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I was twenty when I cried over a boy for the first time. We met in middle school. His name was Justin. He had brownish hair that flopped over his forehead, and bounced stupidly when he walked and, though he mentioned starting on growth hormones, was shorter than me by half a foot. Honestly, he was nothing special. Even so, there was something endearing about him to my seventh-grade self: the way he asked to be my partner for a project on The Tell Tale Heart, and the way he never forgot to wave to me in the hallway.

Sometimes he’d stop me and ask about my weekend, to which I’d muster up a quiveringly honest response about ballet class, or doing nothing, yeah I didn’t really do anything. What do you think about the story? I asked. What story? The one from— Oh from English, yeah it’s pretty creepy. No I know...the whole heart thing. Yeah haha. Then he’d add that he’ll see me later. I liked that.

We met in English class at a time when our concept of the language started to swell. Asteroid words like fuck, shit, and bitch collided with the rest of our vocabulary, like the supposedly very big bang that made the Earth. And to us, Middle School was the Earth. Through the noise, Justin could look at me from across the room—past his stupid hair, the crust, and the mantle—and all I’d manage to hear would be the thing pattering in my chest.

Before him, I had convinced myself to have crushes on my girl friends and Hermione Granger. I’d open the Harry Potter movie book, with stills from all eight films, and stare at Emma Watson’s curly hair. I didn’t stare at much else. This is to say that Justin was my first real crush, the first boy I ever liked who was a real life person with the ability to like me back. My sister and my friends were convinced he was gay. Really? I’d ask, just to hear them say it again.

For a while, I thought that if you were going to be gay, then you needed to be bullied by Kian McKormack in the locker room for “being a girl,” and I thought you needed to do ballet. Justin? He skied, like, seriously skied. He liked trucks and he said things like “bro,” and, “what’s up.” Plus, his name was Justin.

He was the one with the idea to make our English project a Twilight fan-fiction between Jacob and Edward. Fucking gay motherfucker, I thought. We brushed past each other on our way to our seats. Our hands touched and I pictured them woven together. Then, like a cable car snapped half way up the mountain, he moved to Colorado for ski school, whatever the hell that means. I was left, plummeting, to wonder if what had happened was real, and if I would ever find another boy to like.

The first man I ever had regular sex with was six years my senior and gave me gonorrhea. I didn’t really like him. At the hostpital’s STD clinic the old nurse asked me how many partners I had been with in the past six months. One. And where were they from. France. I laughed and she grinned at my laugh and I grinned at her grin and there we were chuckling and smiling seconds before she would plunge a needle of antibiotic into my left ass cheek.

The man’s name was Nicolas, and he had a cat named Petite Souris which, in French, means little mouse. He was a genius, I thought. A genius with arm tattoos and an apartment in the fourteenth, an Israeli roommate, and a cat named after its prey.

“You,” he would say, stroking my hair and looking searchingly into my eyes. (Eyes which must have given him absolutely nothing because he would cut that bullshit out as soon as he started.) I’d try to imagine liking it. Or rather, liking him. I imagined responding with blushing cheeks, “you,” and I imagined holding his hand in public, which made me nauseous. Try, I thought, try to love this guy.

The one time our faces ever appeared outside of his apartment together, he was making a run to the grocery store. We drove in a lazy daze swirled up by sweatpants and a hand on my thigh. He grabbed my waist on his way to the ice cream cooler. I flinched and whipped my head around the aisle. My heart went silent. His brow furrowed, revealing his forehead wrinkles, the only indication of his age. What’s wrong? I asked. They’re too expensive, he said. Even the Vanilla. We left with two red bulls. He kissed me in the car and smiled as if ice cream wasn’t too great an expense for him. Or maybe I kissed him—a last-ditch effort to give a fuck. We were two idiots each trying different ways of achieving the same thing. If this was domesticity, I thought, I didn’t want it.

By the time I had to leave France, I was so disillusioned by love that I wanted to date Nicolas just to break up with him. I didn’t even need the romance. All I wanted was to join my generation of ex-havers, because they seemed to be the ones asking questions and writing songs and reading poetry. I wanted none of the heart-singing, and all of the heartache: the teenage experience which defines the line between youth and adulthood. Adults have someone to call their own. Sometimes a boyfriend, or a wife. I could call an ex my own. We’d share the kind of history that teaches you about trust, forgiveness, and love, or falling into and out of it. Justin didn’t teach me anything, I thought. He probably didn’t even remember me. Nicolas didn’t care. In order to grow up, I needed to feel love and be torn to pieces by its loss.

The problem with Nicolas was the beginning. I never had to search his face for answers, wondering if he might be into me. A match on Tinder did that much. There was none of the poetry of brushing hands or knowing smirks: of being afraid of what we might create and lose. There is no poetry in hey. Characterless, boring, and plain. Hey means nothing more than I want to have sex with you. But how do you say I want to date you so we can break up in a word?

In terms of a break-up, gonorrhea is a god-send. Come on, I thought, feel betrayed, cry. I couldn’t. I couldn’t give a fuck. Our ending was never going to be an operatically devastating good-bye; it was going to fizzle into the natural order of an exchange student returning home.

When I tried to sit him down, I learned that French men have a way of laughing which makes you question whether romance is really in their blood. Nicolas didn’t just laugh. He shrieked, and giggled. When he thought something was really funny, he would tickle me or, to my horror, himself. When I told him I was leaving, and that we would not see each other again, I was not met with nodding, but with an enthusiastic WHAT followed by a fit of melodic hee hee hees. I watched his hair bounce on his head, the way Justin’s did. And I thought about Justin. And for a second I thought of what he was up to. And for even less time than that, I wished I were anywhere else, watching anyone else’s hair, and hoping for a bad break up with anyone else.

I stood in the upstairs bathroom of the house I grew up in. I had forgotten how long it took for the water to get warm there, and I had no choice but to wait, counting toothpaste specks on the mirror, so I could avoid the rugged terrain of my skin. I knew what my face looked like. I didn’t need to stare at it. One speck. Another. A third, and a fourth. A really big fifth. My focus shifted without warning. I was caught looking at the background’s subject—a recently moisturized face, flushed and reddish.

I opened Tinder, a reflex which routinely depressed me. Justin, 21. Four miles away. There he was. He must be home for the holidays. 5’9”. Good for him, I thought. I swiped right, obviously. We matched. Hey.

I relaxed my brow and curled it slightly upwards in the middle. I tried not to blink. With a sharp inhale and fixed eye-contact with myself, I yawned, which, after years of practice, I had learned was the best trigger. Here it comes. This one was as perfect as it was round, forming in the well of my left eye. When it was heavy enough, I watched it roll down my face no less poetically than any tear I had seen produced by Nicole Kidman or Viola Davis. There was a second. And a third. I looked at the water-stained path—the product of my labor. Grinning, I wiped my cheek, which felt like a wet peach under my finger. This is so fucking weird I thought to myself. But I kept grinning and crying, like I was practicing how to do it correctly.