By Adam

I fall in love on a daily basis, many times with the same person. This has been a constant source of personal turmoil for me. Much of the time, my love goes both unspoken and unrequited; this is to be expected, because I am cowardly and vainglorious and stupid. But girls don’t make it easy.

When I was in the third grade, the librarian at my elementary school, a warm but homely woman named Mrs. Adams, stormed into my class and sternly asked me to join her. Because I was a nerd, this immediately reminded me of the scene in The Empire Strikes Back, in which Darth Vader unsuccessfully asks Luke to join him on the dark side—ha!—and rule the galaxy together. I was never interested in sleeping with my sister, so I would have gone with him. That inclination proved well-minded.

Our library was relatively small, but only when you weren’t looking. The stacks held all the usual suspects—Shel Silverstein, Bernstein Bears, etc.—along with a small bank of computers used primarily to kill daughters of dysentery in Oregon Trail.  Tucked away behind the furthest wall, past the “big kid books” like Dune and such, was a dusty old door. Through this door was a small, windowless room filled with ancient machinery used to test the senses; basic visual tests, hearing tests, and the like were performed in here. When I walked in, I was administered these tests, and I assume I had passed, as Mrs. Adams seemed coldly placated. She then sat opposite me at the tiny table in the room, and asked me some of the toughest questions of my life.

“What is a group of crows called?” She asked.

“Spell ‘garage’.”

“What’s the square root of 64?”

And so on. Although I spelled it correctly, the fact that I had to think about how to spell “garage” and eventually pinned my success on a guess wakes me in the night. After she was finished, I was sent back to class with a terse “Well done,” and that was it. Or so I thought.

The next day, Mrs. Adams appeared to me, this time much more excited to see me. After lunch, she told me to meet her in the library. Met with a brief wave, I was whisked to the opposite corner of the library that hid a massive staircase cordoned off with a velvet rope. How I had never seen this before, I have no idea. She led me up the staircase to a loft littered with real books—dictionaries, thesauruses, collections of poems—globes, maps, computers, and a large round table, around which sat five kids I had never seen before.

This was my first introduction to ELP, the extended learning program, a new initiative at our school that sought out the brightest kids and brought them together to thrive. It was in the fucking loft of our library! The librarian was the group’s administrator! J.K. Rowling would have creamed her jeans if she knew. It was incredible; we’d do mind-teasers, engineering projects, algebra, and general smart-kid stuff. We probably solved a crime or two, I don’t know. But none of that interested me. I was interested in Laura.

She didn’t exist in my universe before then. She had a soft personality, delicate, and freckles on her nose. She was constantly brushing her hair behind her ear. Almost twenty years later, I remember how she chewed on the end of her pencil, not out of frustration, but out of a kind of curiosity. She was quiet, and we had shared classes since kindergarten. During ELP, we would share jokes about transcribing miles to kilometers and planetary orbits. She would smile, and softly tap the back of my hand with her pencil. It was a whirlwind romance. It occurred during a single day.

The next day, at lunch, I looked for her, hoping to sit next to her and be smart together. And, from across the lunch room, we locked eyes. They widened slightly. Although I knew who was there, I couldn’t bring myself to look to her left. She said nothing, but her eyes desperately sent me a message, which I received. These unspoken things have a bizarre capacity to unleash oceans of pure pain upon a person.

At ELP, she sat next to me, took my hand, and squeezed. We never looked at each other, but she squeezed my hand the entire forty-five minutes. Third grade was psychologically destructive. I saw her everyday over the next four years, and every day I fell in love with her again, sometimes for weeks, but mostly for minutes. It was the same with Amanda, and Theresa, and Nicole, and Sara, and all the rest. The times I’ve been legitimately in love were similar, but stretched out over months and years. I like to think my real relationships could have worked, had I gotten the unspoken things. I like to think that.

I’m not complaining. I love the girls I’m interested in today, mostly because I can be myself around them. And that cowardly, vainglorious, stupid man will always love them, because he can’t help himself.

When I visited Alaska, two years after I had abruptly moved, I saw her again. At 16, she was industrious; she made sandwiches at Subway. She recognized me, she had to, but clearly she didn’t remember. I ordered my sandwich, and like always, she was delicate: tenderly laying the ham in the bread, spreading the mustard, sprinkling the lettuce. It was just like our first encounter, shifted a few degrees to the left. When I paid, she gave me the scripted “thank you” her employed required. The restaurant was empty, and I could have eaten there, but she didn’t want me to. It was in her eyes. It was one of those unspoken things.

Just like that: in love, and out. A terrifying oscillation.

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