My friend Cloe and I started a podcast for our school newspaper. We invited him onto an episode to discuss a community service project he and a friend had started. He slid into my DMs two days later with a “hey.” I didn’t respond at first: What do you say to just “hey”? Do you say “hey” back?
He cut straight to the “asking out,” though. No “talking stage.”
Our first month together felt like the second verse of “Fifteen” by Taylor Swift on repeat:
And then you’re on your very first date
And he’s got a car
And you’re feeling like flying
It was October. Most places were still closed. Yet I think we found every crack in the pandemic code. He took me thrifting and pumpkin carving and places to watch sunsets. On the way back from Malibu one day we went to the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, which was, unsurprisingly, crowded and half-masked. A favorite pastime was taking 21 Choices frozen yogurt to go.
I asked on our second date, “Can I stain you with lipstick?” He thought I was going in for the lips, but I’d never kissed a boy there before, so I held my hands over his eyes, pulled down my mask and pressed my mouth to his cheek. I didn’t do a very good job. It looked like bloody murder.
As we went to places around Los Angeles and Southern California I’d never been — and even to places I had — it all felt so different. I’d never felt so in touch with this city made up of so many different cities, even driving down palm-tree-lined Oak Street in South Pasadena suddenly felt so L.A. — dreamy. Does Southern California from the passenger seat of dream boy’s car become what it’s supposed to be?
He actually wasn’t very dreamy. He kept things very real. This would all end when he left for college in August. I thought we’d at least have summer.
In April, we were making plans for our next date when I asked him if he had any ideas, anything he wanted to do.
“I don’t know,” he said.
What kind of an answer was that? What is there not to do in the city of dreams?
I wanted to drive Angeles Crest Highway, check out DTLA, Venice Beach, Laurel Canyon, Sunset Boulevard, Grand Central Market, the Hollywood sign, Palos Verdes. I wanted to go to all the essential Los Angeles spots with him before he left for college.
I think that’s when I knew it was over. It officially came to a close when he came to pick me up that Saturday. I had wrapped myself in his sweater and was already crying to Taylor Swift (“Last Kiss”) before he arrived.
There was a bag of Lindor chocolates for me on the passenger seat. He asked me how my day was. I lied and told him it was good. Then he pulled over.
“Can we talk?”
It was expected, but I was still at a total loss for words. For a second I frantically looked for a way out of his car.
After a moment all I could say was, “Now?”
“I don’t have time for a girlfriend.”
I asked him if spending less time together would make a difference. He said no. And that was it. Over the next hour, we made small talk. At one point, I asked him what he was thinking about, and he said something about the constellations, and I teasingly condemned him for not thinking about me on this fine last night together.
Soon, it was after 11 p.m. and he had work the next day. Besides, I couldn’t ask this person who had suddenly become a stranger to hold me any longer.
I asked, “Can I stain you with lipstick?”
I wanted it to be a full-circle moment before he dropped me off one last time. I wasn’t wearing any lipstick. I just wanted him to remember. But he didn’t.
At the curb, I thanked him for our time together, gave him a hug and, as a last hurrah, made him roll down his window for a last kiss before heading into my house.
I sobbed in the shower. I watched half of “La La Land.” I listened to more Taylor Swift. There was a mountain of tissues toppling out of the trash can. Cloe came over first thing the next morning. I cried in her arms for two hours. It felt like nothing would ever be all right.
Cloe promised me everything would be all right. We’d have fun all over L.A. Exploring the city would compensate for the loss of a first boyfriend.
One day I realized that I hadn’t cried about missing him for more than a week. Cloe was right. He’s since left L.A., off to college where he will meet new people. I want to leave L.A. too when I go to college.
But I want to explore it more before then.
Cloe and I can take the train.
The author is a senior at South Pasadena High School. She plans on studying sustainable development in college and recently founded the youth-led environmental justice educational campaign, @antiracistplanet. She is on Instagram @amberonradio.
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