In my freshman year at university, I loved a boy. He wasn’t particularly handsome, suave, or heroic. But, he had a rolling laugh, and bright, clear eyes, and a smile that would jump eagerly to his face, even for things I had said. And, I wasn’t handsome, suave, or heroic, either. He was ahead of me by a year, but we shared some classes. That meant sharing walks to lectures, study sessions, and dinners, sometimes, to discuss assignments and theories. We worked together, too, in the theater: he drew designs and schematics while I plugged and played, tilting lights and dragging cables up ladders. I came to long for the hours spent in the rafters above the stage, when he’d lean his head close, to peer down my sight-line to teach me about focus and shadows. I still remember those lessons.
Near the end of that first semester, on a night crisp with a chill, we walked back to the dorms from the theater building. He told me about the pretty, stylish senior girl who got all the accolades but who never seemed to notice him, and I told him…something to make him happy:
“Maybe she’s just shy around you.”
He laughed a wobbly laugh that showed off his smile, but it had no happiness. “Yeah, maybe.”
We got to my dorm then, and he opened his arms. To this day, I swear I fell into them. In a story, we might have kissed and found each other. In reality, awkward teenagers that we were, we stepped away, said good night, and that was all.
I thought about him a lot over the next several weeks, through winter break and the return to campus the following semester. By that time, shooting stars shone in the background whenever he smiled at me, or whenever we shared a talk or stroll. I was sinking and had no clue what to do, until another friend of mine – who also happened to be a friend of his – told me:
“Write to him.”
“Like a letter?”
My friend shook his head. “Write him a story,” he said. So, I did. That’s what you see below, unedited and unaltered from my melodramatic eighteen-year-old self.
This was the very first story I’d written from my heart that I showed to anybody. I included with it a note, asking him to meet me. He came to my room, but there were people hanging out there, so we went to the stairwell, a quiet, neutral place where we could talk. Which we did, though not about anything important: theatre schedule, a class paper, some acquaintance on the fringe. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I asked him:
“Do you really not know why I wanted to talk?”
He looked at his shoes, then looked at me, and said, “No. I know.” He didn’t laugh or smile. Instead, his face seemed serious, sad, and my heart sank. “I’m really flattered,” he began, and the next few sentences I can’t recall and barely heard anyway, for the loud, scratchy swallow of my pride in my ears. Somewhere in his gently compassionate monologue, he told me how, a year earlier, he’d stood where I was and listened to this same speech from somebody else. And, that, somewhen down the line, I’d probably give this speech to somebody, too. I never did, but I have always remembered how he stood up at the end and asked, “Are we okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, because I couldn’t say no, not even then. Not even now.
He smiled, and started down the steps. But he paused past the curve of the landing, turning to look up at me again to say, “Please, don’t be sad.”
It was, at the same time, both the sweetest and the most heartbreaking rejection I have ever been lucky enough to receive in my entire life. No slip of paper from any editor, publisher, or reader will ever fill me with such pain – or such strange grace – as that moment.
I don’t know why I’ve shared this story, now. Except maybe to say, wherever you are, Chris, thank you for that moment. I wouldn’t be the writer I am without you.
I literally started crying at the ‘because I couldn’t say no, not even the. not even now’. Ffuck this was an emotional ride. Your story you wrote for him was so sweet, and I cant imagine how he could reject you. I mean, things worked out, because Seth and everything, and like you said, pain does deepen your understanding of emotion, but….damn chris, you dumb.
urghugh the fells
Honestly, he was a good guy then and I think he’s probably still a good guy today. He could have been dishonest with me, taken some kind of emotional advantage, but he didn’t. I’m really grateful my first experience of a letdown was with a young man of his moral caliber.
I have absolutely returned to that moment in my writing, though, I fully admit that. And, I did cry a little bit while writing this, too.
Thanks for reading!
Very emotional post, Mayumi. I love the honesty. I think people can be out of tune with their emotions, which sounds like the case. But it’s good that you don’t hold it against him. Kudos to you.
Thanks for reading, George. I try to bring as much honesty as I can to my fiction stories. Maybe it helps that I’ve had such honest ups and downs in my real life. 🙂
Wow. Just…just wow.
I remember a while back I did a word challenge that you said you “just couldn’t like” because of the nerve it hit. And this post has done that for me. The emotions, the memories, the graceful breaking expressed here, it all hits on something I thought I would never think about again. For that, I applaud your story. And part of me wonders if Chris will indeed ever read this, or maybe he has already. Who knows, the internet is a wide open space.
And, maybe it’s just me, but sometimes there is no other release needed than to cry at least a little. As a writer, I like to think it’s something we strive to be able to make our readers do. To feel what we feel when we write.
Here’s to the highs and lows
I completely understand, shade. I didn’t mean to bring up any old feelings for you that you’d rather leave behind. Though, I am, in a way, glad to hear the words resonate. We all strive for that, I think.
Thanks for reading!
I envy your courage at that age to open up about your feelings and risk the potential hurt. I would’ve been far too afraid of rejection or ridicule. But I also love that the experience led you to write a story about it from the heart. I’d bet most of us would be too afraid to share those thoughts anywhere but in a personal journal.
As you read, JM, I was pushed to write and share that story with him, so it truly didn’t take much courage on my part. I’m certain you’ve faced uncertain moments when you could have been accepted or rejected: you’ve already taken that great leap of sharing stories in the great blogosphere! 🙂 I’m so glad you did, too, because I really enjoy reading your real-life adventures as much as I do those of Meghan and the rest. <3 Good characters and good stories come from a place of honesty within ourselves, that human connection we share with each other. I was just one who found that honesty the hard way.
Thanks for reading!
I’m so glad you kept that letter, Mayumi. This hit me hard, because I’m sure we’ve all been there, at some point. Loving someone who didn’t love us back. I am happy that your other friend encouraged you to write Chris a letter. We all need those wingmen.
Rejections suck, but as you say, some can be done tastefully enough so that you don’t feel like you were silly or worthless or stupid. Even though I think Chris missed out, I am glad he took the time to talk to you and try to keep the friendship going, regardless.
I’m a hoarder when it comes to my writing, Kate. I still have a bunch of the notebooks that went to university with me! They’re quite faded, but I’ve got them. 😀
I think because there was such dignity and compassion in this personal rejection, I thought all rejections would be that way. Unfortunately, they’re not. That’s not any fault of an agent, editor, publisher, or even reader – those people don’t have time to formulate personal responses to every submission or query. But, when I do get rejections, I always think back to that personal one: how it made me a better friend, a better partner in a relationship when that happened, and a better person. I’m genuinely grateful I had that experience.
Fantastic story and a great moment. That rejection definitely hurts worse than anything from an agent. Hugs.
Thanks, Kourtney. Mostly, I’ve found that my stories help me cope. My characters can be brave, resilient, and fierce. Sometimes, that translates into new avenues – like a space battle – but sometimes it has to stay close to its origins, like this one did.
Thanks for reading!