I was sitting on her couch still playing with the yellow rubber lacrosse ball. I couldn’t figure out why I had been so nervous before. I was talking to Kyle & Jessica and nothing seemed to be that big a deal anymore. I was even able to crack a few jokes. I began to think I could handle the situation.
Then Natalie walked back into the room. I immediately lost my composure. At least I had the lacrosse ball in my hands. It didn’t take my mind off things, which was redlining, but at least it gave my hands something to do. I began to toss it back and forth in my hands while carefully calculating each breath I took.
Natalie walked over to the couch I was sitting on. She had a new shirt on. “I changed my shirt!” She exclaimed. “Do you like it?”
She then leaned over in front of me and I noticed how the collared shirt was baggy in the front. She flashed everything inside her shirt while she leaned over to me. I caught a glimpse of her bra and immediately looked away. I was sure that my face was bright red.
I shrugged. “I guess,” I answered. I cleared my throat while trying to act normal. I didn’t dare look over to her again. I didn’t know if she had meant to give me such a revealing look.
“Did you notice the number?” She asked.
She pointed to the badge on her shirt as she knelt down on the couch beside me. “21!” She stated. “Our favorite number.”
“Oh!” I blurted. “Yea…” I didn’t have much else to say. I was still red from accidentally looking down her shirt and I couldn’t keep up with her. I was simply outmatched.
The subject changed. Natalie seemed disappointed at my lack of enthusiasm in her shirt. She turned on the television in the corner of the room. She ended up putting on a cooking channel. Everyone in the room seemed to enjoy it. I was never one to watch channels like that. As a result, I continued to have little to say.
I was able to contribute sporadically to the conversation. I wasn’t funny, but I managed to get in a few quirky remarks or comments. Things seemed to be going alright, even when I dropped the lacrosse ball. I simply leaned forward and picked it up again before it had a chance to roll away. Then I continued my private game of catch.
Natalie decided it was time to invite more people to her house. The first person she called was my prom date. I had just asked her to prom a few days prior. Natalie knew about this and had the girl’s number. She thought it was a great idea to invite her over.
“I hate her,” I explained. “Asking her was a mistake.”
“Yea, she’s terrible,” Kyle added. Jessica laughed because she knew my prom date was infatuated with Kyle.
“We have to make you guys friends!” Natalie proclaimed.
“No. No we don’t.” I answered.
The girls laughed. Natalie typed in the girl’s number and called her. She ended up stopping by for about 10-15 minutes. It was painfully awkward as I did my best not to look at her. Jessica did her best not to laugh while Kyle remained rigid and steadfast in not acknowledging my prom date.
Afterwards, it was the four of us again. It would have been five if you counted the cooking channel. Six, if you factored in the lacrosse ball. I still had my hands on it. I kept tossing it between my hands as if it were an involuntary action. I must have taken my eyes off of it for a second, because I dropped it for a second time.
The ball quickly rolled underneath the glass table between the couches. My eyes widened as I saw my friend escape my reach. I gave a half hearted attempt at stopping it with my foot, but it was hopeless. The ball was gone.
“Do you want me to get your ball?” Jessica asked.
I turned red again. I wondered, had they discovered my secret? Did they see through me? Did they know how incredibly nervous I was? My only answer was to refuse the ball. I didn’t need its help. “No. No. I’m good.” My hands screamed at me.
Natalie’s parents came home as Kyle & I decided to go. We stopped to talk to them in the kitchen. They seemed every bit as funny and outrageous as their daughter. I was surprised and oddly at ease. At the same time, I needed to escape. I needed to breathe. I carefully eyed the fruit basket full of lacrosse balls. If only I could hold one in my hands, I thought.
Kyle opened the door leading outside first. He walked out and I said, “Good night” while waving to everyone. I held the door open and felt the cool Spring weather hit my skin. I instantly felt a splash of comfort and my tense body go back to its relaxed state.
I spent the drive home talking to Kyle. I couldn’t stop. It was as if I was making up for everything I didn’t say inside Natalie’s house. We laughed about how random the night had been. I mentioned how Natalie had flashed me and how weird it was to see my prom date. I told Kyle everything I was thinking. I left out the lacrosse ball.
It’s a lot easier to deal with something if you hate it. It’s the only rational way I can explain my actions so many years ago. I mean, I’d rather not try and excuse what I did, but I hope to understand why I did so. Still, it’s a fine line. I can’t help but think that I’m trying to say, “It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t me, really me.” Truthfully, it was all me. I was completely my fault.
I always rushed home after school during Freshman year of high school. There was only one thing that mattered. I didn’t see Natalie much, so talking to her online meant a great deal to me. If I could physically travel back in time and watch myself, I’d probably blush. That little skinny kid was devoted. After that, I’d probably smack him on the face. Things could’ve been so different.
Natalie always messaged me first. I don’t know why really. Maybe she was simply faster. It’s conceivable that she really liked me. For all I know, I was the only person on her buddy list. All I can be sure of is that no matter how hard I tried, Natalie always beat me to it. “Hey!” “Heyyyyyy!” “Hey you!” She always won.
“Ah!” I wrote back once.
“What?” She answered.
“You beat me!”
“Huh? At what?”
At this point, I wish I could’ve smacked some sense into me.
“You always instant message me first,” I explained.
With that, the streak ended. From then on I would always have to initiate conversations. I didn’t mind at first. I still talked to her all the time. I was simply disappointed because the clues began to disappear. If she took too long to respond, I would think she didn’t want to talk to me. There was that and my weekly disappearing act at school due to my dark acne days. Coupled together, I no longer knew if she wanted to talk. If I didn’t message her, I wouldn’t get that beautiful instant message. Things fell apart as quickly as the year was ending.
