(I know how that sounds: I cringe now just typing it.) But at the time, to us, it wasn't weird or taboo as much as this epic, forbidden romance. Before long we were all hanging out together, driving around in his car: T and me in the front, my friend and her boyfriend in the back. Many memories remain fuzzy, but incidents such as that day in the forest remain in crisp detail. It was late and my parents were asleep as we drove over to the house where T. At some point, my friend left to go somewhere, and for whatever reason I didn't go with him. Maybe he only stepped out to go to the store down the block. This was after the night at his house, though how much later I cannot say.
While they made out, we made conversation, thrown together in the awkwardness of nearby coupledom. What I do remember is sitting on a couch with T., him putting on a Elton John song and telling me, in words I can't recall specifically, that he wanted to be my boyfriend. I just recall being almost to my house, when I told T. In the initial years following, I never really talked about this with anyone other than my high school girlfriends and various therapists.
In tenth grade, we made friends with a group of older guys who hung out on the main street of town, which ran parallel to the local university — guys who'd once gone to our same high school and had never left the social scene. I remember how quiet it was, birds soaring overhead, no other sound. "Like we were supposed to be boyfriend and girlfriend, or something.""Well," she said slowly. I'd completely accepted her romance with an older guy as normal, even destined. When he wasn't upset, he was in kindness overdrive, buying me things: a gold necklace with a floating heart, stuffed animals.
Before long, we had our own inside jokes, a shared eye-roll at yet another lover's quarrel in a small space. I didn't want to hang out with him anymore."You don't mean that," he told me. As I got older, however, the more I realized that my experience was not an uncommon one. We talked about music, about high school, his experience then and mine now. "That's your mom talking."I told him that this wasn't true: it was my choice. It seemed just about every woman I knew had a similar story, a time when wanting attention meant getting the wrong kind entirely. There was something especially cool about being friends with them. "I don't want you hanging around with someone that much older than you.""Mom." I'm sure I rolled my eyes. ""So, no normal 20 year old wants to hang out with someone who is 15. Stay away from him."This was the sort of thing that always led to my leaving the room in a teary huff, maintaining loudly that she Just Didn't Understand. One Saturday, the guys planned a picnic in a nearby forest park. We had gotten in the habit of him driving me home, and my suddenly wanting to make different arrangements seemed to inconvenience everyone.We were still at an age where our parents insisted on treating us like children. Once again, she was treating me like a child, someone unable to make her own decisions. It didn't seem like such a big deal, as my best friend was doing nothing sneaking around to be with her boyfriend. Suddenly, I wasn't that scared, invisible girl anymore, watching from the sidelines. I remember it was a gorgeous fall day, crisp and cool, and the first time I'd had Brie cheese and red wine. Even worse, I couldn't say why I didn't want to go with him.
I was the oracle, remembering each detail from my supporting role. I was causing trouble, making things difficult for everyone."What happened to you back there? Hearing that he wanted more felt like wading into the deep end. had feelings for me, I felt strange every time I saw him.There was safety in the shadows, but also a kind of darkness. " my friend whispered as we walked back to the car with the guys a few steps ahead."It just felt strange," I told her. Just like that, you lose your footing, and you're in over your head. He noticed my sudden distance and pouted, unsettling to see in an adult.