My problem was that I fell in love too quickly. He captivated me the moment he burst into the classroom half an hour late with his dingy orange backpack slung over shoulder. All of other students gasping in their seats disappeared from sight as my gaze remained fixed on his slender frame in the corner of the fourth grade classroom. He smiled slyly at the teacher seething at the whiteboard in a way that affirmed my suspicions—that boy would wreck me.
His spell, however firmly it grasped me, had no effect on the instructor whose introduction to the curriculum had been rudely interrupted. “You must be Allen,” she said. My eyes remained glued to the boy’s statuesque body still poised in the corner, but I imagine that her piercing eyes, set in the folds of her fat, round face, narrowed intensely as she scrutinized the tardy intruder. Allen merely shrugged and shot her a fabricated, apologetic smile and proceeded to one of the empty desks near the front of the classroom where she stood with her thick brows furrowed beneath wire-rimmed glasses. My lips unfurled into a giddy, gum-filled grin as he strolled past my desk. His deep brown eyes, tinged with honey, didn’t even glance in my direction.
My fellow fourth grade classmates gradually turned their attention back toward the whiteboard filled with the scrawling script from the teacher’s pudgy hand. I continued to stare intensely at the back of Allen’s head as the teacher briefly touched on the history and geography of our great state of California. Her clearly enunciated words transformed into muffled whispers as they reached my ears. Despite my unwavering track record of scholastic dedication, obsessive perfectionism, and careful attention to detail, my thoughts were now consumed with my magnificent future that now included Allen.
His enigmatic charm was so complete that even when my dark brown eyes weren’t staring at him through my thick glasses, I was mesmerized by everything about him, right down to the very last freckle lightly brushing his porcelain face. My favorite childhood activities of drawing, painting, and reading fell by the wayside as I flung myself into a sentiment that was reserved for star-crossed teenagers and grown adults. All I could think about was how much I loved him. I longed to be near him, close enough to smell the scent of his sand colored hair and milky white skin. The fact that we were both still so young didn’t concern me; we would have more time to be together.
My unwavering attention remained entirely unreciprocated. He didn’t care about me. He didn’t even look at me for the first couple of weeks of school. It wasn’t until he needed something from me—a handful of my brightly colored pencils for use in an assigned activity—that he meandered toward my corner of the classroom and parted his luscious lips to speak to me.
“Hi,” he smiled seductively as he traced his elegant fingers along the edge of my desk. “I’m Allen.”
“I know,” I giggled. My excitement at finally hearing his voice could hardly be contained. “I’m Nicole.”
“Nicole,” he repeated thoughtfully. “That’s a pretty name.”
My lips spread to a grin that featured my generously portioned gums. This peculiar smile was the only response that I could muster at the unexpected yet thoroughly appreciated compliment. Allen smiled to reveal his perfectly aligned, pearly white teeth. “What colors are you using for the assignment?” he asked. He picked up one of the pencils that I had carefully laid out on my desk according to the color spectrum.
I quickly rattled off a dozen secondary and tertiary colors. Basking in the glow of his presence made me jittery and my words emerged in a long string of short bursts. “Neat!” he exclaimed when I finally finished. “Then I’m going to use those exact colors too!”
“Really?” I asked, my eyes wide with amazement. Jubilation washed over me. Not only was he showing an interest in me, but he valued my opinion. My tall frame nearly slipped out of my seat from sheer joy. “Of course,” he answered, drawing his flawless face near mine. “Because you’re so smart. You know all of the best colors to use.”
Consciousness nearly escaped me. “Here,” I said excitedly. I offered him my brand new box of crayons that I’d painstakingly arranged from lightest to darkest. “I wasn’t going to use these because I like to keep them new, but you can use them if you want.”
“Thanks,” he said, snatching the box from my hand. He continued hover over me. When I realized that what I had offered him wasn’t up to his standards, I gathered the specialty colored pencils from my desk and presented him with my precious collection. They were the twistable variety, the kind of coloring supplies that never needed sharpening. “You can use these, too,” I offered. “These are my favorite.” Allen grabbed the pencils from my hand and muttered, “Thanks. You’re the best!” With his arms now laden with top-notch supplies, he was sure to have the best coloring pages in the class. He returned to his desk having fulfilled his mission.
