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Lost Love from a Hopeless Romantic

By Aerin Cuff, Virginia State University

Second Place Winner, Creative Nonfiction, 2022 VSU English Department Writing Contest

Once, I met a girl, and I can’t tell if this was an unfortunate or fortunate event. She was not just like any other girl either. She was the type of stranger you see on the subway and think about for the rest of your life. It was kind of criminal if you think about it. The way she just stormed into my life and shredded my brain into pieces. It was truly pathetic.

I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. I can’t remember a time in my youth when I didn’t have a crush on someone. My crushes were my motivation for everything: doing well in school, socializing outside of my small group of friends, and looking presentable every day. Literally everything. It was almost as if having a crush was the only thing keeping me stable.

It didn’t take much to send me into the frenzy of a crush, either. It could be as small as holding the door for me or asking me how my day was, and then: BOOM! It was a crush, ladies and gentlemen! Lockdown set done, deal! My heart was officially theirs for the keeping!

Well, keeping for the time being.

I remember the first crush I ever had. I was at summer camp during kindergarten. My first ever summer camp, to be exact. I was so excited but nervous, too. I was going to play at school for the whole day with kids my age, which was great because that meant no little sisters running around in their diapers refusing to put their pants on as our nanny chased them around the room. However, I was scared as any 5-year-old would be. It was my first time alone all day without my parents or our nanny picking me up early. I remember my mom saying, “Aerin, you are the strongest girl I know. I know you can be a big girl. You are going to shine the brightest today, my little star.” She kissed my forehead like she does every time she calls me “her little star.” And so, I believed her that would be true. She would never do anything to hurt me because she loves me and you don’t hurt the people you care for.

His name was Billy. He had a short buzz cut and blue eyes with specks of green glinting against them. I remember that he always wore striped polo shirts too. The iconic look of the early 2000s. He was the first one to play with me at camp. I think that’s what made me like him. He went out of his way to play with me instead of the other kids. It made me feel special. Someone wanted to be around me that wasn’t my family. He didn’t have to hang out with me, but he did. We played together all summer. Every time we put puzzles together, read a picture book, or when he held my hand as we went down the slide together, I felt my heart flutter. That was the first time my heart fluttered against my rib cage for another person. My crush on Billy soon dissolved, though, as we went to different schools afterward.

My crushes came and flew as the seasons flew by too. I would develop a crush on any boy that showed the slightest bit of attention to me. Nicky, who held the door for me: crush! Ian, who purposely sat next to me: crush! James, who winked at me: crush! Crush, crush, crush! My crushes were always one-sided love. I would not dare to let anyone know my true feelings for them. The shell blocking my heart was too hard to crack to just let anyone openly have it. I could easily give others my love on my sleeve, but openly telling them was an ultimate defeat.

I remember the first crush I had on a girl. Before her, I never had a crush on a girl before. Sure, I thought that other girls were pretty before, but this was different. It was different but the good kind of different. It felt more genuine. My crushes for boys never felt this deep compared to girls. For boys, my crushes would diminish as quickly as they came. But, for a girl, I could look at her for hours and it would feel like seconds. Compulsory heterosexuality and denial definitely had a chokehold on my brain for a while. I would associate friendships with crushes with boys because there was no real difference to me in that aspect. Honestly, I liked the attention from boys and being validated for my attractiveness by them only. I remember getting jealous when my friends got into relationships with boys. Not because I was jealous of her but because I was jealous I was not him.

Her name was Rachel. She was effortlessly cool. She was the kind of girl that rock bands wrote about. She wore a shiny nose piercing and bleached blonde hair that contrasted against her brown skin. She was proud, cunning, and ruthless. She made herself known in everybody’s presence and was unapologetically herself. She always questioned everything about existence and pushed everyone to their limit. The first time I saw her was in the hallway walking to English class. Just the sight of her made my heart flutter against my rib cage.

The first time I actually talked to her was at a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting at school. The meetings were held in the studio art classroom. I can still smell the scraps of the pencil and paper flowing throughout the room. The desks were covered in dried paint, that Rachel and I would spend hours picking at. I remember that I was so nervous around her that my tic and stutter were creeping back into my body as I said hello to her for the first time. She said that she liked my nail polish. It was nothing special, just navy blue polish that started to chipped across the tips of my nails. I laughed at her compliment and told her that I liked her jacket.

Our friendship blossomed from there. We would hang out at school and on the weekends talking about films and music. She would take me to pick out records and pins while I trailed behind her like a puppy. My one-sided crush dug deeper and deeper throughout the year as our friendship grew. Well, that was until she talked about her girlfriend that went to our neighboring school. Ah, the halt of young infatuation!

From Rachel, in sophomore year, I’ve had crushes come and go from there. It was all a great system.

Step One: Meet someone.

Step Two: Develop a crush over the most minor thing they do.

Step Three: Let the crush develop until my heart explodes.

Step Four: Meet a different person.

Step Five: Develop a new crush.

Step Six: Cycle continues.

