It wasn't that he'd never been in love. He knew all about being in love, in the heady, over-wrought, nervous sense so often meant by the term. He was always in love; hardly a week had gone by in his life when he wasn’t in love, since the time in first grade when Christine Rock--she of the long gold hair and long white eyelashes--had smiled at him and given him a Reese’s peanut butter cup one morning on the bus. For two weeks he had followed her, longing for her presence with an intensity of feeling hitherto unknown to him. He imagined castles in the air with her as queen; he composed brilliant speeches he was afraid to deliver; he planned to save every penny of his allowance to buy her the beautiful things she deserved; he admired her from afar when separated from her by the width of the classroom--her desk being in the front row, so that all he could see of her was her shining crown of golden curls.
Then came the day when she finally turned on him, and placing chubby hands on her little hips, she said, "I don't have any more candy, you know!"
He was appalled that she should suspect him of such caddish motives (at the time, of course, his thoughts were phrased in simpler terms: "She thinks I'm a jerk. I'm not a jerk!”), and in an instant, the feelings he had nurtured for her were gone beyond recall, leaving nothing behind but a bewildering emptiness. It was a bitter, bitter end.
It did not, however, prevent him from falling for the next girl to speak a kind word to him or present a pretty face. Hundreds of them there had been over the years, in all shapes and sizes, young and old, good and bad, beautiful and homely, the kind and the cruel. It seemed he was always either in the throes of that first white-hot obsession--anxious, distracted, more miserable than uplifted--or he was in the confusing, aching state of need left behind when the thing ended. And it always ended, usually in one of two ways: either he came at it far too hard and fast and frightened or angered the girl herself into telling him off, or he built her up in his own mind as he had little Christine Rock until she became a model of perfection, a glorious vision--and when the girl herself broke through, his obsession shattered upon the hard reality.
Meanwhile love--real love, sure and fast love of the sort that was more conviction and covenant than sheer emotion--had always eluded him. Or perhaps he had eluded it. Looking back, sometimes he now wondered if love had waited at many corners along the way, only to be thwarted by his own shallowness. Perhaps he had always pulled himself back from the brink of any real commitment, before love could truly develop, out of fear or selfishness or apathy. How many times had he dismissed someone for some petty fault: untidiness, a single instance of tardiness, an interest not shared? Had this doomed him to a life lived alone? Or was he truly incapable of what others called love--were these excuses his subconsciousness used, a way of saving him from himself? He hardly knew. He only knew that the endless cycles of tormented desire and hollow loss left him soul-sick, heart-exhausted; he was tired of it all--so tired. He wanted off the roller-coaster. To hell with those who claimed it was better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all--more than anything, he wanted to merely value people for who they were, to live on an even keel, to like without desiring anything more. For a few months he had almost managed it, and then she had walked out that door and collided with him, and he was once again lost, once more adrift, once more in the grip of the waves, the swing of the sea. He had no hope that things would be different this time around; he was well beyond hoping for the future now. He would hurt her or she would hurt him, and he would lose her even as a friend. He rubbed his eyes wearily, mourning that friendship lost before it could really begin, right at a moment when it seemed both of them could use a friend; and he fell asleep there where he lay.