It was during the spring festival at college that I saw him for the first time.
He wore a red t-shirt and he was on up on the makeshift stage that they had put together for all the bands that were going to come in and perform during the fest.
He wasn’t a musician or anything though. He was a dancer.
And well, he was dancing.
I should mention here that I didn’t wanna spend my evening, watching a bunch of bands playing. I mean, I’m into music but I like it blasting out of my headphones while I’m in my pajamas at home.
Besides, I was tired after a full day of classes and I wanted to go back to my dorm and relax. Relaxing to me in those days meant reading in bed with a cup of tea. These days, it means reading in bed with a glass of white wine.
But my friends insisted that we should check out the festival before we called it a night and so I went.
And I saw him.
Let’s call him the red t-shirt guy – that’s what I called him for weeks because I had no idea what his name was. I had no idea why I kept looking at him, either. I mean, he was a good dancer. Phenomenal even. But so were other dancers. They were fantastic as well.
I don’t know what I saw in him, maybe the energy, maybe the way he moved his body and made the song his own, I don’t know. I’ll never know, I guess. But I kept staring at him and staring at him.
I remember feeling disappointed when the song ended and everybody started clapping. I wanted him back on the stage. Surprisingly (or not as surprisingly since he was such a great dancer), other people did too. They demanded an encore and there he was again, the red t-shirt guy, dancing his heart out.
He was the star of the show that night, this dark-haired dancer.
But before I talk more about him, I should probably talk about myself a little.
I was eighteen at the time and very happily in college. I’d dated some but I’d only had one serious boyfriend. I was studying Biotechnology and my plan was to do a PhD and cure cancer.
Well, not really. But I did want to work in the Oncology department because it seemed like the right thing to do. A noble thing to do, to try to save lives. Until I realized I was better at writing love stories than at growing cell cultures in a petri dish.
I had a great group friends. In fact, my roommate was my best friend. She had a very serious boyfriend whom we all had a secret crush on because he was just so dreamy (they are married now, with a baby, last time I heard.) My friends and I, we were all introverts and our weekend plans always included movies, going to McDonald’s and reading romance novels. Historical romances, specifically.
So back when I was eighteen, I had a serious love affair going with gruff and sexy dukes who debauched virginal maids with an expertise I never thought I’d find in real life (Spoiler Alert: I did find it when I met my husband at twenty-two. He’s not a duke but there’s definitely a ton of fun debauchery in our decade old relationship.)
And in my eighteen-year-old head, I knew that I was going to change the world one day. What I didn’t know was that someone would change mine first.
The red t-shirt guy.
It’s insane, really. The way I reacted to him. Insane and shocking and so unexpected.
First of all, he was so far away that night that I could hardly see him. I didn’t know what he looked like exactly. I didn’t know if I could even recognize him, if I saw him in the light of the day.
All I knew was that when I went back to my dorm, I was filled with so much energy. All my exhaustion was gone. I was hyperactive and warm and alert. My friends thought I’d gone crazy; I didn’t tell them the reason behind my sudden enthusiasm. I thought I had gone crazy.
For days after I saw him, I did nothing. I didn’t tell anyone about what I felt, about my secret dose of adrenaline. We didn’t talk about that lone performance we saw that night. I didn’t mention the festival at all.
Only, I’m not good at keeping secrets or hiding my feelings (the reason I don’t play poker.) So I told them.
I told them about the red t-shirt guy. I told them that I couldn’t stop thinking about him and that I just wanted to know his name. That’s all I wanted, I told them.
I thought they’d call me crazy. They’d tell me that it was a phase and it would pass. And that I should behave more rationally.
They didn’t tell me anything of the sort. No, they were supportive. They said they’d help me find out who the guy was, and they did. One of my friends had a friend who in turn, also had a friend knew a bunch of people around the campus. And two days later, I knew who the red t-shirt guy was.
He was a journalism major, a junior, and one the most popular guy in their department.
Now, I had a name. I knew what his major was and so I also knew where I could find him, in what building, in what part of the very big campus.
I know that I’d told my friends that I only wanted to know his name. Honestly, I wasn’t lying about that. I was just… curious about his name, about who he was.
But then, I’m only human, right? I mean, I had all this information about him. What to do with all that information except maybe… use it?
When I say ‘use it,’ I don’t mean that I exploited that information somehow or something. All I did was hang around the building where his classes were held, just so I could catch a glimpse of him. I wasn’t so bold as to go talk to him or approach him in any way.
So that was my plan: stare at him from a distance and not to anything else. Except, I had a great group of friends, remember? The ones who crazily told me that they’d help me?
Yeah, they did say that and they did help me.
This time by somehow getting his phone number for me. Not to mention, they also told that he was expecting my call.
I mean, how does that even happen? How do you go from promising yourself that you’ll just stare at the guy like a creep because you’re too shy to approach him, to having his phone number in your hands with strict instructions to call him because he’s expecting your call?
It was destiny. It was fate. It was fucking universe telling me that he was the one. It was all the things that I read about in my novels.
