A Brown Girl's Collection of Firsts
Based on a True Story
It was the summer before seventh grade when I picked up a tweezer for the first time. With the amount of body hair I had, I quickly realized I needed a razor too. I focused on clearing my skin and evening my skin-tone. My mother said that the summer sun had charred me again. I was determined to have light, smooth and glowing skin by the end of August. My thick, frizzy curls had been kept up in a pony-tail until I got my hands on a straightener. I called it my "seventh-grade-glow-up" starter pack. Did I want a boyfriend? God knows, with the amount of books I read, I wanted the whole fantasy. Little did I know, I’d actually have it.
I was a short, brown nerd growing up. Surely not because I wanted to. It turns out, you can’t be brown, smart and socially inept without being classified a loser, a nerd and a loner. I wanted to change my shameful reputation as the girl who’d let you pick on her. I was the girl who'd kept quiet when you joked about her dark skin, her ponytail, or her pungent lunch box. No, this fateful year, I’d be the first girl in the seventh grade to glow up and be welcomed. It started with going to school with my hair out. I still remember staying up until 12:00 am, making sure every fine hair was pin-straight. Then, I showed up to school with my thick eyebrows threaded for the first time. The salon lady called them ‘patches of fur’ that she forcefully shaped into decency. My skin started to clear, my hair was always kept neat, and my sense of fashion was evolving by the day. I finally smiled in the mirror at the sight of this newly deserving citizen I called me.
But let me be clear, I did not intend to get the attention of the most popular guy in school that year. Never in a million years did I think I’d actually be Jaden’s type. Plus, I actually had a massive crush on his best friend. Jaden was famously known to be in love with Lauren. She was the hot, athletic tom-boy who strategically flashed her girly side when the moment called for it. That meant that every guy on the soccer, basketball and volleyball team had a massive crush on her. Jaden secured his position as the best player on all three teams, making him the only valued competitor in getting Lauren’s attention. He’d liked her for all of sixth and part of seventh grade. Back then, that was love, and everyone thought they were a match made in heaven.
I never had a thing for sports. Instead, my favourite part of the week was going to band practice, and everyone who took instrumental music was forced to play in the school band. Not everyone was a fan of it, but I absolutely loved playing the trumpet. It was my spirit instrument. It could be beautiful, nasty, melodic, disruptive and everything at once. Playing the trumpet felt like controlling the most vital organ of the song; carrying the most hitting melodies, it allowed the audience to feel the soul behind the music. When I went to band practice, it was the only time I could scream my soul to the world and truly be heard. Through the sounds of my blaring trumpet, I played each note like my dying breath. I wrote myself into every song and controlled the room with my sound alone.
Jaden played the saxophone during band practice and sat in the row in front of me. Guess who my best friend was during band practice? Out of everyone there, it was Lauren. Yes, every practice, we sat next to each other during band and played our trumpets. Even though she wasn’t perfect at it, she tried and I always helped her out when she felt like she was underperforming. Lauren was a sweet girl, and I saw what Jaden saw in her. She was humble and kind. She was playful and charming. Her surroundings didn’t control her mind like it did mine. She was her own person, in control and happy.
When Halloween came around, I was determined to show up in an eye-popping costume that would blow people’s minds! So, I chose to be a gypsie. Give me some credit; This was a brilliant costume for a 12-year-old girl to think of herself. I put together a costume with everything I could find at home. I patched together a long beaded skirt that my mother carried with her from Sri Lanka, an off-the-shoulder blouse, a silk-golden shaul and layers of gold jewelry. These were essential items in a Sri Lankan household, and so putting it together proved easy. Still, being wrapped in gold, with a traditional red lip, and my curly hair down, I felt beautiful.
When I went to school, some people were impressed. Others gave dirty looks. One teacher saw me at lunch and went to another class to make fun of me. It turned out to be Jaden’s class. But October 31st was the first day I noticed Jaden giving me a weird amount of attention. He bumped into me in the hall after lunch and stared at me oddly. Yes, that’s all that happened. But you have to realize, nobody ever looked at me. So this moment was ingrained in my memory as the first time somebody saw me who was forced to.
Around November, I noticed Jaden starting to sit right in front of Lauren and I during band practice. I thought he was trying to make a move on Lauren, so everytime he sat near us, I’d nudge her and joke around. Jaden kept turning his head back to stare at us and it made me feel weird. I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there, like I was disturbing an undeniable chemistry that was reserved for people like them. Nevertheless, these thoughts never stopped my trumpet from being the loudest, best-sounding instrument in the room, and I played it passionately.
