Last summer was my last one as a college student before officially graduating in December and making my way into the scary real world. I knew I wanted to make it memorable, and coming from a tiny town in Oklahoma with an incurable case of wanderlust, I knew I wanted to venture out and explore more of the world. I had the opportunity to study abroad in Italy for a month, and then to work at my dream internship in New York City.
My aunt and uncle were generous enough to let me stay at their house in New Jersey that summer, and I commuted into the city each morning. Things seemed to be going my way and I didn’t think it was possible for things to get any better. That’s when I met him.
Let’s call him the boy from New Jersey. Our first date was in a local diner called Raymond’s that served the best French toast imaginable. We clicked immediately. We had the same interests in books, music, film, art and we shared a passion for writing and going on road trips. I learned that he had gotten his heart broken not too long ago, was in a band, had his own radio show and was obsessed with Neil Young. I knew I liked him instantly, but being as paranoid as I was, I still had apprehensions about the situation. What if he was an ax murderer? What if his plan was to hook up with me and then never call me the rest of the summer? He proved me wrong on both.
We knew that my stay there was limited so we spent as much time as we could together. When we weren’t hanging out, we were texting each other and I found myself thinking about him. It might be cliché to say it, but it felt like a dream. We stayed up late at night and shared our deepest secrets. We spent Fourth of July weekend together. I snuck him around my aunt and uncle’s house when I was supposed to be house sitting. He showed me around the town he grew up in. We drew in my sketchbook, and listened to the new Amen Dunes record while lying side by side on his bedroom floor. Before I left, he gave me one of his first demo tapes that his band made and I gave him my favorite bracelet that I made in middle school.
On my last night there after one of his shows, we went to a place that I now call “our spot” and talked for hours. He told me to come back. At that point in my life, my future was uncertain and I had no idea where I would be several months from then. He was going through a lot of things too and I knew he had his own path to continue forward on. A huge part of me wanted to be selfish. I wanted to tell him to wait for me; to not fall for someone else after I left. Deep down, I knew that would be unfair so I didn’t say any of that. Instead, all I could do was bury my face into his shoulder and cry.
If I stayed, I knew there was the possibility of being in a real relationship with him. But sometimes life has a way of sweeping us under the wave just when we’ve made our way to the top of it. I think that’s what makes short-lived relationships just as heartbreaking as long-term ones; sometimes even more so.
Summer romances are fleeting, magical and bittersweet—and they never get to the point where the relationship becomes mundane. With “almost” relationships, it feels like being stuck in the past or some kind of strange time portal. To me, it felt like we separated right at the height of the honeymoon phase. One of the worst things about it is you’re always left wondering, “what if?” What if I had dropped everything and stayed? What if we could be an actual couple? What if we could celebrate our birthdays, Valentine’s Day and all those other silly holidays together?
We agreed to stay friends and keep in touch by writing letters. Opening my mailbox and finding an envelope with his name on it never failed to make my day better. Sometimes we sent each other things, like books, paintings and mix tapes— I keep them all in an old chocolate tin under my desk.
Sometimes I get scared that I’ll never see him again, or scared that when we do finally see each other again that he won’t feel the same way about me anymore. After I got back, I had moments where I was consumed with sadness— missing him, crying, and wondering if he had already forgotten about me. But at the same time, I realized how happy I should be— for the memories I made and for the lessons he taught me. After spending so much time being in unhealthy relationships in the past, he showed me that I shouldn’t be afraid to let my guard down and what it felt like to be genuinely loved even for just a few, fleeting moments.
In a recent letter to him, I told him that I still had feelings for him because I really “like” him. But I realize now that’s a lie. I love him. I’m not exactly sure at which point I fell in love with him – if it was on our first date or if it was on our last night together in a field in the middle of New Jersey. All I know is that I did.