Love Kinda Sucks: Thirteen Years and Eight Men

First was Javier. He was a whole two years older and lived over in building 9. I am not quite sure how I met him, but honestly he was always kind of there, stopping by whenever he saw me playing on my own, making sure the little baby doll I loved so much was wearing her dress properly. I think he had a puppy, though I might be misremembering. The point is, he’s the earliest memory of a guy who was not a blood relation, so that made him important.

He offered to be the dad when playing house, and that was it. I was in love.

Seriously, it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that not everyone I met was a distant cousin. (To my left, an actual cousin)

Seriously, it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that not everyone I met was a distant cousin. (To my left, an actual cousin)

Jonathan came next. I wouldn’t call him a crush, really; he was more like my neighbor who was always kind of there so it made sense to like him (seven-year-old me was very pragmatic). We used to play together all the time when we were little and your gender didn’t really matter as much as your ability to push yourself on the swings really high. I went to his birthday party wearing a cute blue and yellow dress, and Jonathan avoided my eyes the entire time.

In second grade, I switched from a catholic, all-girls school to a public elementary school. It was here that I experienced what crushing on the most popular boy was like (spoiler: it was disappointing). His name was Dario, he was blond and green eyed, and he knew, even at the tender age of eight, just how cute he was. He thought I was really cool because I knew what Digimon was and I was always up for being Sora when the guys needed all the characters (the girls preferred to learn how to dance like Shakira. I wanted to as well, but I was deemed so bad at it by my own peers that I gave up and decided to perfect my screeching bird noises instead). Anyway, he was “dating” the cutest girl in class, and honestly they made kind of a cute couple, so I was mad but not as mad as I could’ve been.

A boy who came into town to visit his family for the summer was my introduction to sexy foreign guys. Except it wasn’t sexy at all because I was nine and yet unable to understand sexiness, and it wasn’t foreign either because he just came from the coast and not another country. But still. He had a funny accent, and his front teeth were all crooked, and no one knew his actual name but we all called him Costeño. He was by far the best soccer player in the neighborhood and that alone made him crush-worthy. Something else that made him crush-worthy: he would ditch his guy friends to be with me, as if it were a no-brainer. My last memory of him was us putting my toys away and him sending me on my way home so I wouldn’t get in trouble with my parents (was this guy even for real?!).

I waited for his return a year later like a tiny Victorian maiden, but he never came back. I was devastated for all of two days.

More accurately, I was a tiny  campesina ,  but who cares about the details?

More accurately, I was a tiny campesina,  but who cares about the details?

Then came Hugo. Hugo was the big one: the one that turned me from a loud, punch-all-the-boys-to-prove-my-superiority tomboy to a blushing wallflower. My crush on him lasted all through the awkward prepubescent phase when I started growing hips and I found myself gravitating toward shorter skirts. Crushing on him was confusing because I objectively realized just how ugly he was—his face was an angry red pockmarked with acne scars, and he sported a thin patch of hairs on his upper lip that he liked to call a mustache, and his hair was always long and scraggly—but my mind, overtaken by all those stupid hormones, just didn’t care.

It was also extremely confusing because in all the years of one-sided longing, we probably spoke a total of ten words combined. Didn’t matter; I was in love.

While in the throes of my baffling, unrequited kid love for Hugo, I met Sergio. Sergio was a mountain bike racer and a pretty cool dude overall, with green-gold eyes and a charming personality, but he was off-limits because: 1), he was a whole year younger than me, and 2), he used to hang out with the other group of kids in the neighborhood, which wasn’t our group of kids in the neighborhood and so he wasn’t allowed to talk to us. Heartbreaking circumstances behind our friendship notwithstanding, we still found time to hang out and the two of us got along swimmingly. So swimmingly, in fact, that he was my first kiss. Despite the awkwardness of having someone younger than you teach you how to kiss, we remained really good friends, him often cheering me up when I got sick and me often insulting his biking skills even if they were actually pretty cool

Sergio taught me that boys and girls could be just two friends who kissed that one time at a party, thus setting the bar for guy friendships extremely high.

Diego was kind of always there as my girl friend’s annoying younger cousin, but it was after actually kissing a real boy and not a figment of my imagination that our friendship developed. Our friendship was a textbook case of the boy-falls-in-love-with-really-close-friend trope: we had the would-you-imagine-if-we-were-together conversation, and the what-do-you-see-in-him conversation (at this point I was still hopelessly, embarrassingly in love with Hugo), and the wanna-play-twenty-questions conversation. Keep in mind, this was way before cellphones became the social buffer that they are today, and so this all happened in between pretending we were too old to play hide and seek and playing hide and seek ironically. I wanted to replicate with Diego the easy friendship I had with Sergio, and it proved to be a little too much for us: he became rough and mean, desperately trying to prove he was more mature than he really was, and I became the target for his cruel comments. Our relationship became a strange limbo as neither of us were mature enough to look the elephant in the eye, and it stayed like that for a long, long while.

Then one day in rainy April I packed my bags and said goodbye to these boys and the bonds that had united us for so long.

I saw him in Miami. He was waiting for me with open arms after a year of not seeing each other. I had worried I would forget his face, but to me he looked the same, from his warm brown eyes to his smile. He was always smiling, when he wasn't mad at me. I dropped my bags, let go of my mom's hand, and ran into his arms.

My dad lifted me into the air, and I wouldn’t let go.

Even back then, I didn't want anyone touching my hair #curlygirlproblems

Even back then, I didn't want anyone touching my hair #curlygirlproblems

And just like that, I was home.