two screaming girls, my heart dropped into my stomach and somersaulted. He had a broken arm, bad skin, and almond-shaped eyes. I could instantly tell by the surprisingly dark, prepubescent mustache adorning his upper lip that he was far cooler than all the other boys I had ever met. I had no idea what I wanted to do with him, but I knew I didn’t want him to do it with anyone else. Our eyes met, but he flushed maroon and pretended to inspect a nearby locker. As it turned out, he liked my almond-shaped eyes too, and had a friend introduce us.
I learned that his name was Kai, and after a bit of sleuthing, I found out where his group of friends would sit during lunch. I decided that I had to prepare for a “random run-in” with them during which I could seduce him with my face jewelry and personal cloud of Victoria’s Secret body spray. As soon as we were let out for lunch, my friends and I ran to the dingy girls’ bathroom so I could touch up my too-thick, too-black eyeliner before taking the plunge. They shrieked with laughter while I shook with nerves, but they promised we’d find a way to get to know him. Once we found the loud group of boys, being the straightforward kind of person I was, I chose to laugh and joke with his friends while only shyly and briefly greeting the object of my affection. Because of this, I owe my first romance to the detachedness of modern technology and the rash brazenness that only teenagers and the mentally ill possess. Before heading back to school, my friend Rachel demanded that Kai and I swap numbers and add each other on Facebook. I could have smacked her for being so transparent, but I soon wanted to kiss her for getting the ball rolling. After he and I pushed through a few days of awkward texting, we were talking incessantly. We chatted online every night until our parents made us get off, and we texted during class until our teachers confiscated our phones. Eventually virtual chats turned into real-life ones, and suddenly, I had a boyfriend.
I couldn’t get enough. We went to lunch together, walked each other to classes, and talked on the phone every night. Kai introduced me to what is still my favorite music, and I had to immediately send him the lyrics to every sappy song I heard. After a few weeks, he took me on my first date, which to this day is the most adult date I’ve ever been on. We went to an underground restaurant in SoHo that his dad, a photographer, had gotten us a reservation for. As we waited for our food, I played with my enormous gold hoop earrings and fought the urge to throw up. I was so excited that I felt scared, and I prayed that I wouldn’t drop any of my mango salad down my shirt. I was elated to be with him, but I was sure I would screw it up. What if I couldn’t think of anything more impressive to talk about than the latest school drama? Suddenly, as I wracked my brain for things to say, a heartbreaking image overtook my thoughts. It was the face of a girl named Sophia, a girl whom Kai had had a crush on the year before. I wasn’t sure where it came from, but I could no longer focus on anything else besides not crying. Despite my parents’ messy divorce and its ensuing drama, this was suddenly the worst I had ever felt. I managed to make it through dinner and dessert, but that first date was also my first taste of insecurity. I was vulnerable; life at home was shaky, and now I had to come to terms with the thought of my new hip attachment ever having thought about someone else. I looked across the table at him as he paid a bill he couldn’t possibly afford, and thought about this perceived threat to the one thing keeping me afloat. We left, and he kissed me goodbye before biking home.
The jealousy didn’t subside despite gifts and dates and declarations of everlasting love. A rare Saturday came where we were without each other: I was grounded at my dad’s for wearing shorts that were too short, and Kai was at Coney Island with a group of friends. Roughly half of the group was girls, and when I still hadn’t gotten a text back
after an hour, I started to lose it. I called him over and over, but when he didn’t pick up, I started texting his friends whose numbers I had to see if they knew where he was. Finally, someone who wasn’t with him gave me the number of a girl, Heather, who was supposed to be at the beach with Kai and everyone else. When she picked up, she was surprised to hear from me. I would have been too. We had only met a couple of times. She handed the phone over so I could ream out my poor, innocent boyfriend for leaving his phone at home. He bewilderedly apologized as my heart pounded from the fear that he was lying to me. As I yelled over the phone, I knew how crazy I sounded. My attachment to this boy, the one person who could take me away from my parents and my sadness, ran so deep that I couldn’t handle any inkling of rejection or distance. Unfortunately for both of us, this wasn’t an isolated incident.
Young love turned this boy into a volatile and emotional teenager right before my eyes. After seeing a boy I had “dated” in 8th grade, Kai ran home crying and wouldn’t talk to me for days. I became afraid that I wasn’t pretty enough for him, and he became paranoid that every other boy I talked to was trying to steal me away. Together we were bipolar, and our friends and families were starting to worry. Our grades were dropping and we were always bickering. Towards the end of our first year of high school, I suffered a severe head injury that resulted in memory loss. My other half of six months decided that this was a good time to break up with me.
This was the first and only time I have ever had my heart broken, and I haven’t experienced obsession since. I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been for a boy of fourteen to deal with all my baggage, and I regret not taking the time to sit down and apologize for everything I put him through. Those months imprinted me and shaped the way I feel about need and attachment, but rather than being fearful of someone else taking my place, I am now fearful of devolving into the angsty, erratic child I once was. As dissatisfied as I am about how things played out, I remain nostalgic about how someone was once able to impact me so deeply.
(This essay was originally submitted for a Great Works class)