This cycle continued until I met her. Yes, that her. We met how any college young adults meet in the 21st century: through the internet. To be honest, I didn’t expect this crush to go far. They usually last a few days until I go on with something else, but she was different. I could tell from the start that this crush was not like one of my usual crushes. I couldn’t get her out of my head.

It was the way she carried herself. She made everyone look like they were not anyone. She was truly and utterly breathtaking. When she smiled, it felt like a million butterflies took over your body and soul. Like you were floating on a million clouds. She had a dimple that only appear on her left cheek when she smiled really hard. It drove me crazy. She had all the stars and moon in her eyes. She dressed as if she had just traveled back from 1986. She told me once that “fashion is meant to be kept weird and groovy,” as she showed me the painted cowboy boots.

From the start, our conversations were long — they were never-ending, really. I could talk to her for days about absolutely anything. She talked about the universe from ours and the potential universes she hopes to live in one day. She could find a way to make anything a worthwhile topic of conversation. She liked to make playlists about everything. They were always so specific and uniquely her. She cared too; about every living thing on this planet. I admire that about her. She wanted everyone to be cared for and loved for. She taught me so much about the environment, about art, and about music. All the things that made her herself.

When we first met, I was nervous. She was unlike anyone I’d ever met before. She was everything, and I was just me. We met in the city of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, and she took me to all her favorite places. The day we spent together felt endless, like the sun was refusing to leave, like it just wanted to continue to glow in our presence. Everything we did together that day felt like it came right out of a cheesy romance movie. We walked the city lines to the dog park gossiping about the dog owners all the way to the used bookstore, where we browsed the literature while the owner’s cats accompanied our journey. I remember how we went to the art museum afterward and how she talked about the impressionist era with passion for days later. When the sun took its final performance that day, we were sitting on a bench at the turtle pond. She held my hand as we watched a group of turtles swim around the pond as the early spring flowers started to bloom right before our eyes. She held my hand. My. Hand. My heart and brain never buzzed so fast as they did at that moment.

I’ve always believed in love. Like I said before, hopeless romance runs in my blood. From early on, I knew that she did not feel like any other crush. Every time I thought about her I thought that my heart was going to beat out of my chest and made the butterflies in my stomach form a tornado. I don’t know if I’ve really ever experienced actual love that was not platonic before. However, if I try to describe my feelings towards her, I think it could’ve been that. I believe that it probably was that. She was my first love.

As days turned into months, my emotions grew deeper for her. I didn’t think anything could change how I felt about her, however, the saying goes that all good things must come to an end. Our communication just came to a halt one day. Out of the blue, she said that we should not talk to each other anymore and blocked me from all our communication outlets, without any further explanation.

I remembered how I did not cry at first. I sat on my couch in disbelief for an hour. I anxiously picked the red polish off my nails because this was not really happening. I know that we both cared about each other and that this moment is not actually happening. I needed to get out of my room, so I drove aimlessly until I hit the mall parking lot. I watched the sunset into darkness before I started to cry. The fat tears rolled down my cheeks uncontrollably and violently. I could barely pull it together to go home. So, I sat there; alone, in the parking lot crying until I physically could not cry anymore.

Sometimes, I still think about her and why she decided to hurt me. Was it something I did? Was it something I said? Did she meet someone else? Was I not good enough for her? Why didn’t she just talk to me? From time to time, I thought that I was the problem. Maybe if I was a different person things could have been different? In an ideal universe, we could have talked this out. There would be no heartbreak, no tears, and no unrequited feelings.

I’ve experienced pain before, both physical and emotional, but nothing compared to the heartbreak I felt when she cut off all contact with me. I couldn’t even bring myself to leave my room for days. I felt embarrassed and weak, like I was nothing but gum on the bottom of someone’s shoes. Maybe it hurt so much because I’m a person who loves too deeply or maybe it hurt so much because I made the mistake of loving her deeply. Because you don’t expect the person you love to hurt you. You don’t expect the knife to plunge into your heart or expect it to go in that deep. It hurts to know that I probably didn’t mean much to her but she meant everything to me. It hurts, even more, to think that I might not be good enough for anyone.

Since then, the crushes have stopped. I expected some new crush to step in to save me from my pain, but my crushes have yet to appear. It was hard to feel like myself again, after this heartbreak. I did not want to put myself back out there for anyone emotionally. My motivation to strive and my determination shifted after her. I did not care about my appearance, motivation, or actions. My soul was a tornado, ready to tear apart anything or anyone that came my way. Instead, I tore myself down for a time, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Before her, I did not know that the amount of pain that one soul can cause to another.

It’s still hard sometimes to put myself out there. Or even to truly love myself. I see others in romantic relationships and subconsciously desire the same for me. After her, I realize that self-love is the only love I need at the moment. I realize that in order for someone to truly love me that I will have to start loving myself back first. I want the same smile I gave all my crushes to appear when I look in the mirror. I want to feel the joy that others give me for myself. I want to love myself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Someday, I hope to experience the same love I give to others, but for now, I think it’s time to start giving the love back to myself.

About the Author

Aerin Cuff, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a senior psychology major at Virginia State University.

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