Memories of a primeval crush
A few weeks ago, without knowing which of the hundreds of memories from my college years the Santa Cruz shoreline would evoke, I walked along West Cliff, hopeful I would feel something special.
I did. I was more delighted than I could have imagined, at remembering how deeply I love being in love. The intensity of the cliffs here remind me of how I obsessed over my boyfriend Jose. Natural Bridges reminded me of when Steve touched my bare shoulder with a hand he’d just dipped in the shallow edge of a tide, and simply said, “it’s cold.” The tension I felt in that moment, unsure if it was uniquely mine, stayed on my body permanently.
Steve is the primeval example of a crush. Someone I never touched or kissed, but saw and spoke to almost every week for a year. He worked at the McHenry Library in the basement level special editions checkout. I do not remember which class we took together where I made his acquaintance, but we also frequently ran into each other at shows at Crown College. We were running in the same circles. I’d make my way to the library basement almost every Thursday and “read” a book within view of his counter. He always seemed happy to see me, and would take time out to come by and chat. This evolved into run-ins in the courtyard at Cowell College, between courses, when we’d sit at a picnic bench and talk mostly about what we saw in front of us: a looming expanse of sea and wild grass, a quietness about being aware of our youth, brimming inside with so much skin hunger.
One day, he asked if I wanted to head down to the beach after class. O, Jupiter. I could have perished right there.
On our drive down in his Jeep-ish non-Jeep, I noticed the sun was low, and thankfully it wasn’t too cold out. Santa Cruz is always colder than one thinks it ought to be. The Redwood fog responsible for so much of that extraordinary microclimate was not conducive to my wearing anything revealing. With this warmth I was comfortable leaving my sweater in the car when we got to the Natural Bridges beach and walked toward the ocean.
We watched the waves in silence, and observed that the sun was about to set. There was no way I could have designed a more perfect moment. I felt the wind envelop me and him looking at me, still unsure if it was biology or intent. At one point someone struck up a conversation with him, and then us. A passerby exclaiming how beautiful the scene was. After they left, Steve crouched to touch the water, and we looked at each other. He placed his hand on my bare shoulder and said, “it’s cold.” I looked at him and smiled, panicked and looked away. I thought his hand was on my shoulder a touch longer than would be considered platonic, but not long enough for me to move toward him.
After graduating, Steve and I stayed in touch as he lived in the Los Angeles area where I was spending my summer before moving to France. Nothing physical ever happened beyond that cold touch, and at some point he shared a story about having fallen for a girl who was bisexual but not really into him. I dared to wonder if he was talking about me—we were in his garage-qua-den, with the lights so dim I couldn’t make out his face. I’d rubbed the ankle he turned doing a skateboarding trick. And the nothing persisted between us, while I thought about the ways I was able to be in love. And the nothing continued to be between us when I closed my eyes and remembered how it felt on the beach in Santa Cruz. And the nothing builds inside my body, a wave crashing repeatedly against your averted gaze. This is all uniquely mine for you to take.