I remember the first time I saw him. I was acting shallow and merely assessed his looks rather than acknowledge his personality. I remember walking into the Rec Room at camp for the first time and judging the handful of people inside. I remember my eyes landing on him, the first cute guy I’d seen at the camp, and wondering if maybe something could bloom between us.
I remember sitting next to him and having a girl I’ve never met introduce us to each other. My eyes took in his dirty white shirt and relaxed posture as he leaned back and gave me a small smile. He was cute, sure; but he was incredibly dirty. His blond hair was matted to his forehead, and sweat decorated his brow. I shut my fantasies down and decided that I would see if there were any other boys at camp that I might get attracted to.
And there were many, for sure. You had your typical punk boy with skinny jeans, dark brown hair and blazing blue eyes. The kind who wore beanies and band t-shirts. And you had your other stereotype, the jock of their school - chiseled cheek bones, well muscled body and forest green eyes. You had the Sweetheart, who smiled at you with the most serene smile and tempted you with his charming accent. Any boy you could ever think of, any boy that belonged to a stereotype, was right there.
But still, near the end of the summer, I found myself get attracted to him. You know, the blond boy wearing the dirty t-shirt. Steffan. I found myself getting so close to him that as I started to have feelings, I used excuses like ‘He’s like a brother to me’ to mask how I felt. I never told anyone, and no one ever suspected; Why would a short, quiet little Asian girl fall for a lazy, dirty, nonchalant bus boy?
I have no idea.
I remember thinking he wasn’t my type. He was the exact opposite of everything I’d ever dreamt of. He was blond; I like black hair. He was dirty and always wore loose pants and big shirts; I like tall, lanky guys with an impeccable sense of fashion. Looking back now, I realized that was the first time I felt for someone regardless of their outward appearance. I fell for his personality.He had an amazing one, at that. Every day before lunch started, we’d talk about the most random things - drama, high school crushes, food, chores. But he always listened. In fact, he didn’t even talk that much. He would just drink his blue juice with a straw in his mouth and stare at me purposefully. It made me feel worth listening to, like the things I was talking about weren’t petty. He never offered his opinions, either. He was the first one I met that just listened, never spoke, never said things like ‘Omg’ or ‘That’s horrible’ or ‘What happened next?’ He just sat there. And listened.
I remember asking him once why he didn’t pester me for more information. I think a part of me was making sure he was actually listening and not just staring into space.
‘Why don’t you say anything?’ I’d said.
‘What do you mean?’ he asked.
‘I mean, when I talk to you. You never offer your opinion, or ask for more details. You just like, sit there and listen and…never ask for more.’
He bore his eyes into mine, and I’ll never forget this moment.
‘Because,’ he started, ‘if people want me to listen, I’ll listen. And if they’re not going to tell me everything, then I won’t ask. It’s their choice to tell me the details.’
Inside I was like, wow. WOW. To imagine that someone could tell me something like that with an honest, sincere face. I think that’s when I started to really like him.
And when I took that path, I ran down it full force. There wasn’t any stopping or slowing down. Before I knew it, I was seeing the little things about him - his quirky smile, the charm of his apatheticness - but I never showed my emotions. In fact, I was more rude to him than ever. I refused to play with his ‘soft’ hair like all the other girls did. I refused to be left alone with him. I refused to sit close to him while watching a movie. I was afraid that he might find out, but more afraid that he might not feel the same.
But then, this girl came. This girl that garnered so much hate from everyone with her fake kindness. This girl that captured Steffan’s heart.
And I was mad. So, incredibly, mad. Mad, and jealous. Everytime I saw her laughing with him, I glared at her. I wouldn’t talk to her. I wouldn’t touch her, I wouldn’t be near her; in fact, I couldn’t handle even being in the same ROOM as her.
It wasn’t alwys like that, though. When she first came to camp, she was innocent and sweet. She told me she trusted me, but she told the same lies to everyone else. There was a night when all the workers at the camp had a meeting, and the head of the camp wanted to mention something important. He mentioned that this new girl - Cary - had gotten pregnant at 16. Her baby was now in foster care.
And everyone was shocked. Everyone came up to her afterwards and comforted her with words like ‘You’re so strong.’ But my best friend at camp, Gina, told me she’d been lying through her teeth. Cary had said that she didn’t have a mom, but when the parents of employees came to pick them up, Cary’s mom was there. Hugging her, and kissing her. Cary herself was hugging her BACK. Acting as if she never lied to us. From that moment, half of camp hated her.
But not Steffan. I don’t know if he was sympathetic, but he believed her. I wanted so much to say, ‘We need to have a talk’ and spill it all to him. I wanted him to know the truth of her lies. But I couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t. I saw the way he looked at her. I couldn’t bear to see him break by my words. So I backed off.
But then I heard Cary was planning to confess her love to Steffan. I freaked out. I just knew he’d say yes. Everyone’s nerves were on end - they, too, all assumed that Steffan returned her affections. But when the night came, and she met Steffan in the Rec Room where I first met him, she came back to her room crying. I assumed that Steffan had turned her down, and I was right. It made me incredibly happy, but my happiness resulted in disgust. Me, happy? For someone else’s sadness? What’s wrong with me?
I tried to make her feel better, even if I didn’t like her. I had to. My beliefs said that I should, and I had to, because it seemed like the light in Steffan’s eyes had compeletely disappeared. Was it just my imagination, or did he not smile anymore?
