I was 14. He was a tall and lanky 9th grader and he smelled like soap, which never should have bothered me but it did. He asked me out during gym class. Our gym uniforms were heather grey squares of shame that hung like curtains off my late-blooming body. I had stuffed my bra with toilet paper before heading out to the soccer field that day, and when he motioned for me to come talk to him and his friends I knew exactly what was coming. “Hey… you got a tissue I can borrow?” would be followed by raucous laughter, high-fives and all the other forms of social currency that popular teenage boys siphon from their victims. But he asked me out and that naturally convinced me it would last forever. We kissed at his locker every day for two weeks, only once with tongue. He had one of the most popular girls in school break up with me for him in the girl’s washroom. We were in our gym uniforms.
I was 15. He was from a broken home and had an anger problem. It would take me years to realize how intrinsically tied together those two facts were. I didn’t actually like him, but I wanted to fix him. I wanted to occupy the most prominent spot on the mantle of his memories. I was determined to leave a lasting imprint, a legacy, a mould that all the other girls after me would try to fit into and fail. We welcomed the year 2000 together sitting on a damp hill with a few friends, hoping for a good view of the city-wide blackout we all desperately hoped would be happening. We had three cans of Coors to share between the six of us. They were gone before the clock struck midnight. We left shortly after, mad about something, mad about nothing. I don’t remember how we broke up, but I can guarantee it was my fault.
I was 17. He was the boy who taught me how heavy the burden of loving me can be. We were long distance, so it happened over the phone. He broke up with me, but I had given him no other choice. He needed to protect his heart and I needed to make more mistakes. Our relationship was relegated to mixtapes of “our” songs, emotional notes scribbled on yellowing scraps of lined paper, movie ticket stubs and photographs from various disposable cameras stuffed into a shoebox-turned-time-capsule that I’ve been lugging around in secrecy from year to year, apartment to apartment, city to city, relationship to relationship. 11 years later I spontaneously invited him to come on a two week trip to Europe with me at the last minute, and he did. We moved in together last week.
I was 20. He was proof that I had yet to learn a single lesson.
I was 25. He was the first boyfriend I ever lived with. Even though we shared a roof over our heads, I was a satellite lover; constantly orbiting around him but always so distant. It’s hard to break up with someone who hasn’t done anything wrong. But there were holes in my heart that were still slowly leaking poison, and I knew staying together would only continue polluting him. I gave him space and I gave him sadness. I hope I gave him bluer skies.
I was 26. He was an artist and I was insatiably in love with the idea of him. I tried and tried – embarrassingly and unrelentingly tried – to mould him into someone he wasn’t. He had the emotional maturity of a peanut and I was poison ivy wrapping myself slowly around him. We went to New Orleans together for my 26th birthday and I drank enough red wine to convince myself it was working. He broke up with me over the phone, the weekend after he met my mom. We were only together for five months. I stayed single for 2.5 years afterwards, learning how to fall in love with the idea of myself.