Crush City is a biweekly column following the romantic misadventures of New York City high school junior Anna Koppelman. Her conquests include studying her crush in geometry instead of isosceles triangles and making a secret Pinterest board for the wedding she is definitely going to have with her older brother’s friend. Anna may not be talking to any of her exes, but she’s happy to write about them.
When you first break up, you mix your regret into chocolate icing and eat it straight out of the Betty Crocker can. You regret all of it. Liking him, kissing him, the month you spent tired, getting half the amount of sleep because you were busy texting him. Then your best friend will call him an asshole or a loser. She’ll point to the fact that he only wore plaid and that his favorite show is still SpongeBob. You will take your last bite of icing, pick the popcorn kernels out of your hair, and tell yourself you are smarter, funnier, hotter, and altogether better than him. You regret ever dating him, as you find yourself at the gym, slowly picking up the pace of your run.
And then, you will find yourself with nothing to do but watch reruns of The Mindy Project on a Friday night, alone with your own thoughts. And then, you will regret everything you did. The fact that you didn’t tell him about your gluten allergy, scared he would make fun of you; you ate a doughnut and left the date early, because, well, you have a gluten allergy. You hold on to regret because it’s the only thing you have to hold on to. It’s the proof. You regret so you can remember watching him as he drove down the highway, the glasses he only wore in his car. So you can remember that you did happen, that you were real, there for a second, that you didn't laugh once while watching your favorite comedy special because you were too busy making out to listen to it. You regret so you don’t have to say goodbye. It’s an unchangeable fate — always there. You regret because that is all you have left.
I used to want my misery to be sexy. Smoking a cigarette out a car window. Over-rimmed black eyeliner. Hooking up drunk while listening to R.E.M. Ripped jeans. Fingernails painted navy.
But I was never fun dark. I was sad dark. The kind of sad where you can only listen to happy music, hoping the loud beat and high-pitched voice will rub off on you, and to enough love songs to fill the void. I was the kind of dark where you feel everything in hyperfocus — skin paper thin, eyes sullen. I walked through life sweating, worried, attempting to find the loophole to shorten the days. I was dark in the least glorious way.
And then I began writing about it. I wrote a poem and titled it “trapped.” It was about this feeling I would get whenever I walked into school: these chest palpitations. I felt like I couldn’t escape the pain and the dark; I felt trapped. Trapped — the word I would repeat, again and again. I wrote an essay about bullying and the anxiety that followed. I became queen of my own darkness. How gruesome it looked from the inside.
When you first publish an article there is a feeling in your stomach — a victory, almost. You have just gotten vengeance. The kid who called you a cow no longer has power because you wrote about it. All wrongs done right. You feel free, flying, no strings. Like you have won.
And then a few months go by and one night you have nothing better to do but read your old writing and you get this feeling in your stomach. Like other people will know how sad you were then. How were you that sad then? Were you ever really that sad? Your mind erases things after you type them, like you no longer have to remember until you do. Convincing yourself the pain never happened makes it easier to ignore the scars. And then you remember that the pain did happen. You know it did. The evidence is right there in front of you, blinking on your computer screen. Blinking for others to see.
You calm yourself down. Who cares if some kids will read about the darkness and laugh at you? They already laugh at you. But then there is a boy you like, and you tell him about your writing. He googles you. You aren’t the fun kind of sexy dark, and he knows it. It scares him. He keeps his gloved hands as far away from you as he can.
So you try to stop writing about the darkness. In fact, you don’t write at all. Let weeks sprawl out on wordless pages. Life curls in on itself. You smile. No one questions the authenticity; it’s about survival. And then you meet him, at a camp dance, in red plaid, a doughy grin.
I always wanted to play mini-golf, and we did. It was warm and overpriced. His arms fit around me as he guided me through a putt, his head close enough to my shoulder for me to turn and kiss. I wore a short skirt, a black tank top tucked in. I had a white button-down shirt opened loose around my shoulders. Pop music blasted around us. I looked at him as he went to pick up the ball before we moved to the next hole. He looked so perfect standing there. His curly hair, which his mom kept insisting he needed to cut, was growing free — he pushed back the end with his hand when he saw me looking at him. There was so much want in that moment, so much hope answered. We were mini-golfing, like I always wanted, his rough hands there to clasp around mine, his lips there for me to touch, his heart there, beating. I stood, still looking at him, and smiled. He laughed and motioned for me to follow him, so I did.
The other day I was watching Shark Tank, and this guy pitched an idea about sunscreen scanners. At first, it seemed like a good idea, and he gave it a high valuation — like 10 percent for $50k, or something. I forget the details, but he talked a lot about all of his degrees. And then the sharks asked him what the sales on the products were, and he said, “Well, they are just a prototype, so I don’t know yet.” The sharks asked him what he based his high evaluation off of, and he said, “Well, I can feel the potential.”
There is always so much of that potential before you take a chance, and always so much wasted looking back, so much more to rehash when you sift back through the memories. It’s the what-could-have-been. It’s the fact that you never told him about your gluten allergy. For all the deep questions you asked, you kept everything on the surface. The right memory tinged with regret finds its way back to potential.
You have met girls who are sexy in their sadness: A part of you still wants to be them. But you have worked hard not to be the girl hyperventilating on the floor of her kitchen, hiccuping on her own breath, taking so much in that she can’t let it out. Dark has fallen behind the other parts of you. You still do not know how to write without regret. It is the only way to backpedal through all this mud.
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