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YOU’RE fifteen years old and you have a substitute English teacher. He walks into the room in a suede blazer, carrying a briefcase. He’s wearing aviators. He has sideburns like long knives into his cheeks.

You don’t remember, now, what he says. There’s something in his opening speech about pithy little dictionaries and you laugh, just like everyone else. Then you think, I wonder if anyone else knows what pithy means.

At the end of that semester you write an essay, and the teacher gives you 90%. He spills hot sauce on your paper, not that you care. Your insight could have enriched our class greatly, he writes. I would have loved to hear your mind. May I keep this as an example of an “x”cellent essay?

Halfway through that summer you call the school to see if he’s coming back. “He wanted a copy of my paper,” you say. “I’ll need to forward it on if he doesn’t have a spot at the school.”

When the secretary comes back on the phone you can tell that she’s smiling. “Good news!” she says. “He’s been brought on as full time staff.”

You thank her, and hang up. And then you go back outside to your mother’s garage sale, with one thing on your mind: only one more month ’til class.

• • •

You know where he parks. Each day, after second period, you use the staircase in the east wing of the school because that window will tell you if he’s there or not. He drives a lurching grey station wagon, stick. At the beginning of the year, he thanked you for that essay. You dropped it off after class and said: “I’d like to bounce more ideas off you, sometime.” Or something like that. You fumbled. Then you said something about his being intimidating. His mouth made a wide astonished o.

“Anytime,” he said. “You know where my office is.”

You can’t keep this from your friends—you can’t keep anything—and they think it’s funny, but also slightly weird. Your sister has just started grade 9 and she’s appalled.

“He’s your teacher,” she hisses. “You can’t have a crush on your teacher.”

In grade twelve, you give the valedictorian speech. You’re dating a fellow senior by this point—a sweet boy who likes computers and pizza and can’t understand why you won’t sleep with him, not yet—and when you finish your speech, the English teacher walks on stage to give the final address. He stoops, kisses your cheek. “Congratulations, beautiful,” is what he says. 

You think: I can’t be with anybody if they don’t make me feel like this. So you break up with your boyfriend. He cries. You cry. But you don’t change your mind.

Soon after, your English teacher marries a woman he met on a plane. She has red hair, beautiful teeth. You like her. They get married on the West Coast, and that summer he loads a U-Haul van with furniture and drives it across the country with his dad.

You would cry about this, too, but you’re moving to England for a year, and then to Victoria, only a ferry ride away. “Don’t be a stranger,” he says, before he loads the U-Haul. “I want to know about everything that happens.”

• • •

There are six more after this. Four boys, two girls. Six terrible, terrible crushes. Every single one of them will feel different, and every single time it will play out exactly the same. You won’t notice the pattern until thirteen years have passed, until you’re trading stories with a friend in a smoky Scottish pub.

“You don’t want to be in a relationship,” she’ll say. “You just want to break your heart and write about it.”

You’ll argue, but even as you open your mouth you’ll know that she’s right. You’re right at the beginning of another crush now—your friendly neighbourhood bartender, with his dark eyes and delicious baritone voice—and all you can think is well, at least I know it now, and this time things will be different.

Two years after this, after the last bit of The Bartender Crush has cycled through your system, you’ll think of your English teacher, far away in his house by the sea. You were friends for twelve years, but you don’t speak that much anymore. Every now and then you’ll remember the day that he brought his guitar into class and sang—it’s only now, these years later, that you wonder if the teaching was a consolation prize. If what he wanted was a wide stage and the whiplash of crack through his veins. He was a good singer; he could have had any number of groupies. Instead he got married, and moved to Vancouver, and the only groupie he had was you.

• • •

You’re a sucker for eyes and good voices. The men that you love all have dark hair and velvety radio tones; the women that you fall for are both blue-eyed and blonde.

