When I was 17, I figured out exactly how to tell whether or not you were in love.
Lorena was a senior, and whenever she would come in to my Junior year English class, the sun grew a little brighter, the sky a little bluer. The beginning of the semester, she always sat directly in front of me, and I was always fascinated, almost hypnotized as she played with her long, dark hair. Once a few strands of hair were resting on my hand, and I just sat there and let it rest. A few months later, the teacher rearranged the desks in a circle and she took to sitting on the other side of the room.
It was after that she first found out I was so attracted to her. A friend of hers was sitting next to her, and he whispered to her, "He likes you." Lorena then turned and smiled at me.
I just broke my tenuous eye contact with her, pretending I didn't know she was there. It was my habit with women then, I let them start to flirt with me, then I walk away. I didn't know whether or not he was her boyfriend, and a stubborn sense of honor kept me from pushing myself to find out.
I died a little at around 9:00 pm on January 10, 1996, when I realized I was in love with her. I never told her. In fact, we exchanged fewer than seven words when she once asked my name so she could take attendance.
She graduated that spring, and over the summer I became quite good at lying to myself. Every time I jerked off, I would moan, "I love you, Lorena" to myself. The song "Forever" by Mariah Carey became sort of a heartbroken anthem for me that year. Before long, I convinced myself that Lorena knew all along how I felt about her, and some day, I knew, we would find each other and spend the rest of our lives together. And the part of me that knew I had lost her was quite content to die of depression before I turned thirty.
The best, and worst, dream of my life I had around August second that summer.
I was on my high school campus for some reason I couldn't figure out, and Lorena's boyfriend had to leave town and wanted me to look after her. He let me use his car, which made even less sense because I couldn't drive, so far a week she and I spent time together. I took her shopping and to a movie, and when the week was over, her boyfriend told me I had been doing a great job with her, and that he had to leave again right away. Now, after he left, was my chance! I wanted to tell her how much I loved her, and it would feel so wonderful as we kissed.
It took me several moments to realize it was all a dream. I spent the rest of that day in a daze. That fall I started my senior year, and every time I thought I was finally over her, I would see her on campus visiting, and I was always stunned by the need to run to her, begging her to look in my direction and finish the conversation we never started.
That winter, I went to a semiformal dance with some co-workers. It was the first time I danced in over three years, and though I am not a very good dancer, it snapped me out of my funk. I began to change, talking to more people and finally forgave myself for letting Lorena slip by.
I graduated that year, and Lorena was there. Once again I prayed she would look in my direction. That afternoon I let her go.
A few times over the years I would think I saw Lorena, on the street or on campus. Every time I begged fate to make her look in my direction, so that I could have a second chance with her.
The last time I saw her was in a gentleman's club, for a friend's bachelor party. She was by far the most beautiful woman in the club, and drew stares from all the men. Her hair was a little shorter than I remembered, and her full lips were painted a little too bright for the rest of her face. How she had sunk to prostituting herself was beyond me, but I saw my chance to have her.
While the groom-to-be and the others got themselves roaring drunk, I finally caught her attention.
"How much?" I asked her. My face felt very warm, thank heavens the room was too dark for her to notice.
"Out here? One hundred."
"And someplace more private?"