I don’t know. (by Salvatore Bongiovanni)

“I don’t know.” Those three words ringing in my ears like the clock tower on Old Main. I was desperately grasping for the right words. Damn it Sal. She’s right there. How many times did you rehearse this in your head? That’s it. Let loose. COME ON. Nothing. It’s as if my brain couldn’t pick an emotion and just decided, “Screw you, you’re going to be paralyzed, so deal with it.” One hot jumbled mess of everything I had felt for six months, culminating in being rendered speechless right in front of her. How could you not know? Is that what you’re going to respond with? I felt like I had been cheated. Like she had broken the rules or something. You don’t get to say that. It’s your turn now. I did my job. It’s not fair. But all I could force out was, “Okay. You just have to let me know.”

cupids-accident

There were only a few weeks left of school and everyone was more than ready for summer vacation. Flip flops and shorts made their way out of people’s closets and into the hallways. Final exams stood between the students and their freedom. I was nearly halfway done with my high school career and had no idea what the future held for me. AP Courses, SATs, and college applications waited in the wings; everything was moving so quickly. With all this on my mind, I walked into the chorus room, waiting for my last class of the day to start. There was an elongated break before chorus would start, which meant extra socializing time of course. The other tenors and I were discussing what was going on that weekend when she called my name. I went over to the piano where she was standing, “Hey, Lizzy.” I don’t remember what she said or what she wanted. All I remember is a sensation racing through my body. After engaging her for a few seconds, I had this feeling like I had been slapped in face. Call it cupid’s arrow if you’d like; I don’t care. But it was an incredible crystalizing moment where everything just made sense. I had never been so caught off guard by my own feelings. All I could think was, “Wow, she is so beautiful.” It was as if I was seeing her for the first time in my life or through a lens I had never looked into before. It was something I thought was only possible in a Hollywood film.

I had never had a girlfriend and there had really only been one other point in my life where it was even really possible (unless you want to count my semi girlfriend from Preschool, which nobody does for some reason). But Lizzy was nothing like anyone I had ever liked before. She wasn’t the prettiest girl in school. She wasn’t the most popular girl in school. She wasn’t the most interesting girl in school. But in that split second, that one moment, she became all of that to me. I can’t explain it, and I probably sound like someone who’s been watching too many romantic comedies, but it was a staggering moment. I looked at her blue eyes looking back at me, talking about who knows what, and it just… happened.

So we started texting regularly and I eventually brought her to the beach one day over the summer. It was me, Lizzy, and our mutual friend, Ben. When Ben and I were alone, I decided to ask for his help with Lizzy. “Oh my God. Sal I had no idea! Is that why you brought her here?” I suppose it was. I don’t know. I guess I just thought that if I could get her to a brand new place outside of school, we could connect on a different level. When she returned, Ben casually brought up the topic of who we liked. Lizzy teased us and wouldn’t tell us. “Come on. Tell us,” I pleaded, trying not to sound too desperate. We were treading water in the ocean at that moment and it was appropriate, because what came out of her mouth made my heart sink like it was a hundred pound block of lead. “Henry,” she said. “Henry? My…my best friend Henry?” I staggered. “Yes! Oh my God he’s so cute!” I floated silently while Ben and Lizzy discussed what she had just said, but it was just ambient noise to me. I just wanted to be somewhere else. I wanted everybody gone. “You barely ever talk to him though,” I blurted out, not wanting to believe this was real. “I mean, I wouldn’t know what to do,” she said sheepishly, “You’re our only mutual friend. Would you help me?”

Am I going to help you get with my best friend? A guy you never talk to? A guy you have nothing in common with? A guy who has literally never given you the time of day? Is that what you’re really asking me to do? “Uh. Yeah I guess I’ll help you.” She thanked me a million times. I was happy at the prospects of us talking on a more regular basis, but not happy about what the purpose would be. Did I really want to do this? Could I even do it if I wanted to? Someone needed to help me make this decision.

I’m not sure why I went to Carter. Maybe it’s because we were two of the only people left on planet Earth who still used AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) more than Facebook and he was always online. Maybe he was just online at the right time (or the wrong time, depending on how you look at it). But he’s a trustworthy guy. Confident. Carter is someone who you know is thinking through is choices logically and does what he does for good reasons. He was skeptical at first when I told him my situation. “You want to be doing this for the right reasons, not sabotaging her or being selfish,” he said. And he had a point. It was important to do what I wanted to do, but not at the expense of my friends. So I said it was what I wanted (which it was at the time) and he wished me good luck.

I needed that luck. For three months every conversation was “Why isn’t Henry talking to me? What else do I have to do for him? I don’t understand.” We would talk online and video chat for hours on end. In the beginning it was all about him. I felt invisible. I’m right here. He doesn’t even look at you. Look at me. But as time went on, it became less about him and more just about us. It became two people just really getting to know each other. Our ins and outs. Our secrets. Everything. Through all the late nights when we both could have been sleeping and all the time we could have been actually getting our work done she became the best friend I ever had. Someone who I wouldn’t go a day without talking to. I knew she liked me. I knew we were meant to be together. Hell, I even rigged Secret Santa at Christmas so I could get her a present. We were perfect for each other. The problem was, everybody else thought so too.

