September 2011. My very first day of tenth grade. I'm young and new, and the way I clutch a class schedule in my hand reminds me of the intense grip people usually reserve for grabbing hold of ropes thrown down from rescue helicopters. Honestly, the schedule feels like my rope, though whether it leads to safety or danger I don’t know. Walking through the hallways, feeling increasingly diminutive compared to everyone around me, I feel inclined toward the latter.
It isn’t helped by the fact that I’m deep in my awkward stage. I put equally minimal effort into showering and fashion, wearing the same clothes most every day of the week. Pro tip to my lazier friends: you can get away with wearing the same clothes everyday...if it’s the right kind of clothing. North Face jacket plus jeans? Solid. My linty, knee-length, zip-up coat that seemed to act as Redmond High School’s duster, based solely on the sheer amount of detritus it collected? Hell no. Add to this my unbrushed hair, windswept by fierce breezes on my mile-long walk to school, chapped lips (I was opposed to chapstick on principle, since I thought it counted as makeup, which was for people of ill repute and my sister), and glasses, always smudged and falling ever so slightly down the bridge of my nose.
Point is, thirteen-year-old Adora Svitak was not exactly a studmuffin.
But people are polite at RHS, so no one says a word.
My first class is AP Art History. It's usually reserved for juniors and seniors only, so I'm not only young age-wise, but grade-wise, compared to almost everyone else in the class. When I walk in--late--twenty pairs of eyes sweep toward me with inscrutable expressions. I quickly stumble to the closest possible chair.
“You’ll need to come with me, we’re checking out textbooks,” the teacher, Ms. C, says kindly. I follow her quickly out through the hall and down a staircase until we get to the long line for checking out textbooks. Everyone else has their school ID out and I realize with a sinking feeling that mine is languishing in a dark corner of my backpack, all the way back in the AP Art History classroom.
“I’m so sorry, I forgot my ID!” I blurt out quickly, and run back up the stairs. It takes me a couple minutes to retrace my steps and find the classroom, and when I walk in I get some odd glances before people look away. There’s no mirror for me to check if I’m blushing, but my cheeks feel warm as I fumble around in my backpack for my ID. It’s only the first day and yet I’m already late, and I—
“Forgot school ID?” one guy asks jovially. He sets his backpack and art history textbook down on the desk with a thump. I’m crouched on the ground by my backpack so I have to almost crane my neck up to see his face; he’s really really tall--6’1” at least, maybe 6’2”. He has a rumpled shock of mousy brown hair and rectangle glasses. In a class that seems to pull ethnically from every continent but Europe, his whiteness stands out. He’s really white is actually my first thought about him.
“Yeah,” I murmur, and he cracks me a smile. Saying "suddenly, the day doesn't feel nearly as bad" seems trite, like a paper-mache sun suddenly wheeling out from behind clouds on a Saturday morning PBS Kids show. But it's also true.
The whole class, I sit silently in a chair next to Tall White Guy, looking around and trying to understand the dynamics of the room. I feel as if everyone knows each other already; I’m the only person not sitting with people I’m intimately acquainted with. Tall White Guy is the class clown, interjecting with jokes that make some of the girls in the class shake their head and sigh in mock frustration as Ms. C looks on benevolently, mildly entertained.
I don’t remember when I find out his name is Arthur, but I remember savoring it the first time I hear it. Arthur, I repeated in my head, ArthurArthurArthurArthurArthur until the syllables blend together into a meditative murmur like the gentle hum of a white noise machine. It takes a month for that gentle hum to speed up, into the rapid pulse I get when I slide into my chair next to him, when he makes a side comment to me during class, when he says some parting words--probably just “have a good weekend”--before we go our separate ways out the classroom door.
I am thirteen, and I call this love.