Your crushes, in this order: an English teacher; the Student Council President at your first year of university; a film student from London whom you meet through a friend-of-a-friend; a fellow writer that you meet in Victoria at school; an actor from Guernsey who does his Master’s degree alongside you in Scotland; a twenty-year-old photographer who rides a motorcycle and poses nude for artists and shaves her head when she gets bored; and the boy who tends your local bar. In the long run some of them will matter more than others, but at the time, when each crush is a hot virus in your veins, you’ll think: I’ve never felt this way about anyone. Ever.

These seven crushes will carry you through your twenties. You’ll drink and laugh and meet with friends, go to work, and travel when you can. You’ll live in five different cities. You’ll publish. You’ll write one novel, then another. You’ll date maybe one or two people, but never for long. This long strain of unrequited love is the only relationship you know. You’ll tell yourself: I’m married to my writing; I’ve made a choice; I’m comfortable alone. It sounds ridiculous even to you, the kinds of things a fifteen-year-old might say. You’ll think: when will I ever grow up?

You’ll collect stories, not lovers. Like the time that you won tickets to see Dave Matthews in London, and almost convinced the Student Council President to go with you. Or that night the film student spent at your house, the heavy make-out session on your couch, his laughter when you refused to take off your bra. The next morning, drinking tea and talking, snuggled in your bed. And then that moment, a few weeks later, when he started seeing another girl and you called your mother sobbing in the middle of the street.

Or the first woman you ever loved—a friend and fellow writer. That party at her house, those fifteen minutes at the bottom of her stairs with her tongue in your mouth and your hands over that soft skin of her stomach. The terrible question suddenly there in your head: will God love you, still? Are you going to burn in Hell because the person that you love also has a vagina? And then the crying in the shower when she left you for a man who tied her to the bed and beat her until she cried.

Of them all, though, the lesbian photographer is your favourite story. You meet her at a bookstore in 2008. You’re in Edinburgh now, and finally working, and she slides a French textbook across the counter and asks if you’ve ever watched Scooby-Doo. She’s small and blonde and cute. You say something, flustered. It isn’t witty. (Is she flirting? Who flirts about cartoons?) You think: I should get her number. But you don’t. You never get their numbers.

A few months later, you put an ad in the “Missed Connections” section of the newspaper. (You have decided, in the intervening years, that God will love you anyway, no matter whom you’d like to screw.) Somehow she sees it, even though she’s on the other side of the country now, down in Brighton. Hey, she writes back. What do you do with yourself when you’re not at a bookstore? And suddenly you’re emailing each other every day. She comes back to Edinburgh for Christmas, and invites you out to her mother’s house on Arran, off the west coast.

You go. You’ve never done anything like this before. On the train, speeding past Glasgow, you think: your English teacher would be so proud. Your English teacher, who argued with you for years about how you needed to go out and sleep around and smoke lots of pot in order to be a writer. If he could see you right now he would smile.

But when your motorcycle blonde meets you at the ferry, nothing happens. She takes you back to her mother’s house and you sleep alone on the pull-out couch in their frozen living room. You go for long walks through the woods, along the beach. You talk cameras and dogs and whiskey. At some point in the trip she tells you about the Basque hippy with whom she’s madly in love.

Three days later she takes the train back to Edinburgh with you, and leaves to celebrate the New Year with friends. It’s the sixth time this kind of thing has happened to you. And still, you’re surprised how much it hurts. How these stories always end with you crying.

“You have this thing for unattainable people,” your friend says, later. “The only thing that surprises me is how much you can’t see it.”

• • •

When you did your Master’s degree in St. Andrews, you were the only girl in a class of three. One classmate was from Glasgow; he was funny and sporty and slightly unhinged. The other was an actor from Guernsey who’d spent the past four years in London working as a model and peeling potatoes in a restaurant when modeling couldn’t cut the bills. He was logical and lovely and condescending as hell. You fell madly in love with him, instantly. He did not love you back.

“You could move anywhere,” he said, “and you’d fall in love in two weeks.” The Actor wasn’t going to date anybody, at least for a year. He was moving home after this writing degree, back to the island that he loved, and when the year was up he planned to put his pen away and become an accountant. And maybe, years after that, he’d write the novel that would put his island on the map. That was all he wanted.

