“…the first time you fall in love, it changes you forever, and no matter how hard you try, that feeling just never goes away.
Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook
We met in October of 2009. I was 15 years old. It was my first year at Cookeville High School, and I had very few friends outside the dance team and a boy I had met in Algebra named Ethan.
One night, I received a text message before going to bed that asked, “Is that your natural hair color?” I had no idea who the strange number could be with such a strange question. After asking, I learned that it was a boy named Matt Burchett from my Spanish class who had gotten my number from his best friend, Elijah. I only vaguely remembered his face.
I had Spanish 1 fifth period with Mrs. Thurman. The seats were arranged alphabetically and being an R, I was seated in the fourth row over, about four seats back. He was exactly opposite of me, in the first row. The day after he had introduced himself to me over text, he gave me this dead stare from across the room continuously for the entire hour of class.
Matt was a curly-haired basketball player who was only about 6 feet tall. He had big hazel eyes and animated facial features. He was confident to the point of cockiness, and had a vulgar or offensive joke for every situation. Everything about him was different from anything I had seen before.
I talked to him after class that day, and as I was leaving, he put his entire hand on my face with his palm on my mouth and his fingers stretched to my forehead before telling me goodbye. I was intrigued about this strange boy. I had never seen anything like him and his eccentric behavior.
We began to text often, and talked on the phone almost every night. The staring became an everyday joke in Spanish class, and touching my face became his traditional goodbye gesture. I told him about my failed relationship with the first boy I had met at CHS, Nathan. In fact, I told him about everything. Despite his quirky personality and blatantly offensive jokes, he quickly became my best friend.
Eventually, it was obvious that we weren’t simply friends anymore. On November 17, 2009, I found a childish note in my locker asking me to be his girlfriend. Although juvenile, there was just something about it that I couldn’t resist. Of course I couldn’t say no to my best friend.
Our first kiss happened on November 23. It was at the movie theater when we went to see a new release entitled 2012. It wasn’t interesting, but it was three hours long. We would have done anything to see each other for just a few minutes longer.
I still remember the first time I told Matt I loved him. I think I was half joking when I screamed it to him over the phone, but part of me knew it was true. It was real. I don’t care what anyone wants to tell me about young love always being false. I know in my heart that what we had was real.
I also know what they say about young love being all puppies and rainbows. This, also, was never true with us. Not even close. There were warning signs. There are always warning signs, but when you’re in love you don’t notice these things. Sure Matt was a little more possessive than most, and maybe he didn’t like my friends from some reason, but why should I have put any thought to that?
I understand now that our relationship was borderline abusive. He put up a fight every time I went to a friend’s house and yelled at me not to go. And when I did go, he would insist on a two hour-long phone call. He made me cut contact with my guy friends completely, and eventually kept me from making friends at my new school.
Another saying goes that one only looks at the past through rose-colored lenses. We tend to only see the best parts of the past when we reminisce, and that is what causes such nostalgia. Again, this isn’t true for me.
I remember him screaming at me for thirty minutes when I sat with my friends instead of him at a ball game. I remember him making me cry at a dance team sleepover because he didn’t want me to be there. I remember him keeping me from seeing a friend from Livingston who I hadn’t seen in a year. I remember him even causing me to turn away from my parents, calling them vulgar names and laughing. I remember him telling me to give him oral sex when I was crying with doubt about my decision. I remember every time he ever hurt me and every time he ever made me cry.
Of course I remember all of these things. The way Matt treated me left scars, and changed me forever. But I can’t just remember the bad things, and maybe this is where the rose-colored lenses come in.
I remember all of our inside jokes about Morrow and toast and thumbs up. I remember that stupid blue Honda he had. I remember countless movies that we were too busy to pay attention to. I remember walking down Maple Avenue with him like it would never get any better than just then. I remember crying in his arms when we watched The Notebook together because I was picturing the characters as us. I remember all of the letters and all of the texts with sugary sweet words that made me fall harder and harder.
