I met him because we happened to be in the same place at the same time.
I was at a party that I really didn’t want to attend, holding a cup of vodka that I would not drink, my hair laying long around my shoulders like a brown curtain. He approached me because he thought I was pretty, and he made that very clear when he put his hand on my waist and asked me if I was doing okay, smiling like he’d known me for much longer than the established thirty seconds.
There was nothing special about the circumstances: a hot summer night had led some friends of friends to invite me to a party in an affluent neighborhood thirty minutes from mine, and being the adolescent I was, I accepted the invitation. I was young, stupid, and tragically uninformed about his reputation. He was older, smarter, and far too aware of mine.
The sheer idea of coincidence and convenience is what brought us together. There was no magic love story, no reason for me to feel like he and I were going to last forever.
There are no such things as coincidences.
We were two teenagers who were just dipping our toes into the water of figuring out what it meant to care about another human being. I had no idea what intimacy meant. I had no idea that the word had a definition that stretched beyond the idea of sex or power struggles—or anything else, for that matter. There was no real reason for us to be together besides the item of the season being to get into a relationship and “fall in love.”
My attendance at the kinds of parties that we’d met at began to increase alongside the frequency with which he and I saw each other. It’s not that I really liked being there; it was more that I was afraid if I didn’t go, I would lose him faster than I anticipated and I would never get to experience any kind of relationship like this again. Being fifteen, I was obviously unaware of the sheer vastness of the time each of us are granted on this Earth, but in my world, all I saw were those summer moments spent holding a cup I would never drink from and watching a boy I would never love not love me back. And for some reason, I was perfectly content with “falling in like” instead.
I was happy being the sideshow object, at least at the start of it all. I had never been the center of attention, the pretty girl kept on the arm of the athlete to show off to a room full of people he’d invited. I was happy to leave the parties after he’d passed out drunk on the couch or locked himself in a room while on Ecstasy. I would escape his suburban home for the city, where I could watch the sunrise over the skyscrapers. I was happy with how temporary everything was, until the shift of the season began to erode the relationship and the two of us as a whole.
Summer romance is a breed of its own kind, probably because summer itself is a season of its own kind. People relax in the summer, as do belt buckles, corks and bottle caps, and morals as a whole. Summer romance is as bright and fading as the season itself, burning ever brighter until the two partners swallow each other whole and implode.
This isn’t to say that all summer relationships are doomed to fail. Sure, there are the few that begin in coffee shops or libraries, at school orientations or sporting events, but these occurrences reflect a kind of summer that maintains a form of routine, a systematic order of events that hews more closely to year-round schedules than to the norm for what summer usually contains. In these glimpses of reality, we can find someone who will be a reliable partner for not just the heat of life but also the cold.
I didn’t fall in love with him, but I did like him. I liked the afternoons where we would go to Chipotle and he would question the origins of the burrito bowl. I liked the way the butterflies felt in my stomach when he would text me after I hadn’t heard from him for most of the day. I liked our witty banner, and the way he would pick me up in the middle of a conversation and sit me on the counter just to look at me. I liked the way his messy curls were always falling into his face, and the goofy smile he got after vodka or sex or succeeding in front of his friends. He called it his champion smile. For that summer, I called it mine.
I don’t tell many people about the happy parts of this relationship. Most of those parts stay hidden behind my own locked doors with private keys, simply because I’ve never seen a reason to publicly honor a summer relationship that ended with tragedy, abuse, and heartbreak. I may not have ever loved him, but I gave him something that I will never be able to get back. I didn’t love him, but I still trusted him enough to feel safe in his company, trusted him not to take advantage of me when I told him things that bothered or worried me. I didn’t love him, but he had my loyalty even though I never had his in return.
It was only a few months that it lasted, but there are days where the hurt from being cheated on or abused still lingers, even though the relationship shouldn’t have meant anything at all to me. That is the other tricky thing about relationships: you never know what’s going to hurt you and what isn't until after everything is all over and you’re left looking down at all the pieces—pieces that you didn’t think would matter until all of a sudden you find yourself standing in a bathroom, chopping off your brown-curtain hair off and staring at your black eye in the mirror. Until all of a sudden you realize the boy you never loved that never loved you had really loved somebody else all along—and hit you because of it.
Even though you’d trusted him not to. Even though it was a dumb summer fling.
There’s no way for me to be able to blame the entire unraveling of my life on a summer relationship. The years that followed the span of our short, fiery relationship included treatment for an eating disorder and bipolar depression. I lost most of my body weight in an effort to disappear and maybe burn out my own flame the same way ours had gone out that summer. He is not the sole cause of my trust issues; my ceaseless desire to know what is going on and if my current boyfriend is safe; my sensitivity to words or actions people commit; or the issues I have with my own body and brain to this day. He is also not the sole reason I have finally learned what I need from a relationship partner, nor is he responsible for my having learned to trust my gut before I let someone wrap their talons around my wrists. I am stronger because I have grown to be stronger: I have fought up more hills and storms than just a relationship that even my close friends are afraid to bring up around me, simply because they know how tragic it was.
Life is full of choices, and the people who set us on certain paths in one moment or another are not necessarily going to be the people that we are involved with for the rest of our lives. People are bound by change, both good and bad, and there are so few things that we are given the chance to hold onto and keep forever.
“Not love” and the seasons are not always part of that. Summers will come and summers will go. Every summer, you may find yourself falling into “love” and “not love”, and along the way of these journeys you will learn something about yourself. There is no better way to appreciate the delicate nature of living than to go out there and realize that things will not always be perfect, predictable, or easy—but that they will be worth it nonetheless. The brightest things that burn and fade leave us with remains on which to build a new foundation.
There are no such things as coincidences.