That face-to-face encounter cemented the spell that had already seized control of my senses. He could take anything he wanted from me and I’d oblige unquestioningly, do anything to please him, anything to make him love me.
The issue with my fervor was that no amount of effort on my part could have possibly yielded the desired result. Allen’s only concern was receiving all of the material benefits of a friendship without investing any of the emotional components necessary for a more meaningful relationship. The possibility of a budding romance didn’t interest him. He only cared about what he could take from me. And he took, relentlessly. He snatched everything that I could have possibility offered him, down to the last remaining shred of my dignity.
At first, the manipulative requests were relatively minor. A few colored pencils here, some holographic playing cards there. He even sweet-talked me into handing over snacks out of my sack lunch. Whatever he wanted, I willingly gave to him with the hope that he would maybe, finally, open up his stone cold heart to me. That unlikely fragment of a future blinded me and guided my actions.
After a while, when he had sifted through my modest array of belongings, Allen grew tired of toys and trinkets and turned to interior conquests. Possessing the material objects of my affection was no longer enough for him. He wanted to possess me. He embarked upon this quest by isolating me from my only other friend.
Instigating a schism between me and my sole companion wasn’t a difficult task. There were times when Allen insisted on finding a secluded corner of the playground to be alone together. I reveled in these private moments, which fueled the hope that he harbored a genuine interest in me. But as much as I wanted to spend all of my time alone with Allen, most of the time, our friend Erin was there to spoil the intimacy. Erin had been my best friend in the third grade, and had helped me through the difficult transition of adjusting to the new school after moving to the area from another city, but now that Allen had entered the scene, she became a hindrance. Allen saw this, and took full advantage of the situation.
One day, while sitting on the rails outside of the library, he shot me a deep, penetrating stare. It was the first time that his honey-tinged eyes had ever looked at me so intently. My heart pounded in knowing that he was about to confess the words that I had always wanted to hear. “You know,” he started, continuing to gaze into my eyes. “You and Erin and I hang out together a lot, but I have to tell you, I like you the best.”
“Really?” I asked, teetering on the rail in my excitement.
“Really,” he grinned.
“Oh, my gosh!” I exclaimed. “I like you the best, too!” I leaped off of the rail, wanting nothing more than to embrace him, but instead, I ran off to tell Erin how after months of unreciprocated sentiment, I had finally won Allen’s affection.
Erin didn’t believe a word of Allen’s confession, and she didn’t waste any time in confronting him about it. “Allen!” she shrieked from across the playground. She stormed over to where he sat, still perched upon the rail outside of the school library. I remained under the shade of the trees lining the edge of the playground, confident in the permanence of my place in Allen’s heart. In the distance, I could see Erin waving her hands wildly, presumably contesting the facts that had been revealed to me. Allen’s mouth moved in response, and Erin returned.
“You’re such a liar!” she seethed. “Allen told me that he never said that to you. If anything, he likes me the best!” With her poorly cropped hair and resolute scowl, she looked like more of a dog than a child. The mere sight of her disgusted me in knowing that she posed a threat to my relationship with Allen. I defended my position, but the end of recess interrupted the argument. We parted ways, feeling the weight of the wrench that had been thrown into our previously impenetrable friendship.
As if severing my connection to my former best friend wasn’t enough to quench his thirst for complete control, Allen turned to other methods in pursuit of utter possession. His preferred tactic was building my confidence for the sole purpose of breaking it down. He showered me with compliments—how smart I was, how gifted and talented I was, and how he loved spending time with me—only to later claim that he had never uttered such wild commendations. His denials crushed me, but I always came crawling back, desperately clinging to the hope that one of his synthetic acclamations would finally stick.
Unfortunately, none of his slick words ever did. He picked me up with fabricated admiration and dropped me with unfeeling dismissal, over and over again, watching me break repeatedly until all that remained was the dust of the creative, carefree child that I had once been. At my juvenile age, I should have been outside playing and enjoying the simple pleasures of life, but instead, I holed myself in my room engineering new ways to make Allen love me.
