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Amending Promises

“Mr. Moody… Hi,” I said sheepishly. My best friend, Jessy, nudged me into the science classroom we had reigned over in the seventh grade, just mere months ago.

 Mr. Moody looked up from his papers, startled, and welcomed us with his familiar laugh. I can still hear him teasing us, gently, for being inseparable. In eighth grade, this was how you gauged “bff” status and hearing this was reaffirming given what Jessy and I were now going through.

“Devin has something to tell you, Mr. Moody,” Jessy said, suddenly one for cutting to the chase.

Mr. Moody looked at me with his kind eyes. His name was a misnomer. The man was a dead ringer for Santa Claus from those tiny glass spectacles to that infectious laugh and belly.  He even wore suspenders.

I was there to tell him that I had lied.

 ---

Not even two years earlier, I had fallen deeply in love. I was eleven, which essentially means that I was ill prepared for this type of all-consuming love. But, without any battle wounds from previous heartbreaks, what it really means is that I was all in.

For the next two years, I would do anything I could to feel closer to this guy I knew I was meant to be with. In traditional tween relationships, this might look like a lot of sleepless nights whispering on the phone, or, in those days, chatting on AOL and deciphering his profile. But this wasn’t a traditional tween relationship. This called for some creativity. You see, he was a budding but touring musician… by the name of Taylor Hanson… and he sure as hell didn’t know who I was. 

The wise eleven year old that I was, I sensed that before this relationship could truly develop, my best friend had to be on board; I had to tell Jessy that I had found my person. What happened next was best-case scenario: she approved AND she fell in love with his brother, Zac.   We were living in best friend paradise: concurrently in love and planning a future that meant we would become sister-in-laws. For the next couple of years our misdirected attempts to bring this dream to life included finding ways to emulate them (“if we dress like them and use the same color toothbrushes as them, the universe will be forced to stop toying with fate”) and making low-tech, home-movie style music videos to enter for a chance to finally meet them. (I still don’t know why it didn’t work out.)

---

They say the honeymoon phase lasts about two years and then you start to get bored. Well, this is a story of “case-in-point.”

I had been giving this relationship my all and I was starting to get the sense that he was never going to be able to give me what I needed. All of those letters? Unanswered. I recorded every TV performance; I would play them back, press pause, and search to see if he was wearing the other half of the necklace I had mailed him. He wasn’t. His toothbrush color? It had probably changed while mine was still red. Over time, the signs that this was going to work out started disappearing. When a 13-year-old can’t find the signs anymore, it’s time to move on.

But, I didn’t know how to admit that it was over. Who would I tell first? What would they say? I had been so public in my affection, so adamant that this was real. Jessy and I had even written, and signed, a pledge: we were in this together, forever. This wasn’t “just a phase.” That pledge was hanging inside of the closet door in Mr. Moody’s classroom.

 ---

It was the summer before eighth grade began. Some of our friends were going to the local mall to watch Armageddon on the big screen. We would all meet out front 30 minutes before show time to get our tickets and gossip. I got there, saw my friends hanging out, so carefree, and suddenly, my secret felt too heavy. Jessy wasn’t there and I had to tell someone. I grabbed a mutual friend and I told her: “I think I’m over Hanson… I don’t really think I like them that much anymore. Definitely not into Taylor.”

The secret was out. I thought I would feel immediate relief but instead I felt shame. “NO WAY,” M. yelled. “Have you told Jessy yet?” I hadn’t. “She is going to be so mad. So mad. You have to tell her. Ohmygod, did everyone hear that Devin doesn’t like Hanson anymore?” 

Now, the secret was really out.

Some people congratulated me for “waking up.” Others didn’t make a big deal of it, and I appreciated that. One even said, “Jessy will understand. You just have to let her know.”

--

It didn’t go so well with Jessy. I broke the news to her over the phone and she had a lot of questions. Many, I couldn’t really answer. “It’s just a feeling, Jess,” I would say, feeling a heavy sadness that I had let my best friend down, while also anger that she couldn’t empathize. I had hoped that she would say, “Me too…” We were usually on the same page. Instead, she kept saying, “But you made a promise.”

“You’re changing,” she would continue.   I had heard her say the same thing to me in sixth grade when I came in wearing my first pair of wide legged jeans. Both times she didn’t mean to say I was coming into my own skin, developing, growing. Both times, I felt she couldn’t say anything worse. We were both breaking each other’s hearts.

--

I don’t remember whose idea it was to go to Mr. Moody’s classroom and come clean. I’m pretty sure it was Jessy’s. I think I would have liked to forget the whole pledge and move on. This breakup was taking months. But, there needed to be closure. So, there we were, in the classroom, and there I was telling Mr. Moody that I couldn’t keep up to my end of the bargain: I wouldn’t love Taylor Hanson forever. I wouldn’t even love him for three whole years. I was moving on.

Mr. Moody knew what this meant. He opened the closet door. Our pledge was still there, taped to the door in a central, easily accessible location. On display. “So, what would you like to do, girls?” he asked, still gentle in his demeanor. He had kept laughing, of course, but I didn’t feel judged. For the first time, I felt a little bit understood. In his own way, Mr. Moody let me know that I had permission to change my mind. 

Jessy and I looked at each other. Would we tear up the pledge and trash it? Would we amend it? Would I have to write something that said I was a liar?   I remember encouraging Jessy to simply amend the pledge: she still, after all, loved Zac and I was proud of her for sticking with it, for making a real commitment. Maybe the pledge would have to be amended again someday… but now we knew that was an option.

-----

In years to come, I would make similar promises – and I would write them down. Those pledges would live in holiday cards, just-because love letters, and silly little Facebook notes to a partner dear to my heart that would not necessarily remain in my life in the same way.  

 And, lest this be a tale of total unrequited love, people would make those pledges to me only to later find they would share these words with new partners.

I still stumble upon those promises from time to time. There they are - in drawers filled with miscellaneous concert tickets, loose batteries, emptied pens, and next to other cards. Sometimes, I open my “Timehop” app on a weekday morning and after scrolling through posts celebrating Whitney Houston’s life or announcing my anticipation of a needed vacation, I’ll see an adoring post from an ex-lover that stops me dead in my tracks.

I cannot amend these pledges. I could, however, delete or throw the ones I come across in the trash. But, I wouldn’t amend them – and I certainly don’t want to get rid of them. They spoke to my truth in that moment and, more importantly, they all serve as reminders that what love looks like, how it feels, and how it’s practiced sometimes shifts. And, that’s ok.

Jessy was right when she said that I was changing. I was thirteen; of course I was changing. Scratch that. I am human; of course I am always changing. At thirteen, I struggled with how changing could impact my feelings. I felt in the wrong. How could I be so careless with love and, in being so, let my best friend down? At thirty, I look at my thirteen-year-old self and recognize her as brave for reconciling her heart with her brain, and being honest throughout and about the process.

At thirty, I am planning a wedding. Getting ready to promise someone my love for the rest of my days and recognizing the gravity of that. I know that the love I have right now will shift. My hope is that it will grow stronger. And, that when it doesn’t feel so strong my partner and I will work together, through the changes, to build it back up. (That part was missing from my “I’ll love Taylor Hanson forever” pledge.)

But, you know what might be the best part of this story? Besides the fact that I am marrying someone who doesn’t judge me for thinking, at one point, that I would marry Taylor Hanson? Jessy is totally on the guest list - and I can't wait to celebrate this iteration of my love life (this pledge, promise, VOW) with my middle school best friend.

 

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