“To Stay Alive”: A First Love Story

by: Addison Bell

If you starve yourself long enough, you forget that you’re hungry. After awhile, you feel like you’ve entered a dream state. You watch the world go by without you. And without that attachment, nothing seems real — not even you. Eventually, you eat. You eat, not because you’re hungry, but to stay alive.

For me, not eating was the same as deprivation of affection. But unlike food, I had never known the familiarity of another and the intimacy that comes along with it. I wanted to live, so I did what was needed to survive: I let him hold my hand.

We were lying on the shore of Lake Michigan. There were no stars in the sky, but we tried our best to find them. He knew how to distinguish the light of a satellite from that of a star. I did not. I thought I had found something when he took my hand. I swear that all of the warmth you find in the stars was in his palm.

He spoke, but I didn’t hear anything. I was too focused on what I was feeling. It was like when you ride a bike without training wheels for the first time. Or like the rush you get after the first decline on a rollercoaster. There is fear at first, but then you feel nothing but relief. I squeezed his hand back.

We could feel our heartbeats through our palms. From the way his quickened, I knew what was coming next. I stared back at the sky, and then I felt his breath on my neck. Guided by instinct, I moved closer to him so that we were pressed against each other. It amazed me at how well we fit. Before it happened, I stared at his face and tried to memorize him, because I didn’t want to forget.

For most of my life, I felt like I had been missing out on something. There were moments when I thought, “There has to be something else. Something better.” Kissing him — kissing a boy — was what I had been missing. I felt starved, so I kissed him fully, passionately. I kissed him with everything I had.

We broke to breathe. I started laughing because I couldn’t get over how good it felt. He laughed, too. And suddenly there were stars.

***

We were each other’s firsts. We were young, and we didn’t know what we were doing. But once you know intimacy — the warmth of a person sleeping next to you, the bliss of waking up with him — you never forget it. As much as you try, as much as it hurts, it becomes a part of you.

When you find someone who understands you, who can listen to you without needing words to hear, you cling on. You feel safe. You look at that person and only see possibility. And like a fool, you think that you’ll never be alone again.

I couldn’t understand why he stopped coming over, why he stopped talking to me. I started to believe that he only showed up just to fool around. What’s worse than feeling used is feeling unloved. Once, we were lying in my bed and I started crying. He was holding me and my head was resting on his chest. He asked me what was wrong, and I said, “Everyone always leaves.” I let it sink in like a plea.

“I promise I won’t leave you,” he said.

But he did leave. If I had thought about this, maybe things would have been easier. And maybe if I had thought about the truth in what I said, I would have been better prepared. Everyone leaves, even the ones you can’t imagine being without.

No one forgets a first love. I certainly haven’t forgotten him. For the longest time, everything reminded me of him, but it was because I chose to cling to the memories. There have been other boys, other men, other memories. But like an unwanted meal, I’m unsatisfied and never full. I’m in the dream state with no desire to stop dreaming.

But I eat to stay alive.

Addison Bell is a senior at DePaul University where he is studying English Literature. He is the President of Oxfam DePaul and volunteers with Oxfam America, an organization dedicated to ending world hunger, poverty, and social injustice. Follow him on Twitter @boy_1904 and on Tumblr: colourmegreenwich.tumblr.com.

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