Allen’s reluctance to accept me only fueled my affection for him. I started paying more attention to my appearance. I combed out my truncated bob until it grew out in long, thick waves. I upgraded my wardrobe to contain cuter clothes, painted my fingernails soft shades of pink, and sneaked some of my mother’s makeup when she wasn’t looking. I even covered my entire body in a fine layer of baby powder in the hopes that being three shades lighter—and more in line with Allen’s own skin tone—would make me more attractive to him. I would have dumped my glasses if I hadn’t been entirely blind without them. But nothing grasped his attention. He never said a word to me about all of the changes that I was making in an effort to please him. Apparently, I wasn’t beautiful enough for him.
Even so, my heart grieved when halfway through the sixth grade, Allen’s mother suddenly pulled him out of the public school system to educate him herself. The events of the remainder of the school year fell flat as I longed to be with Allen again. I didn’t get to see him again until the eighth grade, when his mother finally came to her senses and re-enrolled him in public school.
After being apart for so long, I immediately sought him out. We didn’t have any classes together, but we frequently passed by each other throughout our cross-campus travels. One day, when I could no longer keep my feelings to myself, I shoved a thick note in his hand as we passed each other in between classes. The five-page treatise, front and back, professed how much I loved him and missed him and how we were meant to be together. My sentiment was met with blatant disregard. Allen spent the rest of the semester purposely avoiding me.
Having just spilled my heart out in hand-written sentiment, his inattention was more than I could bear. My desperation persuaded me to wait for him outside of each of his classes just to catch a glimpse as he walked out. Day after day, I waited for him, hoping that he would stop and say something to me, but he always walked by without so much as a glance in my direction.
After a semester of such callous treatment, Allen finally started talking to me as if nothing had ever happened, like we hadn’t endured two wordless years apart. I didn’t question his sudden change in behavior and instead readily welcomed the attention. His long-awaited company was eagerly accepted as I closely followed at his heels with undying loyalty. The fact that he’d only turned his attention toward me for the sheer sake of material gain didn’t even faze me. I was just so glad to be back in his good graces, that when he merely mentioned that he was in need of a locker to store his mountain of textbooks, I immediately offered mine to him without so much as a thank you in return. After a two-year hiatus, we were right back on the same track of my unquestioning sacrifice. I would have given anything to prevent him from leaving me again.
Ironically, Allen wasn’t the one who was in danger of leaving—I was. My family, which for years had been barely scraping by on the outskirts of the lower middle class, was about to move away to Arizona, where the cost of living was significantly cheaper. Upon hearing that unfortunate news, my dreams of a blissful life with Allen shattered. I couldn’t possibly earn his love from a thousand miles away. He would quickly forget about me if I wasn't in his sights. My desperate quest launched into high gear as I sought out new ways to gain his favor.
When we started high school, we had a wide array of classes to choose from. Knowing that he was interested in being involved in as many extracurricular activities as possible to bolster his credentials, I suggested that we take choir together during zero period—the hour before the actual school day even started. He agreed, and even offered to have his dad drive us. We lived relatively close to each other and he knew that I would have trouble convincing my mother and two younger brothers to venture into town that early each day. My vocals were mediocre and the prospect of singing in a choir terrified me, but I was willing to make the sacrifice for Allen. With our time together quickly coming to an end, I had to take advantage of every moment.
What I didn’t realize was that the choir would be separated into different classrooms, segregated by gender. We didn’t have any other classes together, so my thirst for his companionship could only be quenched during the morning car ride and afternoon lunch hour. Most days, when we had finished eating lunch with our mutual acquaintances in our usual spot under the shade of the big tree in the courtyard, we’d venture off to some secluded corner of campus. I knew that he was only isolating me from everyone else to maintain his hold over me, but I didn’t care. I enjoyed the extra time alone. I always hoped that one day he might lean and in kiss me, but he never did. Still, the hope remained.