Finally, Winter Break came to relieve us of our workload, giving everyone some time to relax. This meant that I could lay in bed, snack and watch television endlessly. My only responsibility was attending my Bharatanatyam dance classes, which only came around twice a week. So, my winter break became a cycle of eating, binging shows, laying in bed and skyping my friends. There was nothing better in the world for a twelve year-old girl. But one night, something very strange and unexpected happened. Someone added me to the popular kids group chat.
Yes, there was an entire group chat designated for the popular kids. This was where they planned their infamous outings to lazer tag and did secret santa. They gossiped like their lives depended on it and played nail-biting games like Truth or Dare, Never Have I Ever, and 21 Questions. It was like a middle-schooler’s playground for flirting, bashing and games. I only talked to one girl in that group chat, Naija. We were in the same class for sixth grade and became friends before she was claimed by the popular kids. After that, I didn’t hear much from her until that night.
She said she added me because someone in the group chat wanted me in it. Like that wasn’t scarily suspicious at all? Jaden’s best friend, Kareem, was in the group chat. I’d had a crush on Kareem for all of sixth grade. Part of me hoped it would be him. Interestingly enough, the only person who gave me any attention in the group chat was Jaden. I thought he was just being nice, but it seemed he had other plans. Before we get into that, I should let you know that the entire grade knew about my uncontrollable and overwhelming fear of popular kids.
Yes, I said it very often. “I’m just afraid of popular kids, I don’t want to go near them.” I had to say it, because when people started to notice my glow-up between the sixth and seventh grade, the loudest comments came from the popular kids. They were inviting me into their group. Now, I’ve watched enough movies to know where that would lead me. It was a known cliche. I’d constantly crave their validation and lose myself in my desperate attempt to be ‘one of the cool kids’. If you still don’t understand what I’m talking about, just watch any teen movie made in the late 90s/early 2000s: Mean Girls, 13 Going 30, Love Don’t Cost A Thing, Easy A ( just to name a few). These movies were my bible. Plus, the popular kids were the same kids who bullied me growing up. I knew they wouldn’t like the real me. So, it was an entirely logical fear, backed by secondary sources and first-hand experience.
Naija knew this when she added me to the group chat. In fact, everyone knew this when I was added to the group chat. This made it all the more embarrassing to text 20+ people about myself. Some were trying to be too nice, and others were ruthlessly insensitive. I expected as much. Naija texted me privately, urging me to talk more. She reassured me that no one was scary, to which I reassured her that I’d kill myself if I had to be in this group chat for a second longer. And then it happened, Jaden texted me privately.
At first, I jumped out of my bed and ran laps around the house to calm my nerves. I screamed like a child and texted my best friend on Skype because I was so nervous. My heart was running a million beats per minute, staring at the word “Hello”. I thought he had made a mistake. Part of me also thought he pitied me because I was afraid. Then, he texted again. “You there??” Not really. I was floating outside of my body, watching an awkward, anxious 12-year-old girl deal with the most unnatural and unexpected interaction of her life. Jaden was top-level popular. The kind of popular that barely talks to the popular kids unless you’re “cool enough” for him. I was the polar opposite. The kind of loner who couldn’t even make it with the loser crowd.
“Yea, I’m here. Hello” I say, fingers shaking and all. I blinked and he was already typing. He wanted to know why I wasn’t typing in the group chat. “Did Naija send you to ask me?”, I asked because it sounded like the most reasonable explanation. “No, I was just curious”. Well, he didn’t need to be so damn curious. Go worry about Lauren, I wanted to reply back. But instead, he texted me the most terrifying words I could’ve imagined: “Why are you so afraid of popular kids?”. My god, this kid had no filter. I didn’t even know him! But that didn’t stop me from answering the question. “Because they make me nervous. Just bad experiences in the past”, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy him. He wanted all the nitty, gritty details. We texted until 4am that night. I told him about being bullied in elementary school, and how it shaped my perspective on popular kids. He told me about his family, and playing soccer. Every so often, he said something remarkably sweet. I almost thought he was flirting. He said that he’d never met a girl like me, and that he found me mesmerising. I found myself to be quite annoying so this was a pleasant surprise. I barely slept that night. My emotions were all over the place! The most popular guy in school noticed a nobody like me? Was this some alternate reality, or had I been reading too much YA fiction lately? Was this was what my dad meant when he said that manifestation was real? I had to tell my friend about it over Skype, so I spammed her about every single detail.
