“Can I confess something? Now that I'm a little drunk?” the text message read. “I definitely had a little crush on you in high school.”
My eyes widened, my body buzzed, and I shielded my phone's screen from anyone squeezed around me at the very dark and crowded bar booth I was smushed into. I suddenly was not the girl who had recently taken her top off in a photobooth (#freethenipple), or who had crafted quite a successful career for herself in a city far, far away; I was a shy 15-year-old who painted horrible Kurt Cobain murals in art class, painstakingly ate dry salads at lunch terrified of gaining a single pound, and who broke up handsy couples as a job at the local skate rink. With one text, my hands began to sweat.
Let's call him.... Jake Ryan. Or Jordan Catalano. I recall spiked hair, Hurley and Fox Head T-shirts, steel bluish gray eyes, and little else. I don’t think I knew him as a person at all, just this boy figure whose mom handed out alcohol to kids like candy and cups of warm rum and Coke that I would sip on, looking for the liquid courage that was supposedly a thing that happened and made you do things you weren’t supposed to.
At that age, I hadn't learned that boys needed to be punched in the face to notice you (or you could have boobs; mine were entirely average). I thought being quiet and introspective and pretty did it; too many John Hughes movies and reruns of “Gilmore Girls” where girls read big books alone against trees and boys fell in love with them in 90 minutes.
I doubt it was even that sexual, my crush. I didn’t have much to go off at that point sex-wise, and I was too impatient for dial-up Internet porn. I did read a lot of romance novels hidden in library aisles though. I knew so many synonyms for different body parts.
It took 10 years, but I wasn’t that girl anymore, and was spiraling away from her even faster than ever. I had grown into a curious, voracious-for-experience writer who had accidentally dated a 70-year-old man once (he looked like Sean Connery), developed a hot mistress-y relationship with a successful Upper East Side married couple, asked for what I wanted; I even had a therapist! Like a real adult! How could this one boy undo all that togetherness in one dizzily-texted message one late night in October?
He looked exactly the same when we met up a month later, except he picked me up in a black Malibu from a dinner I elusively escaped from (“Jordan Catalano is picking me up, bye” I said, and downed a tequila on the rocks), and I feel like he wore his “nice jacket” on purpose.
Save for Facebook stalking that led to casual Snapchats that led to heated texting that led to late-night sexting, we had not seen or spoken to each other in 10 years. Ten years ago, I was a virgin who couldn’t drive, literally.
I wish I could have told you it was awful. Like it was once, with someone else. The guy who I lusted after in orchestra, the “bad boy of orchestra,” if there is such a thing. That had been awful.
He had dated my best friend, and he rode a moped; he had floppy blond hair and oozed teenage boy sex. When he finally invited me alone to a party in his friend’s dank basement, his hand was clammy down my shirt and his tongue like a thick wet slug down my throat.
When I think back, I really did have quite a laundry list of adolescent crushes. Why is it so easy to find love (albeit unrequited) in those few puberty-laden years and now I can barely find a man I can stand to hear talking for longer than five minutes? No, I don’t want to hear about your fucking stock options, which trains you take to work, what you pay for rent, or what protein powder you use in your morning smoothie. Plus, your band sounds awful and I know that T-shirt isn’t actually vintage.
I wish I could say that with Jordan Catalano/Jake Ryan it was the same, that he was boring and awful and smelled like substance abuse problems; but he was completely lovely and smelled better than anything. Like a high school crush should smell. (Later I would find out that it was some deodorant called Swagger, which made me mildly hate myself for succumbing to terrible male marketing).
We drank, because as an adult it’s more fun than nausea-inducing, and he eye-fucked me in a way that made me lose sentences inside my head. I can’t think of a single smart sentence that came out of me all night. I giggled like a stupid girl, and complimented him too much. Then he said the single sexiest sentence in the history of the world, the sentence that both starts and ends everything: “You wanna get out of here?” I didn’t even know that real breathing humans actually said that, but it worked so hard.
The chemistry was, to pick an overused word, intense and dizzying; the details become hazy as they do when sex is not just good, but goooooood. Lost clothing, sounds his roommates probably/definitely heard, and a small heart-shaped bruise that would hang on the edge of my lip for three days. The kind of sex you wish you could have as teenagers, except instead it's usually awkward and disappointing. Thinking about the snuggling afterward even makes me melt a little into a small Alex Mack-ish puddle on the floor.
The next morning when he dropped me off at my childhood home (a house or two down, actually), I was a little sad, because what had I gained from being so quiet and fearful all those years ago?
As I grinned through the rest of the day (“Why is your skin all glowy?” I was asked twice) I struggled to organize real feelings, warm post-orgasm feelings, and the feelings of a 15-year-old girl with a crush on a boy. That girl was still there, writing emo poetry and passing notes, swirling hearts in notebooks, looking through her overgrown bangs waiting for a boy to notice her and think that she was pretty. I told her not to worry, that I was strong enough now to take care of her myself now.