A Note To My First Crush


by Anahita Saleh, United World College Maastricht
9 January, 2021
Illustration by Anya Anber Ameen


Something bubbles inside me where my stomach should be.

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There’s three plushy couches in this room and the two of us share one. It’s 3PM, just after our favourite shumi’s chocolate cake has been cut, and the curtains are drawn. We’re watching a movie. A woman pensively tip toes up the staircase of an abandoned house. All is silent. Anticipation. All I can think about is your knee slightly touching mine. Mother-approved party frock against GAP kids blue denim. We were in fifth grade, it was my best friend’s twelfth birthday party, and you were my crush she cunningly invited.

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Years pass and we lose touch. The next time we talk we’re 16 and 17, and you’re picking me up before another birthday party. The elevator doors open and I see you sitting across on the marble stairs that lead to my house. Maybe you looked me over. I would’ve been flattered. You opened the door to your sleek black car with tinted windows and once you closed the doors, you offered me the remnants of a chocolate cake hastily wrapped in plastic that tasted like it had too much flour in it. Or maybe it was something else. That night, you kept looking at me from across the room and I couldn’t quite pinpoint what your face was trying hard not to give away. The bass blared through the speakers in a dimly lit bedroom and you held my hands for a few seconds too long. I thought there was something there. 

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The next time I heard your name it was through the mouth of rumors. It was common free-period gossip, what you’d been up to after you left school. We all laughed them off or rolled our eyes. Female voices mutter disapproval, but your acts are justified- “That’s just the way he is.” A few deeper voices in rebellious praise, “Legend bhai, legend!” I gave my best friend a nudge, eyebrows raised, as if to say remind me not to get in his car ever again. Talk about having dodged a bullet.

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I was tagged in the comments under a post about you on facebook a few weeks ago. My thoughts were in fragments. Whoever wrote the post was too angry. Your name looked foreign next to the allegations made against you. I noticed the name of our school written accusingly in capital. I read the screenshots. I saw your messages. I squinted under one of the blacked-out names to see if I recognized it. 

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She was only in grade 5.

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While I played truth or dare with my yellow waterbottle with you afterschool, six years later you expect a girl of the same age to send you pictures of her naked body. You wrote to her words I’d cover her ears for if they were being said by actors in a movie. 

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You are 17 and she is 12.

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Now the cake being offered to her might be drugged, the dresses she wears might warrant a pinch here or there, and she doesn’t like it when it’s dark because she can’t see who’s edging towards her. Her schoolgirl crushes are no longer sweet, they are not boys, they are monsters that have robbed her of her ability to let her guard down.

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You are 17 and you’ve taken something.

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She’s in grade 5, but she’s years too worried to be her age.

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For five days afterwards, your name would trail uncomfortable winces and grunts wherever it was tossed around. I felt unmistakable guilt gurgling in a pit somewhere in my body. How did I not see that something was not right? What other signs had I decided to let go? I was angry, and so was everyone else. There was unity in our regret.

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Five days.

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Five days was all it took for his old classmates fall back into their pattern of, “he’s not going to learn, it’s just the way he is.” 

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He made a new Instagram account. The boy who tagged me and “angry reacted” in every post about him followed him back. The girl who was so proud of her “sisters coming forward” started liking his pictures of his shameless grins and dirty hands clasping glass bottles in the driver’s seat. 

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10 minutes after my last exam on Tuesday, I fell into line with half of the kids in the city my age, all desperate to get out of the exam hall. Out of all the people that could’ve been standing in front of me, there he was, in his thick rimmed glasses and light blue shirt. I can’t help but wonder if he’s hailed by his friends as “the guy who got away with it all”. The nerve he had to be showing up here. My thoughts started to sound irrational; I bet I was looking a bit manic. I tugged on my friends’ shirts and I pointed as I furiously stalked behind him, all in silence, and the end of the road he joined his expectant mother and younger sister without looking back once. He no longer had to walk out of the exam hall with his head down. I just watched as he gave them both hugs, and he held his little sister’s hand as she led him to their car. Her hair was in two braids. She couldn’t have been older than 12. 

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Today, there is something boiling in my stomach that refuses to dissipate. Guilt by association, shame and anger. Disappointment and regret. A concoction of feelings I can’t put words to brews in my stomach like steaming, bitter acid. Emotions that should only be his corrode my insides, while he walks free, his phone in his pocket now a weapon.

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