The Loves I’ve Learned
You’re 6 and there’s a boy on the playground who includes you, a fifth, in games made for four. And that’s what elementary school love is. It’s getting yourself into spaces where you don’t belong. This boy has dark eyes and big ideas and you talk too quickly and cry too easily. Elementary school love isn’t meant to harden you, but you are still trying to force yourself into spaces where you don’t belong.
You’re 8 and there’s a boy in your reading group who is smarter than you and who will still be smarter than you when you graduate. You compete with each other constantly. You run faster than him because you’re taller than him and you will be taller than him when you graduate. You only slow down when you look back at him, but it’s nowhere near poetry.
You’re 9 and there’s a girl in your class who wears her hair in braided pigtails. She has soft eyes and a gentle smile and an interesting family, because brokenness is still interesting when you’re this young. You can’t talk to her so you don’t, and when you try to explain this to your best friend you can’t. This doesn’t mean anything, but you try hard to forget it anyways.
You’re 10 and the boy from 8 is back with messier hair and longer legs and even more bravado. You’re in advanced math together and you try to hide your confusion but the class is too small for hiding. You’re recess equals anyways. He tells your best friend that he likes you, so you avoid him until the end of the year. You both promise to stay in touch over the summer, but you both know you won’t. And that’s fine.
You’re 11 and not having a crush in middle school means getting buried alive, and there’s a boy in homeroom with blue eyes and what are called strong features who will have to do. He’s good enough at baseball to be acceptable but you have no desire to actually talk to him. When your only friend in class says she likes him too, you let her be the one who wants him. You’re relieved, but you don’t know exactly why.
You’re 13 and a boy breaks up with your friend because he wants to kiss you. He’s smart but not nice and funny but not cute. On Memorial Day he buys a supermarket apple pie and six bottles of grape soda and tells you to meet him at the train tracks. You don’t like grape soda but there’s something satisfying about throwing the empty bottles. He tells you he loves you so you kiss him and it tastes like nothing. He wants you to come over when his parents aren’t home. You stop texting him back.
You’re 14 and there’s a girl in band with a foreign name and careful hands and thick hair. You don’t talk to her for two years because you know what this means. It feels like dying. You wish you were dying. Eventually you become her friend but you’re still one part hopeful and two parts nervous. She’s two years older and when she graduates you feel something angry inside you open up. You push it down deep and hope it never comes out.
You’re 16 and best friends with a girl who is as insufferable as she is short, and she’s only 5’2” to your 5’11”. After months of fighting she says she wants to kiss you, and after weeks of flirting you kiss her. One kiss becomes countless kisses and one date becomes ten and a half months. But she’s seven hours away and you’re unreliable and neither of you wants to be the one to end it, so you do. She doesn’t talk to you again for over a year.
You’re 17 and have a new best friend who’s tall and a dancer and more confident than you’ll ever be. You kiss her in your bed and fall in love with her quickly. She’s not ashamed of you and when she says forever it sounds like a goddamn promise. You can’t hold yourself together when you both go to college, and things collapse around you. You spend a lot of time searching for her broken heart in the rubble before you realize a boy found it. You put yourself back together and try to stop texting her. You’re not very good at it.
You’re almost 19 and you never thought things would be so broken. It’s not interesting anymore; it’s just sad and lonely. 6 thinks you should slow down for once, but 8 still thinks you can outrun anything. 10, 11, and 13 are getting tired but they don’t know why yet. 9 begs you to let yourself be okay again. 14 is terrified but 16 went through hell and 17 still found something good. You’re almost 19 and you’re moving carefully into something new and warm. You’re still terrified, but she’s not running yet and neither are you.
Katherine Fletcher is a sophomore English and Textual Studies and English Education major at Syracuse University. At SU, her work has been featured in Jerk Magazine and Perceptions. She’s thrilled at the support she’s received from her friends and family, and she’d like to thank her wonderful friends who have reviewed her work. She’d also like to thank all the people she’s written about for leaving such a poetic impact on her.