A letter to myself about my first love:
I see you, scrawling poetry across notebooks.
Driving into the deep of night, crying to Linda Rondstadt songs. Your heart is battered and swollen. Still, over and over again, you try and believe the words he sometimes utters.
Mostly, you believe in your own feelings. They are fire-orange, streaked with the darkest purples, and they rush through you, drenching you, staining you, blurring your vision.
This is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life, you think. Even when you were a young girl, you dreamt of this ache. At night, to help you sleep, your mind created scenarios. You and the boy you had a crush on were ice skating, tracing long, curving ribbons into the ice, a soft pink sweater matching the cold blush on your face. Until crack! The ice broke, and you were underwater. Suddenly, the boy appeared, in all his third grade brawn, and lifted you out of the freezing water. He wrapped you in a thick blanket—because third grade boys tend to have blankets on hand—and carried you home, falling in love with you all the while.
You wanted submersion. You wanted drama. You wanted chenille and candle sparks. You wanted the sweet beginning.
But this? This is not that.
He hands you small scraps, and you squint until they look like treasure.
But because it has taken so long, because until now, you always had crushes on people until they liked you back, at which point you darted away, a litany of your former crushes’ flaws flashing like ticker tape. Because of the way he gets close and then vanishes, leaving you chasing after the tracer of light he flickers. Because he has rooted deep inside of you, his branches twisting and coiled. Because what you feel now feels more like love than anything else has, because it washes all those crushes away, and leaves them hollow and sandswept.
Go ahead and fall for him.
Go ahead and nearly lose yourself. Drink too much. Cry into your sweater when you hear the rumors about him and other girls, when he doesn’t call, when the moon glows. Get lost in the sweet torment of heartbreak songs.
And then, leave.
Drive and drive and drive. Toss yourself at other boys. Stand at the other coast and stare at the waves until your mind goes clear, and for just a moment, you don’t think of him.
When you hear he has a girlfriend, toss the stuffed animal he once gave you into a river.
Learn that as much as unrequited love stings, it aches when it leaves, too.
Know that it never truly fades all the way away.
Know that there will be something left of it, always, some deep, buried relic, tucked away in a corner of your hidden heart, glowing flecks of orange, trickles of purple. Don’t be ashamed of that. It is what our hearts are made for.
Know that even though it hurt more than you could’ve imagined, and you nearly lost yourself along the way, you didn’t.
You will learn so much. That love is not just the fiery beginning. That it’s made up of small kindnesses and deep listening. It’s made up of staying long enough to weave a history with someone. It’s the slow drip of shared secrets, and road trips spent arguing. It’s letting someone else see your ugly cry, and remembering the sweets that they like best.
You, my sweet girl, will be okay.
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Image: Felix Russell-Saw/Unsplash
Editor: Catherine Monkman