By Sumer Schindler
Everyone has a dramatic, romantic, sappy story from their younger years. Everyone has what most claim as their first love. But the truth is nobody knows what love is at that stage in life. In fact, most look back at the experience of their first love and laugh at themselves and the situation they found themselves in. They now understand what actual real love is like, and what they had back then wasn’t it. But that doesn’t take away from the impact of that “first love,” and it certainly doesn’t take away what they learned. Well this is the story of my first love. You can decide if it was true love or not.
Let me start at the beginning. I was in middle school—seventh grade to be exact—and it was the Monday night right before school started. We were all at the school for a back to school welcome night when we put all our fresh new school supplies in our lockers, and met our teachers. I was with my best friend Selah, talking about whatever it is middle school girls talk about, when Selah’s eighth grade older brother Michael came up the stairs. He was followed by a brown (and ruffled up) haired boy with dark eyes and rosy cheeks. His clothes were slightly too big for him and they stuck out at funny angles. We made eye contact and a boyish grin spread across his face. I looked down at my feet, suppressing a smile. Michael walked over, the boy close behind. Selah rolled her eyes. “Hey.”
Michael nodded to his sister and said hi to me. “Sumer, I don’t think you’ve met Jordan.” Somehow the boy’s grin got even wider.
“Hi!” Jordan said.
“Hi,” I echoed. I don’t remember the entire conversation that took place, but I remember thinking “Wow that boy can smile.” And that was it—that was the beginning.
Every morning, I would go to school with my dad (he was the principal) which meant getting to school really early. Students who had to be dropped off early were sent to specific places to wait for school to start—elementary were sent to the downstairs lunchroom, middle to high school were sent to a room between the lunchroom and the locker rooms. I remember the very first morning I went downstairs expecting to be the first one there. Yet there he was, Jordan—sitting there all nerd-like, ruffled up hair, oversized clothes, and all. It wasn’t even awkward. We just talked. Every single morning, just the two of us. We would never run out of things to talk about. But our friendship was somewhat of a secret. After all, it was middle school, and talking someone of the opposite sex meant you must like each other. Otherwise, why on earth would you be friends? So when the next kid would show up, we’d split. At first. But pretty soon even that couldn’t get us to stop talking. Others would show up and we would just continue as if no one else was there.
I don’t remember how long this went on, but as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end.” What a stupid sentiment. I had a crush. But it was more than that, I liked him. And that scared me. I couldn’t risk losing this friendship. I couldn’t risk losing this stupidly smart, nerd boy with oversized shirts and ruffled hair, and dark chocolate eyes. But it turned out, this conflict would solve itself.
I attended a very small private school. There was no such thing as popular or unpopular because everyone knew everyone. There were ‘leaders’ (or those who considered themselves leaders) and if those ‘leaders’ didn’t like you, nobody else would. Even if there was no apparent reason. There was one boy who crowned himself king, and those stupid knuckleheads let him stay on top. Every single boy listened to him. The problem was he was not a very good person. Jordan started hanging out with him and he started acting different—more arrogant, more self-centered. I’m not saying it was purposeful. In fact, I do not think Jordan did that on purpose. But he still acted that way. I was angry at him for being just like the others. I was only twelve, so I handled the situation the only way I knew how—with the silent treatment. I don’t know what I expected to happen—for him to come running back begging for forgiveness for something he didn’t even know he was doing wrong, or something like that. Truth is I don’t even know why I was so mad at him. After all, he wasn’t behaving any differently from a classic boy. Maybe it was because I knew he could be better than that, or maybe my anger stemmed from my insecurity in that he might not like me the same way I liked him. Who’s to get inside the mind of a twelve-year-old girl with exaggerated feelings and no clue what the reality of human nature is?
Like I said I was young. Anyways, it doesn’t matter because it was too late. Once I realized my mistake, it had already been weeks of silence and injured puppy looks across the hallway. I sucked up my pride and stubbornness and I apologized for ignoring him. He stopped acting like the other boys but it wasn’t the same. We had a history now and neither of us knew what to do. We still talked but there was distance that would take years to cross to get to the place we were before.
At the end of the school year, we went to the zoo for a field day. We were instructed to stay in groups of two or three with no coupling, and to not act to crazy or we would have to stick with a sponsor. Well, being a group of kids at the zoo all day long, we got bored and naturally a game of keep-away developed.
