First Love’s End

 

I don’t know when I knew it was over. Maybe I always knew one day it would end, because really, how often do first loves become forever loves? Maybe it was a gradual disintegration from day one – like the degradation of a compound, it’s half-life immediately ticking away.

We were long-distance so most of my memories of the end are a blur of text messages, frustrating phone calls and tearful nights. I said I was fine, but after the biweekly frat parties or village bar crawls the tears always came. I could not lock them behind my eyeballs any longer. You were everything to me and I was everything to you and we were unhealthy. The love was real but we were frail.

The closest thing to a breakup moment was that time you drove up to LA to talk. We had already drawn our swords with fighting words the night before. “It’s over.” “Fine.” Click. Walking parallel on the sidewalk we bled silently.

We went to a Pho restaurant we had never been to – surprising because we frequented all of the local restaurants in Westwood over the past three years. Enzo’s was our favorite. Well, it was my favorite. They served New York style pizza, dimmed the lights low, and played Frank Sinatra on Saturday nights.

When we requested a table for two at the hostess desk everything was too bright under the neon PHO sign. And too big. With too many people. We were exposed in this place; our breakup moment too intimate for this public, visible setting. I smiled, and almost pretended it was a regular date. We sat in a booth and my eyes scanned the menu. Shrimp rolls. Pad Thai. To this day I always order the same thing. I glanced up, you glanced down. So I looked back down too. My moment of peace pondering Thai delicacies was interrupted by the restaurant’s loud speakers:

I heard that you’re settled down

That you found a girl and you’re married now.

I heard that your dreams came true.

Guess she gave you things I didn’t give to you.

All I could think was, Stupid fucking Adele song. That’s also when I ran to the bathroom, hiding my face.

I almost made it out of that night unscathed. Without a tear. Without the moment of terrible loneliness that comes with a first big breakup. Of course I knew I was lying to myself. Of course I knew whether or not I cried, the fear of missing you bubbled underneath. But I wanted to lie to myself, damn it. Then Adele had to come in and ruin it all. That song always did make me cry.

I closed the bathroom door behind me, the dead bolt poorly lined up with the drilled hole in the door jam. With the door closed it was more like a closet. When I turned around she sat in a reading chair. Of course it’s a grand reading chair, upholstered in velvet, because she’s British and everything British people do is grand. At least to us Americans. She sat with her beehive bun piled high on her head, her eyeliner fanning out into a cat eye. Her left hand cupped her face: pointer finger touching cheekbone, thumb grazing jawline, remaining fingers supporting chin. She looked at me with an all-knowing look. Don’t drag me into this.

I glared back. Fine. You’re right.

After my breakdown in the bathroom with Adele I had no where to go, except back to the last dinner we’d eat together. I willed myself to unlock the dingy bathroom door and put one foot in front of the other. Each step from the restroom to the booth felt like walking the plank, high over the dark blue unknown. Because I knew once I slid into our plastic, sterile booth it’d be over and all we’d have was this memory from the Pho restaurant.

 


 

Photo Credit: Khachik Simonian

Last Summer

The humid air hung around my skin, like a dew. Late June and we were shifting our gears from boys and girls to men and women, our bodies seemed to agree but our minds still adolescent in age. Walking up the sidewalk, the living room was dim and the kitchen too bright with fluorescent hues cascading from the window to the sidewalk. Opening the door, I walked into a thick wall of sweet scent as the collection of teens inside gained one more body.

Girls with boys and girls with girls, isn’t fourteen the age we learned how to flirt? For the past year I kept my eyes turned down and iPod buds in my ears — trying to pass unnoticed by the girls already grown into push-up bras and unwanted by the boys who couldn’t stop looking at them. Tonight would be different, tonight I would rewrite my script.

There was a bottle, a single bottle of vanilla vodka. Had I not read the label I would have mistaken it for nail polish remover. We had the big glass bottle and a liter of Coca-Cola. I brought the glass to my lips — and winced. Then the plastic to my lips — sweet relief. One more round, all smiles. Two more rounds, now we giggle.

I pulled my sweater off my shoulders, draped it on a chair. I’m Penny Lane — I danced from one room to the next, announcing my arrival with a hand above my head, gently bent at the wrist. In the dim lights and newfound freedom we grew into our own skin — sweaty and tan and innocent still.

We laughed. We swayed. We fell asleep in clusters on the floor to the gentle hum of a fan. As the first rays of light spilled into the living room, our unwilted bodies magically escaped the claws of headaches and hangovers. Slowly opening our eyes, we gently locked gazes and mischievous smiles curled up our lips.

We ate unnaturally colored Pop-Tarts, singing along to some pop diva who’s bad influence taught us to dance on tables and shake our asses like we knew what that insinuated. Fresh-eyed and rosy-cheeked, we hopped on our bikes and pedaled to the beach. Kicking off our sandals, we didn’t even lay out our towels. Four silhouettes of girls, not yet women, raced into the water and dove under waves. Another day we spent in the sunshine, then another night with the boys and girls gathered around a kitchen table where someone’s mom didn’t care.

It was my last childhood summer.

 


Last Summer is the first short story featured in my new nonfiction series – The Memory Collection.


 

Originally published by Kaitlin Schilling on Literally Literary, a Medium publication.