With our first semester of high school well under way, the Sadie Hawkins dance approached. My parents had already put the house up for sale and started packing non-essentials, so I knew that going to the dance with Allen would be my last chance to attempt to embed myself in his hard heart. Much to my glee, he accepted my invitation. I was practically bursting with excitement the night of the event. It was my first time going to a dance with a boy, and I couldn’t imagine a more special person. The 1960s costume that Allen had engineered looked entirely ridiculous on me, but he looked incredible in his tie-dyed t-shirt, leather vest, and brightly colored bandana.
That night, I had the time of my life. Allen even danced with me, just for one song. But the best part of the night was when we went through a pretend marriage ceremony and signed a mock marriage certificate, because I still hoped that someday, that would be a reality for us. I didn’t even care that I was moving away. Allen didn’t kiss me at the dance as I had hoped he would, and with the reality of moving away looming over me, my efforts needed to be amped. I knew that Allen prided himself in his control over me, so I did the one thing that I knew would make him insanely jealous—I initiated a relationship with someone else.
I chose one the most disturbing, disgusting boys I could find. His name was Riley, and I knew from Allen’s complaints of encounters with him in choir class, that he utterly despised the young man. I had the good fortune of having another class with Riley that enabled me to observe him closely. Allen might have been immune to my charms, but Riley was easily seduced.
The only trouble came in putting my own disgust aside. Riley possessed a knack for performing the most unusual and disgusting acts humanly possible. Allen had complained that Riley often picked his nose in choir. I witnessed this myself when one day during our Spanish class together, Riley lifted up the bottom of his shirt and started digging out sand from his belly button when he thought that nobody was watching. But I saw him, and he caught me staring, and he stuck his sand-encrusted finger in his mouth, smacked his lips, and said, “Mmm, tasty!” Despite my horror, I knew he would be the ideal candidate to complete my mission.
All it took was a couple of bats of my long eyelashes for Riley to ask me out on a date. He must have been as equally hungry for affection. I hastily accepted his spontaneous proposal for a lunch date on one of our half-days designed to accommodate parent-teacher conferences. He was a year ahead of me in school, but still not of age to drive, and so his mother chauffeured us to the nearby promenade. There, Riley offered me my choice of any of the places on the block, but not wishing for him to bust his budget, I opted for the least expensive restaurant. There was no sense in having him blow all of his cash on a girl that wasn’t genuinely interested in him.
Riley was a perfect gentleman during our date. He opened the door for me, let me choose whatever I wanted from the menu, paid for my meal, and even asked permission to hold my hand. He embodied all of the affectionate behavior I so desperately desired from Allen. It was a shame then, that with his greasy hair, acne-pocked face, and pathetic excuse for facial hair, I wasn’t the least bit attracted to Riley.
My guilt nearly consumed me when Riley announced he had a surprise for me. He led me to a nearby parking garage, insisted that I close my eyes, and allowed me to open them once we had reached the desired destination. Standing atop the parking garage, the entire city sprawled out before us—skyscrapers arranged in clusters past sleepy suburban neighborhoods, tall green trees lining bustling streets, and wide open parks and other beautifully designed public spaces scattered throughout the city. We could even see our school from where we stood. Standing on the rooftop of one of the tallest parking structures in the city, the sight was a visual feast for someone like me who had lived her entire life down at the bottom.
My eyes remained wide with wonder. Despite the sensation of elation growing with me, I couldn’t help but feel disheartened that such a special moment was being shared with someone other than Allen. I longed for him to do something as spectacular for me. Riley was wasting his best moves on the wrong girl.
“What do you think?” Riley asked me after patiently enduring my silence.
“It’s so beautiful,” I whispered. My lips didn’t dare confess that I wished that I was with someone else. He needed to enjoy the moment as much as I did. Despite my heart's objections, I allowed Riley to hold my hand as we left the parking garage and strolled down the promenade. We passed by familiar faces of students who attended our school, but I didn’t care. I wanted to be seen with Riley. I wanted for word to get out that I was with someone other than Allen. Maybe that would finally get his attention.