I wasn’t the only one in love. Matt loved me too. I know he did. We were just too young. He didn’t know how to show it other than trying to control my every move. I knew he cared as much as I did, and maybe that’s why I held on so long. I could go on about my memories of the first eight months of our relationship for eons. I could write books about all of the times we had together, just happy to be as we were.
But all good things must come to an end. For my sixteenth birthday in July of 2010, I threw a party at the country club with my friend Kirsi. By this time, my parents had caught on to Mat’s behavior and despised it. In fact, my step dad, Joe, had hacked into my phone account and had read the messages in which Mat had threatened me for not responding or for being with a friend.
Before my party, Joe warned me that if Matt tried to take me away from my guests, he would be thrown out immediately. I halfway believed he was bluffing. He wasn’t.
The party was fine at first. It seemed like it was going to turn out great, but as my guests began to arrive, I would go to greet them and talk to them. Matt didn’t like that, but in all honesty, he didn’t say much because it was my birthday. I did apologize even though he didn’t say anything about it, just because that was my habit. Joe, who had had a few too many, saw me say “I’m sorry” three times before he took Matt outside. Joe told him exactly what he thought of him, telling him I was nothing more than a trophy to him.
In the meantime, Ethan had called Matt’s mother from inside, and she came to get him. Apparently they all had it out on the porch of the country club. I’m ashamed to say it, but I was inside having a fantastic time. It never even crossed my mind to go outside. When Joe came back in, he confiscated my phone and told me I was not to talk to Matt the rest of the night so I could enjoy my party.
So I did. I danced and talked and laughed and had a fantastic sweet sixteen, as I should have. Looking back, I can’t even pinpoint why I never thought twice about what went down until the next day.
That night was the turning point. Following that night, I was not allowed to see Matt outside of school. Not being able to see him put even more strain on our relationship, and made me less tolerant of his behavior. I began to fight back.
We struggled on like that for about two months. My friends and family hated him, and everything seemed to be trying to pull us apart. As time went on, my attitude toward my relationship with Matt became apathetic, and even he noticed. Everything seemed to be wearing me down to a point where I just didn’t care anymore.
In October, during fall break, there was another dance team sleepover. That night I just decided that was it. I was going to break up with him. I called him, and we were on the phone for three hours while I was at the sleepover. We were both sobbing into the phone, and he was begging me not to do it. In the end, he basically told me it wasn’t over, and we went back to how we were.
I didn’t want that anymore. I was angry at him for doing that to me, for always controlling everything, to the point where I couldn’t even break up with him. I was furious when I got home, and my parents noticed. They had been threatening for weeks to end it for me, to cut off all contact by blocking his number. I kept saying no, even with their endless prying questions, I would lie to make it seem better than it was. However on this night, October 16, I was not feeling so forgiving. I told them to just do it, and that I didn’t care. That decision was one of the biggest mistakes of my life.
It was finished before I woke up on the morning of Sunday, October 17, 2010, what would have been our eleven-month anniversary. He tried to contact me in other ways, and I was heartless. I told him I couldn’t talk to him then or at school. I can’t imagine how he felt, just waking up one morning to have your entire life changed by someone who had no say in it. Months later, I would feel terrible about the way it happened. How I was too scared to do it myself, or to talk to him rationally about it. I cry still to this day when I think about it. It was a disaster.
The next day we returned to school. I met him that morning in the gym and I cried my eyes out as I told him that we couldn’t see each other any more. I wanted to fall to the ground, crawl in a hole, die, anything would’ve been better than that thirty minutes in the gym with Matt saying everything I never thought I would.
For a few more weeks, Matt and I tried to be friends. We talked at school, walked together to class, joked around like always, but it was hard. It just didn’t work. Eventually we faded apart. It was just better that way. We only spoke in the one class we had together.
I didn’t mention this before, but Matt was a very talented basketball player. He played JV our freshman year before being promoted to varsity as a sophomore. There were two managers for the varsity basketball team, both sophomores like me. One of them, Sarah Harville had quite a reputation for trying to mess around with every basketball player, according to Matt.
In class when I saw Matt, her name began to come up pretty often. He talked about how she was all over him, and tried to give him oral sex on a regular basis. I was sure he was only trying to make me jealous, so I asked why he didn’t go for it. I played the game as I had been taught was the correct thing to do. I encouraged him to talk to her and ask her out.