The end of camp drew near, and I yearned to tell him how I felt. I knew that I couldn’t. One, I’d never confessed my feelings before. Two, I felt that it was terrible timing. So I left that summer with a heart full of feelings that were ready to burst. I looked back at him, and I hugged him - something I never did with him because it made my heart race and I was afraid he’d be able to feel it - and I said goodbye. That was the end, or so I thought.
I spent the entire school year thinking about him. Looking back, I don’t remember why I cried so much over a boy, but I did, and sometimes we don’t understand our own emotions until they’re in the past. I cried myself to sleep almost every night. I kept asking myself, why didn’t you tell him? Why did you let him go? Why?
In spring of next year I was able to catch him for a little chat on Facebook. I was so elated, I’m pretty sure my cheeks were flushed with anxiety. I hung on his every word. That was the first time we’d talked since summer. His leaving words over the internet were ‘My dad’s home, I gotta go.’
I was typing out ‘See you’ and was just about to press enter when he sent me another message. My jaw dropped, my heart raced, and I didn’t know what to do.
‘I love you,’ he’d typed.
I was saved from replying when he logged off.
My heart was going crazy that night. He liked me. Me? Or was that a fluke? Was he just saying I love you, like a brother loves a sister? Or did he really like me, I mean really, like me back?Before I knew it summer was coming again, and I was psyched to go back to the camp and see him. Unfortunately, my parents weren’t allowing me to go camp. I remember the searing pain I felt, not only because I wouldn’t get to reunite with my friends, but also because I’d never be able to confirm how Steffan felt about me.
However, I was able to visit camp twice that year. The first time, I didn’t meet him at all. I was afraid of what I’d do, afraid he wouldn’t remember what he’d said. My best friend Gina came to me before I left and said, ‘I asked Steffan, you know. About who he liked last year?’
My head went dizzy. ‘And?’
She smiled. ‘Well, he said that he liked two girls. And one of them was Emily.’
My face broke. He liked Emily and - who else? - Cary. But I pressed her for more information nonetheless.
‘But, he said, that he liked you, too.’
‘What did you say?!’ I asked with wide eyes. I slapped her playfully, but my tone was urgent. ‘But he liked Emily. Didn’t he? Isn’t that what he said?’
‘Well, yeah,’ she replied. ‘He said, ‘I sort of like Emily. But I liked Jojo.’ He said sort of. So obviously, he liked you more.’
‘He did.’ I had to say it aloud. I just couldn’t believe it. My brother practically had to drag me home, I was so reluctant to leave because I wanted to confront Steffan about it.
On my second visit, my heart changed. It didn’t happen as soon as I stepped on the camp grounds. Rather, I realized something. I’d spent and wasted my whole school year crying over a boy who had turned out to like me back. And yet for some reason, it didn’t make me go crazy as much as I thought it would. I thought my heart would race, but that was merely from the fact. My heart didn’t race the same way it used to when just hearing his name perked me up. All of a sudden I realized that my ‘love’ was fading.
So when I visited for the second time - and the last - and saw him, I didn’t know what to do. It was like half of me wanted to run and hug him, and the other half was repulsed by the idea. I was standing in front of the Camp Hall talking to stereotype boy number 1 - the Sweetheart - when I felt warm hands on my shoulders. I felt a pressure on the top of my head, and I knew instantly it was Steffan. Steffan, being physical, something we’d never been with each other. It made me feel elated, sure, that a boy was flirting with me, but all of a sudden he was just a boy. Not Steffan. To my heart, he was just another boy. And I didn’t like his putting his hands on my shoulders. It made me feel owned, and embarrased, especially since my brother was there standing beside me. The Sweetheart threw as a quick, curious glance before leaving.
Steffan turned me around and hugged me. He hugged me so tight that I could smell his clothes, which had the scent of dirty dish water. I held my breath. In that moment I realized that all my feelings, all the emotions that I had kept pent up inside my heart for a year and a half, were now obliterated. I don’t know why, I don’t know how; but they were gone, like they were never there in the first place. I said goodbye. That was the last time I saw him.
It’s been almost two years. I look back at this memory as an experience. I won’t forget how it made me feel.
During that school year I had written a song about him. This was before I had realized that I didn’t like him. I wrote a song about my experience. It was the very first R&B song I’d ever made, and also my last. I wrote a verse and a chorus to this song, but I was never able to finish it. I didn’t know what else to say.
I later realized that there was NOTHING to say. By the time I had forgotten my feelings, the song was still unfinished. There wasn’t anything to write about anymore. I didn’t want to discard the song, though; the tune itself was pretty. I filed it and left it in the dust.
A year later my cousin helped me complete it, but I feel like that song is half mine and half something else. The verse and chorus talked about what I felt about him, and everything else was your typical cliche’d love song. I didn’t love that song anymore. I couldn’t love a song that was personally unfinished.
But at least it was real. Proof of what I had felt so passionately about. Proof that I had liked someone, despite their mediocre appearance. Proof that I wasn’t as shallow as I thought I was.And I’ll never forget Steffan, either. Because even though I might forget our ‘love’, I won’t ever forget the friendship he gave me. I won’t ever forget his words when he whispered to me across a dirty and sticky dining table:
‘I’ll listen. No matter what; I’ll listen.’