I have an underlying theory there are people we will fall in love with, deeply, regardless of whether they end up loving us back. Unrequited love is no earth-shattering idea. I know that. Yet I can’t seem to escape this idea that maybe there are people which Time flat-out ignores. We see them—perhaps many months later—and we’re transported back to the first time the idea of loving them really struck us. Namely, you pick up right where you left off.
Part of my homecoming from college took place last night, watching the student-directed shows I had been part of not too long ago. Maybe that was the scariest part: I walked in, and it seemed as though I had never left. But I had. It doesn’t take much time among current high schoolers to figure out that while people may be happy to see you, the focus is on those here and now—not the generations of alumni which have already been churned through the system and then shuffled along to the rest of their lives (which, in fairness, is not inherently bad). It was here amidst my hometown friends on the cusp of graduating I received a reminder of a past one-sided love. One of the shows centered itself on a character named Rachel, reeling from her not-so-recent breakup with her ex-boyfriend Ben (the play takes place fourteen months past it, I believe). As she fails time and time again to break down for the audience the real story about what happened, she eventually caves and divulges a truth equal parts painful and beautiful. When she later runs into Ben and his girlfriend-turned-wife at a coffee shop, she can’t help but note his tenderness, the sheer amount of care in his eyes for his beloved. Along the same lines, her truth is this: she dumped Ben those fourteen months earlier because she had never drawn out this side to him. They very well may have been in love at the time of their relationship, but not deeply. That’s why she shoved him out of her life, despite wanting badly beyond measure for him to remain steadfast, to stay. She realized their love was flawed, that she couldn’t ignite the same spark in him.
Part of my prodigal but also short-lived homecoming from college has meant I’m on a time crunch to catch up with those I love who are still here—all the while I’m still here and not in Europe, California, or Iowa, as my summer will later show. One of these people—the one I apparently couldn’t leave in high school—always leaves me in pursuit, and sometimes it sickens me to think of just how easily I could be wrapped around his finger. While I’m seated in this auditorium I once called home, applauding him and all of my other friends on stage, I can’t help but feel that, in some way, I am Rachel. I watch as his eyes light up at the sight of her, a beautiful girlfriend for a beautiful person. There’s his demure smile, his arm circumnavigating its way around her shoulders. It’s clear he really cares for her, and it’s a tough but equally happy sight to behold. Just as Rachel realizes and eventually ingests her truth, I, too, shall do so with mine. Even though this boy by whom I’ve been smitten is here and, for a moment, in my arms as we hug and spin for the first time after my prolonged absence, I know love is never a light in which he’ll look at me. If our relationship is a colorful painting, the canvas is layered with honest, brilliant shades of friendship, camaraderie, brotherhood. But never love. I wonder if this color scheme eventually led to my downfall.
I left the auditorium last night with soft weights pressing against my heart. Once I started my car engine, I drove the long way home. I let Rachmaninoff play. For a breathless moment, I washed myself in all of the emotions which had bubbled up all at once. Grieving, briefly, at the embarrassment of having part of my heart trapped in high school by him and at the death of any miscreant hopes which remained in my mind, I eventually resigned to let the dead bury the dead. Nevertheless, it looks like my theory about a one-sided plunge into the deep end of love can be true. I just hope it’s not too hard to dry off and maybe try a different pool—or, in Rachel’s case, a different coffee shop.