Some of the guys stole Michael’s hat and everyone picked a side. Selah and I were on her brother’s team trying to get his hat back, and Jordan was on the other team. Selah and I were stationed by a gate. The sponsors were relaxing in the shade observing the otter enclosure. But just beyond them, was the enemy headquarters. We had the hat and needed to run but how could we get past the sponsors without being yelled at? We weighed our options unaware of the enemy enclosing in around us. It was an ambush! Without a word Selah (who had the hat) darted off, sprinting past the unobservant sponsors and out of sight. Somehow in the ambush, we were separated, so when she ran I turned and ran right into Jordan’s chest. The other boys took off after Selah, but Jordan stayed holding me back from running. I struggled against him and he let me go, but where to go? The sponsors were alerted by the hoard of boys rushing past them, so that way was a no, but to go all the way around unaccompanied would get me in big trouble if I were to be caught, even more so if Jordan followed me. I just stood there weighing my options and looking for a way to escape, while Jordan stood there looking at me. I started pacing and he matched my steps. He was distracting, I’ll say that. Luckily the sponsors got up and walked in the opposite direction of where we were. It was a straight shot to enemy headquarters! I tried to run but Jordan blocked me, laughing. I darted around him and took off heading to the place I saw Selah enter. He was right behind me. I saw Selah and when she saw me, she yelled at me to run. She said they had the hat and she was in jail. I turned around to run away, but Jordan was right there. I turned around again, and there were others. I was surrounded and quickly escorted to jail. All that happened from that until the time we had to leave was a bunch of incessant teasing and empty threats.
So why did I tell you this story? Well, when we got back to school that day, Selah pulled me aside. She said Michael told her that Jordan told him that he liked me, and he has for a long time. My heart caught in my throat. I still liked him, but I had pushed those feelings so far away because I thought he’d never fall for me—then to find out he’d felt this way the whole time? It was a lot to take in. But it didn’t matter, I’d have the whole summer to think about it.
I didn’t see him until the back to school welcome night of my eighth grade (his ninth grade) year. There was a lot of sneaking glances and eye contact then both looking away with sheepish grins. And that basically sums up that school year. I liked him, he liked me, and everyone knew it except us.
We were both in drama and choir and were asked to perform a type of duet for the school Thanksgiving get together. I loved and hated that idea all at once. I hated it because it was middle school and I would never hear the end of this. But I loved it because it was with him. I remember small things from that year, like him holding the door for me, or sitting next to him for choir practice. But nothing major happened. We just liked each other and that was it.
The next year is not worth mentioning as it is inessential to this story. I never stopped liking Jordan, other things just got in the way. I wish they hadn’t. I missed him, but our friendship was almost completely non-existent and I had no idea how to change that.
Tenth grade year was a disaster. I found myself in a relationship with another boy—at least as much of a relationship as one can have at fifteen. Once again, I was young and didn’t know what true feelings were, and though it sounds shallow, I simply liked him because he liked me. It was easy and didn’t seem messy (though it ended up making everything even messier). There is no way to sugar-coat immaturity. It is completely terrible, I know, but Jordan was still in my thoughts. He was in the back of my mind, but he was still there. I denied it, even to myself for a while; I thought those feelings would just fade on their own. But they didn’t. I broke it off with the other boy for multiple reasons (not just because of Jordan). And I slowly fell for Jordan all over again. Only this time, I knew he didn’t feel the same way. He had long-since gotten over me. So I hid my feelings the best I could. He was taller than me now and had filled out his clothes. He seemed less awkward (though I didn’t mind the awkward) and I don’t know, he just seemed more mature. We were somewhat friends again but that is using the term friend lightly.
That year a Home Ec. class was offered and I signed up unaware that Jordan and his friend had as well. Home Ec. was no ordinary class that year. First of all, my mom was teaching it, and she is not the standard by-the-book teacher, so it was incredibly fun because all we did was bake and eat what we baked. But Jordan was in that class. I had forgotten how big he could smile, and how he was so good at making me laugh. One time specifically, we were baking cookies when Jordan threw flour at his friend Nate, speckling him with white spots all over his hair and shirt. Nate threw some back, getting it everywhere. The rest of us quickly joined in, not caring about the mess. When we were all laughing uncontrollably and flour and sugar covered the kitchen, we started to clean up. I went to the back closet to get paper towels and Jordan followed me back there. I stuck my head in the closet looking for paper towels and Jordan pushed me in and closed the door behind me, locking me in. He was laughing and I couldn’t help from laughing either (though it was suppressed so he couldn’t hear). After a little bargaining, he let me out and we went back to the kitchen, entirely forgetting about the paper towels and hence getting playfully yelled at by our other classmates.
