The One Where He Let Me Go

“I love Pink Lloyd.”

I felt the blood drain from my face as the realization hit that I said the wrong name. After an awkward pause, the heat began to come back, filling my cheeks with embarrassment and a need to recover myself.

“Oh, me too!”

He was being nice, but fans of Pink Floyd are probably rolling their eyes as we speak. I mean, I’m rolling my eyes, cringing at how badly I wanted to impress him. He was enamored with classic rock, and I, enamored with him, was trying to create a bridge into his world. Growing up with three older brothers, boys were not unchartered territory; my feelings, however, were.

I was scrubbing the bathtub when my aunt came into the bathroom, inviting me over to her house. Conveniently, since she lived next door, I threw down my sponge and followed her without hesitation. My messy ponytail and bare feet were a result of the summer heat, a staple look for me at the time. She told me she had guests over, but at 13, I didn’t care. My focus was on the food until I was distracted by someone I had never seen before.

He stood by the tree and ever fearless and confident, I walked straight to him. He was cool, collected, and funny. His quiet and mysterious demeanor had me wanting to know more. A tomboy in early adolescence, I remember telling him how much I hated shopping and wearing shoes. He told me he liked that about me. It was at that moment I understood that I knew nothing about talking to boys. My brothers and I talked roughly to one another and often fought. I was struggling, trying to grasp onto anything that might help me seem more mature.

I looked over, seeing the water balloons and guns, ultimately opting to wait on maturity. We sprayed each other and those sitting outside, running, hiding, and throwing balloons; our laughter magnifying the joy of summer and young innocence.

After that initial day, I looked forward to his visits at my aunt’s house. If I saw a car, I’d barge right into their kitchen and use needing an egg or potato as an excuse. Sometimes he was there and sometimes he wasn’t. When we did see each other or had the option to, we’d stay up late eating s’mores, talking and laughing. He’d play his guitar and I’d just sit and listen, amazed.

“I have a guitar, too,” I blurted out one night.

It immediately got his attention and he swung around to face me, obviously impressed. He asked if I wanted to play, and once again feeling embarrassed, I said I didn’t know how. He said he’d teach me and I looked forward to it. I was smitten.

My girlish daydreams began to take over as I imagined us playing guitar together, or maybe I could learn how to sing. We’d be a great team, I thought, singing and playing around the fire. I knew he liked me and I’m sure he knew that I liked him. I was waiting for my chance to finally express it, but the chance had long passed.

He left at the end of the summer with no warning. Just like that, he was gone. My aunt told me he moved to Texas and I was devastated. No numbers exchanged. We simply thought we had more time, and yet, all he was now was a memory.

I occasionally thought back to him as I grew older and hinted at womanhood. Nearly 17, I had given up at a fairy tale ending, but wondered how or who he was now. My aunt once told me that he asked about me, nearly leading me to believe that there was still a cliché ending hidden somewhere.

Facebook was starting to get popular, and one night, I got a friend request. I stared, dumbstruck. There he was, a young man. I felt myself immediately get nervous. This was different.

We started communicating over social media, and then through phone calls and text messages. He told me he still played guitar and was in a band that played Lynyrd Skynyrd music. He told me he planned to move back soon. He told me he wanted to see me. I can remember the butterflies and excitement I felt when I thought of him. He made me feel special. I felt seen.

We continued to talk and before I knew it, it was the beginning of June, my birthday. He had flowers delivered to me. 17 now, it was a dream come true. I had never received flowers from anyone, let alone someone several states away. It was by far the most thoughtful thing anyone had ever done for me.

I received a phone call at midnight. The girl was upset, asking me who I was and telling me that he told her I was his cousin. I went along with it, half asleep and half confused about what was even going on. She said she saw that he had sent me flowers and wanted to know why. It was my birthday, I told her, and she was ruining it by taking away my sleep. He apologized the next day, saying it was a crazy ex. I convinced myself it was nothing, pushing it back as far as I could, committed to forgetting it ever happened. It was a chosen ignorance.

June, shortly after my 17th birthday.

The week he moved back to the area, he couldn’t find a ride to my house, but we so desperately wanted to see each other. Without any other transportation, he walked 7 miles. He arrived hot and sweating from the sun, but I didn’t care. This was it, this was our episode, our sitcom, the friends that would finally end up together. Ross and Rachel had to end up together and so did we.

Our first kiss is something I’ll always remember, but not because there were fireworks blasting into the sky or birds singing, but because it was awkward and embarrassing (there’s that word again) on my end. I was inexperienced and ultimately still had no idea how to react. I had been on a handful of dates, but never had any real relationships. I could feel him staring at me, waiting for the opportunity. I stared ahead, telling myself if we didn’t make eye contact, there was nothing to worry about and no mistakes to be made.

As the summer progressed, so did our relationship. We spent all summer together going to the park, watching movies, and sometimes I got to see his band play. I’d stand in the front row dancing, my best friend or his mom by my side. His family was wonderful and so accepting and warm. Things seemed to be perfect.

One night in late July, I stayed at his sister’s house with him. We stayed up late, playing the card game “Bullshit.” I never played before, but somehow I kept on winning. “Bullshit,” he said, laughing as I took shot after shot. “Bullshit!” I yelled back, everyone laughing as we kept yelling it, over and over. I looked at him, giggling as the alcohol was rushing to my head. Somehow, even though I was the crowned winner, I still ended up drunk.

His sister went to her bedroom with her boyfriend, and finally it was just him and I. I felt the room spinning around me and it was all I could do to stand. I found myself stumbling through the living room, searching for a place to sleep.

Perhaps he expected our relationship to go further than it had. Perhaps I was too innocent and untouched by the world, not yet mature enough for his lifestyle. Perhaps he didn’t want to be committed in a relationship. Perhaps he just didn’t like me anymore. For whatever reason, when I left the next morning hungover and tired, I didn’t hear back from him. I was ghosted before there was a term to describe it.

The morning I went home, I was naïve to the fact that our relationship had ended. I called him the next day, and the next day, and the next day. Each day his sister said he wasn’t there. Two weeks went by as I waited for him to check on me, I waited to hear his voice, I waited for confirmation that we were okay. I didn’t know why he wouldn’t speak to me, why he decided that it was over. I didn’t understand what I had done wrong.

I waited as long as I could before I changed my relationship status on Facebook to single, assuming that it was over. He immediately messaged me apologizing, stating that he just wasn’t in a place where he could be in a relationship. I wasn’t hurt that he no longer wanted me to be his girlfriend, but I was hurt that he didn’t simply tell me and felt that I was undeserving of an explanation.

I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing he had any control over my feelings, so I was stoic. I told him it was fine, that it was stupid to think we were childhood sweethearts, that it was nothing more than a summer fling. And just like that, it was over.

I’ve seen him here and there over the last decade, but now after my aunt’s passing, probably never again. Our one connection that was left, gone from this world. I used to wonder where we could’ve ended up had our relationship been taken more seriously. Maybe it could’ve been different, but as the seasons pass, we come to accept what it is for what it is, merely moments and memories in time.

If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me
For I must be travelin’ on now
There’s too many places I got to see

If I stay here with you girl
Things just couldn’t be the same
‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now
And this bird you cannot change

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