when you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong?

I was not welcome anywhere in her life. Her mom was a psychopathic control freak who thought I was "a promising young woman" but was also repulsed by me, and her friends were stuck-up, gossipy bimbos who had never had real problems. The guy who molested her went to jail, but that didn't keep her dad from beating her up every time she went over to his house. She wasn't the first in my long line of fucked up girls, but she was certainly memorable. Soccer player, National Honor Society, fairly popular, totally fucked up. She broke my heart.

We kissed on the floor of my bedroom the winter of my sophomore year. At fifteen, it was a world-slowing, mind-twisting, life-eventful sort of kiss, illicit and magical. And then she had to leave. She sent me postcards from New Mexico, postcards from across town. We saw each other at school but strictly did not talk, instead she left me notes in the office with bunnies drawn in them. Once she ran over the bunny with a truck just to get a rise out of me. The two of us created monstrous phone bills that pissed off our parents, while steadfastly ignoring each other for an entire semester of Advanced Senior English. It was all about appearances.

The further she felt the more space she took up in my brain, until everything I did was because of her. Every time I opened my locker I felt weak for just a second, wondering if she’d slipped me a letter. Class was just the hour in between passing times, she’d be waiting for me outside the basement staircase where she had fourth period photography. I lived off her notes, her poems, photographs of her pet turtle that she'd give me. And we argued. I never said it, but I wanted her to choose, and she couldn't. Of course she couldn't.

I don't remember how we drifted, it just happened like those things do, she called less and started taking a class at the local community college. I saw her passing in the hall; she hardly looked at me anymore. By graduation we almost never talked, and the most I saw of her was her car--a 1994 Honda Prelude--parked beside her house. She was home, but I didn’t dare knock on the door. Early that June I asked another girl out, a silly, immature junior, and spent that summer with my new, damage-free girlfriend. I went away to college in the fall, and that was that.

This past summer I worked for a bank, dressed up to be someone else's file bitch. I played grownup with my nylons and black flats, and only the beat-up backpack belied me. One very hot day, July, a sleek black car pulled up to the side of the road as I was walking to get my daily sandwich and pickle, and the blond who stepped out made my knees liquidate. She bought me ice cream, and I tried to remember that I was a grownup now. In college. Not fifteen anymore. I wore grownup clothes now and made decent money. I had college friends and a new, sparkly, well-controlled life. She wasn't the same girl who'd winked at me from across a pep rally.

All of that was bullshit, of course.