Jaden texted me the next day too. “I couldn’t sleep at all last night because my heart was racing too fast”, he told me. Mine was too! It was something I’d never experienced before. We texted until 5am that night. And for every day of the Winter Break, we continued texting each other constantly, all day and all night. Every day, he found a new way of telling me how much he felt for me. It drove my heart crazy. In the back of my mind, I wondered if he did this with Lauren too. It felt so special between us, but still, I had to ask him. “It was never like this with her. That was more of a friendship, but with you, I feel different”, but different how? “Different like I can never get you off my mind and when you text me, I get butterflies in my stomach”. I felt the exact same. When he told me things like this, I felt like the world was nothing more than us, secure in our little bubble.
“Last night, I had a dream about you”, he texted me one morning. The scary part is, I had a dream about him too. “What happened in the dream?”, I asked. “We were walking together through a forest at night. I kissed you under a tree and a large owl flew over us. It was funny because you instantly screamed and ran into my arms ”, he told me. “An owl?” I had never seen one in real life. “Yea, it was quiet and mysterious, reminded me of you”, he said. “I woke up smiling. It’s the best dream I’ve ever had”, and my heart melted at those words. “What was your dream about me?”, he asked. “We were sitting near some bushes and talking… you had your arm over me and kissed me”, it was as much as I could say without crossing any lines. We actually started making out in the dream and I woke up with more than just a smile on my face. Later that night, I asked him if we were only talking on that couch. “No… we moved to the bed later”, he said shyly. “What did we do on the bed”, I asked, trying to hide my eagerness. “We cuddled, and did some other things…”. I could tell he was holding back, but I needed more. I eventually got much more out of him, and it’s safe to say, I experienced my sexual awakening on a whole other level that night. It ended with him telling me how much he liked me. “Our dreams feel so out of reach with you being so far away from me”, I typed sadly. “They wouldn’t be dreams if they weren’t slightly out of reach, but I’ll make sure our dreams come true. I wouldn’t have it any other way”, he replied. After that, all I could do was tell him how much he’d been on my mind, and how he made my heart go wild. I’d never felt this much for a boy, and I’d never met a boy like him before. He was so kind, warm and loving. It made his heart go crazy when I said things like that. But I loved complimenting him because he’d said things like, “Great. Now I can’t stop smiling, everyone thinks I’m crazy”. I was smiling down at my phone like an idiot too, and he was making me go nuts.
That winter break was life-changing. It was the first time I truly felt attached to this idea of love. I was only twelve, but to this day, I’ve never felt something so powerful. But as the break ended, our little bubble became less secure. We were so nervous to see each other at school. I was a different person at school, and so was he. Here we had an open and secure relationship through a screen, but it couldn’t easily translate to real life. We’d never even spoken to each other in real life. I barely even looked at him at school! Suddenly, we were supposed to be with each other? Safe to say, we didn’t speak to each other for the better half of a week when we came back. Everyday, I hoped that he’d come talk to me because I was far too nervous to go speak to him. And everyday, he’d come closer to me. On Wednesday, he slowly approached my classroom at lunch. On Thursday, with the help of his friends, he sat in my classroom at lunch. On that fateful Friday, I finally worked up the courage to be with him during lunch. We hung out during recess too. Slowly, we started doing secret meet-ups throughout the day. Now that I look back, our relationship was very private during the seventh grade. It was hard adjusting to the social norms of middle school. It wasn’t normal seeing a girl like me being with a guy like him. For some reason, his feelings looked past all of that. But that didn’t last for long.
Jaden had an older brother in the eight grade, Aiden. He was just as popular as Jaden, and practically ruled over the school because of his age. Aiden thought I was awkward, and to his credit, I definitely was. Everything about socializing with the popular kids made me uncomfortable. The only one I trusted was Jaden, and I wasn’t about to uproot my entire personality to fit in (Mean Girls, 13 Going 30, Love Don’t Cost A Thing, Easy A). But maybe I should have, because Aiden’s disapproval of me was the breaking point of our relationship. But it would be naive to blame it all on him.
Many unexpected things happened during the month of April. Everyone started noticing our budding relationship. Hell, my band teacher was making jokes about us during practice! Suddenly, she called out Jaden and referenced me. “Oh Jaden, don’t worry, we all know how much you love the trumpet players”, making everyone in the room die of laughter. The next day, some guy scratched out my last name in the attendance folder and replaced it with his! Everyone called me by his last name from then on. “You should take notes from her, Jaden. She knows what she’s doing”, my band teacher blurted in front of everyone. In her defence, I did know what I was doing. But so did Jaden; He was beautiful at playing the saxophone, even though he hated it. I loved that he could do something so beautifully despite hating every second of it. He impressed me constantly. His grades were so much better than mine, he had an endless list of extracurriculars, and every single person in the room wanted to be friends with him. You can understand how special it made me feel when he said he loved me. Of all people, he saw me and loved me. When I heard those words, nothing else mattered to me. Not his popularity, or his talent. Because when I thought about him, I just thought of the person inside, with a heart so kind that it could kill. Unfortunately, conflict eventually found us and unfolded in the most middle-school way possible: rumours.
