Second Choice

This story did not come to me. It is not the product of intellectual musings or self-reflection. It is not a childhood anecdote. This is real. The time is nine-twenty-two Sunday before this essay is due. This is a story that came right at my soul and slapped me down against a pavement my face has yet to meet. It is one that has left my lungs full of air, unable to let go. This is a story I had to write. If I didn’t do it now, I don’t know if I ever would. That is the truth.
I never thought I’d be the one to write a love story, no less, a love story without a happy ending. I have always been the cynic, the closeted hopeless romantic who could never admit in spoken word that she was also susceptible to this remarkably human experience. By staring love face-to-face, I barely saw it. I was left with an uncomfortable restlessness, a shift in priorities that didn’t feel like me. I tried to use music to express my new feelings. I thought maybe, if I could translate them into a language other than strange silence and frustration, I could make sense of myself. While I sat at the piano, the same chords did not create a melody that was in anyway analogous to my emotions. I was just touching the notes, knowing which sets were minor and which were major. But I did not know the music that would make me feel like the wreck that I was.
He doesn’t understand why I love him. He is insincere, illogical, but compelling and intelligent. He is fairly attractive but more importantly can read my faces the way no one else has. Our thoughts line up perfectly at the oddest moments. In the middle of another city. At the lockers. Sitting next to each other on a train downtown. In my mind I think: We’re one and the same. But this is the one thought we do not share. Truth be told, the most exciting part of my day is when his eyes light up telling a story. His half smile, his laugh, his wide eyes that I can never help but notice. For the purpose of being honest about my feelings, I have to say that I am regrettably in love in the most shamefully cliché way possible. I am regrettably in love because I know that these feelings are not reciprocated and that I could spending my words and this paper writing about a topic that actually means something to the world. I am regrettably in love because I know there is starvation and genocide and war, but here I am, a hopeless sixteen-year-old girl using an assignment to vent feelings because writing is easier than hearing her own thought “I love you and I hate myself for it” aloud.
It’s odd, but I only truly realized that I loved him when I realized he didn’t love me back. Of course, there’s no way to be sure a boy doesn’t like you. You have to figure it out for yourself. You have to see, to watch. You have to sit at your chessboard for hours, strategizing. You must advance and retreat, scrutinizing your opponent’s position until you realized that you were making every feint, every attack, every trap. To truly realize that you have lost a game is to discover that your opponent was never playing. To finally piece together that you have been fighting against yourself on an empty battlefield is to force yourself into corners until the truth is nothing more than evident.
In a love story that ends badly, there is always the “other.” It is the “she” that wins. It is the one who doesn’t have to try. It is the one who has undeniably captured the attention of the one you wish would notice you.
I spent an entire weekend watching him talk to her. Watching him talk to her and not talk to me. She was a champion, and through no fault of his own, he idolized her. The girl, who is everything I am but in every way better, is beautiful for the purposes of this story. Tall, pretty, enchanting, smart. It is understandable that he loved her. She represented everything he had ever wished for, and that was something I could not offer. I, maybe, could stand by his side and be an equal. She would be walking fifty feet ahead. She could pull him towards his dream. If he wanted to go far, I’d have to push him forward, I couldn’t carry both of us.
At my piano, a day later, I sat playing notes. I wasn’t looking for chords or melody, but for some reason, they sounded like they were speaking to me. For the first time in all the times I had ever played, the music resonated not only in my hands and through the walls of my apartment, but into the very core of myself. I kept playing and playing, punching out the notes, repeating and repeating until there was so much sound that there was nothing left inside of me to resonate. Nothing left that could actually feel. I had been emptied whole. And I burst out crying, because I realized I was heartbroken. I had lost. Though I had spent all this time thinking about what we could be I had never thought about what was. I had left behind reality in favor of fantasy.
I know these words are not elegant. This was not the essay I had originally written, the one of an absentee mother and a resulting premature adulthood. No, these words are jumpy and out of order. Some of this is exaggerated, some of this is truth, and some of this is a lie. But I can promise every single word was made because of a deliberate honest choice. I can promise that this has been the biggest and most horrifying feeling I have ever felt because I have never been so small. My language may be traced with embellishments and may be the remnants of other phrases already erased and censored. But they are raw. The sentences may be false, but the words are in their most organic sense true.
I discovered that when you feel like your world has been compressed into the lens of a kaleidoscope, reflecting the same face a stupid boy who shouldn’t matter, there is no way to be interested in anything. I discovered that I had a heart, and moreover that my heart was breakable, and when it finally cracked, it was not into smooth even halves, but into puzzle pieces that have spread through my blood, to my toes, and to my suddenly held tongue. I realized my ability to love had been bruised. Without it, I had lost every way I connected to the world around me. It was the rope, now severed, that drove me and gave me some internal reason to keep going. When my heart broke for the first time, I lost the world, and I think I lost myself.

Rebecca Heilweil, Age 16, Grade 11, Hunter College High School, Silver Key

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