Fuck dukes. I had the red t-shirt guy. Hello? And he knew how to dance – it’s one of the many, many skills that I’ve never possessed so I’ve always been in awe of people who do possess it.
Anyway, I called him. I was freaking out because I’d never done anything like this before but I did give him a call.
Everything seemed pleasant. Kind of awkward but mostly pleasant. We chatted about things I don’t remember, and somehow in that uneventful conversation, we decided to meet.
Needless to say, I was over the moon. I dressed up. Or my version of dress up: a little lipstick and a little mascara. That’s it. That’s all I knew back then and actually, that’s all I know now.
I went to see him at the coffee shop he’d picked. I was so nervous that my friends – my great, great friends – went with me. Then, they all stood with me across the street from the café and helped me calm down. Because he was already there wearing a white shirt and a pair of blue jeans and I was freaking the fuck out.
But I did go inside. Yes, I somehow gathered enough courage to walk across the street and go inside the café.
We greeted each other. I saw across from him and we ordered coffee. Again, we talked about things I don’t remember today but I’m a hundred percent sure that it was casual and pleasant and nice.
Why am I a hundred percent sure? Because the not-so-nice part came after, which I remember very distinctly.
The not-so-nice part being telling me that he was flattered by my attentions, but he wasn’t interested. And that he was in love with someone else, and that someone else already had a boyfriend.
He said it… nicely, I think. Again, I can’t remember that part. All I remember is feeling heartbroken and completely embarrassed.
I mean, we could’ve done this over the phone, right? We didn’t have to meet. He didn’t have to arrange this ‘coffee date’ with me. I don’t know. I just know that I would’ve loved to not look him in the eyes when he said that he knew I had a crush on him and that it was cute and flattering but he wasn’t really available. But if I wanted to give him a call to just chat, I could.
Initially, I had no plans of ever calling him or being in any sort of contact with him. The guy wasn’t interested. What more did I need to hear? But then, I did have his phone and he did tell me that I could call him if I wanted to. So like a lovesick fool who latches on to the tiny, flimsy string hope, I picked up the phone and called him.
In hindsight, that’s how it started: my tale of unrequitedness. It lasted for a year, which I’ve named ‘My Year of Madness.’
For three hundred and sixty-five days, I loved him from afar. I loved him despite knowing that he was in love with someone.
For a year, we kept in touch. We talked on the phone. Sometimes we texted. Sometimes it was nice and pleasant like our very first conversation. But sometimes it was painful. Sometimes he’d barely pay attention to what I was saying, he’d barely participate in the awkward, stilted conversation. Only to turn around and apologize for his rudeness.
Now that I think about it, I guess I know why he was like that: hot and cold. It was because he was going through the same thing. It was his tale of unrequitedness as well. He wanted someone who hadn’t wanted him. And I know that makes for a very volatile disposition.
For a year, I held onto the hope that maybe one day things would work out. We were already kinda sorta friends. Maybe one day he’d realize that he liked me as well. One day he’d realize that the girl he was in love with wasn’t ever going to be his.
Yeah, I should’ve taken my own advice. Maybe then, I could’ve avoided all the pain and misery and anguish.
It was one of the worst years of my life. But tt was also one of the best. I’d cry and I’d despair. Then I’d laugh and be filled with hope. I’d dream of being with him and then I’d dream of being with someone who’d love me back. I thought I’d die from the pain of it all and then I thought I’d live.
What I didn’t think – again – was that one day, I’d write a book about it and name it THE UNREQUITED. Not to mention a blog post too.
For the record, I’m not Layla — the heroine of my book, and he is not Thomas, the hero.
Layla is an extreme part of me though, and Thomas is an extreme part of him. What I felt for him, Layla felt ten times more of that for Thomas. I only held my hope for a year before consciously deciding to cut all ties with him. But if it were Layla, she would’ve gone on for decades. She would’ve waited for Thomas forever.
A lover is the one who waits, remember? Or at least, that’s what my favorite writer, Roland Barthes, says.
But mostly, I’m not like Layla and he’s not like Thomas because Layla and Thomas are soulmates, or at least, they were born in my head that way.
My soulmate is sitting at his desk right now, typing away at his computer while I write this, sitting on the couch with a wine glass in hand.
And with a smile on my face.
Funny, how life turns out, isn’t it?
I thought I’d be a scientist in an oncology department but I write books now. I thought what I felt for that red t-shirt guy was the extent of all the love that I had to give. But four years later, I met my husband and discovered that there’s no limit to love.
Love is elastic and ever-expanding. It grows and flourishes a little each day, every day, for the rest of our lives. Especially, if you have someone who nourishes it with you. Who cares for it and waters it like you do.
Requited love is always stronger than the unrequited. And as I write this, I truly hope that the red t-shirt guy found the same kind of love in his life like I did in mine.
Fine Print: I apologize for any grammatical errors and as always, a little too much use of the F-word. This is more a writing of passion than thought. Thanks for reading!