Yes, rumours went around about us– or more specifically, me. Apparently, I only wanted to use him for his popularity. It all started when I naively said something in the girl’s bathroom. “I don’t even like him that much”, I rolled my eyes at my friend who was teasing me for being in love. “We’re just friends, cmon”, I shrugged because I knew we hadn’t made anything official yet. Unfortunately, the nosey eight-grade girls in the bathroom thought otherwise. A few careless comments can snowball into a reputation-defining rumour in middle school. Little did I know that this would turn into “She doesn’t even actually like him. She’s just using him because he’s popular”, and everyone truly believed that. Suddenly, I was a “bitch” and an “attention-whore” who was manipulating him. Had I messed things up for good? Jaden quickly caught onto the rumours and got mad, for good reason. Thanfully, he wasn’t a total douchebag. He heard me out and believed me when I said it wasn’t true. I mean, why would I even want to be popular? Popular or not, we connected and love was love. The only guy I actually cared about was him.
But Aiden didn’t want to see that, and I don’t blame him. All he could see was what people told him. His friends didn’t like me either. Jaden's closest family friend kept tormenting me with racist comments. I felt like I was constantly surrounded by people who didn’t approve of me. I had to have done something wrong. This was my first time feeling this way, and I couldn’t understand what the right way was to express that. I could watch an endless number of rom-coms and still be lost on how to navigate a middle-school relationship! But the echoes of alienation rang through me, blaring a nasty tune that still plays in my mind today. How quickly did people react to an unfinished story, and what chance did I have at telling mine? This was our breaking point. He told me he didn’t like me anymore, and for the first time ever, I felt a soul-crushing heartbreak.
I was at the library when I received the message. I ran to the library bathroom and cried my heart out. It felt like a hole ripped into me and the tears became never-ending. This was also what I found love to be: never-ending tears. It hurt to see him at school everyday, acting like everything was normal. But I sensed the heavy feeling in my chest was from more than just this. It screamed a loud word that I’d try to silence for the majority of my life: unwanted. The feeling of being unwanted isn’t really the worst part at all. It’s the knowledge that you are unwanted that stings the most, and anything which reminds you of that earns a special place in hell. Sad songs occupied my playlist for weeks and I sat alone at lunch. I lost all my friends when things got bad with Jaden. Apparently I was in too much drama and all I talked about was him. I wasn’t a very fun person to be around.
During the last few months of seventh grade, I was assigned to sit with Parker and Daven. Daven was the funniest guy in class and we’d been friends all year. Parker and Daven were my saving grace. They managed to make me laugh until I cried, every single day. I suddenly grew very close to Daven at this point. Apparently he was interested in a girl and needed advice. He was interested in Sia, who sat near the back of the class. Over a few weeks, we texted and talked every day. Daven was different. I was comfortable around him. We sat close to each other in class everyday and sat on the grass together after school. Everytime he made me laugh, I felt my heart repair a little. He wasn’t popular or insanely attractive like Jaden. He just had a personality that made you fall in love with life. With his beautiful eyes and his addictive smile, he made my heart go wild. All the while, I was helping him get Sia to notice him and even though I didn’t want to, I fell for him.
But getting over Jaden wasn’t that easy. He was still playing on repeat in the background of my mind. He was still the first person I looked for when I walked into a room. Maybe if Jaden was truly out of the picture, I would’ve really explored things with Daven, but that’s not how things unfolded.
At the end of every year, our school hosted a trip to Cedar Ridge for the entire school to partake in. The Cedar Ridge trip was our school’s annual camping excursion, and everyone (who was willing to pay $500 to be around mosquitos for a week) went. It was never my thing. The idea of staying at home and binge-watching shows sounded like a better use of my time. Plus, I saved an endless amount of money by doing so ($500 sounded like a million bucks to a seventh grader). Nonetheless, this trip was the climax of every year. This was the time to make a move on the girl you’ve been crushing on all year. Huddled together late at night, you’d spill your deepest, darkest secrets to each other and become bonded together by the cedar wood and firepits. After the year I had, I was not looking forward to hearing about everything that happened on the trip. My chest felt heavy at the thought of Jaden doing something with another girl. Most people went into Cedar Ridge single, and came out in a relationship. I don’t know what they put in their horrible-tasting food, but it scared me to think about what Jaden would do, or more specifically, say.
