Whenever you’re in a relationship, there’s always one question that comes up regardless of who you are. “What’s your love story?” People are intrigued by stories, especially those that end in two people falling in love and living happily ever after. It’s our nature to want to know how people find their way through the mysteries that come with falling in love. Most people’s love stories are simple. Two people meet, they have a connection, go on a date, get to know each other, and fall in love. Mine isn’t that simple.
I met her sophomore year of high school. Neither of us realized the chain of events that our first conversation would put into motion. I could easily claim that I felt nothing more than just wanting to be friends when we first met, but looking back, I don’t think that was the case. I was fourteen, not sure of my sexual identity and definitely not ready to admit that I was not straight. I remember seeing her and just loving what I saw. I was interested. Amazed. She was new, different, beautiful… I blamed social anxiety for the feeling I got in my stomach. I never did well with being around people. Now, after three years of denying it, I realize that feeling in my stomach was more than just nervousness; it was butterflies. The kinds you hear about on television and in movies. I needed to make things work between us. I’ve felt something special for her for as long as I can remember.
It was the first day of school and my last period of the day was trigonometry. I knew I should’ve been paying attention to the teacher in the front of the room, but all I could think about was this girl who sat in front of me, whom I felt the need to say something, anything, to her. I needed to do something to start a friendship or I would never forgive myself. Ever. One of the first things I noticed about her was her brightly colored underside of her hair. My stomach tightened as the need to get her attention intensified. I said the first thing that came to my head.
“Is your hair really purple?” Oh my god. I’m an idiot. Her hair was clearly more pink than purple. Maybe she didn’t realize. Maybe she didn’t hear me and I could start over.
“Umm yeah. It is.” She responded. She must have thought I was stupid. I stayed quiet for a while. I couldn’t screw this up.
“Destinee Arroyo,” a distant voice filled the classroom. She raised her hand. At least now I knew her name. The voice continued through the roster calling off the names of everyone in the class before starting her lesson.
I sat there trying to be invisible, oblivious to the teaching that was occurring in the front or the slight chatter coming from the far corner of the classroom. I didn’t know how to talk to her and I didn’t know why. I was clueless to the reason behind my confusing emotions. I felt the moisture in my palms and my head was spinning. She took my brain for a trip by simply sitting in front of me. My mind was racing and everything around me was completely out of focus.
“Are you guys sisters?” Bam! Back to reality. There were other people in the room… I looked up to see who it was. It was the girl next to me, Azemina. Way to break the ice there. We had no response. We simply looked at each other and laughed. It was more of a nervous laugh than anything else, but she laughed too. That single instant revealed a connection between us and that connection would only grow as time progressed.
That was it. My chance to keep the conversation going. I don’t even remember what I said, but it must’ve worked because she stuck around. Before I knew it, she was living at my house. Our relationship transformed from strangers to inseparable in the matter of weeks. We were always together. We would meet up in the early morning every day. We grabbed pizza at the ‘ria after school and stayed at the park until late afternoon before heading home together. She was my best friend and I, as a kid who never trusted anyone, learned to trust this girl who just walked into my life.
“Don’t think I didn’t see them.” She was sitting across from me as she watched me play with a box cutter. Probably not the best idea when I had visible cuts on my wrists from the night before.
I yanked my sleeve down to cover anything she might have seen. “See what?” I figured I might as well try to play dumb for as long as I could. Maybe she’ll drop it. Maybe she’ll pretend it doesn’t exist. She looked at me waiting for a response. She wasn’t buying my little act of ignorance at all. I knew what she meant. She knew that. I looked down at my hand and realized that I was tracing my fingers with the blade. Not enough to break skin, just enough so I could feel the blade. I threw the box cutter back on the table. “It’s not that bad.” I had to talk my way out of this one. I had to convince her there was nothing to worry about, that there was nothing to tell anyone about. I kept talking, “I just wanted to try and I really liked it, more than I thought I would. I mean, I’ve done it before but it was rare and not really breaking skin because I was littler and scared. It’s not a big deal, I’m just not going to do it on my wrists anymore so no one needs to see it.”
“So you’ll still be doing it, I just won’t be able to see it…”
I stopped for a second before I answered. “Umm yeah. It won’t be that bad though. I don’t cut to have blood running down my arm, just enough for me to feel something. It’s not a big problem, promise.”
“I can’t just sit here and watch you do this…”
“I’m not saying you have to.” I thought about it. I’d be worried too if I was her. I’d probably force her to talk to me about why and figure out how she can relieve the anxiety and stress another way, but I’m hopeless so it won’t work the same way. Even she has to know that. “All I will ask is that you talk to me before running to tell anyone else. I may be stupid but I haven’t lost my mind yet.” She looked down, searching for something to say or do. “And plus, you’ve always known that I’m suicidal, the only difference is now you can see it. I’m the same person I was yesterday.”
