The One Where I Walked Away

I sat there, confused and feeling awkward. Sure, the awkwardness was a familiar feeling for me, but this, this I was not prepared for. I looked around, feeling the anxiety run through my blood. I wanted to leave, but weighed down by inexperience, I stayed where I was. I watched those around me, everyone leaned back and relaxed. They had no idea that I had an internal dialogue going on with myself while measuring the distance between my spot on the couch and the door. The joint finally reached me.

“No thanks,” I mumbled, “I don’t smoke.”

The mother of the group, a woman in her 50’s, looked at me with eyes that seemed to pierce right into my soul. I could barely talk, intimidated by the situation.

“How old are you?”

I almost choked, not from the smoke in the air, but from the smoke that seemed to be coming out of her nose. She reminded me of some fire breathing dragon ready to rip anyone to shreds that she didn’t like.

I told her I was 17 and she immediately scoffed and cursed under her breath. I was the youngest one there by a long shot, but that wasn’t her issue. I was clearly uncomfortable and out of place.

“Don’t tell anyone about our little secret.”

“I won’t,” I said, clinging to my backpack.

I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into, but here I was, surrounded by strangers in an area that I didn’t know. My mother was absolutely going to kill me if the one sitting next me didn’t get to it first.

I trusted who I was with, his presence there being the only thing that kept me from immediately bolting. He continued playing video games, seemingly oblivious to how I was feeling. He didn’t smoke either, but I continued to stare at the back of his head, hoping he’d feel the heat radiating from my glare. As if on cue, he turned around. His green eyes met my own in amusement. Great, I thought. I was totally killing their vibe.

He invited me along that morning to go to a photoshoot of his, one where a magazine was planning to feature and sponsor him as a skateboarder. It was heavily snowing and had been cancelled, so what better backup plan was there than to walk half a mile in the snow to a friend’s house.

A friend of mine picked me up afterwards and I left unsure of if I wanted to get to know him better. We knew each other from middle school, but we never ran with the same crowd. He played basketball during those years and I was in the yearbook club. Now, he liked to skate and I was an editor for the school newspaper. Years had passed and yet we were still the same kids just trying to find our place in the world.

A few months went by as winter transitioned into spring. My cold winter experience had since thawed, leaving me wanting to live free of the constraints I had given myself. I had just broken up with my boyfriend before prom (spoiler alert: we made up and got married), so I asked my skateboarding, basketball playing, nonsmoking friend if he would be my date. I could feel the anxiety rising up again, but attempted to keep my cool. He casually agreed and I casually was trying to process it.

His agreement to be my date was under one condition – the condition that he’d be able to attend. I considered sneaking him in, but knowing the risk of that could possibly ruin the night, I instead sought approval from the principal.

Naturally, I was attracted to trouble. My straight laced life only highlighted our differences, but we both seemed to like that. We were a good match, bringing out different sides in each other. I did well in school, and in fact, I loved school; yet, here I was dating someone who had been expelled. He loved how I loved to learn and I loved how he loved to live.

We attended prom, him wearing his skater beanie and necklace. My mother paid for his suit and he wore it well. The night continued on as we stood outside of the crowd, mirroring his attitude in life. Prom ended in tears as a friend’s date left her, leaving her behind in the aftermath. My date, never being afraid of confrontation, clenched the candle that we had been given as a party favor, ready to serve justice. I exchanged looks with my friend, both of us unsure on how to wrangle him back in.

Admittedly, the adrenaline was something I was searching for as it broke up the mundane and everyday occurrences in my life. He was unpredictable, impulsive, and wild, molded by his free lifestyle with no barriers or boundaries. His free spirit was revealed in his music and guitar as he played whatever came to mind. He told me he was writing a song about me and I was eager to hear it, begging to see what was in the works. He always laughed, saying that I had to wait until it was finished.

