I’m taking a fiction class right now. I love it. I love the ways it stretches me to grow as a writer– to exercise my empathetic imagination, refine my craft, to communicate clearly and soulfully and to be receptive to the stories that ask me to be told. On Wednesday I am turning in my portfolio for my fiction class for a final grade. I have spent way more time than I ever imagined I would on one of the stories I am submitting. This story, A Girl Like You, A Boy Like Him, is the biggest creative risk I have ever taken. As any artist (or really anyone with a soul–everyone) will tell you, honesty is an essential component in anything, in making any piece worth while. You can tell if a piece is not “telling the truth” or is holding something back. It has a certain hollow twang to it where a satisfying, full tone should be. Inversely, if a story is unabashedly honest, you really feel it. It works, and it makes you feel something.
In A Girl Like You, A Boy Like Him, I allowed myself to tell the whole, truthful story as it occurred to me. I didn’t back away when it started to look scary. No, I sat with the story and let it tell itself to me. Then I labored (joyfully) in the revision process to bring out the completeness of what it already was. I am happy with this story because it has taught me a lot about honesty and the resulting empathy and compassion which pour forth as a result of revealing such a vulnerable, real, sad, story without fear.
This story is about love, and the ways we look for it, and how we want it more than anything else. We crave wholeness. Sometimes we mistake its source.
A Girl Like You, A Boy Like Him
You didn’t think that you’d find a boy like him. You thought you would be crying on that bathroom floor forever on those weekend nights. You thought that you would always be holding air in your outstretched palm instead of the warm hand of someone who loved you. You thought you were not going to be loved because the girls at school called you fat. Because they looked at you and smiled but you knew their eyes were pretty paper cut-outs with demon eyes underneath, tearing your body to pieces. Because they thought you were worse than them, or something. You thought you knew what they were thinking because you could feel the cold heat of their presence. You knew that they were wrong when you found him.
How did this happen? You brought him to you through your laugh and kept him there with your humor and your hand jobs. You never thought things would turn out as they did—you on the floor, all nights of the week, hands out for no one, eyes cinched shut, trying not to cry. But first there was the summer night on the hill.
When you agree to sneak out with him after your parents fall asleep, your life feels complete. You stuff your bed with pillows like the rebellious kids in movies. You don’t think about how that trick never works. You can’t think that far. You are singing in your head as you fish the carton of organic blueberries out of the refrigerator, the yellow light spilling out of the door into the dark kitchen like a portal to heaven. You tuck a doughnut from the Safeway bakery into a paper towel and set the berries and the pastry next to each other like an old couple on a bench, by the door, and wait in the dark at the kitchen table for him to arrive.
Your stomach is numb and trembling with the feeling a good girl gets when she breaks the rules, but you’re high on the summer night and the light of the moon. You already have your phone out when he texts you. You tell him you’ll be there in a second. Slowly, you transfer the house key from the family coin dish to your pocket, moving your fingers gingerly, nervous that every clink of change will reverberate down the halls and wake your parents. You leave the house, lock the door and never look back. You drift into the silvery night and let the aura of your home roll off you as you step outside. When you stop with him to get gas at 2am you watch him pay with his credit card, fiddle with the nozzle and stand in the night. You think about how perfect he looks in that old sweatshirt and those jeans. You only see your dreams.
He drives you to the hill by the bay and shuts the lights of the car off. You get out and step into the tall grass at the side of the road and savor the itch of it on your bare ankles sticking out from the bottom of your jeans. A glowing curtain of moonlight reflects off of the dark water and engulfs you like a wedding shroud. You haven’t touched him yet and you still aren’t sure how close to walk to him as you both make your way up the hill, giggling and using your cell phones to light the path. You emerge from the heavy sulking scent of a copse of eucalyptus and come into a clearing. He spreads out the cheap Mexican souvenir blanket that he has in his trunk and you sit down, still not too close to each other. You munch on the blueberries, the carton in between you and him. The light on the bay illumines his face. You can’t believe this is real and your head feels fuzzy. He looks up and begins to point out the constellations in the sky that he says he knows. You have no idea if he is telling the truth and you never could see Cygnus—ever—but you agree with him every time he shows it to you, on this night and on the nights after. You both sink back onto the blanket and you bravely put your head on his chest and feel his heart through his sweatshirt. At this point, you can’t conceive of the taste you’ll acquire for his body, the addiction you will mindlessly feed. But on this night on the hill, the moment is as warm as love and it holds you in a real arm, with tenderness that surprises you. You are glued to the innocent warmth of his body, never imagining anything else. Not yet.
Eventually you both get up, fold the blanket, and walk down the hill and before you get to the car he points to the night sky and begins to map out Scorpio. You aren’t looking at the sky though. You only see his eyes. When you ask him to show you the sky again, you gently take his chin in your hands and kiss him, without your tongue, just with the softness of unpracticed lips. You impress yourself with how romantic you are. The way you float back to the car, holding hands in the dark, almost defies the emotional gravity the future will bring. You cannot imagine anything past this moment. If you knew what would eventually happen, you would have gotten out of the car and walked home. But the thing about summer nights is that they pretend to be eternal, though the logical part of us knows that summer is just a season.
It isn’t long after the night on the hill that you discover each other’s bodies. You are over at his house and still moist with chlorinated water after jumping into his family’s pool. His parents aren’t home and later you will wonder if everything that came after this wouldn’t have happened if they had been around. Your swim suit is damp and sticks to your body so that when you find yourself on top of him on the floor, he can’t pull it off of you as you kiss him, with your tongue—a dangerous tool you haven’t used before. You have to help him pull it off and from there you end up in his bed and it is there that you learn what humping someone is. It comes naturally, like riding a bike, because you tell yourself you know what you are doing.
Over the next few months, you will become more familiar with his bed than with your own. You will be able to smell his sheets, and feel his sweaty body, and his uncut nails raking your back long after you stop seeing him. You forget how to not have sex, how to sit on a hill and listen to the heart of a boy. Instead you have your face in his pelvis, tasting his sourness. You will wonder what happened to kissing under a fake constellation. You will forget how it feels to be held.
But before you learn to forget, you return from the hill. You get out of his car and hug him under the street lamp a few houses from your own. It’s 4am. You go inside your house and take the pillow lumps out from under your covers, and sit on the floor in your underwear and think about how lucky you are. You don’t think about your body. You don’t think about what might happen next. Nothing else can happen next from your point of view. You have reached nirvana. But the sun comes up, as it does every morning, and with it comes light, and the light brings the reality of things. And this reality dissolves the coolness of summer nights. But you never paid attention to this phenomenon before, so you didn’t think to start paying attention to it now.