Allen found out that I had been out on a date with Riley and demanded an explanation. All I could do was shrug. He had years to make his move, and only when faced with the threat of another young man capturing my attention did he finally show romantic interest. He was too late. Reveling in the fact that I had finally done something that piqued Allen’s interest, I tested his limits. I invited Riley to join me and my other friends at lunch. When we sat down under the shade of a large tree in the courtyard, Allen made his feelings for Riley very clear. His scarcely veiled jokes viciously attacked the poor young man’s intelligence, hygiene, and other perceived flaws. He was envious, and I enjoyed that.
Even so, I didn’t think it fair for Riley to endure such relentless abuse, so I offered to spend the rest of the lunch hour alone with him in another corner of campus. We found a cozy little nook in a rarely frequented hallway. We nestled next to each other against the brick wall, thighs touching lightly, but not intimately intertwined. That was an appropriate amount of contact for a couple of kids who barely knew each other. I didn’t really want to be touching him anyway.
Riley broke the silence. “You know,” he said to me, looking deeply into my eyes. “Whenever I have a big test coming up, I like to study.”
“Yeah, me too,” I replied, my eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Studying for a big test was an obvious course of action for someone as perfectionistic as myself.
“No, I mean, I like to practice first.” He raised his eyebrows to embellish the innuendo.
“Oh,” I replied. My eyes widened with sudden realization, then ventured down to his lips. It was difficult not to be distracted by the patchy fuzz accumulated there. I remained still, waiting to see what he would do next. Riley closed his eyes, puckered his lips, and leaned in. His mouth, fuzz and all, pressed firmly against my own. I didn’t move. Our saliva-slicked mash of lips was much wetter than I had been anticipating, although I didn’t have a point of reference because I had never experienced a kiss before. Finally, when we could no longer determine whose spit was whose, he pulled away.
As the fog on my glasses faded, I turned away. I didn’t say a word. “What’s wrong?” Riley wondered. “Was it bad?” he asked nervously. My body shimmied away from his. With knees clutched tightly to my chest, I cowered in the corner and avoided his gaze. “No, it’s not that,” I whispered. “It’s just that I was kind of saving my first kiss for someone else.”
“Oh,” he muttered. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” My body heaved with a large sigh. “That’s okay. It was a silly idea anyway.” The shrill bell resounded through the hall, signaling the end of the lunch hour. Riley stood up from the carpeted floor and extended his hand to help me up. I accepted it, but I didn’t hold onto it as we walked to class in silence. We didn’t talk to each other after that. Ending our newly formed relationship was probably for the best. My family finally sold the house and I moved away just weeks shy of the end of the semester. Tears rolled down my face during the entire six hour drive across state lines. My dream of having the perfect life with Allen was crushed.
After years of emotional abuse, I was so hungry for affection from having my unfailing love unrequited for half of my life that I would’ve thrown myself into the arms of anyone who opened them. It was no wonder then that after my family relocated, I fell into a destructive cycle of sexual promiscuity. If the love of my life didn’t love me back, then there was no point in attempting to protect my virtue and innocence for a noble soul. Having sex with strangers numbed me from the pain of knowing that despite all of my honorable intentions and sincerest efforts, I wasn’t good enough. Nobody that I considered worth loving could ever love me back.
My perception of the opposite sex remained skewed. Any time I encountered a handsome young man, I immediately assumed he wanted something from me. At my pubescent age, such desires typically entailed some form of sexual satisfaction. And, like in my childhood days of unrequited admiration, my desperation for love and affection compelled me to oblige unquestioningly. The semblance of genuine sentiment expressed through physical gratification temporarily filled the gaping void within me that ached to be permanently repaired.
My gross misconception of love cost me the opportunity to redeem my lifelong dream of finally being loved and accepted. As a freshman in college, I made the same mistake of falling in love too quickly. I married that man, and although he treats me kindly and claims to love me, I can’t bring myself to believe him. I can’t accept his love because as sweet as it promises to be, it can’t repair the damage that has been done. I’m trapped in what should be a fairytale because I can’t let go of the nightmare of my past.