Halfway through the year he met a tiny, dark-eyed girl from Greece and fell in love. He did move back to Guernsey, and as far as you know, the accounting thing worked out too. He probably makes more money than you do now. And the Greek girl? They might still be together, these years on. You don’t know. You don’t talk to him anymore either.

What hurts the most is knowing how stupid you are—how easily you do it, how very quickly you convince yourself that nothing mattered in the past because this time things are real. Those other crushes? Child’s play. This is the important one. This is the man or woman who’ll define your life from here on in.

Over the years, you hear all of the excuses: I love you, I’m just not in love with you; It’s not you—I don’t want to be with anybody right now; I would date you, but I’m moving away. Even your English teacher—your first love, your oldest friend—is skeptical of how trusting you can be.

“Guys always say things like that,” he tells you, after The Actor has made his way back home. “It’s the easiest thing in the world to tell a woman you can’t be with her because there are other things in the way.” The English teacher is divorced now, and engaged again. His son is almost eight. When you Skype each other he tells you about PTA meetings and how he’s lobbied to get speed bumps on his street. He plays hockey with the neighbourhood dads every Saturday night. On weeknights, he’s in bed by 10pm.

At the end of 2009, when his fiancée up and leaves him, you watch his shattered face on your computer screen and listen as he cries. You talk several times a week. He can’t help but pose in the midst of his grief—even now, the world’s a stage. He jokes about coming to Edinburgh, just for a little while, just to get away.

You think about flying to Vancouver, forever. But you don’t. Two months later, when his emails stop and he disappears from Skype and you realize that he’s met another woman, you thank your silly, fickle God that you didn’t even look at flights.

• • •

Years later, after you’ve moved home in defeat and found a job that has nothing to do with your degree, you meet another writer. He’s twenty years older than you are, successful, and funny in that deadpan, quiet way that says I hurt more than you think. You’re not in love with him—at least, not the anxious, gasping love you’ve known. But he’s fun to be around, and he’s careful with you, and he bakes a fine loaf of focaccia. You watch movies and snuggle on his couch and have sex in the early hours of the morning. You can’t sleep with someone else in the bed.

“What do you want from me?” he asks, that first night when you stay over. “I don’t know if there’s a future for us. I really don’t.” He’s recently divorced and he has a daughter ten years younger than you are. He doesn’t want any more kids. You see each other maybe once a week. One day soon, it will end.

You think: maybe it’s just nice, the movies and the snuggling. Is that so terrible? Is that so  wrong? You’re tired of the sorrow, as much as it might feed the muse. If breaking your own heart has taught you anything, it’s that you can’t trust your lurching innards. And this is easy. Watching movies, making food. Stretching slowly into the space of this new and unexpected life. There’s no lurching involved.

Your crushes are all over the world now. Brighton. Guernsey. Vancouver. Kiev. They’ve become lawyers and fathers and husbands and wives. You count two of them among your dearest friends. You are grateful, and afraid.

Because maybe you have tears for this writer, too, that just lie hidden, waiting. Maybe the only one you’re fooling is yourself. “I don’t know,” you tell him, finally. “Why don’t we wait and see?”


Amanda Leduc's essays and stories have been published or are forthcoming in The Rumpus, Tampa Review Online, ELLE Canada, PRISM International, Little Fiction, Prairie Fire, filling Station, Existere Journal, and others. She has been long listed for the 2014 CBC Canada Writes Short Story Contest, and previously shortlisted for both the 2012 TNQ Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest and PRISM International's 2012 Short Fiction Contest. Her novel, THE MIRACLES OF ORDINARY MEN, was published in 2013 by Toronto's ECW Press. She lives in Hamilton, Ontario, where she spends too much time on the Internet and is at work on her next novel.

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BT #006 © 2014 Amanda Leduc. Published by Little Fiction | Big Truths, March 2014.


love stories

by amanda leduc