“Do you like somebody?” Lizzy’s twin sister Trina had pulled me aside during lunch to talk to me. “Um. Maybe,” I said, half laughing, “Why do you ask?” “Is it someone that I know?” “I’m not telling you Trina.” “Is it someone that I know?” “It might be.” “Is it someone who…lives in my house?” Real subtle, Trina, “I told you I’m not telling you.” “Okay, well. If it is, I just want to let you know that I approve. And your secret’s safe with me.” It was nice to have her on my side and I really appreciated that conversation. I felt like I really had a chance at being happy this time. But Trina was just the first to figure it out. Soon all of our friends knew and before long, realized that Lizzy was kind of taking advantage of my kindness.

“You can’t string him along like this,” they would say. “Why don’t you just date him already?” “I still don’t know about Henry, though,” she would say. “Sal does all these things for you, listens to all your problems, and you and Henry literally never speak. You don’t even make any sense.” This all went on without me knowing of course, but they were right. I was starting to think that what once seemed mutual had turned into a one-way street. I was constantly venting to Carter about everything, “I don’t understand what I did deserve all of this, man. I just don’t. How can she just lead me on for so long?” “Listen, after everything you’ve done for her, if she still doesn’t want to be with you, she doesn’t deserve you.” So I decided to finally talk to her about it. No more beating around the bush. We were going to talk this out whether she liked it or not.

It was a Monday. I was lying on my couch staring at my phone. It took me ten minutes just to send the text, “Are you home? I need to talk to you.” Before Lizzy got home I went on Skype with my friend Megan, who also knew what was going on. I was nervous, more nervous than I had ever been before. “I don’t think I can do this. I don’t even know what to say.” “Sal, look at me. You can do this. You deserve her,” she said, “Pretend I’m Lizzy. Now say it.” We rehearsed until Lizzy signed on. I still wasn’t ready, but Megan hung up on me so I had no choice. I called Lizzy and I just said it, “Look, I know you probably already know this, but I really like you. And I just thought you should hear it from me rather than our friends,” and I finally exhaled. She was speechless. Completely speechless. As if that moment hadn’t been building for months. As if she hadn’t known I was eventually going to tell her. Nope. She stared blankly at the computer screen and kept on typing away doing God knows what. It was almost as if she pretended not to hear me. She sputtered back some nonsense, even though she was clearly trying to distract herself from what I had said. And for the next hour and a half I tried to get an answer out of her. It was basically, “No I don’t like you right now. I did for a little while, but I don’t anymore. But it could happen in the future, I don’t know.” “I don’t know.” Thanks for clearing that up. How is it possible for you to continue to string me along even after I talk to you straight up? She even acknowledged she had feelings for me at one point, but apparently she stopped. My heart skipped a beat at that one. “Okay. You just have to let me know.”

It eventually boiled down to her not wanting to be with me. It was one of the hardest realizations I had ever had to come to, but it was true. We promised each other we would still remain friends though (because that always works out, right?) so I decided I would ask her to the prom. Was it denial? Today I would probably say yes. But then, all I knew was there was nobody else I could see myself going to my prom with.

Customized M&Ms, “Lizzy” “will you go to” “prom with me?” Imagine those three quotes on three separate candies, coming out of a mini candy dispenser in order; did your heart just melt? Yeah. That’s what I thought. Everything was perfect. My best friend and I were going to go to prom and it was going to be awesome, right? Right. Until Trina called me one afternoon, two days before I planned to ask Lizzy. I was at my friend’s house and stepped out to talk to her. She told me Lizzy didn’t want to go to prom with me. There wasn’t even anyone else she had in mind. It just couldn’t be me. The only one that actually wanted to go with her.

After that, Lizzy and I stopped talking. Well, let me rephrase that. She stopped talking to me. The girl who had become my best friend, my rock, had deserted me. Cut me off like a hangnail, like I was a disposable part of her repertoire of friends. I spiraled downward. I was nothing without her, or without our talks at the very least. I lost so much and she made me feel like it didn’t even faze her. I was at my low point. Lizzy had disappeared from my life. My hopes were crushed and my best friend was gone. My life, as I knew it, was over; at least that’s what I thought.

The next few weeks became some of the most liberating of my life. Within less than a month, my braces came off, I killed it on stage in my first lead role in the school musical, got a smoking hot date to the prom, and even had my first kiss. Ever hear that every action has a reaction? Well I was feeling about the strongest reaction I could have imagined. I felt like a brand new person. I became who I still am today: someone who embraces life’s hardships and uses them to improve myself.

Although I never received the apology that every day I hoped for, I know that I am a better man because of it all. I went through a process that all boys have to go through at some point. I now know not only when to stop chasing a girl because she doesn’t like me, but when to stop because she doesn’t deserve me. I’ve still never had a girlfriend; I guess I just haven’t found someone yet who was worth all that effort again. But I know when I find her I’ll know it. I’ll have that same crystalizing moment and it will all start again. But I have gained a mindset from that chapter in my life that I have taken to heart that will stop me (I hope) from repeating my own history. I don’t fear what comes next, but instead I wait in anticipation. I look forward to the cleared pathways and open doors that await me that I don’t even know exist yet. I intend to embrace everything about my life for however many chapters I have remaining, and I can thank Lizzy for that, if for nothing else.

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