Thank You for Being the Canvas Onto Which I Could Project My Juvenile Fantasies

Building valuable, healthy relationships are central to living a positive and productive life. Bumble has helped change the way we interact, breaking down old-fashioned power dynamics and encouraging women to make the first move. Over the next month, we’re celebrating love. We’ve partnered with Bumble to highlight interesting ways to start a conversation, how to find love in the digital age, how to cultivate intimacy as we emerge from isolation and more. Alongside our helpful and inspiring content, we’ll also share stories of ‘the one that got away’ — because sometimes it’s the love before that leads you to The One.

Dear M,

You probably won’t remember me — not without prompting at least. We worked together at the grocer down the end of my road when I was in high school. You packed the shelves while I manned the checkouts on Wednesday nights. The little fortune I amassed — around $30 a week — didn’t add up to much, but it was enough to chip in for the six-packs of candy-coloured Baccardi mixers my friends and I split on Friday nights or to buy two movie tickets and a plate of Chinese food with my boyfriend on Sunday afternoons, which was, as far as I was concerned, all the money in the world.

Shortly after I turned 16 that boyfriend dumped me for a pretty girl who went to an expensive school in an expensive neighbourhood and I experienced my first heartbreak. As with all things when you’re 16, it felt huge and dramatic and all-consuming. One night I drank so much cherry vodka that I blacked out and woke up on the floor of my friend’s bathroom with my Nokia 6300 cradled to my ear, crying and pleading with him to please, please, please take me back. I felt ugly and boring and inherently unloveable and my drunken exploits added fire to the dull sense of humiliation that consumed me on a day-to-day basis.

“I blacked out and woke up on the floor of my friend’s bathroom with my Nokia 6300 cradled to my ear.”

It was in the aftermath of this period of hormone-ravaged inner turmoil — when summer had ended and I realised that things were really over; when I decided to focus on school and grades and on getting the fuck out of here as soon as humanly possible — that I noticed you for the first time. I’d been watching you gather the trolleys and unpack rows of tinned tomatoes and bottled Fanta for 18 months but I hadn’t seen you, you know? As is the nature of these things, you suddenly became all I could think about.

Not only were you better looking than the boys I knew; you were older than them too. A university student who had been to Europe and went to bars, you felt like a gateway into the life of adulthood that I so desperately craved. After the break up I was even more determined to break the shackles of youth — of school uniforms and formal dates — and become the person I saw myself as capable of becoming. And then you appeared with great biceps and a brain and a car — I figured you might be the deus ex machina of my adolescence.

During math class my girlfriends and I concocted plans. I knew you didn’t have a girlfriend but I didn’t know whether those moments — where you leaned across the counter, grinning that grin and laughing that laugh — were innocent procrastination or less innocent flirtation. Winding up drunk at a party together — the preferred teenage method of figuring out this kind of riddle — seemed unlikely.

“After the breakup I was even more determined to break the shackles of youth.”

The only time I had seen you outside of work was in the carpark of our local shopping centre. I was sitting in the car waiting for my mum to get cash out, playing Sufjan Stevens and thinking If he likes me, God, show me a sign! And then, I swear, I looked in the side mirror and you were walking towards my car. I sunk deep into my seat, terrified that you’d see me in my unflattering Catholic school uniform but impressed at the universe’s punctuality. Divine providence had decided it, I had to make a move.

While I was writing this I tried to find you on Facebook, but it’s been over a decade now and I don’t even remember your last name. The fact that I can recall so little about you — not only your surname but what you studied, what you wanted to do with your life, what books you’d read or music you liked — is so telling of this special breed of frothy teenage infatuation. The only thing I remember was the feeling. That beautiful, naïve optimism that made my stomach drop when you walked in the room or made me giddy and girlish when you sidled up next to me to help me count the tills at the end of my shifts.

That feeling, I now realise, was important — essential, even — to the way my life panned out. That crucible of hope, trepidation, possibility and desire pulled me out of my narcissistic pit of self-hatred and despair and back into the real world. Whether you reciprocated any of it doesn’t really matter — in fact, I think it’s better that I never had the chance to find out.

For a couple of months I indulged in half-hearted fantasies about writing my number on the back of a piece of receipt paper and sliding it to you on break — but I always chickened out at the last minute. And then I got a new job, finished high school and moved away. I got my heart broken a couple more times, and then I fell in love for real and now, suddenly, it’s today, and I’m thinking about you for the first time in 10 years.

So I suppose all there is to say is a short and sweet thank you.

Thank you for being the canvas onto which I could project my juvenile fantasies — the ground zero for mending my sad little broken heart. Thank you for being a wholesome and healthy distraction, when a wholesome and healthy distraction was all that I needed.

Thank you for not being the creepy older guy — I now appreciate your trepidation around a teenage girl for what it was, depressingly rare. And finally, thank you for being impossible to track down online a decade later. Now you’ll remain untainted in my memory as my perfect teenage crush.