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The Phoenix

The Student Art & Literary Site of Community College of Allegheny County

The Phoenix

The Student Art & Literary Site of Community College of Allegheny County

The Phoenix

Noah and I

Kyle Layton

I fell in love with Noah in my first conversation with him. We were 14 then. I had come down for lunch period and he was sitting there at my usual table, sitting around all my friends and trying to look like he belonged there. I remember sitting next to him and feeling nervous, because I knew what would happen next; I’d open my mouth and he’d see it there, gazing back at him from the back of my throat with a slacked wrist and the gay lisp to boot. He’d get weirded out and run away, call me a faggot or worse: hit me. But that wasn’t what happened, he talked to me like I was anyone else. I fell flat on my face for him.

So of course, my first instinct was to act a complete ass.

I tried to make him feel uncomfortable at every chance I got. I flirted with him in front of all our mutual friends, I sat next to him in the only class we shared, I even attempted to make a pass at him one day by placing my hand on his leg. Oddly, he seemed to take this all in his stride, casually shrugging my advances off while still maintaining platonic connection with me. He’d even went and gotten a girlfriend, and boy, did I hate her. The way he’d gently guide me back to his friendzone like a wandering calf, how he’d give me the warmest cold shoulder at every turn despite all my harassment, it infuriated me to the point of no return.

I became bitter toward him. I began to think less of him simply because he couldn’t see the obvious good in me. He was an idiot; a beefy blonde brute of a man who couldn’t recognize that I knew what was best for him more than anyone else does, more than even himself.

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It went on for years. Noah would sit at my lunch table, socialize with my friends, talk about the things that I liked. Although his girlfriend was long gone after our freshman year, I was a world-class grudge holder, and all my hatred of her had floated away like a feather only to come down on Noah like an anvil in our junior year.

I remember it so vividly, as if it happened just a few hours ago, but in an alternate reality where we were both two completely different beings who were the furthest apart from each other. We were two poles, north and south. I was day, he was night. I was winter, he was summer.

We were sitting at the lunch table discussing something irrelevant: some edgy high school drivel where all eight 16-year-old know-it-alls are going back and forth about which one of us is the most technically correct. Noah and I were sitting next to each other.

As our lunch period progressed, so did the argument, until it eventually reached a boiling point. I, forever being the loudest, rightest kid in the room, was at the forefront of the commotion, my chest out and my voice booming over four other kids. Eventually, Noah interrupted my tangent with a raised finger.

Something in me shifted. My eyes bulged in their sockets and my head seemed to blow up like a black balloon as I rounded on him like a father about to chastise his disappointing son. I was a spitting image of my own father as I loomed over him, a lone man attempting to fell a giant dragon. My forked tongue flitted in and out from between dry, cracked lips, spitting venom as I dismissed him with all the ease of an evil demon nun.

When I was done, he only looked at me. I could see his mind working underneath his wide brown eyes. He began to stutter.

Time slowed. This was the moment.

He picked up the closest thing to his hand: a cup of water, and threw it at me. I watched it fly, my life flashing before my eyes as it splashed all over me, in my face and eyes, on my shirt, and soaking my pants. I wiped the wet out of my eyes and looked up at him. For a brief moment before everything went black, I could see it in his eyes: Fear.

You cursed brat, look what you’ve done! I’m melting, what a world.

Noah has always been bigger than most people in the school. He talked about being blessed with good genes and a passion for bodybuilding when he was a teenager. I, on the other hand, was like a twig. So, when I stood up, walked over, and began punching him in the back of his head, it felt like I was beating the floor of a bouncy house.

After a few hits, someone pulled me off, I can’t remember their face or voice, but I do remember Noah looking back at me. Tears were in his eyes, glassy lenses to mask pure, unbridled fear. In the split second he looked back at me, I saw my own reflection there in his eyes. The image of a monster, a rabid dog, who’s obsession and envy of this nerdy-looking white boy had driven him to become something he hadn’t thought he could.

Then he was gone; he got up and ran away.

I’ll never forget my mother’s face when she and my grandmother arrived in the principal’s office that day. As they watched the video of me flinging myself at him: a noodle-armed flurry with a vengeance, she’d smirked. I’d never been in a fight before. She told me as we left the school that she was proud of me for defending myself. I looked up at her and began crying.

I wished I could be punished for what I did, but it didn’t come. I spent the next 20 days in my room bingeing television shows and texting my boyfriend about what had happened. No one from school seemed to want to talk to me much, so I sat around alone, waiting for something to spark the kind of introspection I knew I needed.

When I came back, Noah had already finished his own suspension. We saw each other again for the first time in lunch period. I could tell by his mannerisms he was nervous, and I was sure he could tell I was the same. As the period ended and I climbed the stairs alone, he appeared next to me. He asked me to talk after school that day. I found myself eagerly accepting his invitation.

The first words out of his mouth were apologies, and the first words out of mine were desperate wonderings of whether he and his mother were considering pressing assault charges on me. I wouldn’t come to appreciate until now how he had been the one to approach me first. He’s always been way more mature than me. I remember as he talked, how he stuttered and froze, calmed himself, and continued explaining how the altercation had been all his fault and how he’d overreacted. Slowly, I realized he’d practiced this conversation. I said nothing, only sat and listened to him speak, relieved I wouldn’t be going to juvie.

I think back to that conversation regularly. There are many ways it could’ve went, I always think, and I’m not sure I’m completely satisfied with how it actually did go. I wish I would’ve apologized to him, maybe asked him how his head was or if I’d hurt him badly, but I didn’t, and I must be okay with that now. In the moment, you don’t realize how crucial, how formative a single conversation can be until it’s years later and you look back on it with all the “What If’s” that could’ve changed your life.

I’m still in love with Noah. Only now, I recognize that he’s in love with me too, so maybe it didn’t go as bad as it could’ve. He still has the amazing ability to frustrate me beyond the point of reason without even trying, but it never lasts too long anymore. The urge to beat him over the head with something has been replaced with the urge to give him an actual heartfelt apology. Our ability to slide under each other’s skin is one of the million ways we show we care. But I always think: maybe if I’d said the wrong thing, maybe if it had gone too well in the hallway that day, maybe we wouldn’t have been drawn so much closer to each other. Maybe my best friend wouldn’t be my best friend.

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About the Contributor
Kyle Layton, Phoenix Staff
Kyle Layton is a Pittsburgh import originally from Harrisburg, moving here at the impressionable age of 21 to be with friends and begin an academic career in writing. As a child, he loved to play video games and go canoeing on school trips. In his free time, he enjoys collecting vinyl records, trying new dishes to cook, and laughing so hard he cries.

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