They say 16 is the most exciting time of your life. It was for me, but for all the right reasons. As I strolled late into my first 5:00 PM driving class, I noticed the teacher sleeping in the corner whilst playing a safety video from must have been early 1977, a girl with a septum piercing who could have played linebacker for the Bears, and my old friend Nick from grade school sitting on the other side of the room. He waved and gave a smile that suggested he wanted me to sit by him. To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t sit by him, but all I know is that it may have been both my greatest and worst decision. My legs took me to a chair dead center in the room, directly in front of the screen, but more importantly it had empty seats nearby. I was very self-conscious, I should have sat with my friend. But I didn’t. I sat alone in the center, with no human being within 5 feet of me. I stared at the dim projector with a grave disinterest in the matter. I should have been excited, a 16 year old me in driving class should be a jovial memory. But I quickly lost focus, put my earbuds in, and zoned out. It must have been about quarter after when the video ended. I can only assume because my phone died as the credits rolled and the poorly calibrated clock behind me was stuck at 10:00 AM. As I put my earbuds into my sweatshirt pocket, I noticed a blonde strand of hair in my peripheral vision. I looked up to see a girl, sitting with her right leg folded underneath her, doodling on a piece of paper. Her hand moved with a sense of familiarity, and it wasn’t until she looked up and caught my eyes that I recognized her. I quickly looked down at my phone, pretending it was broken since the battery was still dead. Anything to not lock eyes again. My palms began to sweat, my heart started racing. I stalled for what felt like an eternity before she tapped my hand.
“Do I know you from somewhere?” She asked. Her voice flowed like poetry in a world still learning the alphabet. I was silent. I knew exactly who she was. Her eyes were unlike any other. Like a knife cutting through hot butter, they would destroy your strength before you could do anything. Of course I knew who she was. I even knew her birthday was July 27.
“I don’t think you do,” I replied shakily. One would think five words would be no trouble from a fully literate person. But in that moment, it felt as the words were chained in my throat, being ripped out piece by piece. I don’t know why I lied, I always had a tendency to, especially if the truth made the situation even more uncomfortable.
“I don’t know you look really familiar,” She said. I was still staring at her. Her eyes melted like a spring sunset fading in through the windows. My lie was breaking, and it was only a matter of time before she knew who I was.
“Wait a minute,” I pretended as if I was figuring it out for the first time, “Makenzie is that you?”
“Oh my god Jeff!” She said, just quiet enough so no one else heard it. The excitement in her voice gave me goosebumps. No one was ever excited to see me, I was always a wallflower.
“I haven’t seen you since-”
“Eighth grade year,” I interrupted. I sunk back in my chair at this. It was too obvious that I remembered immediately who she was. I knew too much. But she didn’t seem to notice.
She began to reminisce about our past. She was my best friend, my closest confidant, my first crush. Everytime she spoke I listened with the most ultimate form of focus. It was as if I was dying of thirst, and her mouth was full of water, as I clasped my hands together with the utmost strength as to not lose a single drop. The teacher kept teaching, but to this point I had forgotten I was supposed to be learning how to drive. I could wait 50 years to drive, what was important was right in front of me. For 3 hours we talked, made fun, and took shots at each other. Watching her jump into her mom’s car at the end of the night and drive off was the saddest I had ever felt to that point in my life. I was slowly beginning my walk to my brother’s car when I felt my heart drop into my chest. She was taken from me again. 3 days passed before I went back to driving class. I could barely sleep or focus in class. I had an English paper due that same day, but refused to do it because thinking of those 3 hours were more important. I feel as if my sophomore teacher may not have understood at the time why I was such a poor student, but I did not care. Nothing mattered but her.
I showed up to my next class a half hour early. Sitting in the same center seat, I chased away anyone who tried to sit near me. At 5:04 she walked in. I know this because our teacher remarked, “you owe me 4 dollars for the 4 minutes you were late.” We spent the next 3 hours talking again. We picked up right where we left off. Had the two days been cut and pasted together into a film, the audience would have no idea any time had passed. She spoke with an elegance that competed with that of nobility. Her posture made me feel both inferior and at home at the same time. I lacked both the ability to think and to move. I had to use the bathroom so bad, but waited until I was all the way home to go.
