“No, get away from me!” I screamed at her.
“But I love you!” She cried out and then ran away from there, tears streaming down her eyes.
I was sitting in the schoolyard with some friends that day. I don’t remember what we talked about when that girl came and kissed me on my neck, surprising me.
The year is 1993, and I was six years old.
I looked at Sarah* run away, and I let a long sigh leave my mouth. The problem was that she was different. In retrospect, she was probably a wonderful person, but I never got to know the real her — only the picture we painted of her.
Sarah got to our elementary school in first grade, and right off the bat, we saw there was something different about her. She wore thick glasses and used to lose control of her bodily functions during class. She would leave her chair wet or stained when we got out to play between classes.
And we kids were awful. We laughed at her. We didn’t think about how she felt. Maybe she hated every waking moment because of this condition? Perhaps she desperately wanted a friend?
Maybe she really did love me?
I was a frightened, stupid little boy who told his parents that this girl was harassing me. I’m not going to defend the actions of six-year-old me, especially not at age 32, but I remember it clearly when my dad came to school and asked her nicely to not talk to me anymore.
I’m ashamed of that.
The following year, she moved schools. I always suspected I was to blame for that. A few years later, I understood that it wasn’t just me as she was having a hard time with our class in general. She only had a few friends and would hide with them during breaks.
As a kid, I felt justified in my actions. I felt like this was the correct course of action. But it wasn’t! I shouldn’t have been so spooked of her. I should have had an adult sit with me and explain that when someone tries to talk to you, it doesn’t automatically mean they hurt you or take away your freedom or label you. Yeah, she kissed me; Yeah, she violated my personal space; Did she deserve to have my parents getting involved and telling her not to speak to me anymore?
God, I can’t even imagine how she and her family felt because of that.
We sort-of-reconciled some months later when she invited the entire class to her father’s flour factory. I may not have been speaking to her, but I didn’t hate her. At the end of the tour, each of us got a flour package and a delicious loaf of bread. Those were baked on the day of our visit and given to us as gifts. The smells over there were a treat.
I didn’t talk to her at all except for saying thanks for the flour and bread.
I may not have seen her for many years afterward, but that initial encounter stayed with me and affected my relationships.
Fast forward a few years later. I think I was in High School when one weekend we went to do a Bnei Akiva sleepover at my then-instructor.
The instructor invited some of my good friends from elementary school, whom I haven’t seen for years. Among them, there she was. Sarah.
“Hi, do you remember me?” she asked.
“Yeah, of course. How have you been?” I answered.
I felt like I wanted to run away from there. But why? Why did I want to run away? I took a good look at her. She was slender, tall, her blonde hair was cut short, like Anna Wintour’s hair. Her eyeglasses were still a pretty high number, but they looked good on her.
Our conversation trailed off. We both knew we didn’t have much to talk about. Only when I left my instructor’s house, I let myself think about what would have happened had I spoke to her and rekindled the friendship.
I never saw her again after that day. A few years later, a mutual friend who is also a close friend of mine told me she got married. I wasn’t invited.
I think, at some point, I developed some sort of fear of being intimate with a woman. I love women. I love to talk to them, to listen to them. But something about kissing a woman or getting in bed with her used to freak me out for no good reason during my twenties.
It’s a harsh self-reflection to make. I think that at some point, my brain molded my experience with Sarah to how any experience with a woman would be for me.
At age 32, I’m finally ready to admit that I was afraid and anxious about commitment, about intimacy. But I’ve grown enough to realize that it is unfounded. Some day soon, I’m going to find a woman with whom I’ll spend the rest of my life. I want to do that with all my heart. If she wants me too, I need to be ready to be with her in every sense of the word. I can’t let this unfounded fear to continue to linger inside me.
They say that the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging it. Well, here I am. It’s time to detach my childhood experience from my future. I can’t let it decide my life.
I’m allowed to love despite my childhood, and so are you.
*Names were changed.