When I was a sophomore in high school, there was a girl (isn’t there always?), and I was quite taken with her.We were both in band so I spent most of the summer between my freshman and senior year working up the courage to talk talk to her. Then I spent the first few weeks of school. Then I spent another week for good measure. Finally, one afternoon just after band practice, the perfect moment arrived. We had been talking and, completely uncharacteristically, I wasn’t acting idiotic (in fact I was as close to smooth as was possible for me). During the conversation, I went for it and asked, “Will you go with me?”
Amazingly, she said, “Yes.”
The unequivocal response surprised and delighted me. I couldn’t believe my luck and easily slipped my hand over hers. She smiled, then laughed her infectious laugh.
The timing of our new relationship couldn’t have been better. In a little over a week and a half from when she said, “yes,” we had a band competition in Madison, Kentucky. It would be about an hour and a half bus ride to the competition. An hour and a half I could sit beside her holding hands and talking (no, it didn’t take much to excite me then). It seemed too perfect, mostly because it was.
It wasn’t long before I noticed she didn’t seem to fully return my happiness. She wasn’t mean, or even unaffectionate, she just seemed vaguely distant. Not in a cruel or intentional way, just lost in different thoughts. I wondered what the cause of her behavior was, why she seemed unable to fully give me her heart.
Too soon, I found out. I noticed that when a particular name came up, she got a faraway look in her eyes. It was a look I knew. I had seen many times, usually in a mirror. It was the look of unrequited affection. I finally understood the reason she hadn’t given me her heart was that it already belonged to someone else.
It’s amazing how quickly you can go from denial, to indecision, to acceptance of the inevitable. Many years later, long after I mostly forgot about her, I was at my in-laws’ house. My youngest sister-in-law was in middle school and complained about another friend of mine and I because we jumped on her trampoline.
“You’ll break it!” she warned.
We laughed and continued our jumping, enjoying the silliness as only two guys in their twenties can. Things went bad when he and I began alternating our jumps to attain more height.
I hit the fabric on my way done and provided more momentum to launch him. We got into a rhythm and everything went great. It went great right up until our last bounce.
He came down and a split second after I rocketed upward, I heard a strange ripping sound. I looked down and saw him on the ground, his prone body framed by the tattered trampoline. I still travelled upwards and though, This can’t be happening. Then I desperately tried to figure out what to do. As I reached the apex of my flight, I realized there was nothing I could do and simply thought, this is going to hurt.
It did. I crashed in to the ground, but managed to break nothing more than my pride. My sister-in-law was furious.
My teenage self also denied the situation at first. Then I struggled with what to do about my discovery. The selfish side of me wanted to ignore it. After all, she seemed content in our relationship. Wasn’t that enough? But the chivalrous side of me knew what must be done. It was inevitable as the gravity which pulled me to the ground so many years later.
I still remember the day clearly. It had been deathly hot, but slight cool spell made the day comfortable. After school right before band practice (and right before I lost my nerve), I took a deep breath. This is going to hurt, I thought.
“Hey,” I said to her, “You don’t really want to be with me do you?” She looked about to brush it off, so I quickly added, “Please tell me the truth.”
“No,” she said sadly. I suddenly wished she had lied (actually I just wished the truth was different than it was).
“That’s what I thought,” I sighed.
“It’s not your fault,” she said, clearly wanting to explain, “It’s just that . . . it’s just that – ”
“You can’t stop thinking about him and you wish you were with him.”
“Yeah,” she said, “You understand?”
“Of course. It’s how I feel about you.”
I walked away before I lost my composure.
That Saturday, I rode the bus to the competition with an empty seat beside me. It did hurt.
I’d like to tell the teenage me that while it hurt, it would be more temporary than he could fathom. I’d like him to know that more hurt would come, but also more joy, more laughter, much more love. Those are the things only experience can teach though. Experience provided by lonely band trips and trampolines. Experience that reminds you the pain lets you know you survived and it’s time to stand up and move on.