The Love Lagoon
Come high school I found a new space in which to hide away. I spent hours each evening talking to people in Internet chatrooms. Adults and teens alike. I got to know girls, develop crushes, agree to fake date, then ride that ’til it fizzled or I dropped off to darkness.
It was easy to pour myself into these things because they gave a sense of social interaction. Of feeling comfortable without the risk of face-to-face rejection. Of expressing sexuality with another human instead of just myself. With this I went through a series of stand-ins for real relationships. But endless Internet is also how I met the one who became my first girlfriend. Her name was V.
After meeting in a teen chatroom her and I learned we were both from North Dakota and only an hour and a half apart. It seemed too good to be true. We spoke on the phone or net daily for a year and a half before we met. This gave her a chance to know “the real me” without having to deal with my lack of in-person confidence. The me that lived in my head but translated poorly to the outer world.
She was painfully cute, kind, and thought I was funny. It charmed me to be so liked. We spent our time discussing school, our days, and projects we worked on. But we went further than that — growing comfy enough to share secrets no one else knew.
This meant disclosing the depression we felt, the pressure of our parents expecting us to be their ideal offspring. The pangs of being alone and unknown. How she had nightmares that made her think of trauma as a child. How talking to the other made us feel safe after a hard day. She was from the countryside of an even smaller town than me. Understood the smothered isolation of growing up where you’d known the same people your whole life.
One night my senior year we decided to meet in her little town. It was both to get together but also make out. We’d flirted and hinted at this but now V outright said it. This came three days after my eighteenth birthday. Passing that mark without my first kiss made me feel like even more of an insecure, abject failure. So this was it. Either a year and a half of buildup was going to pay off, or I’d blow it and have to reset my love life again. For once, something was on the line. I left at three in the morning, got lost, and almost hit a deer, but I found her.
I pulled up to the church we agreed to meet in front of and saw her waiting in a shitbox car. With this I felt my first ever butterflies. It was nice and eased the nerves. I pulled on my hair, took a deep breath, then stepped out to cold spring air.
She hopped out of her ride. Stood short against me. I didn’t know if I should hug or not, so took a step back. She wore a low-cut shirt and jeans. Looked even cuter than she did on cam. V opened her back door, crawled in, and I followed. We sat close, but weren’t touching. She smelled so good.
“How was the drive?”
“Pretty good. Sorry for taking so long. I took a wrong turn at Fargo, and then when I got here a deer jumped right in front of me.”
“I’ve only been here for like a half hour. I told my mom I was meeting you.”
“What did she say about that?”
“Oh you know her, she was excited. Told me not to get pregnant the first time I met you.”
We both laughed and then she leaned to adjust the radio. When she sat back she snuggled against me. I put my arm around her and we sat that way but facing forward. Too shy to lock eyes. Her skin felt soft and made me tingle. The green light of the radio shone on our faces as Beck played. As we thought of how to go forward. She unfurled a blanket and draped it over us. We held hands, talking about how cool it was to finally meet.
She snuggled her head against my neck, and I rested mine on top of hers.
“So, should we kiss?” She was pretty forward for a self-professed shy girl.
“I think so.” I was nervous but excited.
We readjusted to snuggle faces before anything happened. But then it did. Our first kiss was a mismatch of lips. Came awkward. Was this what I’d fantasized of and felt frustrated over since the onset of adolescence? Neither of us had kissed anyone so our inexperience showed.
I didn’t want to give up after years of anticipation so said we should try again. And so we did, and then again, and then I slipped off my shoes, and then again some more. She let my hands wander. Each time she kissed me my face tingled, this feeling working its way down my body.
I wasn’t so much horny as consumed by a rush of peace of comfort. Of safety and warmth. We fooled around for hours as the sun rose. Almost got spotted by farmers riding by in a tractor and grain truck.
Between bursts of making out we’d stop to chat. Sometimes about what felt good for the other. Sometimes simple things like whatever song was on or what we each planned for the coming day. When it was time to go we both got out of her car and stood in front of mine.
“So, are you going to come down and see me again?”
Despite how great it went, how natural I felt around her, it was nice to hear these words. She enjoyed herself.
I wiped the hair from her eyes and said “I want to come back as soon as I can, V.” We kissed again.
