It is 1995, and it’s picture day. The senior-year me has just been officially captured by camera, and I walk down the steps of the school auditorium, happy to be out of class and wondering how my photo looks. Sitting in one of the auditorium seats is Brian. I have been friends with Brian for a few years. He’s nice, fun, always makes me smile. Other than that, he’s never really entered my thoughts.
“Hey Melissa, come over here,” he says, and so I walk into the aisle behind his seat and lean over him to see what he wants. He stretches his arms behind his head and wraps them backward around my waist. Sparks fly through me as I suddenly – instantly – see him differently. It’s as if a light bulb has come on. My God, this guy is gorgeous. I know then he is going to ask me out, and I know I will accept. He does and I do.
I don’t remember our first date, or our first kiss, or how we go from being on the brink of something promising that Fall day to being officially an item, but it happens quickly and it happens effortlessly. Our nights are full of phone conversations and as much time together as our teenage curfews will allow. Our days are happy, as we get to make eye contact between classes and steal kisses beside lockers. He picks me up before school in his Camero with T-Tops, and we ride with fresh air and sunshine on our faces and the promise of forever is in the air (or, at least in our young and unsuspecting minds).
Our companionship is not without controversy. Brian is known as a “bad boy” around school – he has a reputation for stealing girls’ hearts and playing the field. I am shy, innocent, nice (at times to a fault), and a virgin, so we are a match that surprises several. I heed more than a few warnings to be careful with my heart, from friends, from acquaintances, from teachers even. I ignore them all and defend him – it is different with him and me. He actually cares for me.
He brings me roses and bath salts. He asks me to marry him (not really meaning it, but my heart soars anyway), he writes me love letters and takes me to “nice” restaurants (Olive Garden) and he actually cares for me.
The day it all changes is a normal day for me, for us. Amanda and Michelle and I decide to cook dinner and our boyfriends come to Amanda’s where we have prepared fajitas (for the record, Michelle doesn’t have a boyfriend, so she brings a friend, Adam). We dine and enjoy being happy and together. Then Brian tells me he is going out with Adam – a “guys’ night” – after dinner. No worries, I say, and I kiss him goodbye and go home happy.
The next morning I receive a phone message from Brian’s dad. “Your purse is not in Brian’s car,” it reads. What? I call Brian’s house, confused. His dad answers. “Um, you called this morning … I checked his car … your purse isn’t there.”
No, I didn’t call this morning.No worries, must be a mixup. I ask Brian about it later. “Oh … that … well, I ran into this other girl named Melissa last night at the gas station and she needed a ride home, so I gave her a ride. … Dad must’ve been confused. She must’ve called; he must’ve thought it was you.”
Oh, OK, I think, and I go on happily with my day and my relationship … until, things start to feel … wrong. We are falling out of sync. Our connection wanes; he no longer has time for me and I feel like I’m fighting for something that isn’t there anymore. I fight and fight and fight because I can’t stand to think of the alternative. I fight because he cares for me, he wants to marry me, even if he doesn’t remember that he wants it. I fight until the day he tells me, sadly, that he just can’t do this anymore. This = me. This = us. He just can’t do us anymore.
I cry. And cry. And cry myself to sleep and go to school and cry some more. Try to hide my heartache from my parents, too embarrassed, but they see it anyway. Try to hide my heartache from him, but I am certain he sees it too. But eventually I can look at him without crying. Sometimes I can even think of him without crying. And then one day, I can even look fondly on him, on us, without feeling bitter and cheated and wronged.
And then, much later, I am taking to a new friend, Marie, and she says, “Wait, were you dating Brian the night of the fall dance?”
“Yes,” I answer, remembering that night specifically because we’d chosen to forgo the dance and instead have fajita night at Amanda’s.
“Oh, my,” she says. “I have to tell you something. My friend Melissa fucked him that night.”
Amazing how the universe knows even more than we do what we need sometimes.
Of course there are two sides to every story, and for the rest of his days Brian will swear he did not cheat on me. And for the rest of my days I will never believe him. At the time it is hard for me – knowing he did more with her than he ever did with me – his girlfriend. But also knowing the choice not to sleep together was mine – not his. Can I blame an 18-year-old boy for acting that way? Is this simply what I get for being so conservative? Maybe the whole thing was my fault … But even the 18-year-old me knows that it isn’t, that sometimes these things happen and that people are faced with choices every day. Sometimes we make the right choices, and sometimes we make a choice that is very, very wrong.
As the years go on we fade in and out of each other’s lives. He breaks my heart a few more times, sadly. And heartbreak hurts like nothing else. My dad says to me, when I begin dating the next guy after Brian, “I don’t want to see you get hurt like you did the last time.” Oh, please, if you can tell me how not to …
But eventually, after years of back and forth, tears and smiles, happiness and anger, Brian and I step off our destructive path and emerge as friends. Real friends. We have seen each other through marriage, divorce, kids, we even got tattoos together (after many Long Island Iced Teas one day last summer) and I know he will be my friend for the rest of my life.
And ironically – the night he cheated on me has become something we can laugh about, now (12 years later.) I can say, “I know you cheated on me,” and he will insist, “I would never cheat on you,” and I always say, “I know you’re lying,” and we laugh – real laughter – with real twinkles in our eyes and everything.
Yes, the universe is amazing.