I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 19, and to no one’s surprise but my own, this did not result in love and marriage.
The demise of this very short-lived romance didn’t feel like a rejection at first. He said he liked me, but told me not to wait for him. Please. I knew what THAT was code for: wait for me but kind of on the sly, so that in six months or a year or five years when I finally come back for you, you can say, ah, yes, I knew it, that’s why I waited.
Yeah, apparently, “don’t wait for me” just straight-up means “don’t wait for me,” and by the time I finally realized that, I was swimming in a pool of my own mortification and self-loathing. It lasted for longer than I’d care to admit. Eventually, my mans did me a solid and graduated, hopefully never to be seen outside the occasional Facebook stalking again. If I can offer any advice to young people with a tendency to get attached too soon to the unattainable, might I recommend people who will be soon be graduating or moving out of town? Their sudden and unceremonious disappearance will prove an excellent salve for your pathetic wounds. I can say pathetic because I, too, am pathetic in love, like actually all the time.
In the interim, as I was re-emerging from that self-made pond of shame, I saw that the New York Times was having a college essay contest for its Modern Love section. I’d perused Modern Love essays before, and I thought, hey, I could do that. There was a word limit and a requirement that you be enrolled in a college or university, but other than that, they basically said go nuts. So nuts I went! I was instantly empowered, tap-tap-tapping away at my manifesto of love lost, certain that the story of my first kiss and the inevitable fallout would get me at least an honorable mention. I knew I wasn’t going to win, but in all (humiliating) honesty, I felt like I was a lock for some kind of minor recognition. It was hard to get the story in the word limit, because I have recounted the story of our night together in my own mind so many times, there are certain beats I want to hit. Certain rhythms I’m just dying to get into. Nonetheless, I felt confident about it, even having stripped away identifying details or moments that were just too personal to publish. It was a good essay. It is a good essay (yeah, I still have it saved for a rainy day).
But April 28th, the day the winners were revealed, came and went, and I received no laurels. No first prize, no runner-up, and yes, you guessed it, no honorable mention. They don’t even send emails to the losers. They just announce the winners publicly–whom they’ve no doubt notified in advance–and make the rest of us look like fools. If I may interject–this is a particularly cruel custom, the practice of notifying winners of their triumph and leaving losers to languish in insecurity without so much as a “sorry about that.” I digress.
Perhaps you now understand why I have called this essay an onion of defeat. My tale began as a personal rejection, in which I finally found a boy who not only wanted to kiss me, but whom I wanted to kiss back, only for our torrid affair to come to a close less than twelve hours after it began. Despite the fact that he was a consummate gentleman–he engaged in a needlessly dramatic text conversation with me which I now realize was solely for my benefit, because he was busy being an Actual Adult dealing with Real Problems–I still felt wounded and, naturally, embarrassed. Then, I decided to do the thing that old artists always recommend, which was to “use my pain.” For My Art. And so I wrote this essay that I thought was sheer brilliance but turned out to be somewhere between “total garbage” and “almost good enough but not quite.” I’ll never know, because THE NEW YORK TIMES WON’T RETURN MY CALLS.
But hey. It’s not all bad. My onion of defeat has inspired me to add another layer–this godforsaken blog. And if and when this juggernaut of personal inadequacy goes under, I will write a one-woman show about it. And no one will come to see it.