Picture yourself in your kindergarten classroom, sitting-cross legged upon the circular, crimson rug, painted with alphabet letters.
From across the room, your eyes twinkle as your crush grabs a crayon from the box. He picks up another, debating which shade of blue to color the sky with.
You smile, but you don’t know why. You don’t like him—you like like him. It’s an important difference at five years old.
As our minds grow and expand, so do our hearts.
A shift occurs as we begin to move past the scribbled names in our diaries, and plucked dandelions on the playground. The way he accidentally brushes against your skirt and tugs at your pony tail in elementary school begins to ignite more carnal cravings.
You no longer yearn for a peck on the cheek, or a hand to hold during recess. You want more. You want his touch to linger across your frame—to pieces that still have not quite made you full-bodied. You never act on these desires, but you begin to fantasize.
High school rolls around, and there’s a new boy on your mind: A new fantasy to pursue.
That boy in your math class is intelligent, and picks up his number two pencil the same way your kindergarten crush held his blue crayons.
But this boy is more decisive. He’s more complex. He does not simply color the sky as it is; he sketches your mind. He does not need to choose between colors in order to paint you into his world. You become his black-and-white fantasy.
You imagine him tracing numbers down your spine, feeling the way his pencil smooths over each crevice between your vertebrae. You envision him drawing emotional equations across your chest and asking you to count down from ten as he inches ever-closer to your toes.
You begin to learn this person’s body better than you know your own.
You tell him “I love you,” but it’s not returned. You cry, and you find yourself wrapped in your father’s arms.
He holds you close, and assures you that one day, your pain will make sense. Probably not today, or tomorrow, or even this year, but one day. Your teenage angst begs to differ.
This is your first heartbreak.
You walk into math class with your eyes lined in black and your body snuggled deep within his hoodie that you can’t seem to give up. The world seems to stare at you as you take your seat, a new seat that isn’t behind him. The equations screeched by chalk into the blackboard are enough to evoke a single tear down your cheek. Day one of survival.
Years pass you by, and with each new man you date, you reflect back to the lovers of your life—the ones you loved, and the ones you thought you loved, and the ones you were actually in-love with.
You think back to the boy with crayons, and your sweetheart with the pencil who you wanted to break in two, like he did to your heart, and you think of your dad.
You think of what he told you, and you begin to make sense of it, nearly ten years later.
You loved him, but you were never in love. You do not have to be in love with someone to love them. Everyone you hold any amount of love for deserves to know your affection and admiration that you hold for him or her.
In the end, it’s that difference between like, and like-like that we all want to hear.