I was an awkward girl, in the linoleum floored, locker-lined halls of our high school. An awkward girl who didn’t know how to wear makeup the right way or how to flirt or how to sit quietly and let someone else answer the questions in class.
I was an awkward girl, but she was beautiful.
She had blue eyes, as icy as her demeanor, sparkling and hostile. Her hair was short, dark, and sometimes she would spike it. Her thin lips could curve into a disdainful smirk, or if she liked you, maybe a small, private smile. She painted her nails black and wore black pants adorned with chains, sagging around her skinny, coltish frame.
She introduced me to heavy metal and the kind of surreal stillness of a house up in the mountains at three in the morning. She didn’t sleep and she drank coffee and she swore as easily as breathing.
We’d flop onto her parents’ couch in the middle of the night, watching music videos on MTV, and I’d wish that she would sit closer. I’d lie back against the armrest and stretch out my feet over her lap, and she’d give me a dirty look because she had a thing about personal space, but put her arms over my legs anyway, resting one hand on my knee, and we’d linger like that.
I thought about her eyes when I was bored in school, doodling in my notebook. I thought about her mouth, her smirk, and what it might be like to kiss it. I wondered if she would taste like coffee.
She let me hold her hand. I worked up the courage to reach for it and she didn’t look at me but she let me lace our fingers together and she curled hers around mine and let us stay that way. I wanted to kiss her but I didn’t know how to bridge the distance she’d carefully cultivated between herself and the rest of the world. I knew I needed to ask permission.
I wrote a single line on a scrap of paper. Will you be my girlfriend?
I could barely look at it without my face flushing. My monster relentlessly whispered its lines in my ear. (Worthless. Ugly. Bad.) But I took my courage in my hands and crumpled up the little paper and tossed it to her. She caught it, opened it, and her face went so blank I felt lost in it, like a tundra.
“No,” she said. She threw it in the trash and turned back to her laptop.
I didn’t understand everything that “No” meant, not then. I didn’t understand that it wasn’t just the end of a budding romance, but of our friendship. I didn’t understand that she would tell our friends terrible, untrue things about me, and that when school started up again I would spend the lunch periods awkwardly lingering in the hallway, ignored and alone.
I didn’t understand the shame, but it was there, ringing and reverberating. Like a great beast, tolling a heavy iron bell. Even now, thirteen years later, I look back and I feel that shame, resounding somewhere hidden inside me.
I didn’t do anything wrong by wanting, by gently asking, by enduring rejection. I realize this, as a rational adult, but the emotion lingers, so many years later. The messages she sent blend with the messages the rest of the world communicates to girls like me—awkward girls who, in our clumsy way, love who we love.
I don’t know where she is now, though sometimes I wonder. She was always so closed off, so guarded. We shared the same secret, and since, I have learned to embrace it in myself. I hope she has too.