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In Defense of Unrequited Love

1983. Myself, along with two friends decided to meet up with some boys from the neighboring high school. This wasn’t a group date, but one couple meeting up and the rest of us tagging along. The venue: a burger joint and arcade. To the pings and whistles of pinball and Centipede (of which I am a true master, thank you very much) we ate 29 cent hamburgers, talked awkwardly, and occasionally got distracted by Duran Duran videos on the big screen TV. Diagonally across from me in the booth sat a tall, poofy auburn haired, skater boy. He was funny and a little unusual and whether it was the aftermath of that terrible burger or the cacophony of early 1980s teen entertainment, I’ll never know, but I fell in love.

I was thirteen. He was so tall. I fell hard.

I stared at him as the six of us walked back through the shopping center and town toward home. A few times over the next few months we would meet up at the corner near my high school and walk as far as my friend’s house. She was my closest and oldest friend and the coolest person I knew, so that alone would be reason to hang out with her. But that skater boy was friends with her boyfriend, so I tagged along as often as I could.

Valentine’s Day arrived at school along with the shame-filled ritual of sending flowers to other students anonymously (aside from the students taking orders) and I plucked up the courage to buy a pink (“I like you”) carnation. In Geometry, hands shaking, I wrote out my confession to my skater boy. I wrote that he probably didn’t know or remember me, and that I knew he had a girlfriend, but I just wanted him to know how cool and cute I thought he was. I gave the flower and the note to my friend to pass along.

This part is fuzzy, but I have a memory of seeing him in the group, walking up the hill past our practice field, the route they (we) always took, reading the note. I have no way of knowing if this was my imagination or real, but I’ll add it to the story with a disclaimer.

I never got the courage to talk to him again.

I would wait on the steps after school to see him walking (he was so tall) and watch he and his friends go by, never sad or regretful, but just happy to see him there. I had no expectations, no hope, but that didn’t mean I had despair or sadness. I was just happy I had the courage to tell him he was amazing. I didn’t need him to think the same of me.

If he had, I would have died.

Granted, thirteen in 1983 is different from thirteen in 2017. We stewed in the beginnings of puberty with the threat of nuclear war still hanging over our heads and hearing that sex was a death sentence. My generation has never been good with hope, so you can forgive us for being nihilists. Yet, I think, there’s always been a bit of a romantic streak within us. At least there has always been in me, and while we toss around notions of “obsessive-love” or “friend-zone” we may have absorbed this sweet concept of unrequited love into something else. I want to take it back. I want to remove confrontation, confession, and closure as the true actualization of all feeling. I want to sometimes hold things close and dear and private. As we finally expand definitions of love, I’d like to reclaim this one for what it is: A soft, pink carnation that wants for nothing more but to quietly bloom on its own, and occasionally catch a glimpse of you in the afternoon sun.

He was so tall.

Heather Flyte is a graduate student in English Literature at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. She is currently writing her thesis on the transfer of imperialism in the translation of Japanese folk tales. She is a non-traditional student who has previously worked in journalism and web development and plans to pursue doctoral work in Composition and Rhetoric.
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