By December, they were together. I was shocked, and slightly hurt that he had moved on so damn quickly. However, I didn’t let him know this. That would be accepting defeat. I wasn’t too worried though. He told me explicitly that he didn’t even like her, and that he only kept her around so he wouldn’t be lonely.
As the months went by and they were still together, I was hurting more and more. I still loved him. We continued to text, and I really tried to be his friend, but I just couldn’t. I tried talking to other guys, but it just never worked. I was too hung up on Matt. I couldn’t move on like he had apparently done. I will never forget the time in March that he told me; “Do whatever is going to put a smile on that beautiful face, because you deserve it.”
He told stories about her every day in class, and that familiar lump in my throat would reappear every time. I will never forget when I learned he had lost his virginity to Sarah. I was heartbroken as he bragged about it to me, and I didn’t understand how this person I had loved could just use a girl for sex. It didn’t make any sense how he would tell me that he missed me and that he wanted to break up with her, and then turn around and tell me that he couldn’t do that to her.
Around this time, I began to do more things with my friends. It kept my mind off of Matt, and slowly, I began to get over him. A senior asked me to prom, and I was carried away in getting prepared for that as well as school and dance. My mind was too busy to think about Matt, and we slowly stopped talking.
On prom night, April 30, 2011, I was at an after party with my date, and Matt sent me a text. He told me for the first time in several months that he missed me. My light mood immediately dropped as a grenade exploded within me. I had so many feelings, but more than anything, I was angry that he would say that to me when I had finally started to get over him. At that point I really just wanted him to stay with Sarah, because I had finally began to move on with my life, instead of living in the past. I honestly believed I was over Matt.
This came to a peak at the end of May. I was texting Matt, and I finally decided it was time he knew the truth. I had always led him to believe that my parents just ended our contact because they were tired of his controlling behavior. I told him that I never wanted it, because I was ashamed for him to know that I had given the OK. But I was over him, right? So why shouldn’t I tell him the truth?
He was furious. He was so hurt, and I don’t blame him for feeling betrayed because that is exactly what happened. I betrayed him. That was the end of our contact for a very long time.
The first week of June, I attended a leadership program where I met Max Clark, a basketball player from a nearby town. He was the first boy I was able to see myself with since Matt, and we began to hang out throughout the summer. Matt openly talked shit about Max on the Internet and made fun of him. I can’t explain how angry I was about that. Where did he have room to make fun of this guy who he barely knew just because I liked him? Where did he get off thinking he could do that when I was finally moving on? That incident widened the gap between us to the point where we literally hated each other.
I finished out the summer with Max, and he ended it with me in August to go back to his ex. Even though Max and I were never that close, I was crushed to have been let go like that. I found out later that he had cheated on me with her, not that it mattered.
On Matt’s birthday in August I wished him happy birthday through a text message. Sarah responded furiously that I was not to ever contact him. I was hurt that I couldn’t even say happy birthday without her consent. That was the last time I tried to contact him for a very long time.
During the next two months, I explored. I hung out with different groups of friends, I talked to new guys, and I was content. The two people I hung out with the most were Katie, a girl on the dance team, and her golfer boyfriend, Austin. I really enjoyed their company, although sometimes I felt like a third wheel.
Around the beginning of November, Austin’s two best friends began to sit with us at lunch. I never really talked to them, but one day Austin asked me to go to a basketball game with he and Stephanie and one of the boys, Cole Johnson. I accepted because it sounded like a fun group outing.
I was wrong. It turned into a date, with Cole coming to pick me up and us going to eat together afterward. It was awkward to say the least, as I had never even spoken to him until that night. Before leaving, he kissed me. It was strange and uncomfortable, but I honestly didn’t mind. That day was November 21, 2011; two years and four days after Mat and I had started dating.
Cole and I began dating in the beginning of December. I can honestly say that I was the happiest I had been since Matt. I was so glad, and I fell hard and fast for Cole. He was perfect. He was sweet and kind, religious, personable, thoughtful, and everything that Matt was not. My parents liked him, my friends loved him, and everything was just easy.
