1. ‘Cody’ was my friend’s brother and the only one who didn’t gasp as I lowered all seventy pounds of me into the crowded hot tub. “You’re disgusting,” one of the girls said, with awe, my first experience with the appropriation of insulting words as compliments. Later we spun a champagne bottle on the cold basement floor and I landed on him. My hair smelled stale from pool chemicals as it brushed wet against his face. He was my crush that whole year, until he didn’t make it into advanced math and I grinded with another boy at the seventh-grade dance.
2. In middle school I remember making a list of boys I could like, based on the criteria that they were in advanced math, honors English, and Gifted & Talented. There were only three who met these rigorous qualifications. I liked the first for a month in seventh grade, and only gained the courage to talk to him years later. The second was always rumored to like me, and never quite acted on the opportunities presented to him. I did not love the third boy as much as he loved me, even though he took AP classes and had blond hair.
3. Sophomore year I went on an exchange trip and stayed with a boy who was not nearly as cute as the hosts of my two friends. He took me to a rock concert in Paris and constantly offered me cigarettes, even though I didn’t smoke, as though he had confused me with someone else. He said he loved me, lying under the climbing wall that had been built over his bed. I sobbed the whole plane ride home, and promptly forgot about him when I returned to America. The two friends I’d gone with decided to forget about me, too.
4. After it ended I still listened to the playlists ‘Evan’ made me, a masochistic exercise. So little happened, really—and from this I learned how the intensity of hurt doesn’t always correspond to actual events. It was especially lovely at the beginning because we were friends. For the same reason, it was more painful in the end. He started it, kissing me one night in the dark of his silent, cavernous house. And again, weeks later, tangled in the backseat of his car. He didn’t ask me to his prom, and I wasted a whole year being sad about it.
5. ‘Malkom’ took me to prom when ‘Evan’ didn’t. He told me I was beautiful with such urgency that it almost convinced me of the opposite—if it was so obvious, I wouldn’t need to be persuaded. I still cringe when I drive past the point in the road where he confronted me about my feelings. His face went stiff when I said I liked someone else. Years later I saw him at college and he looked right through me. I found comfort in this, that each of us was a ghost to the other. That maybe he no longer hurt.
6. “He looks at you like he’s in love with you,” was the consensus offered by a friend. She was scared by your intensity. You wanted to marry me. I teased you constantly. You were upset that I didn’t tell anyone about us. I showed you my writing. You were the reason I broke a few hearts in succession—just to see what it felt like, just another attempt to understand you. I still keep your secrets. The aftermath of you is the reason boys complain they never know me—I was never so unguarded again. I loved you, deeply, probably.
7. ‘Spencer’ was that third boy from elementary school. I feel worse about his pain than mine. He claimed he’d loved me since kindergarten. We were together, finally, at the end of senior year. I let him take me to prom and at the beach afterwards he did not kiss me. We spent that last summer going to movies and exploring trails and making out in houses that belonged to neither one of us. He asked who had hurt me. In August I left for school and he cried. He wanted to wait for me and I would not let him.
8. I liked ‘Jamal’ from the first day when we’d shaken hands and there was an electric spark where he touched me, convincing me of a cliché I’d never believed. We flirted ambiguously for weeks. One day we were listening to music on his bed and he ran a finger along the inside of my arm. The first solid declaration. We kissed between open doors on a speeding train. We could have died just as easily. He was a secret. After a few months he suddenly stopped speaking to me. I’m not sure why but he hated me in the end.
9. ‘Aaron’ liked my writing. He confessed rushing things because he’d never had a girlfriend at school. The second time we spoke he kissed me. I rolled my eyes at his jokes. I liked him more when he was words on a screen. We talked on the phone for hours over break. I didn’t sleep with him. I blamed this for the fact that he hooked up with two other girls a few weeks later. “It was only physical,” he said. I ended it. Later he embarrassed me in front of my friends. I could never look him in the eyes.
10. ‘Jeffrey’ was a PhD. candidate I met on the Street and assumed was an asshole because he was attractive and wearing another school’s jacket. I was drunk and walked to the grad college with him. I gave him my number afterwards, not expecting him to remember. He invited me to restaurants, movies—a taste of dating in the adult world. He was the best kisser of them all. But it wasn’t exciting, like how I imagine a stale marriage might feel. It made me question whether you can have both stability and passion. He texts me and I don’t respond.
All. They were blue-eyed secrets. I was embarrassed by each of them, at some point. They made the first move. At one time—for one breath, for two years—I thought I loved them. My guardedness at first intrigued and eventually frustrated them. They liked music. They were privileged. They were exceedingly intelligent. I found things to hate in each one of them. We were quiet together. We were very, very loud. They refused to let me pay for things. I ran my fingers through their hair. They loved me more and less than I loved them. They all mattered.