written months ago. i’m more chill now (that’s a lie! but i am doing better).
It’s weird to feel like you’re not owed your feelings. Like they’re bubbling up into the wrong well, the wrong place, the wrong time.
Today, I saw my high school crush while at work. I work in retail, and he was checking out at a cash register where I was headed. I don’t wear glasses at work, so I only saw the shape of him – the quilted, corduroy-collar jacket and washed blue jeans – and felt something inside me sicken. I’ve had this fear ever since I started working, that I would run into people that I know. It’s not him – it’s not him – it is him – I realize as I come closer.
I keep my head turned away as I take the register next to his and start making bags. When I say something, to someone else, his head pivots and I’m filled with cold-quick-dread. He calls my name, and I look at him. The entire reaction lasts maybe a minute, him asking a question as a customer comes to my register and my attention is split neatly like an atom.
“How are you? What are you doing?” he asks. He’s lost weight, and the bags under his eyes have carved crescents into his cheeks. In a second I see his everything and nothing – the hair, cut carelessly, that hovered between gold and brown.
“Um, I’m here,” I answer. “And I’m freelancing.” I say this as the female customer chatters and puts her items on the register. “I’ll – I’ll let you get back to it,” he says and I nod helplessly, something that is severe and sad and wanting and needing to be closed.
My hands shake as I start bagging her items, answering numbly to her questions. I spend two hours at the register, the shakes subsiding slowly. I pull apart everything I said, and can hardly even remember what he said, or his face. The numbness heats to a thousand-thousand emotions. Embarrassment that this is where he found me. Guilt that I’m embarrassed. Sadness that I can still be affected like this. Anger that I could be affected. Vanity that our first meeting after five years is when I’m sullen, unshaven and unshowered. Vanity that I wasn’t glamorous, or wearing something cute, or that I didn’t tell him I’m a writer. And the deepest, most unmovable anger at myself for being upset, when I know that our seeing each other did nothing for him.
We haven’t spoken in five years, our last interaction being me telling him that I was in love with him, and him telling me I was “brave.” That is a type of shame that still prickles, that even though I offered it willingly and (I told myself) expecting nothing else, that his response was not effusive love, or hate or indifference. It was admiration. There is nothing more sexless than admiration.
I didn’t think of that when I saw him – I was that when I saw him. Suddenly I was seventeen and boiling with angst and hurt and willful ignorance. I would not trade going back to high school for anything after this – I’ve romanticized the forcefulness of teenage emotions now that I’m on medication, feeling that it was a closed chapter. Apparently it just takes a lit match to torch my sense of even-keeledness and reignite every teenaged tumult.
And above all was this sense that I was not entitled to this reaction. I did not date him; he did not love me; I don’t even know if he was gay. We were not star-crossed lovers; we were hardly even friends. I am not deserved these emotions; I have not earned this reaction.
I am, I know and I hope, over him. But my crush on him was so wrapped up in a thousand other things; family issues and body issues and high school and the future and my sexuality and my depression. He is so charged for me, the light switch for every maelstrom I had in high school and thought that I left behind.
I’ve begun to slowly parse my high school experience, understanding how those early years affected me and affect me and will affect me. So I know that my reaction was the culmination and nexus of a hundred small cuts – I’m struggling to find a psychiatrist, I’m tackling grad school education, I’m redefining friendships, I’m not excelling in my field. I’m trying to figure out what post-grad looks like for me.
And that this, the navel of my high school experience, could turn up in a shock and affect me so is unsettling and sad and mean. That I wasn’t over it and that I was in it still without even realizing. That I felt this desperate need to prove to him that I was worth something. That I could be so obsessive in that same way I was when I would Google his name so often that clicking the search bar summoned it without even typing a single letter.
There’s this doubleness – of feeling the emotions as if they are both mine and someone else’s. They are and they aren’t, because I’m not that kid anymore. But in a way, graduating feels like it’s stripped me of that confidence I built in clusters. I’m wayward now; I’m figuring it out. In college, I had classes and friends and a schedule and parties. Now, I have the wide expanse of almost limitless options that do nothing but overwhelm me.
I’m sad, I guess, for a lot of things. “Sad” feels like the smallest and sparest of terms to use, but it also feels the truest. When you boil down all these conflicting emotions, I imagine that there is a small bone of sad clunking to the bottom of the pot.