We went on happily and easily for months. In March I received an anonymous message on a blogging site that only contained seven words: “I still think of you every day.” My stomach turned flips. There was no doubt in my mind from whom it had to be. I hadn’t thought of Mat in a while, but immediately after reading that message he was back. Infiltrating my every thought. I had to know for sure if that was him.
I went on a school trip to Costa Rica that month for nine days. I’m not sure if it was being away from Cole or what, but my mind wouldn’t rest. I had to know about that message, but without Sarah finding out.
So I downloaded a texting app on my iPhone that would use a number that wasn’t mine, and I texted his number asking if he sent the message without saying who I was just in case she saw it. He responded, saying he didn’t and asking if it was me. I told him yes and we had our first short conversation in over six months. I was in disbelief about how absolutely nice he was to me. I didn’t know what to think.
I didn’t sleep that night. There was so much running through my head. Finally I realized that after over two years, I was still not over him. I cried and cried about it. I knew I cared about Cole, but that feeling was so much different than the feeling that rose up inside me when I thought about Matt. It wasn’t as passionate, not as strong. It eventually crossed my mind that I might still be in love with Matt, and that thought absolutely terrified me to the core.
The rest of my trip, that’s all I thought about. On the plane ride home, I began to think about what I could do. I fantasized about what would happen if I just showed up at Matt’s house on prom night in my dress, crying my eyes out, and just tell him that I didn’t care anymore. I would run to him and kiss him. I wouldn’t care who was around and watching, all I would care about is that moment. Even if he didn’t want me anymore, even if he pulled away from me, I wouldn’t care. I just wanted him to know. That daydream started to become less of a fantasy and more of a plan.
I couldn’t handle these heavy thoughts. I felt like I was lying to everyone. So in order to put them somewhere, I began a blog. I put how I felt about Matt on that blog, and password protected it. It was a relief to be able to put it somewhere other than my head, even if it was just a page on the Internet.
During the next few weeks, I would listen to songs that reminded me of him, I would drive down Maple Avenue where we used to walk, and I would drive down his road just hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever it was that I was so nostalgic for. Everything I did seemed to remind me of him.
At the time, Twitter was the big social network. Matt began putting things on there that I almost thought might be about me. I thought I was just imagining it, just wishful thinking. One day though, I got brave and “favorited” one of these tweets. The next day, he posted “You can favorite my tweets but can’t talk to me? What happened?” I knew this was about me; there was no questioning it.
So I opened that same texting app with the phony number, and I said, “I don’t talk to you because I’m scared.” I was so nervous that he would text back, but even more nervous that he wouldn’t. He responded, asking why I was scared. I told him it was because of her.
We began to chat, being friendlier than we had been in ages. Eventually he said that he wished we could have this conversation in person, and I agreed. He asked if I could meet him somewhere, and I told him that since it was almost midnight, I could never get out of the house without someone noticing. He offered to pick me up at the end of the street, and I agreed.
You have to understand that I was a model child. I was a straight-A student. I never drank, smoked, partied, or anything. I had always been a rule follower, and I had sure never snuck out. That is, until April 14, 2012. I would’ve done anything to see Matt that night.
I put on a black hoodie to disguise my glowing blonde hair, opened my bedroom window, and jumped. That jump may have been more symbolic than just jumping out of my window. I was jumping over the edge to where I knew I shouldn’t go. I was jumping from what I knew was safe and secure, to what was dangerous territory. That was the turning point after which I couldn’t go back. The fact of it was I absolutely did not care.
I walked to the end of the road and I saw the headlights of that familiar black Xterra that I had never been inside but had watched pull into the school parking lot a million times. I opened the door and came face to face with my past.
We drove down to an abandoned community center in the middle of nowhere where we sat and talked for almost three hours. We talked about basketball and dance, we talked about Sarah and Cole, and we talked about old times. Turns out he felt the same way I did, and had been driving down my road and listening to our old songs, too. We laughed at each other for being so pathetic, but when we realized we both felt that way, he asked me what our boundaries were. I responded, “As far as I’m concerned, this night never happened.” He stared straight ahead as he processed it and then said, “Fuck it”, turned to me, and kissed me.
