I had to sign a lotta yearbooks this past month.
It was tough. I ended up writing a lot of "Have a great summer" and "So many great times!" to people who knew Lauren for years but barely talked to me in my time as her. It was one of the times during this whole thing that I felt the worst... like I was stealing all these goodbyes from her. Cheating her out of closure with the people who helped form her as a person.
I did write lengthy messages to the people I spent the most time with this year. I tried to pour my heart out to Dana, Karlee, Ginnifer and Mark, but even in all those messages I had to hold back and try not to explain to them that they kept me from feeling like dirt most days, and taught me about being a girl as I went along.
I ain't that sentimental, but I'm gonna miss them.
Prom wasn't that much of a story, to be honest. It was a nice night. I wore a black dress with a modest halter top, I spent hours at the salon with the girls getting ready that day. I posed for pics, I danced my ass off, I sang along with the songs I knew in the limo and faked it for the ones I didn't. I stayed out late drinking and talking about a future that wasn't gonna be mine.
It felt like a good place to leave off as Lauren. I was with Mark. He was a bit awkward, since I had made the boundaries pretty clear and he still seemed to be carrying a torch for me. I lost my inhibitions and danced with him. It was good.
Afterward, we crashed a party. Mark reverted to his wallflower state, but I was there for him. I was surrounded by friends but I was the only person there he had any connection to, and I didn't leave his side. We joked, we shared ideas, hopes for the future.
Around 5 AM, those of us who were still up drove to the reservoir at Highland Park to watch the sunrise. He and I wandered off and sat down by the water and fell silent and the mood sort of seized me.
"I've been having a really good night," I told him. "You're gonna make some girl really lucky at college next year. Trust me, you're gonna get snatched up quick."
After a pause he said "I could be making one girl very lucky right now... if she'd let me." He had this goofy, hopeful look in his eyes.
I smiled and pinched his cheek. "You're cute, man. But did you think that would work?"
"Nah, not really," he blushed. "But it came to me and I had to try."
"It's worth this much," I said, kissing his cheek. We sat quietly for a moment and then I opened my trap: "I almost would, you know."
"Almost would... what?"
"You know," I said. I felt butterflies welling up in me. "It's been... a while. And I haven't wanted to, much, until... like, now. But it wouldn't be fair."
"Why not?" he asked.
"I'm going away soon," I said. "And when I come back, it's... better if we don't have to deal with the aftermath of this. Of that."
"Who says there would be an aftermath? I think we could be cool about it..."
I sighed, "Years of careful study, I'm afraid. You deserve better than a one-nighter anyway. I know it doesn't feel like this is for your own good, but it'll save you some emotional anguish in the long run."
I could sense he wanted to argue that, but he was a bit too meek to do so.
So I went on, "There's something else. There's someone else. Someone I've been carrying a torch for for a long time. And I can't be with them right now... not right yet. They're a bit older, but really we're... it's like we're the same age. In a way. And once they leave... their... spouse for me, we can start over together. And I've been looking forward to that for a long time."
He raised his eyebrows and said, "Holy shit... are you fucking a teacher??"
"What? No!" I laughed, and then he laughed and we started naming every repulsive teacher we could.
Eventually we settled down and he circled back in our conversation: "Why did you tell me all that?"
"Because you deserve to know," I said, "Because you've been good to me, you're a really good dude. You make me laugh. You don't give yourself enough credit, you don't believe in yourself, but when you're with me, I can tell you're something special. And just because it hasn't happened for you yet... like, you need to know the truth, that it's me, not you. All you need to do is learn to open up with everyone you meet the way you do with me, and I promise before long, you aren't going to be able to choose which girl to bang."
He blushed again. "You don't have to... I mean, don't lie."
"It's not a lie. Trust me. I've been around. You're a good kid. It's only a matter of time before people see it. Sure, it's a jungle out there... people get hurt, people don't get what they want, people don't connect when they should or they make mistakes. But eventually, if you remember to be yourself, you'll find someone." I think maybe I lost him in there somewhere.
We got rides home and hugged goodbye. I slept all morning and spent the rest of the day packing. The end was in sight. Only days later I would be in Maine with Meg waiting my new destiny. Thinking about all I had been through over the past year... everything I had written about here and everything I hadn't. The things I'd seen and done, people I'd met. It felt overwhelming and I felt sad that I had to go.
I never thought I'd make it. And I damn sure never thought I'd miss it. And it wasn't even over yet.