I stripped down naked and slowly stepped unto the bathroom scale. I held onto the door frame with one hand and the towel rack with the other, then slowly released the tension watching the needle go up one, two, three lbs. With a slow exhale I let go. 100. I smiled. My dry, empty stomach and the number on the scale somehow was comforting, a friend consoling me. With every pound lost and every bone that gently jutted out, I felt like my body was visually declaring its feeling of emotional pain, and its capability of self control. My words, couldn’t express any pain, but I was desperate for people to see that my emotions run deep like a huge iceberg, the tip being my physical frailty.
I was 17. That summer I drove up to summer camp in the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with my friend Soren for the 8th year in a row. My boy crazy mind deciding that this year I would go after Kenny, an older staff boy who I had known since I was 9, nothing too passionate, just a little summer fling with a cute boy who was practically camp family. Camp wasn’t camp without a boy to obsess over. It was a reason to shower before breakfast, a reason to continuously flat iron your bangs despite the humidity and put eyeliner on as soon as you got back to your cabin from swimming.
In a quick shift of plans, Soren and Kenny hit it off to my slight disappointment, but Kenny had a friend this summer that I had never met before. John was a fellow staff boy, unconventionally cute, smart and extremely funny. He had wavy light brown hair, blue eyes and when I stood next to him he was so short we could look directly at each others face, on which he always had a slight smile, like he was waiting to have a reason to laugh. Most importantly he was very nice to me, he seemed to genuinely like me and I didn’t seem to have to impress him to get attention.
One night, we all snuck out of our cabins to walk to the backfield to star gaze. Soren and Kenny lay next to each other on one side, John and I on the other. We talked quietly in the thick black night. We shared stories, a similar sense of humor as well as taste in music. We talked about Coldplay, John Mayer, Guster and Howie Day. Howie Day was his favorite. After this pseudo double date, a walk back to the cabin and a hug in our hoodies, my soft young heart was his. I hardly knew him, but I knew enough that after this week of camp was over, I would travel back two weeks later, and go on a week long girls backpacking trip organized by the camp, for the only reason being to see John.
The two days before the trip were spent prepping and packing. We learned how to set up a tent, hoist food up a bear poll and carry a 60 pound pack on your back without getting blisters on your hip bones. My heart was pounding the whole time, waiting to be done so that I could nonchalantly cruise through the campgrounds hoping to ‘bump into’ John. I was so infatuated I could hardly think straight!
The evening before we left, we all hung out in a spare cabin with matted down carpet and an alluring musty smell of old wooden walls. A few staff guys, including John, joined us. I sat with John and we worked on a puzzle. Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” played on repeat as I pretended to focus through the hazy fog of serotonin flooding my brain. After a while the boy’s left to attend to their staff duties, but John told me he would come back later to see me. The thought of that was mind-boggling. This boy liked me enough to come back later for me. At this point in my life I had only dated one boy. He was overweight, unattractive and I was embarrassed to be around him, but I dated him because he liked me, no other boy really ever had, or had admitted it at least and all I wanted in life was a boyfriend.
The wait that night was killing me, every noise, every time the doorknob of the cabin would turn my heart would leap. Finally what seemed like hours later, the door knocked. A fellow hiker, opened the door and peaked out. I could hear his soft nighttime voice ask for me. I came to the door in my perfectly disheveled sweats and meticulously messy bun.
“Hey! Would you want to go on a walk and stargaze?” It was all I could do to not jump on him and scream, “yes you fool! I love you!” I coolly replied, “sure” with a smile and we walked deep into the dark woods, twigs snapping beneath our tennis shoes and laid down in a clearing on a blanket. The stars were billions upon billions with a clear Milky Way streaking through. I don’t even remember what we talked about, but we laid there for hours staring up. With great hesitation I whispered, “It’s 3 in the morning and I leave tomorrow morning at 6 am…” He asked if we could wait until we saw 10 more shooting stars, which happened in that elaborate sky, all too fast.
As we walked back his fingers interwove with mine. My body almost couldn’t handle the rush of the electricity that bolted straight to my heart and made my insides vibrate. He slowly walked me to my cabin then stopped and looked at me in the eyes. Suddenly the door to the men’s staff cabin next to us, swung open and a fellow staffer told him he should come to bed now. He hugged me and I hurried back to my cabin. I lied awake in my sleeping bag on the floor for the next 3 hours before we headed out. I didn’t need sleep to recharge.
The whole five-day hike was pretty strenuous as we trudged through the Porcupine mountains nestled up to Lake Superior, some days in the pouring rain. It was often freezing cold at night and boiling hot during the day but I had the sweet drug of love pulsing through my blood. I drove every girl on that trip crazy talking about John. I could hardly eat and I woke up everyday smiling. I couldn’t wait to get back to camp to see him, to hug him. I hadn’t even thought of kissing him, I just wanted to be near him, talking and getting an embrace hello and goodbye, to hold his hand again, that’s all I ever fantasized about.
We finally got back to camp and the first thing I did was shower off the 5 long days of sweat and grime, did my hair, make up and put on my fresh light blue plaid button up and jeans. With my sun kissed brown hair blown out soft and smelling of Pantene, I walked outside and saw him from across the grounds. I did everything I could not to sprint to him and tackle him to the ground with hugs, so I pretended not to see him and walked casually to an unplanned location. Once we were in unavoidable sight, he came up to me and hugged me. I was so happy at that point; all sad thoughts had no room in my head because they were squeezed out with an ever-inflating balloon of joy. We talked for a bit about how he liked me and how he was sad that he lived 5 hours away in Chicago, but I should come visit and he would try to visit me. We took a picture together with my Kodak disposable camera, hugged a good long hug and then I got in my car to drive home. Sad because I was leaving him, happy to have him on my mind every second, happy to have such a perfect goodbye and excited to figure out my future trip to Chicago.