We kissed each other passionately, as if it was all we had ever wanted, and then he embraced me. In that moment, everything came rushing back. All the emotions I had been concealing for so long were right there on the surface, restored by his touch. It seemed to me like the very end of everything, like all of my troubles were over, and the credits should start rolling right then. I wished with all my heart to stay in that moment forever.
He asked if I wanted to get out and walk around. We stood there in the parking lot of the abandoned community center with his arm around me and looked up at the stars. I know we both wanted that night to last forever.
However, around this time, a police car drove by and saw us. He turned around and came back. We politely told him that we were minors, only catching up, and that we would go home immediately. By some miracle, he let us off.
Matt drove me back to my house, and I got back inside safely at 4:30 AM. He sent me a text when he got home that said he would always care about me, but the message seemed to have finality about it, like it was the ultimate goodbye. I was left to lie in my bed alone and wonder about what could have been and what could be.
I felt sick on Monday at school. I didn’t want to have to see Cole when Matt was all that was on my mind. I told everyone I must have been coming down with something, because the truth would be unforgivable, even to my closet friends.
I saw Matt again that Wednesday after lying to Cole to get out of church early. We drove around trying to find somewhere to go and never could since it wasn’t the middle of the night. That night he told me that he felt bad doing that to Cole since he was such a genuinely good guy.
I had noticed since reuniting with Matt that he had changed. It wasn’t necessarily obvious, but the subtle undertones of his words told me something was different. I could tell he was matured, if only somewhat. The biggest difference in him, though, was his distance. He seemed to never invest himself completely as he used to. I could tell he was holding back with every word he uttered. When he kissed me, it was as if he trying to resist. He was hesitant.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I am not a whore. I never would have cheated on anyone, and believe me, I knew how wrong it was. I didn’t know who I was, lying and cheating like that. I knew I was being completely selfish, but the thing was that I didn’t care.
At this point I had a week until prom, and there was more and more emphasis being put on prom night. I knew Cole expected us to have sex on prom night, and up until two weeks before, I expected the same thing. Now that Matt had come back into the picture, though, I wasn’t so sure. Matt asked me if I was planning on doing that on prom night, and I told him I didn’t know. He told me that he regretted that he lost his virginity to someone he hadn’t really been in love with, and he suggested I lose it to someone I trusted. There was only one person about whom I felt like that, and it was not Cole.
I knew it had to be before prom, in order to make doubly sure it wouldn’t be Cole. So on Thursday, April 26, I drove out to a place on old highway 70, and I lost my virginity to Matt Case in the back of his car. And I won’t go into detail, because I don’t think that’s anyone’s business, but he was kind and understanding about my feelings. He was never pushy or forceful. I never got the impression that he was trying to “steal” my virginity.
It was just how it was meant to happen. I honestly believe that. It didn’t matter to me that we were doing it behind the backs of everyone we loved in the back of a car on a gravel road. It only mattered that it was him, and that was how it was supposed to happen.
Exactly one week later, Cole called me one afternoon and told me we needed to meet and talk. I kept telling myself it was something else, but I had a bad feeling in the back of my mind. I was right. The day before, I had loaned him my laptop to use for his English paper. Apparently, I had been careless and left my blog about Matt up on the screen. Thank God I hadn’t written everything on there.
Cole cried with confusion and demanded an explanation. I stared straight forward, did not sympathize, and answered as best I could without revealing too much. I was more worried about news getting around to Sarah and ruining Matt’s relationship than I was about my own relationship. In the end, I got off with him believing that I had only seen Matt once, and that we had only talked.
When I told Matt about this, he was worried, like me, about Sarah finding out. He told me we should stop seeing each other for a while. I was so angry with myself for allowing that to happen. I was my own stupid mistake that had ruined what we had, the thing in my life I looked forward to most.
The Monday after, Matt sent me a text to ask if I wanted to meet somewhere. When I asked what happened to not seeing each other, he told me he had thought that was what I wanted to hear. I, of course, went and met him on that same gravel road, where we had sex again.
