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.
I am lying on my best friend’s bed. It’s mid-December, and we are wrapped in the honeysuckle-scented warmth of an Arizona winter. It is 12:45 a.m. and I am too lazy to walk to her kitchen to find dessert, so instead I’ve taken possession of her advent calendar, demolishing chocolate meant to be saved, one square at a time.
“I mean, Sophia, he makes me excited for Mondays,” I say as said chocolate melts in my mouth.
She runs her brush through her hair. “I know. He makes you all bubbly and warm inside, but I just don’t see how this one is going to work out for you.”
I take another chocolate out of her advent calendar and hold it as I talk. “It’s just that he just doesn’t know me. If he knew me like how you know me, he would totally be into me. We could talk about philosophy and socialism and Doritos. Sophia, he likes the same kind of music I do — nobody likes the same kind of music as I do.”
Sophia sits down on the bed next to me. She looks at me, her eyes sad, lost in both her pity and her love for me. I imagine it’s hard for her to watch someone she cares about get hurt so easily and frequently.
“He’ll love me back one day; he has to,” I say.
Somewhere between my eighth and ninth birthdays, I feel it for the first time: the warmth of Ezra’s voice slowly working its way over me, speaking words I have not lived enough to fully understand. As they surround me, I find I do not know what to do with the nauseated feeling they inspire, or the way my eyes seem to have grown so big. Years later, I find myself traveling back to that point, marking it as the first time my ears discovered poetry.
My thighs are normally the first thing I blame when a guy doesn’t like me back — the way they expand toward the top, chunky. I used to watch them as they jiggled and think of them as proof of unwanted flaws. I also normally find myself yelling at my hands for not knowing what to do with themselves whenever I am near the guy that that I like. When I’m nervous, they awkwardly shake, fold into each other, or find themselves placed in pockets. They remain heavy, draining my concentration.
For the first time in a while, I don’t yell at my hands for not knowing what to do with themselves. I don't call my older brother and make him tell me that I am funny — not just to other girls, but also to boys. He finds me funny, right? I don’t smell my breath. Or blame my body. I don’t chalk it up to mismatched personalities. These go-tos all remain neglected in my search for flaws that deem me rejectable. Instead, I blame my parents for my age and the fact that I’m not an indie rock star.
There is a 15-year age gap between Ezra and me. OK, fine, 16. But if I take into account my ability to convince people I’m older and pat myself on my back for my maturity, I can kinda budge my way to just a 15-year age gap.
This affliction is a painful one, really. It is treacherous to know that your soul mate is out somewhere in the world, yet won't be with you because you're half his age and it would be “illegal.” And, I mean, fine, this probably wouldn’t be the only reason Ezra would reject me. I know that. Maybe it’s not only that I’m half his age, but that I’m also not the kind of cool New York City high schooler who dates guys who are cool like him, who loses her virginity with actual fireworks going off around her on a mattress floating on a lake in the Hamptons. Not to say I don’t have any spunk or rebellion in me: The pint of ice cream I already demolished is resting on the arm of my mother's couch. Yep, no coaster. No paper towel. No protection. Oh, and it’s chocolate. That will leave a stain. Clearly I am living on the edge (and have an extensive supply of OxiClean stain remover).
But age is the kind of thing that would have him write me off before he got to know me. And that is painful. Because I am telling you, if Ezra knew me — like, really knew me, in the way you only know someone right after they cry in front of you for the first time, that humid vulnerability; if he knew me in the way you know the cadence of someone's laugh — he would be hooked.
I get lost in words easily, like watching moments spread themselves onto pages. I attempt to trap winks and glances into letters and people, into poetry. It scares others sometimes, my writing. It is too vulnerable, too awkward, too easy. Boys ask what I’ll do if I find myself a boyfriend. Will I have to stop writing? Will he have to be OK with it? And then there are the boyfriends who ask me nervously if I will write about them, too. Lips quivering as they kiss me, wondering if that moment, too, will be transcribed.
I tell myself that Ezra would understand. If he were lying there next to me, he would understand the need to document the pitch of a giggle and the bounce my heart feels in the moment.
On weekends, I spend hours listening to Ezra talk; his laugh warms my computer speakers. During the lulls of math class, I picture his hand on my back, his laugh in my ears. How he would understand what I am trying to say and care about my opinions on Sylvia Plath. I can see the two of us standing in his kitchen late at night. How he would tell me about his childhood — not just the press answers, but the real stuff. The kind of stuff you only tell when you trust someone and it’s late at night. How his fingers would feel as they made their way through my hair.
Sophia turns to me before getting under the covers. “Anna, you aren’t actually in love with Ezra Koenig. You don’t know him. You are in love with Vampire Weekend. He makes you excited for Mondays because his radio show is on Sundays. You have a crush on a male celebrity — that’s not, like, an original love affair.”
But that’s the thing: I am not just a fangirl. To say I am a fangirl is to say I am in love with someone for their body and the songs they sing. That I am in love with someone because they are famous and have a large Twitter following. But that isn’t why.
I am in love with Ezra because there was once a reporter who wrote bad reviews about Vampire Weekend. Ezra had him on his radio show, “Time Crisis,” to talk out their opinions. Ezra even played some of the reporter’s music. He is a kind person. He is smart and genuine. He is funny and he cares, and he isn’t afraid to show that he cares. I am not a shallow fangirl; I am a teenager who is in love with someone for all he has revealed to her. Who believes that if life just worked itself out a little differently, he would have been in love with her, too. That maybe if she grew up a few miles from where he did and was born a few years earlier, they would have sat next to each other in a cafeteria and he would have talked to her about all the music they both like and made out with her in a car. That maybe if things just went a different way, she wouldn’t be so desperately longing.
But alas, I am a high school junior who is writing this on a Friday night in between reruns of One Tree Hill. It has been weeks since I was in my best friend’s bed in Arizona, and now I am back in my New York City room. It’s mid-January, a week before my 17th birthday. I am lying in my bed. "Time Crisis" is playing off of my computer. For a few minutes, I just let myself listen to the octave of Ezra's voice. I don’t picture a future of us together, or let myself get dragged into the knowledge that we will never be a thing. I just lie there content as he discusses the origin of the Frasier theme song.
Sometimes, we have soul mates to whom we will never mean a single thing. That’s OK. Someone doesn’t have to love you in order for you to love them back.
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