It was during the last night of the Cedar Ridge trip when Jaden confessed that he lost his virginity in the boys' cabin. “To who?”, one boy asked. “Christina, she’s a family friend who comes to watch me play soccer”. All the boys went wild. Of course, Jaden would be the first to lose his virginity. Had they seen him? Then, it was Daven’s turn to confess something. To the entire cabin, with Jaden watching keenly, Daven confessed that he had a major crush on me, and that he’d make a move. “I would’ve made a move on her at Cedar Ridge but she told me she wasn’t coming”, he confessed with disappointment. “Yea, she doesn’t like camping. She likes staying at home”, Jaden replies. The tension in the cabin was impenetrable that night. You see why I chose to stay home?
I had a friend in that cabin, listening to everything closely for me. Aaron had been my friend since sixth grade and I’d helped him through his parent’s divorce. I didn’t ask him to listen in for me, but he felt partially loyal to do so. At first, I asked him who Jaden was around. He admitted that he was around his friends for the most part. Apparently, he was just enjoying his time there and didn’t make any moves on anyone. This was insanely relieving. I thought I had nothing to worry about, but then Aaron told me about him losing his virginity. I knew it had to have happened after we stopped talking, and it already hurt to think about him moving on. Thinking about him actually having sex with some girl after what happened with us? This was a new level of pain. I had to find this Christina girl and see what she was all about. I immediately left Aaron and wept in the bathroom. I did a lot of crying in the bathroom, it seems. Then, I scoured the internet to find the girl he lost his virginity to. Kids these days lose their virginity at the age of eleven. You can’t be surprised that I took this seriously, because it felt like my greatest nightmare had come to life.
I found her online, and she was hot. She had full breasts and brown skin with pin-straight hair like me. I felt physically sick after finding out. I didn’t know that my heart could hurt so much. When I went back to school, Aaron told me about Daven and what he said. But I realized how much I still felt for Jaden, and I couldn’t bear the thought of continuing things with Daven. It wouldn’t be fair when my heart was already in Jaden’s firm grip, crumbling all over again.
Right before that school year ended, Jaden texted me again. He said he wanted to see me one last time before the summer vacation. I was confused, but also desperately missing him. We met at our usual spot, the back stairwell. I told my carpool to wait while I talked to him. And there he was, waiting for me near the doors. We talked for a while but I could hardly focus while he was looking at me like that. His eyes were so deeply filled with sincerity. “Could I have a hug before you go?”, he asked kindly. I tried to hold back my smile as I said yes. And that's when I felt him. His arms held me tightly against his chest. Half a second went by, but he only held me tighter. That’s when my guard fell and I gripped him like he was the single thread of my existence. I couldn’t let go, and neither could he. I’m not sure where it came from, but it felt like our unspoken feelings were poured into that last hug before the summer began. We’d have to go two months without seeing each other at school. A minute went by, and we still held each other. People passed but I didn’t care. He was warm, and I missed the scent of his jacket. We only broke apart when my carpool came looking for me. My eyes smiled into his and with that, we said our goodbyes for the year.
I wish I could say that’s where this story ends, but that’s only how we began. Because that summer, he messaged me. Our thirteenth birthdays were in July, but his birthday was two weeks before mine. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anxiously counting down the days before his birthday. I wanted to talk to him, even if it were just two words. When he replied back to my message saying thank you with a red heart, it gave me hope. But see, this cycle of having soul-crushing hope and receiving nothing but disappointment was unhealthy. My best friend at the time saw that, and she helped me realize a way out of it. So, the weeks before my birthday, I went out with her and tried to find my self-worth again. I slowly started to accept that things were lost between us when I didn’t hear from him after his birthday. And I was not entirely healed when he messaged me on my birthday, asking for a second chance.
That night, he confessed that he lied about losing his virginity at Cedar Ridge. He wanted to see if Aaron would come back and tell me about it, and he was right because he did. He also said that Christina made a move on him but he didn’t find her attractive at all. I accused him of lying because she wasn't entirely unattractive, but he made his disgust pretty evident. That made me laugh. In that moment, an enormous weight instantly lifted off my chest. I didn’t realize how heavy my chest had felt until I’d been relieved of it. I still missed him with my entire being. I knew that soul-crushing weight would come back if I didn’t have him back. It felt like a gift from God to have him back in my life again. I cried a lot that night, but happy tears this time.