As I drove off we waved, then I watched her in my rearview mirror for as long as I could.
V told me the next evening that she made her friends smell her bra. From that they inferred we’d met and fooled around. We decided to date. By the time we became a couple we were in love with one another. Or at least we thought we were.
We saw each other a few times each month but spoke daily. Spent our time together pretending to watch movies, with friends, or off in search of places to make out. We once rolled around in some roadside ditch aside a desolate road. A car drove by, tooting its horn in jest at the young lovers. We eventually found a hidden place on a hill overlooking a little city. We’d kiss then tilt to stars, catching sounds of the world below. Always holding one another. But it wasn’t all smooth.
I was still nervous and shy. Clammed up around her friends then became self-conscious of this fact. Once we started dating, once the wow wore off, we stopped talking about our lives and feelings as much as in the past. Compounding this I sometimes acted timid when it came to physical affection. I stepped into my head. Thought of how each meeting should make things easier, not less. We were still intensely entwined but the initial glow glimmered less.
In our weeks between meetings my anxiety grew. We still had more great moments than not but now with a sense of unease. It didn’t help that she saw the disconnect between the offline and online me. Each was the same person but one expressed themselves much better. My early years of awkwardness still haunted me despite the comfort she brought.
Still, she opened me in ways I hadn’t been cracked before. Both good and bad. I felt I could trust her even more than my family. If I had problems going on in life, or even between me and her, they seemed to dissipate when I felt how warm she was. When she put her head on my chest to listen to my heart, saying that she loved me.
At one point we decided it was time for sex, but she was shy and I was nervous. We neared the point but never made it. We were both inexperienced and didn’t know how to get there. Thoughts of this act consumed me for years but now that it was here I felt too scared to follow through.
At home I’d masturbate with her on my mind. In person it took all my nerve just to lift her shirt and kiss her. I despised myself for how timid I became. I had all this newfound confidence from having an awesome girlfriend, but at the same time still slinked in the shadow of my shy self.
Our relationship went through its highs and lows. I broke up with her once, she with me twice. No big blowups, just a slow fizzle. The first time she ended it we had barely spoke for weeks. I didn’t know how to communicate how much she meant to me. How to reconcile what I wanted us to be versus what we really were. We still fooled around in between breakups — a combination of teenage lust and lingers of what we felt for the other. Clean breaks come rare with body and heart.
During those times apart I felt physically sick thinking it was inevitable to lose her forever. Wished I could fill myself with cement. I’d wake and within seconds she invaded my mind. Thoughts of her came flooding back at random times, always when I didn‘t want to have them. Even during my grandpa’s funeral the only thing on my mind was her. I felt sick and the need to sob, but only because of V.
We started up again several weeks later. I’d gone to see a play of hers and she asked me out by opening her locker which held a sign saying “Gab, will you go out with me?” When I got back to her house my name was spelled in construction paper on her wall. Surrounding this a series of connecting loops. Each one inked with a message of things she loved about me. Grand gestures stacked on an unsteady foundation.
Soon enough we started to crumble. I tucked further in myself, my natural defense mechanism. Couldn’t reveal my feelings and struggles like I had before. And I was still too shy for sex despite her bringing it up often. She even said she’d get on birth control. I’d bring condoms but never take them out. With this she started to withhold physical affection.
Next came the midnight phone calls. Ones from this twenty-one year old she knew from the Internet. He became a source of hate and jealousy. She’d leave our chats to take his calls. I was in her room one night when he rang. I detested him with all my being. Knew he siphoned her affection. I could’ve turned it around but didn’t. Then I learned that during one of our periods apart she’d agreed to go to prom with him. Now back together she asked if I was okay with her still doing that.
The last day I saw her was like any other. We went to her friends, saw a movie, then back to her house to hang in her bedroom. I’d written the words “love you” on my chest in blue marker. Now I waited for her to kiss me. To pull off my shirt and discover the sign. She never did. Our old relationship was built on moments like these. Periods of silence punctured by explosions of emotion. Now it was just dull. As we laid in bed I asked “Do you still love me?”
“Of course I do.” She said it sharp and quick.