Another time we were making chili for some type of pot-luck dinner the school was hosting. A few of us stayed after class (it was the last hour of the day) to help finish making the chili. I stayed because I was a staff kid and had to help anyways, but Jordan stayed because he lived further away and wouldn’t have time to go home before the event.
Somehow we ended up alone in the kitchen. I was stirring the chili and Jordan told me I was doing it wrong. I told him that I, in fact, was not doing it wrong. Then he proceeded to show me how it’s done and reached for the ladle in my hand. Except, I didn’t know he was doing that and somehow chili was spilled all over the floor. We both looked at each other and I just died laughing. He apologized and tried to wipe it up and I bent down to help him. We had one of those weird, totally staged movie scenes where two people are trying to clean up an accidental mess and end up face-to-face, staring into each other’s eyes. I remember that moment, even though he probably doesn’t. I remember blushing and looking away, the moment gone. It’s funny how cheesy and unrealistic those movie scenes seem until you’ve experienced something just like it.
The next year was his senior year and my junior year. It held weight none of the past years had because that was it. After that year, everything would be different. I had full-on feelings for him; he had nothing for me.
This was the first year I was in drama and he was not. Our drama class participated in an academic meet every year and we were each expected to perform some type of monologue or dramatic piece. The year before I had done a monologue and wanted to try something new. I asked Jordan to do a duet acting with me, not because I liked him but because we had acted together before and worked well together. He agreed and we began to meet regularly to work on the piece. We would meet in an empty classroom after lunch. At first it felt weird for it to just be the two of us again, but that feeling quickly melted. We would practice and practice and only talk a little, but that turned into practicing little and talking a lot. We had the best conversations. He always knew how to make me laugh and sometimes we would forget ourselves and share embarrassing stories or engage in deep intellectual conversations. It was so real. One time when we were practicing I was looking out window and playing with the blinds and the wand tilt broke. Jordan laughed at the expression of surprise that must have overtaken my face and he took the piece out of my hand and said “Don’t worry about it,” as he opened the storage closet and placed the wand tilt on the top shelf where it couldn’t be seen or even reached by a person of average height. I looked at him curiously and he just laughed again, explaining that he and Nate had done the exact thing to the opposite window the week before and had stashed the other wand tilt in the closet as well. Now it was my turn to laugh. I looked out the window just as it started snowing. He joined me and we just watched the snow for a while. He was standing really close. I turned to look up at him. He grinned and moved even closer. Then the bell rang, he sighed and stepped back then grabbed his books. “See you tomorrow,” he said.
“See you tomorrow,” I replied. He left the room and my heart was pounding. I looked out the window and watched the oversized snowflakes tumble down. I knew he didn’t like me, but I couldn’t help but wonder.
Another time, we were setting up for a banquette and I was going from room to room in the school looking for extra tables to use. I found one and went to find someone to help me carry it. Jordan and Nate happened to be right there, so they quickly offered to help. We went to pick the table up, and Jordan turned to me and told me to get on the table while they carried it. I laughed, thinking he was joking. Then he told me if I didn’t get on the table, Nate would, then I would have to help carry it. I opted to do that but struggled to lift the table and the weight of a teenage boy. Feeling like I had no other option, I crawled on the table and they carried it (and me) through the school. The ride was wobbly but I was laughing the whole time even though I was slightly nervous that they might drop me. Then we came to the stairs. And I started to get off thinking they wouldn’t dare try to carry me down there too. But Jordan asked me what I was doing and when I told him, he told me to get back on and reassured me that they would not, in fact, drop me. And so I did. I trusted him even though it was probably stupid, but hey, I was only sixteen at the time and didn’t seem to make the wisest decisions yet. But I will never know if they would have dropped me or not, because just as they were about to attempt the stairs, my dad came around the corner. A look of surprise took over his face as he realized what was going on. He strongly told us to stop goofing off, but I had already slid off the table, somewhat embarrassed by the situation. After my dad turned away, Jordan and Nate absolutely lost it and were laughing their heads off. I just rolled my eyes, but I couldn’t help but smile too.
My friendship (or whatever it was) with Jordan was very on and off—kind of like a light switch. Sometimes he would talk to me and sometimes he would not. It was very confusing and sometimes it even made me wonder if our friendship was real at all or if he was just faking it. One night, we (the basketball teams and fans) were traveling back from a basketball game in Milwaukee. We stopped at a place with a few fast food locations so everyone could pick where they wanted to eat. I was not planning on eating so I sat down in a booth at McDonald’s, but Jordan and some of the guys went over to Qdoba. I watched them walk away. It was during a time when Jordan pretended like I didn’t exist. I did not have any other friends so I sat there alone. It was snowing at the time, and I was lost in thought day-dreaming and watching the fat snowflakes tumble softly down. They were so peaceful and quiet. It was a winter wonderland and I wanted nothing more than to run outside and play in the snow, but I only sat there smiling to myself. I snapped out of my daze when the coaches announced we were going to leave soon.