Almost overnight, things went back to how they were when we first started talking. But we knew where we went wrong the first time. That summer, we met up constantly and rode the bus to a nearby town. I still remember cuddling with him in those bus seats and spending the entire day together, discovering this new town together. He knew how to take care of me the entire time. Holding his hand and walking down those beautiful streets was enough to make my heart soar. We both agreed that it was the best day of our entire lives, and it only got better from there.
When the school year began, we slowly got back into the groove of things and around October, we made things official. I was finally his girlfriend, and he was my boyfriend. Over the course of half a year, I discovered a new world of firsts. It was my first time being someone’s girlfriend. My first kiss. My first time actually fitting in and somehow, I became popular. Things were truly going well, but then February came along.
Jaden started to get short-tempered. I didn’t understand it at first, and he wasn’t being entirely open about it either. I was afraid I was doing something wrong again. We started to have petty arguments, and it placed a small wedge between us. I felt the ground shift beneath my feet when he told me. His father had been sick, but he wouldn’t say anything more. Naturally, I was worried and tried my very best to be there for him but my lack of control over the situation drove me insane.
Jaden and I decided to go to the movie theatres one chilly night in February. We were at a point in our relationship where “going to the movies” meant something entirely different once you took your seat. But something still felt off about us that night. I was too young to realize that avoiding our issues would only snowball into something horrible. The next morning, Jaden found out that his father passed away the night before.
To this day, I don’t really know what happened to his father. He never clearly told me. He passed away on the night we went to the movies, and that’s all I’ll ever know. But it was torture seeing these things happen to him and not being able to control it. I wanted him to be happy, and I knew he deserved to be. I must’ve been too pushy or soft around him, because he became more aggressive. He started to only talk to me when he wanted sexual favors. At first, I did it for him. Even when I didn’t feel like it, I went along with what he wanted because I truly just wanted him to be happy. If this was what he wanted, how could I say no?
Then, one day, my sister started to act off around me. Apparently, my older sister was closely monitoring my relationship with Jaden. She tweeted about us, posting screenshots of our messages and such. I should’ve been mad about that but I couldn’t be, because she soon did much worse. She found our sexual text messages and saved pictures of everything onto her phone. She tweeted them, shared them with every member of our family and all of her friends. I’m afraid my dad even saw it. Suddenly, I was known for much worse than a “bitch” or an “attention-whore”. I was a certified, thirteen-year-old slut, and everyone who knew shamed me for it. I couldn’t talk to my entire family, direct and extended, after that. Suddenly, I was struggling between dealing with my own issues and being there for my emotionally-distant, grieving boyfriend. It felt like a whirlwind of problems that I was far too young to process.
I developed an eating disorder around this time. Nobody at school understood what was happening and neither did I. I don’t know if Jaden did because we weren’t really having conversations anymore. So, I built a routine and focused on diet and exercise like they were the pillars of my existence. It was the only thing I could control, but suddenly I lost that too. By April, I’d slimmed down to 80 pounds without even realizing it. People at school talked about me like I was just another source of entertainment. My eighth-grade teacher scolded me, day in and day out. I still couldn’t tell you why. My mind became a blur at that point. My boyfriend was losing himself and so was I. But I still wanted to make things work between us, more than anything.
Jaden was the first person I tried opening up to about my anorexia. I’ll admit, it was pretty out of the blue. I just thought we could start somewhere, and if he wasn’t willing to open up yet, maybe this could’ve helped with that. I was terribly wrong. He was enraged when I told him, and I felt so guilty about it. He finally mentioned his dad for the first time since his passing. “You think I can handle talking about this? My dad’s dead and you won't even stay up with me when I can’t sleep at night”. This was true. He was struggling with insomnia and every time I promised I’d stay awake with him, I’d give up the next night and fall asleep. I didn’t know what to say. “You can’t put all this on me when you know how much I’m going through”, and I felt like he was right. “I’ve been asking you to open up about that. Why haven’t you until now?”, I asked. “Because I don’t want to talk about it”, he replied. “You don’t want to talk about it in general, or don’t want to talk about it with me?”, I already knew the answer to my question. Naija told me that he talked about his grief with her. He was talking it through with his closest friends, and that was good. It just hurt that it couldn’t be me. And I couldn’t fight him anymore. At school, everyone felt for him. He had the entire school on his side, rooting for him. I felt like I was all alone here, in this unique place with nobody by my side. Even though I felt for him, I also felt every attack against me. I never opened up about my anorexia again, and he didn’t say anything about his father.