The next day through e-mail she told me she needed time away from boys, at least until summer. After reading that e-mail I printed it out, then went in my room to imbibe it over and over. I sobbed for an hour, followed by many more of lying in bed feeling sick.
I tried talking to her a few more times, but she’d act disinterested. A switch had been flicked. My kind girlfriend turned cold, as if my presence were an inconvenience. In phone calls she’d stop talking then return minutes later sans explanation, if she came back at all. She seemed to transform to an entirely new person. Still, I thought I could win her back.
I started a journal detailing every time we’d been together, the entire history of our relationship from the internet, to meeting in her car, to us dating. I also started to make a video composed of lots of home footage of me growing up. I thought if she could see my life, hear my thoughts, she’d fall in love again. More grand gestures instead of introspection and effort. Painfully honest communication. But then I learned of something that made me stop writing, stop making the tape.
Two weeks after we broke up she went to a hotel to get drunk with the twenty-one year old and two of his friends. In there she lost her virginity. She told me these facts over the phone. I felt betrayed, sad, angry. Gutted to the spine. But in a pained way I also understood it.
I’d long stopped bringing the excitement to her life that I once did. Was much too inward and uncomfy to fulfill her needs from a partner. She did what was best for her. Found out there was more to life than what I provided. That someone else could appear from the internet, this time consistent between online and off.
Soon I grew haunted by the image of her having sex with this man. I didn’t know what he looked like so conjured a blurry figure fucking her on a squeaky bed while others cheered them on. It was the only thought I had. One that tore through head and heart at all hours. He got her body, but more importantly, held her love, care, and attention. She wanted him and so I was back to my natural state. Alone once more.
I got completely hammered on my birthday, but all getting drunk did was shoot pain to the forefront. I hadn’t been able to find my cell for days so spent $150 on a new one in hopes she’d call and wish a happy birthday. She didn’t. With this I knew it was truly over.
I felt scared. Hurt. Dead. Disconnected. Lost twenty pounds. Having a girlfriend had been an affirmation that I was normal. I didn’t want to let that go, even though she hurt me. Even though we weren’t right for each other. Even though I didn’t know how to be a good boyfriend. But then I realized she’d just do it again. She didn’t want me anymore. Plus it wasn’t her job to fix me. I had to find a way to move on.
She called a few times in attempts to be friends. To release me with an appearance of care. After the last I told her not to. It only made the hurting worse. Slashed open the wound. She always acted as if all were fine. Didn’t know how to address me after her feelings faded while mine erupted in misery. She wrote an apology letter a year or so later, but by then I’d found my own form of peace and healing.
It took even more time before I felt I’d fully worked through what happened. I was over the pain but it wasn’t just heartbreak. It was rejection. Losing a friend. Dwelling on the flaws and failures that brought me to where I was. It was knowing that I opened myself to someone so much and this is what came of it.
I signed up for college which changed my life for the better. It’d still be a bit before I gained interest in other girls. Before I’d date and lose my virginity. But even with healing I still didn’t want to let myself love or open up to anyone. I feared the thought of going through that hellish pain once more. My healing sealed a hole but left a hidden fissure.
In regard to subsequent partners this closing up came off as coldness. I was never mean but rather unengaged. Funny and fun on the surface but rarely going deeper. I didn’t probe them so they wouldn’t me. I let everything painful with V push my heart into hiding. But it wasn’t just my experience with her that made me act that way. It grew from a lifetime of feeling guarded. Afraid I’d be rejected if someone saw inside me. I didn’t even know most of what I tried to hide. Just that it needed to never be unsealed. All of this fed the fissure. Let it sink even deeper.
I could’ve changed these things but didn’t. I was no longer so much shy as constructing a canyon between my inner self and others. Sometimes it collapsed and I let out too much at once. Short bursts followed by strong showings of distance. In the end any attempt to seal off resulted in heartbreak anyway. Caused it to happen. A boulder from the past rolling over my future.
Once with others I didn’t even think of V. Still, it’s that first big relationship that shapes us. That scares us. Conscious or otherwise. But it’s not just that. I know the fissure formed before I ever met her. Emerged from epochs within. Sometimes I think I can still spackle it shut. Reset my soul. But it seems unlikely. Introspection fails when unattached from action.
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