Written by Sammie Lee Wilhoit
My heart was sore and ached for days. I spent weeks crying on the couch. When I finally got enough energy, I sat at the piano and wrote a song that sounded like a creaky swing.
I missed her green eyes that flickered gold around around her pupil. I missed listening to The Beatles. Her shoulder-length brown hair that turned to ICEE-red by hair dye. Her glasses that magnified her eyes. Her shiny braces.
In my life, she was a constant presence. After school was spent at either her house or mine, talking and laughing, and filming improvised skits. If I had a secret or concern, I would tell her at a sleepover. We told each other about crushes and boys, about the problems of our parents and our family.
At the end of the school year, I found out that she was moving. Again. She moved from town to town for years. We had met at school in the fourth grade and she moved around the county after that. In the seventh grade, she moved back. But this time was different. She was moving far away. I might not see her again. In early June, I threw her a party which was equal parts a party to celebrate her birthday and to recognize that she was moving away. After everyone else had gone, I said my last goodbye to her. She and I stood in the doorway, both of us with tears in our eyes. I felt overwhelmed by emotion. Her eyes were so beautiful. I didn’t know what to do. I briefly kissed her on the cheek. My cheeks burst into flames, and I felt shame and love and longing.
After she left, I did not understand my feelings of grief. My heart felt like it was being crushed. I asked my parents what it meant.
“Heartache,” my mom responded. “Your heart is broken.”
I couldn’t understand how my friend of many years was able to break my heart. Wasn’t heartache reserved for romantic relationships?
Writing a song about her leaving felt like editing my feelings. Felt like effort. Felt like an omission. “My best friend” became a generalization for our relationship and “like a sister” was a simile used to describe what love I was allowed to feel towards her. Something about that felt like I was striking the wrong keys.
Years later, a girl with tight red curls and freckles caught my eye. There was something about her that made me feel nervous. My eyes glanced away, and I felt like I couldn’t approach her. So I sped up and walked away.
When walking into the dining hall one day, she approached me and tried to start a conversation with me. I discovered that she already knew my name. I became flustered and baffled. I felt like a six-year-old talking to a princess at Disneyland.
After that experience, I realized that I had a crush on the girl with the red curls.
Recognizing this, I reflected on my past. Was this the first crush I had ever had on a girl? Or was there more to it than that?
The ending of my seventh-grade friendship caught my attention. Had I confused my feelings of admiration for the closeness and belonging of friendship? What had made me kiss her cheek? What had left me feeling heartbroken?
Love. I was in love with her. From her eyes, to her hair, to her clothes, I liked everything about her. I felt that I could tell her anything. I wanted to make her dreams come true. I took her to a Beatles tribute concert and threw her a surprise birthday party.
Suddenly, everything made sense. Why I made sure that we kept in touch. Why I felt needy long-distance. Why her first high school boyfriend had angered me and led to a brief falling out.
This past winter, she came back to my doorstep. This time, she was with her college boyfriend. He was tall, shy, and handsome. I welcomed them in. She and I hugged. Her rich brown hair fell to the middle of her back. Her glasses still made her eyes look bigger. We talked about what was different and the same. I brought them up to my room.
“It looks the same,” she breathed.
In a way, it did. The pink walls were left the same. Here we were, reunited again. But we had grown and changed. Our friendship had been lost and saved over the years. She was just as beautiful as I remembered. Perhaps a little more so, without the awkwardness of childhood. But for me, it was different. I no longer felt these feelings that used to overwhelm me. But now I had a name for them. Desire. Years ago, I never imagined that I could be attracted to girls. But now, with that knowledge, I knew. That I had admired her back then, and that my feelings had led to my first heartbreak.