When we met we were young enough to be perfect. Neither of us was broken or worn at the edges, no baggage weighing us down and rounding our shoulders. We were clumsy in our still new bodies with so many angles and curves. We were 16, and we fell in love.


At 16 falling in love was the only thing that counted. At 18 falling in love at 16 was the biggest mistake of our lives. At 25 the pieces have been put back together, but we’re strangers.


First love is reckless because we are fools. The raw pleasure of wanting and being wanted, seeing and being seen, touching and being touched is visceral and overwhelming when you’re 16. You fill with love. It makes you dizzy. It whips you up in warmth and longing. You are only a child hearing the oldest song in the universe, but your wobbly legs can’t keep the rhythm and you have no choice but to be swept along.


At 16 love was good. Love was happy, giggling as you steal a kiss in a movie theater or hold hands under a blanket or profess undying devotion in dark corners. It was notes in the hallway, movies in the living room, school dances in the cafeteria. It was innocence disguised in the words we thought adults in love said. He borrowed my books. I watched his garage band perform. Love was nice, and we were nice, and that’s all that mattered.


We fell in love before we knew who we were, before the little cracks started to form in our rosey cheeks. We learned the hard way that our full selves didn’t fit together as well as our partially formed shells. At 18, I was broken, fragile, and unsteady. He needed me, I needed him, and we both fell short. He came to represent everything I knew, all the things I clung to so desperately and struggled to push away so frantically. Leaving him and reuniting became a crutch to ease my anxieties. He drank. I cried. We struggled alone forcing ourselves to be together. Love was no longer innocent or good. Love was a cudgel with which we beat ourselves bloody.


When finally we broke apart, did we shatter? No. We had shattered a long time before. We had chipped away at each other until the center couldn’t hold, and yet still we tried so hard to be whatever it was we thought we had to be in order to be a we. Guilt ate at me as I watched our distance grow deeper and meaner and more volatile. We hated each other but longed for that familiar face. The face that had smiled in the summer sun at 16. Until, one day, the streams of our separate lives whisked us in opposite directions. I was I, and he was he, and we were 20.


It’s been years since I’ve seen him now. I hear about him every several months from friends who walk the line between us. He’s living here, he’s working there, he’s doing well. I imagine the same friends telling him about me. “She’s living here, she’s working there, she’s doing well.” I am doing well. I became an adult and I fell in love and now I’m part of another we. A fully formed we. I hope the same for him, but I will never be part of his happiness. There’s a lifetime and hundreds of miles between us now.


He knew me and I knew him when we had nothing to know, just half formed ideas about what love and life meant. We were everything to each other when being everything was a low-level commitment. But to hold someone else up you first must learn to stand on your own legs. We didn’t know that at 16. We just knew how good together felt. We were fools.

Bridey is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. Her interests include travel, international politics, film, and tattoos. More of her work can be seen here.