As I listened to Matt talk about how he would never again let himself get attached to someone again after what had happened with me, I started to feel like maybe I was only a sex call for him. I had always known in the back of my mind that I couldn’t expect anything to happen out of this, and that it was only for fun.
I knew I needed to put the thought of us being together out of my head. I knew I needed to stop holding onto hope. I knew I needed to stop seeing things that weren’t there. I knew I needed to stop thinking about him all the time. I knew I needed to just let go, but the thing was I simply was not strong enough.
For some reason, after that day, Matt and I didn’t talk for several weeks. During this time, I focused on school and Cole, trying to prove to him that I wanted to be with him. I got accepted to Governor’s School, Cole graduated high school, and the other things pushed Mat to the back of my mind.
But he never stays there for long. He began to text me again at the end of May, as I was preparing to leave for Governor’s School. He wanted to see me one last time before I left, and as always, I couldn’t turn him down. We met again at the usual spot.
I left two days later for Knoxville for Governor’s School. I felt so liberated now that I wasn’t under Cole’s constant presence. Matt and I talked every night for the first week I was gone. Then, as he tends to do, he dropped off the face of the Earth, and I didn’t hear from him for weeks.
The next three weeks were great. I rarely talked to Cole or Matt, and I felt like I could breathe for the first time in months. I made friends and got to experience life without thinking about my mistakes. It was like I left my whole life behind me and started new. I can’t express how amazing it felt.
During the fourth week, I finally decided it was time. I called Cole, and I told him everything I thought of him. I told him it wasn’t his fault, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. The words he said to me stayed in my head for weeks: “As long as you are still in love with Matt, no one will ever be good enough for you.”
Being away made me believe, yet again, that I was over Matt. I no longer thought of him every day. He no longer occupied my every decision. During the fifth week, he finally reappeared, and that night we mutually agreed that we should only be friends.
I felt freer than I had in over a year. I finally deleted the blog, and all of the pain that went along with it. It was a giant weight lifted off of my shoulders. The thing was that when I was in Knoxville, I felt like I would be there forever. I thought I would never have to go back to my life. Again, all good things come to an end.
Four days after leaving Governor’s School, Cole told Sarah about Matt and I. She broke up with him immediately. I felt terrible. I knew it was all my fault that their relationship was over. Mat told me, though, that he wanted it to be over and was glad it was.
Still, though, we were only friends, and I was all right with that. I honestly believed I wanted that. I was even excited about seeing him at school as a friend. It seemed perfect. We still talked every day, just not about being together. We really seemed like best friends, and it was really nice to have that back.
School started, and I had Spanish 4 fourth period with Mr. Melton. The seats were arranged alphabetically and being an R, I was seated in the fourth row over, about four seats back. Matt was exactly opposite of me, in the first row. It would end just as it had begun.
We spoke almost every day, as friends of course. But yet again, that feeling came creeping back. I could feel its ominous presence like an oncoming sickness. There was nothing I could do, because he had said so many times how things had changed too much to go back…
And here I am, spending hours and hours of my teenage life pounding away at a keyboard in my bedroom about an impossible love. It’s hopeless. I know it’s hopeless to wish for impossible things. I’m a logical person, and being with Matt just isn’t logical in my life or in his. It’s time I accepted that.
The thing is, I can’t. I just can’t let go of everything we shared. And now, I just feel like I am so completely shattered by it that I’ll never recover.
As long as I live, I’ll never leave the pain behind. I know this for a fact. People say if I try, I will get over him. Let this serve as my testimony: I have tried. I know it’s not possible, though I wish it were.
Matt said to me one time, centuries ago, “We are going to stay together forever because we’re too dysfunctional for anyone else.” We were the two most unlikely people to fall in love, but we did. And look at me, three years, nine pages, 6104 words later, still in the same place I was then: still eager to love him with all of my heart, even though it is broken and shattered in a million pieces.
I’ll quote my own writing in my journal when I say that Matt Burchett is the worst thing in the world for me. He is wrong for me, and I for him in every possible way. But still, somehow, impossibly, I am irrevocably in love with him.