She didn’t have anything to say to that. She knew she had to do something, but just didn’t know what. I wasn’t ready for help anyway. I didn’t want it. I had no problem being self-destructive, mentally unstable, and ready to die at any moment. There was no stopping that. I had no hope, so why would anyone else?
Destinee knowing my secret didn’t stop me though. I’ve been cutting since I was eight years old, it wasn’t going to be that easy. It made it harder, though. A lot harder actually. I couldn’t deal with letting her down. Part of me knew that she was the only one who truly cared about what happened in my head and I cared about her. I cared about her a lot.
One night when everything was falling apart again, I found myself on the bathroom floor with the door locked. I had a razor blade in my hand and blood dripping down my arm. I was done. That was it. I started cutting vertically, getting deeper and deeper. Suddenly, this thought popped into my head. I found a way to justify leaving almost everyone. I convinced myself that my brothers would be better without me and everyone else would hardly notice. But, Destinee. I grabbed my phone with my shaky hands and called her. I called twice, hanging up each time. My whole body was shaking, my arm was covered in lacerations from my hand to my elbow, and the paper towel underneath it was quickly turning bright red. I needed to keep cutting, but I couldn’t without talking to Destinee first.
My phone rang. Destinee. I couldn’t ignore her, but what was I going to say? That I was ready to die? That I just needed her to say good-bye? I couldn’t do that to her. I knew it was wrong, let alone selfish to ask her to say just let me go knowing she was the last person I was to talk to, but that’s what I wanted. Well, part of me anyway. Another part wanted her to say she’s in this with me, that I don’t have to do this alone.
Click. I answered. Silence.
“Nicole?” I was breathing heavier than normal. She must have heard it… “What’s going on?”
“I… I cut again. A lot.”
“Where are you?”
“Bathroom. Everyone else is doing whatever they’re doing. I can’t do this anymore. I’m… I’m sorry…”
“Can’t do what? You can’t leave me Nicole. You promised you wouldn’t.” She was right about that. I did promise. I said multiple times that I wouldn’t do something that would kill me. I wouldn’t leave her behind. “Can you stop? Give it another day? I want to be there with you. I need to see you tomorrow…”
“Okay.” She wanted to see me. She didn’t leave me alone. She has to care about me and I really really care about her. I took a deep breath. “Okay.”
“Are you going to be alright?” She was quieter, more concerned than panicked.
“Yeah. Text me though, deal?”
I think I reassured her. We hung up and she texted me. We talked through the night, a successful attempt at keeping me alive. I was so close to ending everything. If I wouldn’t have thought of Destinee, if she wouldn’t have called me back, if she didn’t say the exact words I needed to hear… I wouldn’t have been alive another day. She saved my life.
The next day seemed to go back to normal.We met up before school. I wore long sleeves and made sure my wrists were covered and no one knew the difference. Except Destinee. She brought it up and I explained everything that was going through my head. I explained everything the best I could. She insisted on seeing the newly formed cuts, so I led her into the bathroom. I closed my eyes and rolled up my sleeves. When I finally opened them, she had this faint look of horror on her face. She saw what I was feeling the night before. It was written all over my arms. She covered her reaction quite quickly, but I saw it. The fear, the frustration, the helplessness. It was one of the worst moments of my life. She didn’t know what to say or what to feel. We stood there in silence until I whispered the only thing I could think of. “I’m sorry.”
A few months past and we found ourselves on a school trip to Europe where we would be roommates in every country we visited. Even the teachers knew how completely inseparable we were. We were drowned in comments about our “closeness” from two of the teachers we became close with throughout high school. It seemed like everyone had the idea that something was going to happen that would change our friendship forever.
One night in Germany, I had a mini party in our hotel room since the drinking age was only eighteen. We walked a block away from the hotel to the gas station on the corner and bought two bottles of the cheapest vodka we could find. Back at the room, I unknowingly drank more than anyone in the room. It was my first time drinking hard liquor and I didn’t quite know how, nor did I want, to stop. Before I blacked out, I remember asking Destinee to kiss me. She contemplated it for long enough for me to have another cup of alcohol in my system and then I blacked out. The next morning, I found out that she did. She kissed me. I had no choice but to rethink my sexuality. I asked my best friend to kiss me. I wanted her to be near me. I didn’t quite know what that meant. Was it just “experimenting?” You always hear stories about how girls fool around with their friends, but they still end up marrying a man. It didn’t feel like that though. I knew I was attracted to her and that I enjoyed being around her more than anything else. I would do anything for her, but was I really falling in love with her?