I write angsty entries in my journal trying to disown my feelings, applying a rational lens to the whole situation: I’m thirteen going on fourteen, he’s seventeen going on eighteen. I’m a sophomore, he’s a senior. We only talk in class; we have practically no mutual friends, no overlapping interests. He doesn’t even like art history. I’m a devout Democrat with ‘08 Hillary Clinton stickers on my laptop, and he’s a libertarian who jokingly runs a half-assed “campaign” (consisting of telling fellow seniors about it) as a write-in candidate to oppose Redmond’s mayor in the elections. I’m so infatuated that one night after I’ve pretended to go to bed I sneak into my parents’ room to steal their incompletely filled out mail-in ballots, quietly crouching on the hardwood floor to slip the ballots out and surreptitiously write in his name. I chicken out at the last minute and slink out with a profound feeling of disappointment in myself.
I see him the next day and think about saying, “I almost fraudulently voted for you,” but I don’t even open my mouth.
I have a tortured relationship with the idea of having a crush itself, knowing that it’s fruitless, only causing me the pain of feeling my heart rate accelerate and my face to dissolve into nervous giggles and easy smiles for his bad jokes, but at the same time it’s my first time feeling something this intense, and my infatuation for him is half infatuation for feeling an emotion that makes me feel so tugged, desperate, alive.
I call down curses on my unfashionable wardrobe because of sitting next to him; I want to look pretty, but I know that he will only ever see me as a kid, the days that he sees me at all. The days when he acknowledges me are my happiest. One day I forget to eat breakfast before coming to school, so my stomach starts rumbling loudly in the middle of class. At least I think it’s loud; it’s loud enough that Arthur turns to me, raises one eyebrow (sending shockwaves through my midsection incomparable to the contortions of my impatient stomach), and scribbles on the corner of his notebook, “Someone’s hungry.” I scrawl back with joking indignation, “I DIDN’T HAVE BREAKFAST OK.” Internally, it feels like a victory. (If he’s paying attention to the noises your stomach makes, he’s basically bae, right?)
I find myself skipping in the hallways on my way to class. I get a strange little smile playing at the corners of my lips when I think about him. He turns eighteen. I feel increasing pangs of loss, a strange sense that he is retreating further away from me. I turn fourteen. I buy some new clothes. I shower a little more often. A square-jawed guy in Biology tells me that my new dress looks pretty on me and I’m shocked, because no boy has ever complimented me on my appearance before.
My crush on Arthur continues, unwaveringly.
The day of our AP Art History final, he tells me that he’s dropping the class second semester.
I cry for three days.
I cry into journal pages. A pillow. I punch my mattress and the Caillebotte painting on the hard cover of the 1000-page art history textbook. I go to bed early and let my tears roll down my cheeks. I kick off my sheets and run my feet along the cold wall, the bumps and valleys of the uneven paint job like the wrinkles and calluses of a harder, more unforgiving skin. I go from hope that maybe he’ll decide to stick with the class, to fear of the certainty that we will never talk any more now that our one excuse for interaction is gone, to sadness at what will never be, to a monotonous sort of acceptance: I will have to get over this boy.
True to expectations, my worst fears come true. We don’t really talk; we don’t have a reason to. Shorn of the excuse of “what grade did you get on the last APAH test?” or “what are you writing your paper about?” I don’t have a reason to message him on Facebook. I think of him, often, much more often than I’d like to admit. I look with no small amount of jealousy at his pictures with the statuesque black-haired girl he asks to prom. But I don’t cry into pillows.
Some months later, after he's long graduated and we're deep into the summer before my junior year, someone I know starts a ranting Facebook thread about abortion. Against my better judgment, I get involved. I’m overwhelmed by a barrage of comment after comment and then, out of nowhere, a notification: “Arthur Dunn has commented.” A single line, telling the person I’m sparring with to “shut up. Adora’s right.” My knight in shining armor, I thought with a wry smile (and an appreciation for the irony of that thought, coming from a feminist).
The smile that comes to my face that day almost makes up for the fact that when I search his name on Facebook two years later on a whim I realize we’re no longer Facebook friends--at some point in time, he must have made a new account, or simply defriended me. I'm not sure why, but somehow, it doesn’t bother me too much. I like to keep him in my mind as that teenager making crude jokes in APAH next to a girl his polar opposite, small and shy and eternally grateful to him for cracking an easy smile on what felt like the first day of my adolescent life.