Of all my memories, this one’s the earliest I have.
Not of my mother, not being held by my father, but of her.
The little 6-year-old girl.
I met her on my first day in kindergarten.
Her name is Jessica and her soft but pointy noise, dark-blonde hair and steel-blue eyes burn into the foundation of my mind.
Before I understand the word, I know the feeling to go with it.
I imagine us walking together, holding hands and talking about the kind of things people in love talk about.
But what do 6-year-old boys know about love?
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:[…] Shakespeare, Sonnet 18
Seven years pass.
But they do nothing to still my beating heart.
Until finally one day, I write it all down in a letter that I give to her.
Will you be my girlfriend?
No words of prose or poetry.
Just a few simple unassuming words formed into a question.
Outside the classroom, standing atop the staircase she locks her gaze with mine to make sure she has my attention and replies.
“My answer is no,” she swiftly turns around and enjoys her recess as her reply breaks my heart.
Of course, she couldn’t know, because I didn’t know, that what I was really asking–what anyone ever asks—was, “Am I okay? Am I enough?”
And like a technicolour trauma, she became the story I repeated to myself at the first sign of rejection.
The repeatable and remixable rerun to the question, “Am I enough?”
Instead of going into new relationships with an open mind and an open heart, I went into them already thinking, already knowing with absolute certainty that I, Carlos, was not good enough to be there in the first place.
This, paired with the abandonment issues from my father made for a delightful little combo.
When toxic beliefs like these form the fibres of the wood of the stage on which all future plays are enacted, all its stories follow the same grain.
None of this was her fault, of course.
She wasn’t even the real Jessica anymore.
She was the pale performance of a 12-year-old girl, portrayed by a 12-year-old boy’s mind.
Reduced to a cardboard cutout of a person with no dreams or wants of her own, only serving a 12-year-old mind in need of a story where it’s the victim. A disservice, not just to her but to myself.
Until you rehearse a new story, it’s hard to change the old one.
It’s time I revisit this past trauma, find the little boy that got left behind, lead him out of there and help him bury the past, learn from its lessons and heal.
It’s time I help him tell a better story.
Later that year I go to my first school dance.
It’s mostly an uneventful evening where I buy candy from the stall with my allowance.
But then it happens.
The ballads arrive to signal the end of the night.
I sit on the wooden benches in the large gymnasium, one of the boys too shy and terrified to ask anyone to dance when Jessica walks up to me.
My nervous hands hold her waist as we rock side-to-side for 3 minutes and 37 seconds in what feels like all of my birthdays and Christmases in one.
It’s only by looking back now that I realise, or suspect, that this was her way of saying, “You are good enough. You’re just not my type.”
Even if that wasn’t her intention, it helps the little boy tell a better story.
Because he is good enough.
I’m good enough.
Of all the earliest memories I have, I will rehearse this new story until it becomes a source of kindness and not of pain.
Come to think of it, I never thanked her for the dance.
So, “Thank you.”