This is how it went on for the next two weeks. I had gotten her number, so even after driving school was over we would talk all the time. In a time where I felt little point in life, where the slightest bit of effort made me groan with distaste, I had a light at the end of the tunnel. Once again she had become my best friend. I never saw her much, we were both very busy. But if plans came up, I would drop whatever I was doing to see her. She was also my closest confidant. I told her things about me I could not even admit to myself. But worst of all she became my interest again. There wasn’t a moment that went by I wouldn’t jump at the sound of a text message, just to see if it was from her. I was addicted to a drug with no cure.
But as time went on, the texts came less and less often, the conversations less meaningful, and the spark we once had seemed to have drained from her system. I felt as if we were both on a railway handcar, but as I was furiously pumping up and down, she gave no effort in return. Until eventually communication ceased. I never heard from, spoke to, or even thought of Makenzie. Life went on as it always does. But a piece was missing from my life. I felt as if something was taken from me, stolen by a thief with no footprints. I had fallen in love with someone I could not call my own. I longed for arms that did not want to wrap themselves around me. I felt as if I was waiting for a boat at an airport. I loved someone who didn’t love me back.
“Jeff, that’s Andrew” she said pointing to a short, stocky guy in the corner of the room. The party was loud. Bad rap music played from a blown out speaker, red solo cups littered the countertops and floors, and it smelt like sweat and bad decisions.
“Yeah I know him, he’s a really cool dude.” I said. At this point I’d say anything just to leave this crowded basement.
“He really smart, he has a great sense of humor, and he just gets me you know?” She said.
“Yeah, no, I totally understand.” I knew just what she wanted. Whether she truly cared about it or not, she wanted my opinion of him to be positive. We had history, if not a tiny bit of it to her. I don’t blame her, everyone wants to hear that their “special someone” is great and liked by everyone. Its human nature. So I her what she wanted my lackluster approval.
“You know I feel the same way I feel about him as I did about you sophomore year,” She said abruptly. I coughed up my drink. Before this was just some small talk, barely recognizable conversation and she just dropped a bombshell like that.
“Wait what?” I asked dumbfounded.
“Oh come on, you know I had the biggest crush on you,” She said “you could have asked me out in front of everyone at driving school and I would’ve said yes.” I stared at her with the most confused look possible. How could it be that all those lost hours of sleep were wasted because of the lack of such crucial information?
“Oh well, ancient history right?” She said with a giggle before I could think of a response.
I couldn’t sleep that night, I don’t think anyone could. Two and a half years I had feelings for someone who felt the exact same way towards me, but I did nothing. Maybe I was naive, scared, or some combination of the two. I thought of my grandparents. They were the perfect couple. Up and until the moment my grandfather passed away they were always together. My grandparents always had a response to hard times. I remembered something vivid she told me about my grandfather. She always counted herself lucky, to end up with her soulmate. But one day I asked her a question I still somewhat regret to this day.
“Grandma,” I asked, “Why aren’t some people married like you and grandpa?
“Well,” She said, “One day, whether you are 14, 28, or 65, you will stumble upon someone who will start a fire in your heart that cannot die.” She paused for an uncomfortable amount of time. “However,” She continued, “The saddest, most awful truth you will ever come to find, is that they are not always whom we spend our lives with.”
I still think about that quote, but not in the same context. I spent years stuck on her. I only started dating other girls because friends would tell me “you can’t spend the best years of your life waiting for someone to love you back.” They were right I guess. My patience took me to the cliff, but I didn’t jump. I didn’t build my own path. I should have created opportunity, not waited for circumstance. It was not drugs, alcohol, violence, or poor decision making that damage my future, it was patience. I waited too long for her. I dated other girls with no real intention of going anywhere with them because I only wanted her. But Makenzie was that one girl I did wrong, cause I was young and I thought that I had too much living to do. When in reality, my whole future right there.