“names have been kept for privacy.” Zoë Jones, (2020).

June 19, 2020

Every woman’s first relationship should be long distance. If he were here right now, he’d hold me. I’m glad I’ll never have to ask. This is the school that I taught myself to learn in each day. If you put glue on anything, and let it harden into papier-mâché, everything will learn to stick. I remember them all.

When I was fifteen, everyday I talked to the first boy. He lived in the English countryside, and his days were grey and misty – filled with a hatred of high school and a penchant for sad music. His hair was curly, and he smiled in a sort of lopsided way, giving away nothing but insecurity and loneliness – the kind that can only be bred by a small town on the other side of the ocean. His pale skin showed me warmth. 

I was, unashamedly, my own cliché of a girl, and I loved how he fit perfectly into my textbook fantasy. We talked with frequency, but not urgency – many days, we couldn’t get the timing right because of the eight-hour difference between us. We’d email each other when I was in first period chemistry, and he had just gotten home from school. Him, sitting alone in his bedroom with the door locked. Me, sitting in class staring at empty test tubes. 

We were tied to the weak tether of strong internet connections and a shared desire for a pen pal. I responded to a post he made on a site for teenagers looking for new friends to write to.  When we began communicating, it was always email because he never acknowledged my longing for handwritten letters. The act of settling for something less started here.  

If I told you that his request for photos of my face was innocent, I’d be lying. If I told you that I didn’t see the danger in this coming, I’d also be lying. His admiration of my face became admiration of my changing body that I had no one else to show. 

I do not know what happened to those photos I sent. I console myself: at least I was smart enough to never put my face in them. All of our talk of the differences between our home countries turned into talk of what we’d do to each others bodies if we ever saw them in person. I hadn’t even been kissed yet.

Thankfully, I recognized the need to close this line of communication. I did not feel wronged by him. I felt wronged by the realization that I had given my innocence to someone who did nothing to deserve it – someone who I knew without ever having met. I never told my friends about him. 

When I decided, we never spoke again. 

When I was sixteen, I met the second boy. He saw me and I couldn’t stop him. I didn’t want to. I christened myself in the newness of feeling worthy. I bathed in the feeling of his eyes on mine. 

I only knew him for two weeks, on an extended stay away from home the summer before my senior year of high school. Depending on when and where you ask me, this was my first time. 

My first time feeling, that is. 

We spent our days together swatting at bugs in swampy Midwestern heat, chasing away sun showers with the sound of our voices. The nights were for staining ourselves green in the wet grass, not afraid to touch anything but each other. He taught me how to spot satellites in orbit and where to go to see the northern lights; the conversation never ended for those two weeks. And then we went home. 

But nothing bad ever happened between us. We talked for the rest of that year, and let communication fade to grey on its own. We are still friends when one of us is kind enough to remember, and remind the other of what happened. When one of us grows fond of the memories once again and aches for the wonder that is knowing someone other than yourself. 

I remember the wonder that is watching life take someone away from you, as they float downstream into time. 

When I was seventeen (and a half), I met the third boy, drunk in a kitchen at one of my first college parties, all limbs and arms, holding on to the refrigerator for balance. He seemed sweet – freely giving me my first real kiss with a mouth that tasted like beer. He took me back to my bed, kissed me some more, and fell asleep. I tossed and turned all night and he woke up at six in the morning to leave my sheets cold. Still, I was convinced that he was the one who could turn that dorm room into a home. 

He had been in a relationship for three years and didn’t know what to do with himself when she left him. According to every single story he told, she was always the bitch – the constant villain of his heartbreak narrative. I was fully aware that it would be irresponsible of me to believe all of the blame he placed on her. 

I was the first girl to want him when he got back home after his escape from her, which took the form of a study abroad program in Scotland. Something broke in him when she left and he never tried to put it all back together. I believed my own needle and thread could do that. We went back and forth with each other for a year. He talked through his teeth, and laughed with his mouth closed. He had a flimsy of pain and I knew it wasn’t right. He graduated, and I went on with only occasional thoughts of him.  

We would kiss until we grew tired; I would bury my nose in the crown of his head to take in the clean smell of his hair. This sounds like affection, but it was not. He and I both knew that we didn’t need each other for that reason. 

I can’t write about eighteen in the context of a person, and I am happy about that. I needed to listen to myself, alone. 

When I turned nineteen, I had been in a relationship for about a month. With someone who made promises he was willing to figure out how to keep. I didn’t know how to feel, and for fucks sake, I couldn’t figure out how to be. I still cannot. 

Sometimes you make me feel like a ghost. This is what I wanted to say when he is laying next to me, sleeping, pulling me closer. Breathing into my ear with his mouth open, his breath biscuity and sweet. I wanted nothing more than to know how to find comfort in nearness. 

Hello, are you there, his eyes always ask me once they opened. Of course, I was right beside him in his twin sized mattress, but the familiarity only made me hide more. I wore my loneliness, still. He never knew me.

In the nondescript hum of the early morning hours, I kissed him and told him that I am sorry. I showed him all of the things I learned. Why do you feel only when you’re away from me? It’s a good question. I showed him how to leave, come back, and do it again, all in the same day. 

I’m not much older now. I’m twenty-two and present most of the time. Again, I am far from someone, dreaming the way I always did. But I no longer feel guilty for giving only parts of me – I will never again let a man disguise drowning in sentiment as baptism. I need a promise, proof that I will be safe with no fear. I know that this is a lot to ask for. Always, my love says when I cannot bear the thought of leaving yet again. Maybe this will be enough.