When I finally got home, the first thing I did was get my photos printed at the drug store. I gushed about John to my mom. She didn’t think he was that cute, because he really wasn’t that terribly handsome, however she was happy for me and felt good about the fact that his dad was a pastor at a church at a mega church. I quickly framed the photo that we took of ourselves, neither of us looked too great in it but I didn’t matter. Now it was time to wait for emails and phone calls. I had visions of us talking on the phone until late in the night, never running out of things to talk about.
This is when everything began to crumble.
In my naive teenage mind, I thought John would call me because he told me he would. I waited and waited, but the phone never rang. Finally against everything one’s mother tells them, I began to call him myself. Most of the time his mom would answer, sounding so sweet she would tell me that he wasn’t there and that he would call me back, but he wouldn’t. I would call again a week later, he would be there and we would talk about 10 minutes as I scrambled for things to talk about.
By this point I had bought and had listened to a Howie Days album until I knew every word backwards and forwards and felt confident to have him be a foundation of any weak conversation. I even made a list of things to talk about just in case Howie Day knowledge and camp memories weren’t enough to sustain a decent length phone call. Usually I wouldn’t get through the end of any suggestion list without him announcing that he had to go, that he would call me back in an hour or two, or just later that night. I would sink at these words. But I could make myself wait, as long as it meant that soon enough my neon orange Nokia cell phone would blast its electric ring and the black JOHN <3 would show up on the gray screen. Like a stream of heroine being released into a vein, a joy would flow so intensely through me I swear it made my pupils dilate. This only happened maybe once or twice that I can recall. I remember anxiously waiting for these calls to happen by finding a 2 hour movie to watch, knowing that by the time it was over he would’ve called. However I would find myself falling asleep and waking up in the middle of the night with no missed calls, a stabbing in my gut, and intense panic that I would never be able to feel happy again. I was so let down I couldn’t stand it and I had absolutely no control of the situation.
That winter, I was at Borders Books store a few miles from my house and was thrilled to see that Howie Day was coming through on a bookstore tour later that month. I was so excited to go to this show. I pictured myself racing home right after to call John and let him know where I had just been. He would freak out, think it was so cool, and then we would go on and on, talking into the night. I waited out the next few weeks not trying to call because I was saving up all conversation until after the concert.
The day of the show I spent extra time looking my very best. I had recently cut my long, thin brown hair short and flippy like Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail and it was coated in stiff hairspray. My eyes were lined in black drugstore eyeliner and I was wearing a new sweater, which was made from cheap stretchy polyester. My mom was cranky that morning but she drove me to Borders, which was already pretty crowded. I found a seat on the stairway and tucked up tight to see where the set would be through the cold, white, enamel railing. I waited for the show to start while daydreaming about my phone call that evening. Suddenly in walked two boys, a beautiful blonde girl and John.
“Hey Sara!” he said casually as he introduced me to his friends. He then walked up the stairs and found a spot to stand looking over the balcony. I was frozen with the weirdest mix of excitement, confusion and searing pain. He had driven up from Chicago, 5 hours, to my own town and didn’t even let me know about it. The last I had even heard from him was “I’ll call you back in two hours” and now here he was one floor above me as the performance began.
Sitting through that set was torment. My mind raced with questions of what would happen after. Would he invite me out? Would we all spend the day together? When the 40 min set, which seemed like an eternity was finished, all the fans could wait in line to get their albums signed. I went upstairs to find John. He briefly talked to me and then turned back to his friends. The girl he was with was so beautiful in her hooded sweatshirt and jeans without a stitch of makeup on her face. Her silky blonde hair swooshed as she turned. As I looked at her smiling and laughing with John, I could suddenly feel my once pristine makeup feel thick and cakey on my face. I could smell the strong hairspray on my motionless hair and the armpits of my sweater were wet and uncomfortable. I wanted to run home and scrub my face and wash my hair. I felt so ugly.
The line continued to get shorter and John and his pals got their albums signed and flew down the stairs without turning back. I sheepishly got my CD autographed and preceded to catch up with the crew, but they were nowhere to be seen. They had left. I began to cry uncontrollably with people all around watching me. I called my mom and through tears told her to come get me.
“Why are you crying?”
“Because John was here and then just left without saying goodbye” I whimpered. My very annoyed mom hung up and I stood there looking at slushy winter parking lot. My drugstore eyeliner running and my armpits began to smell of BO and Teen Spirit.
“Sara” I heard John’s voice suddenly as he walked back into the store. I looked up at him, embarrassed at my current state.
“Sorry I forgot to say goodbye!”
“Oh right!” I said trying to fake a smile through my tears. He hugged me as if he didn’t even notice my sadness.
“It was good to see you,” he said. Then he left.
My mom pulled up in her car to get me. When I got in the car she seemed, mad at me. Mad at me for me giving this random out of state boy my delicate young heart with no caution whatsoever. She was also angry with John and told me to leave him alone, that he was a jerk. There is nothing worse than your mom’s advice in the crucial moments when you need it the most. My heart had been officially broken. I had allowed myself to play with fire, to enjoy its instant warmth and intoxicating aroma but never think of its possible destruction. Now I was scorched and had absolutely no control of the pain. I had no control over how someone could treat me. Hell, I was 17 and had absolutely no control over anything.
I suddenly felt fat.
My name is Sara Gasparotto. I am a 32 year old writer and story teller residing in Los Angeles. I am pretty much your average middle class, Midwest white girl who is highly sensitive with a keen memory.
My Personal blog can be found at https://medium.com/@sarabrunetgasparotto