I turned around out of my booth and stood up only to meet Jordan’s gaze. My heart skipped a beat then leaped to my throat, leaving me unable to catch my breath. He was just standing there looking at me and I looked back. I couldn’t read his expression but I can imagine mine was somewhat curious—because neither of us could look away.
I don’t know why I’m telling you this, or even why I remember this. After all, nothing else happened. But for some reason unknown to me, that moment has stuck out in my mind. It felt like the world froze for a second, and I fully believe that if I would have looked outside, I would have seen the snowflakes suspended in the chilly air as if the earth were holding its breath. All I know is that I could think of nothing else for the rest of the night.
Every year my high school would take a trip somewhere, and that year it was the Grand Canyon. We all rode in big vans and I happened to be in the same van Jordan was riding in. It was a really long trip so we all had a ton of time to talk and play games and take naps. I was sitting on a side and Jordan was sitting right in front of me. I’m just going to say a lot went down on that trip. My friend Kay, who was kind of dating Nate who was Jordan’s best friend, told me that Nate told her that Jordan liked me. I honestly did not believe it at first because I did not want to get my hopes up, but I had been talking to Jordan a lot more and he had been acting a little different lately. It made sense, but that still didn’t mean that I was actually going to let myself believe it. The majority of the trip he did act like he liked me. We would playfully tease each other, and he would look at me and just smile. When I tried to take naps in the van and couldn’t get comfortable, he let me use his sweatshirt for a pillow. When we were driving through the mountains and I complained about my ears popping, he gave me gum to help with the pressure. Whenever our group was touring he was always close by. When we all went swimming at the hotels, engaging in games of Marco Polo, he would grab me and try to push me towards the person who was it. It was so much fun. But then it stopped. Just like that. I didn’t know what happened. We went from being close to not talking. And I had no idea why.
There were two moments when I almost confronted him. Two opportunities lost. The first was at a church we were staying at overnight. Everyone else was asleep, and I got up to go upstairs to use the bathroom. When I reached the top step, I stopped. Jordan was there sitting alone on the floor on his phone. He looked up then looked back down. I walked to the bathroom, but didn’t do anything in there except stare at myself in the mirror. I did not understand why things were the way they were and I wanted to know so badly. I was resolved to confront him, but apparently my feet did not agree with my decision because when I walked out, they carried me right past him and back down the stairs to bed. I didn’t sleep though. I was too busy kicking myself knowing the opportunity I’d lost.
The second time was when we took a rest stop right before we got back home. Most of the students went inside the fast food restaurant to use the restroom and get some food, but Jordan went to explore a little motorcycle museum close by. He was alone and was just standing outside the building. I wanted so badly to march right up to him and demand an explanation, but when I took a step in his direction, I was assaulted with doubts about the reality of the situation and my feelings. Instead I walked over to the vans and sat beside them and waited to leave. The rest of the van ride home he did not even acknowledge my existence. But I did catch him looking at me, a curious expression etched on his face.
It was like that for the rest of the year. Longing glances, accidental eye contact, acting like there was never anything between us at all. At one point, I did confront him. I asked him if he was mad at me. He was caught off guard but just said he wasn’t mad at me and gave no further explanation. The whole situation was difficult, and it hurt a lot. I just didn’t understand.
Eventually, from a line of friends and lots of he-said-she-said crap I found out why he stopped talking to me. And it turns out, it was all a misunderstanding. He thought I did something that I didn’t do and instead of communicating about it, he just walked away. And that was it, by the time I knew the reason, it was too late to change anything. Maybe it was for the best. Maybe this was a sign that we just weren’t meant to be together. Who’s to say?
Anyways that was the last year I spoke to him. I saw him a few times but we didn’t speak, only nodded or something like that. I’m not still pining after him or anything like that, even if this story makes it seem that way. I miss him though–I miss the friend I lost. I hear things about him every once in a while, like how he gave up going to school to become a doctor and is studying to be a pastor, or how he is traveling around the world right now. I am happy for him, really I am. I just wish things hadn’t ended the way they did because now, I will always wonder what could have been.
So did I love him? If I am being completely honest with myself, I’m not sure. I’m still not entirely convinced I know what that kind of love feels like even now. I can tell you though, that it was more than a silly schoolgirl crush, and that’s enough for me.