We bonded a lot over music, driving around while listening to A Day to Remember; his favorite song All I Want on repeat as we butchered it with our out of tune singing. We wanted to spread our apparent gift of song to others and attended a concert on the waterfront and planned to sing as loudly as we could in the front row. A fight took place as we were making our way forward and he pushed my friend and I out of the way when it escalated. There were punches thrown and kicks flying into the air. Despite my friend and I not being directly involved, we were all kicked out before even getting to enjoy the music. I should’ve been upset, but I was enthralled.

Our relationship seemed to lag for a bit, mostly due to how causal it was. We weren’t necessarily exclusive, but we had an understanding. I liked him. He liked me. It was simple. Unlike past relationships, there were no hesitations or embarrassing moments. We could be ourselves with one another. We were comfortable.

We spent most of our time at the skatepark during the summer. He would usually skate and I would watch from the side while I read. He always begged me to go down the halfpipe, my hesitance preventing me from making even the slightest movement. I’d put down my book, unsure and nervous. No way, I’d say. Finally, when my best friend was with me, we held hands and slid down, laughing at how ridiculous we probably looked. And then things changed.

“Be my girlfriend.”

It was so sudden, except it wasn’t. I froze. I had given so many other guys a chance and here was one right in front of me, so clearly ready to commit. I couldn’t take the jump. My heart and head were disconnected, so I chose to follow my head. We were complete opposites and that concerned me. I had been burned in the past, that also concerned me. I was afraid to open up to the idea of love, which seemed to quickly follow.

“I’m falling in love with you.”

Those words shook every emotion I was holding onto. I couldn’t believe it. I had never been loved by a boy and I didn’t feel as though I deserved it. He spoke of kids, marriage, attaining his GED. He was so open about his feelings while I remained distant. There was something holding me back. I wasn’t open to the risk, and at the time, he was the biggest risk in my life.

Finally, he got tired of my excuses. We fought in his car outside in the Taco Bell parking lot. He was full of emotion, upset at my constant refusal. He told me about how he was waiting for me, being respectful of me and my space. How could I have not had enough time? His anger finally boiled over. He punched his cell phone and threw it out the window. I got out of the car, trying to gather up the pieces of what was left of our relationship. He had to go to the emergency room, but I refused to go with him. His rage alarmed me.

He came to my house the next day and apologized not only to me, but also to my mom and step dad. They spoke to him privately and I wish I knew everything they discussed that day. I knew my mom adored him and that he looked at them like his own parents, but here I was, guarding everything I had from him.

I can’t tell you what was holding me back, but I didn’t want to continue giving out little pieces of my heart to anyone who wanted it. I was afraid to make the wrong move by giving and losing myself to someone, never to see her again.

Things cooled off after that and for a while we didn’t see each other. Even though he lashed out, I felt I was to blame. I cared about him, but I didn’t want to tell him. I wanted to be his girlfriend, but I was paralyzed by fear. He was waiting, and I was giving nothing in return. My parents were divorced; the odds already seemed against young love.

One morning, I woke up to his voice in my kitchen. I jumped up, nervous yet excited. I wanted to run out to greet him, to apologize for being so back and forth, for making him feel I was leading him on, for not being what he needed. Then the bomb dropped. I heard him talk to my mother as they walked to the back porch. He got someone pregnant. I fell to my knees, knowing that I couldn’t blame him. Life doesn’t pause for anyone, especially for someone like me who continued to be closed off.

We still talked occasionally after that, but it was stifled. I knew we both cared about each other, but this was something we couldn’t overcome. I extended my hand in friendship, but as the years continued, it became too difficult. We both had to walk away and simply move on. Pat Benetar had it right, love certainly is a battlefield. The best we can do is remain strong and learn from it, allowing our lessons to guide us. I never did get to hear the song he wrote about me, but I’m sure what began as an upbeat melody about young love turned into a ballad about a girl who didn’t give that love a fighting chance.

You know you can’t give me what I need
And even though you mean so much to me
I can wait through everything
Is this really happening?
I swear I’ll never be happy again
And don’t you dare say we can just be friends
I’m not some boy that you can sway
We knew it’d happen eventually

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