I remember everything about the very first moment I saw him -- really saw him. We had been in the same class all year, but for some reason, on that particular afternoon I looked over my left shoulder to the back row of the lecture hall, and my gaze automatically landed on him. Even though this was years ago now, I can still see the sparkle in his eyes as he laughed with the guys next to him. His dimples accentuated, his forearms resting on the desk in front of him with his checkered button-down shirt sleeves just slightly rolled up. "He is cute," was the only thought in my mind. Too cute for me. It wasn't until months later that we actually spoke, but I always go back to that very first moment purely for its tranquility. Before the pain, before the chaos, before the hurricane that we became.
He was my first real love. I had been in relationships before, but this was different. I was hooked from that very first moment in the lecture hall, and I was done for good when a turn of events led to us (innocently) sharing a hotel bed after a formal. I fell deeper in love with him as the unassuming spring melted into a summer of city sleepovers and walks by the water. It happened so fast that we did away with the formalities, and with a single nonchalant statement (as was his style): "I consider you my girlfriend," so I became.
The years passed. Lust faded. Trust splintered, then shattered. Uncertainty and insecurity kept me up at night, even as my body lay next to his. Even when he slept with his back to me, which became more and more frequent, I would press my body to his and will my breath to synchronize with his. Anything to feel connected to him, as we drifted further and further apart from one other.
Our final year together, my heart broke more times than I ever knew was possible. There can't be more pain than this, I thought, but I was wrong. We took turns destroying each other, like a twisted game, using our individual arsenals of betrayal, words that ripped like daggers, abandoned promises, and - the worst of all - indifference to the other's suffering.
Sobbing. My body heaved with sobbing. Text messages begging him, "Please don't do this." I had never begged anyone for anything in my life, but here I was, in fetal position on the couch in the middle of the day, sending desperate pleas via text message for him not to leave me (again). "I don't see any other option," was his blunt reply.
Hours later, he took those words back. Not even hours after that, I took him back. The debilitating pain from that day and the panic of realizing what he meant to me never left the back of my mind.
We met our end. We had already died multiple times before the day finally came when neither of us could find even a shred of strength or a scintilla of willpower to fight for what we once had.
We were over.
With time, he and I moved on. We even became "friendly," again. Or at least we have stopped giving death stares to the person who brings up the other's name in conversation. The tearful nights and emotional exhaustion are just memories. But not everything heals.
I'm not back to "normal," or how I was before I met him. I'm worried that I never will be. My wholesome naivety is gone, eclipsed by cynicism and distrust. Now that I've met someone new, and he's so charming, sweet, and intoxicating -- I am so incredibly afraid.
I didn't realize how scared I was to fall in love again until he reached for my hand. His touch sent electricity through my body as if my nerves couldn't interpret what this foreign gesture was. While a kiss from someone new is strange, it's strange in an open-ended, intriguing, question mark kind of way. Just like that first time in the lecture hall years ago, even though he and I had known each other for a while, there was a distinct moment that captivated me. I saw him from a distance, talking to my friend. His black T-shirt fit his (perfect height) frame just right, and as he ran his hand through his hair absentmindedly, I thought, That one.
And that's why I'm keeping my distance.
My first love ruined my innocence in showing me firsthand the devastation that two people can cause each other. Two people who were supposed to love each other. He introduced me to the kind of heartbreak so intense that it actually feels physical as if you can feel your insides ripping, a bottomless pit in your gut, a void within you that you never imagined could exist. He showed me what it feels like to be in a vacuum of solitude, the reality of the world outside a distant memory, where all that exists is you and that indescribable pain. Because of him, I know what it feels like to be so incredibly lonely, lonelier than I had ever been in my life, even though he was lying right next to me. He taught me to hide my deepest insecurities and the weakest spots in my armor, or else risk having them be used against me in the next fight.
He showed me that love fades. And that when it does, it can do terrible things to people.