My last attempt at fighting for us was through a gift. 13 Reasons Why had been blowing up and I thought it’d be a good idea to make a similar box filled with 13 reasons why I loved him. He was grateful when he got the gift, and I really thought things were looking up for us. But the next week, I found out that he was going to break up with me. In typical, middle-school fashion, I found out through a friend that he was going to do it on the Friday of the next week. I felt like my entire life held in the balance of our relationship, but we barely spoke that entire week. I was almost looking forward to Friday, because it could give us a chance to finally speak. On that fateful Friday, I was expecting him to reach out so we could talk, but he never did. I guess that’s what happens when someone falls out of love before you do. You start to lose meaning. You start to matter less. Somehow, you’re not even worth the energy to be broken up with. That Friday night, I texted him for the first time that week. “Are you going to break up with me?” I asked, fingers shaking and all. I blinked and he was already typing.
At that point, I was completely drained. All the life sucked out of me when I read that one word. I made him do it over text, even though he didn’t plan to. I knew he wouldn’t have the courage to do it in person. Even though he was the only person I had, what was the point of staying together after that? I didn’t even really have him anymore. I cried my heart out that night. But things didn’t truly hurt until I received a long paragraph from his friend, Carol. “I understand that this hurts, but Jaden’s going through a difficult time in his life and doesn’t need any more problems right now. That seems to be all you’re accomplishing with him. So, just give him space and learn to get over this”. Carol was my friend too, which is what hurt the most. But I read clearly where her loyalties remained. Later that summer, she wrote me long messages, spelling out the reasons why she didn’t like me and didn’t want to be friends anymore. I thought she was my best friend, but I’d been overlooking her horrible treatment towards me for months. I guess I had a habit of doing that.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, because there was still a month left of school and this was our graduating year. That meant the school had planned two trips to Wonderland, a trip to Montreal and a trip to Ottawa. This time, I went on every single trip. I had to run away from this feeling in my chest. I had to find a way to prove to everyone I wasn’t anorexic. I had to be with my friends. But the entire school was rooting for Jaden. When I looked around, there was nobody by my side. My lunches were spent alone, and I couldn’t see a single person who was actually my friend. The emptiness was soul-crushing, but I couldn’t face the truth about everything that happened that year. So, I just looked forward to those trips like my life depended on it.
The trip to Canada’s Wonderland happened the week after Jaden and I broke up. Jaden’s friend group had become my friend group as well, so we spent the entire day together. All day, Jaden acted like we were still together; and for some cruel reason, I loved it. He hugged me from behind and offered me his jacket when I got cold. We laughed and got along like we did when we were together. When the trip was about to end, we all went into a store to mindlessly browse. That’s where I saw him ask a girl for her number like I wasn’t standing right next to him, seeing it all happen. After that, my friends pitied me and encouraged me to text Jaden that night telling him to leave me alone. Even though I still loved him with my entire heart, I couldn’t handle being hurt constantly. After I texted him that, he left me alone. On the next Canada’s Wonderland trip, he left our group and joined someone else’s. I barely saw him that day.
The morning before we left for Montreal and Ottawa, I showed up late to school. When I walked into the gym where everyone was waiting, the supervising teacher yelled at me for showing up late and making everyone wait. “I don’t care if you need extra time to put on makeup and look pretty, you have no right showing up 5 minutes before the buses are supposed to leave”. I wanted the ground to swallow me whole when I saw everyone looking. I didn’t really put on makeup and I wasn’t wearing anything extraordinary. There was traffic and I lived far away from the school. But the air in my lungs went dry, so I said nothing. When I sat down, the only person who spoke to me was Carol. “She’s not wrong for yelling at you, you were late”. I just nodded my head and looked away. Jaden was sitting next to her silently. The pain in my chest felt heavier than ever. I wanted to cry but I just listened to my music and stayed silent. I wasn’t looking forward to the trip at all.
On the bus, Jaden sat close by my seat during the trip, but never next to me. I didn’t really have anyone for the first few days of the trip. The only person who checked up on me was my dad. He texted me saying that he missed me. When I was feeling down, I called him and almost cried when I heard his voice. I think his love is what sustained me for so long. It wasn’t until I started making new friends that I started to enjoy the trip. They made me laugh during the last few days of the trip, but no amount of laughter could fill the emptiness in my chest anymore. It was growing larger and swallowing me whole. I wasn't processing anything that was happening to me.