Months past full of denying anything that happened. I didn’t want to screw up our amazing friendship over some feelings that I haven’t figured out yet. I needed to be sure on this one. It took a lot of thinking, but I finally decided that I couldn’t just not tell her what I’ve been thinking for what felt like forever.
That summer, we had many nights where we would buy drinks and hang out in her room. We’d play games, watch movies, or just talk. We could do anything, or nothing at all, and still have a good time. Each of those nights became an opportunity to see how far I can go to asking her out without scaring her or getting scared myself. I couldn’t even try when I was sober, but as soon as my mouth touched the bottle for my first sip, I was ready. I had a crutch. If things go wrong, I could always say that it was the drinks. I wasn’t myself. It was a perfect plan. I just needed to figure out the execution.
Breathe. Just say something. I was on my second Corona. I was far from drunk, but my heart was beating out of my chest and the butterflies in my stomach were going crazy. Now or never. I had to do it. “Hey, umm, I keep getting this feeling that all I want to do is kiss you…” There it is. She didn’t look confused. I chugged the rest of my beer and grabbed another. She was still silent. “Say something?”
“So why don’t you?” Did I just hear that? She just invited me to kiss her. She was far from freaked out and oh my god. Should I do it? Yes, you idiot. Just kiss her.
“Are you sure?” She nodded. I took another sip and set the bottle on the windowsill. I leaned in and closed my eyes. My heart instantaneously sped up even faster. We kissed. We were so engulfed in each other that everything else in the world disappeared. That chemistry. That spark. That connection. In that second, I realized that I wanted to be with her. I knew I wanted to be able to call her my girlfriend. I wanted so much, I just didn’t know if she was even slightly okay with it.
Weeks came and went. My life started to make more sense. I was never into guys romantically. I forced myself into fake crushes and a fake relationship with a guy who was only pretending to like me the entire time. My first sexual encounter with a guy disgusted me, and it wasn’t because I was too young or inexperienced. All these little things that I did in the past added up to one thing. I am not straight and I am very attracted to girls.
We continued to have our couple-like relationship throughout that summer, without putting any labels on it. I was falling deeper in love with my best friend. Part of me knew that everything I was doing could turn out to be a huge mistake. We were both going to two different schools for college and we would leave too soon for my comfort. I could get really hurt, but even just a few weeks of a relationship with a girl who was as close to perfection as you could possibly get was worth that risk.
The remaining time we had together flew by. It came to a point where we needed to have a real conversation about what we were going to do. We were still best friends; our relationship was just growing before our eyes without us doing much to fuel it. If only I knew how to bring it up…
I waited until we were laying in her bed about to go to sleep to bring it up. “Dest?” She turned over to look at me. “What are we going to do about college and… this?” She didn’t really have an answer. It was understandable because we didn’t really figure out what “this” actually was. We both agreed that getting tied down right before college wouldn’t be easy, so creating a relationship was out of the question. We would always be best friends. If we wanted to return to this later, we could easily do that. It just didn’t feel like the best time. We left it like that, but still spent every second together until we parted for college.
I thought I would be fine. I truly did, but the second she was away from me, I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t handle knowing that she could be my girlfriend, but we were too scared to even try. I was completely in love with her with all of my being. There was no way to shut that off. I really didn’t want to bring it up again though. I didn’t even know what I wanted. I had a fear of commitment and I was horrible when it came to romantic relationships. I couldn’t hurt her. I spent the first few weeks venting to my roommate everyday about how much I love Destinee and how confused I was as to what to do about it. After a while, every one of my friends in college knew who Destinee was and were pushing me towards establishing some sort of real relationship with her. So, I called her. What’s the worst that can happen, right?
It’s a conversation that should be had in person. She was coming back home the next weekend, which meant that I was too. It was a Friday full of sushi, frozen yogurt, and serious conversations. We discussed a lot about us and how we feel. Turns out we were both falling for each other at similar rates and we both wanted something more than friendship. We just weren’t exactly sure what that would be. After dinner and fro-yo, we took a walk to try to unravel everything that was going on. I tried my hardest to explain all of the confusing feelings I’ve had throughout the three years we have been best friends and begged for a response.
We stood on a corner, people rushing by around us, looking into each others’ eyes. The silence was overwhelming. My heart was racing and my stomach was on its own rollercoaster. I had to say something. “I don’t know about you, but every time I see you, I can’t help but want to kiss you.” She nodded in agreement and I leaned in as I have done many times already. It felt the exact same way as it did months before. That kiss was the definition of happiness. Absolute Perfection. I wanted to stay in that moment forever, but it came to an end and all I could get out was, “So I guess this means we’re together, huh?”