There was a boy. Sorry to start off so cliche. But during my first year of college, even though I had a boyfriend at home, there was a boy in my class.
He was just like all the other boys in my class, and completely unlike them, as they all are.
This boy had something I was drawn to that went beyond appearance. I felt an animalistic pull toward him and I could not explain why.
That was the year my jaw started to hurt.
We never spoke. Not really. We would say hello if the occasion came up. We were polite. We may have opened doors for each other, eaten food in the caf at the same time at different tables.
And I was a good girl. I was such a good girl. First year of college, only the second time away from home, my boyfriend miles away living with his parents and not able to see who I was talking to and when.
I didn’t flirt. I stayed with my girlfriends on pub nights. I went home to spend time with the boy I was committed to almost every weekend. Well, when he came to pick me up, which turned out to be every weekend.
Despite that, this pull continued. I looked at him whenever I walked into a room that he was already in. I always knew where he was in proximity to me in each class.
The pain in my jaw got worse and worse. It became a constant in my life. Some days it was so breathtakingly strong, I thought the dentist would have to eventually pin my mouth shut after surgery to treat TMJ.
It kind of scared me, feeling a hunger that intense. I’d never been that overwhelmed by a draw to a boy before. It left me dizzy at first. Until I got used to it.
I made sure we were never alone in a classroom together working late on projects. Just in case that animal feeling consumed me and I turned into someone I didn’t recognize, someone who would give into a moment of passion and cheat.
During one of those weekends home, I went to see a dental surgeon. I became convinced that the unbearable pain was coming from shifting, almost erupting wisdom teeth.
The surgeon looked in my mouth. He took a series of x-rays. He told me that none of my wisdom teeth were impacted. He said my molars were tucked nicely in my gums, not even close to the surface. He threw his hands up in the air when I asked him why my jaw hurt so much.
I was weary. I was desperate. I hadn’t remembered ever experiencing a pain that intense, consistent and intrusive before. It stirred up an anxiety that I couldn’t recognize.
I asked the surgeon if he thought pulling all my wisdom teeth would do anything to fix the pain.
He told me, again, that my teeth weren’t the cause.
Pain makes people a bit crazy sometimes, when it’s bad enough.
I insisted that he rip all of my teeth out, just in case it helped.
He shrugged, but agreed. It was my mouth. The appointment was set for spring break.
Back at school, the pain made me feel sullen.
I did not notice that the pain eased when I was in class. I was able to focus on my profs’ lectures and on the assignments.
There was no discernible pattern to this pain. Not one that I could understand. It was brutal. Relentless. No matter how often it would temporarily ease, it always came back, sometimes more fierce than ever.
I continued to stay in groups, leaving no possibility of giving into this ever-present draw to the boy in my program.
There was a feeling of dread deep, deep beneath the overwhelming draw. Somehow, I knew that giving in would lead to something bad, but I didn’t know what. It was the not knowing what that kept me on the road of making good choices.
That feeling like a threat deep inside me. A threat that one wrong move could change my entire life in a horrible way. But how, I didn’t know.
Spring break came and I got my wisdom teeth pulled. I spent a weekend on my boyfriend’s parents’ couch, trying to eat enough soup to keep the Tylenol 3 from making me sick, though I wasn’t hungry.
When the fog of anaesthesia and pain killers and weakness subsided two days later, to my intense disappointment, I realized that the pain in my jaw was still present.
It devastated me. I felt resigned to being in pain for my entire life.
After that, somehow, part of me found a tiny, one-time, no strings attached slip more acceptable.
In the way that a betrothed twists a last fling into something that would be helpful to keeping the coming marriage from exploding like a boiled over pot and then falling apart.
Something in me knew without a doubt that I was going to be kissing one boy for the rest of my life.
And that made things real.
There I was, first year of college, not really experiencing my first year of college.
I began to feel a little ripped off. I began to worry that I would look back on my life and regret not allowing myself one tiny moment of human connection with a boy who I was clearly drawn to in a way that I had never felt before.
What kind of person laments a life having never, not once, given in to passion? What kind of life was I living?
That thought worked its way to the surface of my brain and blossomed like a sunflower.
When I checked in on that thought, and the feelings that went with it, the flower would look up at the sun I brought to it.
And then I heard there was a party on the last weekend of school, that he would be there.
How perfect. It seemed fated. I have a weakness, a soft place in my guarded heart, for fated happenings.
Things were set. Of course, at any point I could have decided I wouldn’t go. But I chose to go. I wanted to go. I was suddenly so fucking sick of being proper, even though I never attended any tea parties.
By the end of that year, I had gained weight. I was rounder, but the pull still existed. Somehow, my jaw pain eased ever so slightly. It pulled back a bit. Sometimes.
At the party, I drank too much. I was nervous. Things I didn’t know about this man were revealed to me.
In that space, he was more open about his desire for me. He didn’t hold back. But I was nervous. I had misunderstood.
It startled me to discover that he wanted to have sex.
I’m sure that sounds odd. What 20 year old female who felt an intense pull toward a 20 year male wouldn’t know that?
But I didn’t see it. My belief in the illicitness of a passionate kiss overrode anything that may have been out there.
And because I didn’t see it, I didn’t believe it was his intention.
Face to face, though, it was clear. I didn’t know what to do. I was terrified. Believing I had opened a box that couldn’t be closed, a path I didn’t want to walk, I began to think about all possible exit strategies.
I confessed to having a boyfriend, thinking this would cool things down. Nope.
The intense pull was relentless. I broke away from it, but it was still there. And I didn’t know what to do.
Still, there was a nagging at me that this would be my last chance ever to kiss a boy for the first time.
We kissed. And then I ran away. I slipped into the crowd and hailed a cab.
I never saw him again.
Years later, when my boyfriend and I were sharing our second apartment in a new town, I had dreams that he had cheated.
I was devastated. I felt angry, but more humiliated than anything. And I needed to know the truth.
When I asked him, he denied it. Never, he said. He had never done anything with anyone else, even while I was away.
I started to feel a terrible guilt deep in my belly. It started to spread. I wasn’t sure that I could handle it.
I confessed to kissing a boy in college. He forced me to tell him every detail. But I know he still didn’t believe me.
Then he told me he had cheated. He didn’t want to give any details. I was just sad. We talked about it for a week.
Part of me resigned to a life like that. One where my boyfriend would cheat and I would never leave.
I didn’t believe that anyone else would ever love me. I felt like I was too fat, too ugly, too dorky to ever be loved by anyone. Else.
Because my boyfriend loved me. He must have. Why else would he be with me?
And we lived happily ever after. Except not really.
On my death bed, I won’t be able to say that I wasn’t adventurous enough. Or desired. Or chosen. Because there was that one time in college. And I didn’t run. Not right away.