The last night of the trip, we visited an abandoned hotel that was active during World War 2. There was a moment when Jaden came and stood next to me in one of the rooms. It was the first and only time I felt whole during the trip. During those few minutes, when our shoulders touched and I could smell the scent of his jacket again, I felt the emptiness in me disappear. In those few moments, I’d felt happier than I had in weeks. He was inching closer to me, and I was inching closer to him. I just had to feel him again. It lifted the heaviness in my chest like nothing else. When we got back on the bus, he sat right in front of me. I thought it was a sign that something could happen. But then he pulled out his phone and showed his friend a girl he’d been texting. He positioned the phone perfectly in my field of vision. There I was again, filled with that soul-crushing disappointment.
I looked around and noticed that the bus was finally dark and quiet. Everyone in the bus softly muttered about what excited them most. The large window next to me revealed tall, dark trees that blended into the night sky. I saw a million stars that night, huddled together to bring light among the vast sea of darkness. I watched a large owl land on a tall tree, far into the distance. It’s eyes glowed brightly and stared at our bus. It was an outsider, peering at another world far beyond its grasp. Perched up on the mightiest tree during one of the darkest nights I’ve ever experienced, I wondered if it could see me too. I wondered if it would stay there forever, and a part of me hoped it would. The owl would be content with watching over vehicles as they drove a million miles per second, never to be seen again. Even as the seasons shifted, the owl would remain untouched. I dreamed about being an owl that night, watching over as life ran a million miles per second.
The year ended quickly. I heard nothing from Jaden. I was going to the same high school as him so I knew I was going to see him there. But the summer was a brutal cycle of trying to distract myself from the pain. I tried to focus my attention on recovering from my eating disorder, but it just got worse. My control slipped and I felt like I was losing myself. The only friend I still talked to was Naija, but she was gone after a while too. I hoped going back to school would help. But seeing Jaden again ripped open the hole I desperately tried to close over the summer. I was still determined to get better. I started talking to a new guy. I even managed to find a good group of friends. Things were truly going well, but then February came along.
Jaden’s father died on the night of February 18th, 2018. My father died on the night of February 18, 2019. I was in ninth grade, and it was on Family day when he died. He had a heart attack. Exactly a year later, there I was, without a father as well. Jaden was mourning a year without his father when my father was admitted into the surgical room. I was the last person to be with my father and speak to him before he died. I took him to the hospital alone that day. I saw him smile for the last time before he was gone forever. Hours went by before my mother and siblings could arrive. His life was in my hands, and I still blame myself for everything that happened.
I knew I couldn’t get over Jaden if I had to see him everyday. He had a new girlfriend now. He never spoke to me, even after my father passed away. Any attempt I made to reach out to him was met with instant rejection. So, after ninth grade, I switched schools. I spent the rest of high school trying to recover from this part of my life. I only spoke to Jaden twice after ninth grade. He texted me during tenth grade randomly. He was still with his aforementioned girlfriend, but I heard through the grapevine that they were in a rocky place. I didn’t reply at first, but then he texted again. I asked why he texted me after all this time, he just replied with “why not?”. It was a dry and emotionally-distant conversation, which didn’t surprise me. That’s just the person he became. I texted him again during the summer before twelfth grade. I was still recovering from everything and seeked closure more than anything. I apologized for everything that happened between us. I felt guilty for not being what he needed when his father passed away. I know I made mistakes too. He reassured me that it was all in the past and that there was nothing to be sorry for. Deep down, I was hoping that he’d apologize as well but I never got that. I shouldn’t have expected it either.
What’s in the past is in the past. But I sit here, writing out the past like it was just yesterday. I can say I’m definitely in a better place. I’m slowly beginning to open myself up again. I don’t know if I feel as much as I used to for Jaden, but he still remains one of the first people to view my posts on social media. And my heart still leaps a little every time I see that. I think I’ll always feel something for him. To this day, I haven’t felt so much for a person. My heart has numbed over the years. I wish I could say I’m recovered and healthy but I’m not quite there yet either. Sometimes, I imagine a future where we reunite so I could feel the things I used to. But he’s pursuing soccer professionally in the U.S. and won’t be in Canada anymore. Maybe my dreams are far-fetched and nearly impossible, but I’m grateful to still have them. Plus, they wouldn’t be dreams if they weren’t slightly out of reach, now would they?
Everything somehow came back to him, up to the moment my father died. It took me years to process my personal collection of first-times: the first time I glowed up, the first time I loved, the first time I kissed, the first time my heart broke, the first time I lost myself, the first time I grieved, and the first time I’ve been able to reflect on the whole story.
Thank you for being here for that.