I’m seven when I first start dreaming about him. I remember it with clarity. I’m at work with my mom and reading books in the waiting room. I sit on the couch, reaching for the next story that will catapult me up and away from the overwhelming blue of the room. Blue couches, blue carpet, blue walls. I love coming to work with my mom, but I do not understand monotony of color.
I choose the next book in my favorite series: The Babysitters Club. It doesn’t take me long to read the entire thing — maybe a a few hours. Within minutes I’m lost in the world of these characters I see as friends. I look up from the last page and sigh, satisfied. One day, I’ll be as cool as Claudia or Stacy. I know it.
And then I blink and am lost in a daydream that hits me with force.
I never had baby dolls growing up. I never had that maternal instinct that desired a baby doll of my own. From what I remember, there was a stuffed Precious Moments rabbit I named Cindy and a doll I named Rebecca. I had a lot of Barbies — I loved dressing them and playing with the various outfits. Cindy and Rebecca provided security while I slept. But babies? Babies weren’t a thing for me.
What developed was the dream of Prince Charming. I am hopelessly romantic from the start, and most of this is because of what I see in my own mother and father — their love is potent and obvious to anyone in the same room.
I’m not sure exactly where I go that day in my mom’s office — it’s somewhere deep where thoughts turn murky but tangible. Somewhere we’re given hints and visions of what’s coming. It feels like electricity dancing on my skin. It feels like the ocean’s rhythm deep in my veins. I inhale deeply and close my eyes, afraid the feeling will leave me.
What comes next is a deep knowing.
I would fall in love one day. That’s what I see: me in love. It’s me and some figure, walking hand in hand, a cloud of rosy lavender surrounding us. It’s the first experience I have with intuition and the feeling is addictive. I stand up, the books falling from my lap. Butterflies cause a ruckus inside my gut, and I walk slowly around the room trying to alleviate the way they tickle my insides, my arms moving back and forth like I’m dancing. I feel like I’m floating, but with roots burying themselves deep in the earth, keeping me safe from falling.
This must be what love feels like.
And he’s out there waiting. I can feel him like I can feel my own breath.
You’re out there, I think. You’re out there, and we’re going to fall in love. I smile and run my finger down my braid. You will be my air, and you will be my roots, and falling in love with you will feel like Truth.
This doesn’t change throughout my middle school and teen years. Every boy is a possibility, every conversation a curiosity. Because of this, I don’t date much. I have my barometer and if something feels off, I turn into a skittish colt. My sophomore year of high school, I find someone who feels like roots, who feels like familiarity and laughter and home town. I know it isn’t right though, and after a week of summer camp and my suitcase still full of soffe shorts and tank tops, I call him up and end things.
I just don’t want to settle, I said, my face wrinkled into a grimace. He takes it in stride, like any teenage boy would do, and bounces back with a mutual understanding.
The following summer I find myself back in his car, the best friend in the backseat, windows down while we cruise 1604. I stick my arm out the window, feeling the way the wind directs my hand, and stare at the stars. I still know he isn’t the one I want, even though I want him in that moment. He isn’t air and roots, but he’s close. That counts for something, right? With Pearl Jam’s Last Kiss blaring on the radio and the sultry summer breeze blowing my hair helter-skelter, I feel invincible. I ignore the prick in my gut telling me this is dangerous, that I’ll get hurt, that he’s just in it to have a good time.
I’m sixteen and alive, and in all of my naivety, I think that’s what I want, to have a good time. I’m wrong. I’ve never been a good time kind of girl. I’ll find this out time and time and time again, but this moment — right here — would be the first.
When we finally end things, when I realize he doesn’t want me like I want him, the uprooting is harsh and quick. At that age you feel like you know everything, and even though I know he isn’t right, part of me that believes I can make him fit. I tell my friends this one day, and they laugh at me.
“You can’t make someone work for you, Elora.”
I shrug, not convinced.
“I mean…can you picture having kids with him? Can you picture growing old with him?”
My nose wrinkles for half a second. I can feel it and I’m pissed at its betrayal.
One of my friends looks down at her hair that reaches to the small of her back. She’s breaking off the split ends and I know this means she’s thinking. She brushes it behind her ear and sighs.
“I don’t know. I can’t imagine having kids with anyone.”
We gape. Out of all of us, she’s probably the most conservative. She doesn’t want kids? My brain doesn’t understand, even though I’ve never really thought about it personally. I’m not one to go bananas over babies or little kids.
“Do you think it’s because you just haven’t met someone?”
She smirks. “No. I just don’t want kids. I’m pretty confident. Can you imagine? Your life just…disappears. I can see myself falling in love, maybe traveling a lot….I can’t see myself having kids.”
I raise an eyebrow and catch the eye of another friend sitting with us. I think I understand what she’s saying. Kids feel like ages away — their concept nebulous and blurry. Love feels concrete. Adventure feels imminent. But kids?
We grow quiet for a little bit and then I rest my chin in my hand.
“I don’t know about kids, either.” I admit. “But I do know I want to fall in love with one of my friends. I want to have a love story like Joey and Pacey. We’re best friends, and then all of the sudden, we look at each other and know.”
The boy who rooted me wasn’t going to be forever. I know this now. He’s close, but he’s not kinetic energy. And our relationship happened fast. We met, we fell for each other, we burnt out with the ferocity of teen love. I think about the fact that we haven’t even held hands and roll my eyes.
Definitely not a forever type of love.
There are other guys after him, brief crushes that never line up with that inner barometer. But then I meet the linebacker.
I meet him at a church camp. Stereotypical, I know. It’s the summer after my senior year of high school. I have college to look forward to in the fall. I’ll be rooming with one of my closest friends, and meeting complete strangers who are supposedly supposed to be lifelong relationships. I’ve spent the summer traveling all over the the Western hemisphere: Haiti, the Texas coast, South Carolina, Oklahoma. I feel cultured, even though I’m anything but — my innocence is still very much a force field.
I’ve always heard about the electricity between people being palpable. I never believe it until he reaches for my hand and smiles. The sparks make me suck in my breath. My heart rate jumps when he touches my hand and I’m afraid he can see the pulse going crazy in my neck.
This boy could ruin me, I think. I don’t get a chance to react. I hear footsteps behind me and before I can see who they belong to, arms wrap around my shoulders. I know who it is immediately, another local — someone I met at a Disciple Now a few months prior and befriended quickly. I place my hands on her arm. Having her here emboldens me.
“It’s about time y’all got here.”
I laugh at the familiar drawl and nod. “I know. Traffic in Dallas was horrible.”
The Linebacker’s eyes pop out in surprise.
“You know her?” He asks me, pointing to the face behind me.
I turn and wrap my arms around her waist and raise an eyebrow.
“Is that going to be a problem?” I snap back and he hides a smile.
“We met at D-Now,” my friend explains, glancing at me briefly with a weird look before turning back to the Linebacker. “You should have come.”
The boy catches my gaze and I’m suddenly experiencing the rage of butterflies on a suicide mission, every synapse firing and motioning for cover because oh my gosh he’s looking at me….
It’s never just a casual glance with him. For as long as he’s in my life, his gaze will undo me.
“I guess so.” He responds, looking at me for a little while longer before smiling and tapping his best friend on the chest. That’s when I notice the football in his hand.
“Come on, man. Let’s go.”
They walk away and I watch them, heads bent together, shoulders broad, swaying in the high school way of boys who know they can have anything in the world.
“You’re in trouble aren’t you,” my friend giggles and nudges my side with her elbow.
I keep my gaze on their retreating figures.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I swallow and turn to look at her. Taking a deep breath, I force myself to focus. “So where are the girls staying?”