Sometimes she would still message me. It changed from greetings to signs of concern. When she did message me first, she would ask, “Is something wrong?” It might’ve been an appropriate time to confess my infatuation for her. Anything would’ve been better than my actual response, “No.”
It didn’t take Natalie long to move on. She was one of the prettiest girls in the entire school. We were Freshmen & there was little doubt that she was sought after by the masses. A few weeks, maybe months, passed and one of those Seniors seemingly took my place. I used to wonder which one of them messaged the other first.
The year was almost over. My friends would briefly mention Natalie in passing. We’d be eating lunch when one of them would state, “Did you see Natalie with that Senior?” I would continue eating while looking away. I didn’t want anyone to see me cringe.
“Yea,” my other friend laughed. “They’re always walking down the hallways with their hands in each others back pocket.”
Things like that happened regularly. Eventually, I stopped speaking to her entirely. There was nothing to talk about. At the very end I tried bringing up anything. In return I’d stare at a flashing cursor. If she did message me back, it was always noticeably shorter than what I had written her.
So conversations got shorter & my timidity grew worse. My acne was beginning to rage war over my face. My confidence was at the lowest it would ever reach in my life. There were times I hid from Natalie when we passed her in the halls. It happened a few times a month in the beginning. At this point, it was an everyday occurrence. If it wasn’t my acne, it was the Senior.
Then it came out of left field. Justin, one of my best friends, was officially dating her. I remember one of my other friends telling me about it. It made sense to everyone. Justin was what the girls considered the best looking guy in our class. He dated everyone in middle school. Now it seemed as if he was ready to mow through our high school.
I admit, I knew Natalie was talking to Justin. Justin himself had invited me to come hang out with her and a friend. I politely declined and when he asked if it was because of Natalie, I said, “No. Seriously, I just can’t go out tonight.”
“Well, I was going to go, but if it bothers you I won’t,” he responded proving his loyalty towards our friendship. I was getting every out possible. For some reason I felt powerless. I couldn’t stand in their way.
So they went out. Then they broke up. It happened quickly. It couldn’t have been for more than a few weeks. I was secretly happy about it. Unfortunately, my other good friend didn’t take it so lightly.
Kyle was a close friend of ours. He knew about my situation with Natalie. He knew even more about Justin’s. See Natalie’s best friend was Kyle’s ex. So he knew everything. Kyle was the one that would feed me information, even though I never asked. He was the one who saw Natalie with the older guys. He knew that Justin’s relationship with her was doomed from the start. I knew little, what with my hiding from her whenever possible. Yet Kyle, he knew a little too much.
I went to Kyle’s house the day after the breakup. It was a Friday night and we were doing more of the usual. We played video games and cards. We drank soda and joked around. Eventually, I rolled one of his chairs over to a computer.
I must have been bored. I signed onto a screen name we had made up. It probably originated from the group of us trying to imitate each other online. I remember that really pissed off my friend Brian. We changed the zeros in his screen name to the letter ‘O’ and pretended to impersonate him through the new name. We thought it was hilarious.
“You know what would be really funny?” I asked Kyle.
“What?” He asked from across the room.
“We should message Natalie from this screen name.”
Kyle’s eyes widened. “Yes!” He ran around the sofa and sat down next to me. “Yes!”
This is where I can’t help but think I’m excusing myself. I knew what I was doing. I didn’t actually think it would go very far. I assumed Kyle would grab the keyboard. He’d write something petty and that would be that. He would get his revenge on a girl who had hurt his friend by dumping him and I’d share some of the pain I’d been holding in throughout the year.
“Bitch!” Kyle wrote.
I made myself chuckle as we waited for a response. None came. I grew anxious and through that I grew bolder. I must have thought that her lack of response warranted more backlash. “You should copy and paste it and scroll down,” I suggested.
Kyle began immediately. I saw the word Bitch scroll down across the screen. He pressed enter until the instant messenger stopped him for spamming. It wouldn’t let us message her again for a few minutes. That was when I took the keyboard.
I wrote everything I had inside me. I wrote about the things that I’d overheard. I wrote about the things I simply assumed. I mentioned the Senior by name. I typed in how he was just using her for sex. I explained that she meant nothing to anyone. I wrote horrible things. I did a terrible thing, but I couldn’t press send.
The paragraph flashed back at me. Kyle had been looking on. He loved how easily I filled the messenger box. He laughed and smirked. “Press send!”
“Nah,” I smiled back. I had the paragraph highlighted. All I needed was to press backspace to delete it in a flash. Kyle’s laughter was infectious. He made it so easy to hate Natalie. Truthfully it was me. I, me, myself made it easier to hate her. It was so much simpler than pining for her. It gave me answers. It gave me an end result. It was an exit that I thought I needed to take; a fire escape. “You do it,” I said.
Kyle pressed send immediately. He laughed as he copied and pasted what I had written. He pressed send again and again. Eventually, Natalie signed off. Once she did, I’d never felt more ashamed in my life. If only she had responded. Maybe if she had cursed us off. Maybe if she had called us out and stated she knew who we were and how pathetic we were. Then maybe, I could’ve escaped. Instead, she took the higher road. I’ve been paying for it ever since.
I stayed up for hours that night. I didn’t actually think Kyle was going to press send. I was shocked when he did. I had written atrocious things about Natalie even though I still had a photo booth sticker she had taken of herself stuck to my night stand. I stared back at her smile reflecting on the crimes I’d committed. I didn’t understand much back then. I just knew that this wasn’t the answer.
Hating something doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. Rather, it eats away at your insides. It robs you of something and it replaces it with ugliness. I did my best that night. I didn’t realize that what it truly does is hollow out who you really are. The only person you end up hating is yourself. It’s a fate worse than losing The Girl.