Writing by Sophie Pellegrini // Photograph by Hannah Grace Davis
The first boy I fell in love with was Parker McCaffery. He was tall and built, with smooth dark hair. When you got up real close, you could see speckles of silver. He had blue-green eyes and long, dark lashes.
Parker had confidence and attitude that I could only compare to characters I had read about in books. He had a face that lit up when he laughed. Sometimes he smelled like his cologne—I could inhale it for hours. Other times he reeked of fancy Cuban cigars. After he smoked, the smell would hang on to his clothes and hair for hours, and when I kissed him, I tasted it on his lips, tongue, and breath.
Parker was charming. God, he was charming. There was something in the way he spoke, smiled, and even walked. He just had this way with people, this expression of confidence that edged on outspokenness. One of the first times we spoke, we were at some party in someone’s basement, senior year of high school. Some guys were playing beer pong, and I ended up next to Parker, who was leaning against a window and drinking from a red plastic cup. I think I was probably blushing the entire conversation. I didn’t know how to talk to him; he made me feel something off balance and I think he knew it. And liked it.
We were an unexpected couple. People were surprised when he first showed interest in me, and when we started hanging out, and then when we started dating. They saw us sitting on the trunk of his Caddy in the parking lot after school, and they would let their eyes linger just long enough to be noticeable. I could hear it in their voices: “So I heard you’re with Parker now?” The tone of skepticism. I was the perpetual designated driver who sat quiet at parties; he was a champion of beer pong, loud and energetic, his presence always known. I was the girl that walked away from the smell of weed; he was the boy who had a joint tucked behind his ear. I was the girl who had my first kiss, my first boyfriend, with Good Boy Danny the summer after junior year (the relationship everyone responded to with, “Oh! That makes me so happy! That’s perfect! You’re both perfect for each other!!” People aren’t always right); he was the boy I thought of as promiscuous, flirty, and experienced. I was the dedicated student in honors classes; he was the boy who didn’t seem to care enough to do his homework most of the time. Being with him was everything I wouldn’t have expected for myself. But despite it all, somehow, we fit.
When we broke up for college, I was devastated, despite knowing it was for the best. It was only a week into my freshman year when ex-boyfriends came up in conversation, and at some point, one girl asked me if I was over my ex yet. I don’t remember what I said, but here’s the thing: I don’t believe in getting over things anymore. I’ve found that “get over it” has become synonymous with “Forget about it and pretend it didn’t happen or affect you.” To me, these are both unrealistic and unhealthy expectations. So I don’t believe in getting over it. What I believe in is moving forward.
I believe that as humans, all we really are is a sum of our experiences, feelings, and memories. We can’t erase them and we can’t escape them. Each relationship we have with another person is a collection of moments strung together like fairy lights on a wire.
Like my relationship with Parker. I don’t want to forget the memories I have, and I don’t want them to lose their significance, because for a time, they were everything. I don’t want to forget the first time he kissed me; we were at The Top of the World, this old lot at the top of a hill where construction was eternally on hold for a house, sitting in the front of his car (an old Caddy with a bench seat), my knees up on the dash, listening to music. At one point we went outside into the cool spring night air. We looked out on the Potomac River, on the silhouettes of trees, on the stars. Somehow we ended up hugging, his arms around my shoulders, and my hands around his waist. When he leaned in to kiss me, tucking hair behind my ear and cupping my face in his hands, everything just felt right.
And I don’t want to forget the Cake concert, when we rode home with his brother and sang The Temptations. And the Phish concert, when everyone threw hundreds of glow sticks into twilight and time stopped. The night he took me to a nice Italian meal and held my hand on top of the table. There was the day we went to his grandma’s to go swimming. The night of the barbeque, where I met his cousins and uncles and aunts. There was the night in that field by his house with all the electrical towers, trying to comprehend infinity. There was beach week after Senior Year and just about a month after we started dating; I’ll always remember how it felt when he showed me off to his friends and we barbequed with the boys and danced and snuck off to make out at every party and I helped clean the house the next morning. There were our days at the beach house, lying on the sand and making love in the shower and on the couch and in the bed, sleeping together each night with his arms around me. And the time that Mark pulled me aside at one of Parker’s parties and told me I was the best thing to happen to him, that I made him a better person, that I made him want to be better, that Parker was happier than he had seen him in a long time. So looking back on my relationship with Parker, it’s really just a string of moments frozen in time, in my memory.
Obviously, it wasn’t all perfect. Parker and I, like any other two humans, were not perfect apart or together. Sometimes our differences made things incredibly hard. Parker was still dealing with his mother’s death from a few years back. I think the wounds were more raw than he let on with his confident and cheerful exterior. And I think that, understandably, the part of him that hadn’t come to terms with her death left a bitterness in Parker’s heart, like an after-taste that lingers and lingers. That angry, bitter part stayed quiet most of the time. But sometimes, something would set him off. It was little things, mostly. I would say something that would hit a nerve, or I would be too sensitive and that would irritate him, or he would misinterpret something I said and get carried away with the negative things he read into it. Those were the moments when his anger lashed out, pressure building, a child balancing a rubber band on their thumb and finger, slowly pulling them apart, tension, and then springing the rubber band loose to shoot across the room, anything in the line of fire sure to get hit. But usually, just like that, like the rubber band that could disappear, lost on the carpet or under the dinner table, the anger would fade away again, a rubber band forgotten, and he would go back to normal.
So yeah, things could be difficult. When I spoke to a new friend at college that freshman autumn, I explained some of the harder memories and I remember her saying, “Ugh, that sounds rough, it’s time to move on.” While I understood where she was coming from it rubbed me the wrong way and I didn’t know why. As I look back now with a different perspective of passed time and new experiences, I don’t want to forget those bad moments just like I don’t want to forget the good ones, strange as it may seem.
There’s a song by The National where Matt Berninger sings, “I don’t want to get over you.” It took me time and a few heartbreaks to realize it but I don’t want to get over things either. I know now that forgetting about my heartbreaks isn’t what I want or perhaps even what’s best for me. I’m not saying that I want to get stuck in the past or to obsess over something that has ended. What I want, and what I’m learning to do, is to take a deep breath, put a heartbreak alongside all the other moments and memories that comprise me, acknowledge how it has affected me, make peace with that, and then just move forward. You may say it’s all just semantics, and you may be right, but if it makes some of life’s hardest experiences easier, why question it? Sometimes the biggest changes come from the smallest change in how you frame something mentally. So don’t get over it, just keep moving forward.[share]