If I had a penny for every time I cried, I would have $5.06.
That is, one crumpled up 5 dollar bill that I had saved when I was 8 years old by putting it in the hollowed out head of my ugliest barbie doll, a nickel that I found under the kitchen counter, and the hypothetical penny that my brain came up with.
I don’t cry often. I didn’t cry when Pepsi, our adorable black Labrador, got hit by a car and died. I didn’t cry when my older brother, Asher, went into a coma from a skateboard accident and woke up a month later.
I didn’t cry when Dad died, when I sat beside his deathbed and his hand gripped mine tight, as though my hand was life, and he would finally die if he let go.
My mom would cry all the time, though. Maybe I just didn’t want to surround Bubba, my little brother, with any more negative emotions if I could help it.
But I think I never cried because I was saving it for one finishing blow. When I couldn’t keep it inside me anymore, and all I could do was let the waterworks out.
In my first year of high school, I had made plenty of friends, and my messages were always bombarded with different social events and school gatherings.
I wasn’t popular. I was somewhere between the “she seems familiar but I can’t put my finger on it” and the “hey girlie” variety.
But in the fall of 10th grade, my mom told me that her boss had decided to replace her.
“By my old colleague, by the way. I can’t stand her!” She had cried that night, another one of those little scenes that I had steered Bubba away from.
I hadn’t really thought much about it. Mom would get a new job and life would go on as planned. After all, she has been fired multiple times before.
And I was right, Mom did get a new job.
“All the way in Houston?!” I had shouted. We live in Bentonville, AR, and I was already planning the next 6 years of my life to stay in Arkansas. I wanted to finish school at Bentonville High School. I wanted to go to the University of Arkansas, which had a great science and engineering program. I really wanted to stay in Arkansas.
But how could I?
If I had a penny for every time I cried, I would have a buck.
Well, really, I would have 100 pennies that I would then take to that one grocery store across the street and trade it in for a dollar bill.
I cried when Dad took away my hot wheels when I was 5. I cried when Ms. Milo yelled at me for coloring outside the lines in first grade. I cried when Gina Wang called me a nerd in 4th grade. I cried when Chester and Hansen beat me up in 6th grade.
People would always call me a cry baby. “You have to be tough, you’re a boy, only girls cry.”
But that wasn’t true. Boys cry all the time. At least, I only know that because biologically I am of the male gender and I do cry. A lot.
When I started 9th grade, it was like a new beginning. I had moved in from Fort Collins, CO. No one knew who I was. It was like I was given a chance to restart.
So, when I first saw Phoebe Green studying in the library, I knew that we were destined to be friends. At least, semi-friends because she was going to tutor me.
Ha! You thought I was going to say that we were destined to be together, huh?
Well, as it turns out, Phoebe is one of the more popular girls in school, with the brains of someone who could potentially cure cancer.
And Phoebe is my best friend.
To me, anyway. I don’t think she sees me the same way though.
Because Phoebe is a canvas full of possibilities.
And I, on the other hand, am a piece of rotting wood.
I wanted to tell Callum, one of my classmates that I tutor, that I might not be able to keep tutoring him, but he was always so happy whenever I tutored him that I couldn’t find the courage to.
I guess he just really loves learning science.
I have been begging Mom to let me stay in Bentonville, but she keeps talking about how nice Houston will be, and about the NASA Space Center, which is one thing I’m excited about.
She also went on and on about how the University of Houston was also great, and how if that wasn’t what I was looking for, there was also the University of Texas, which was plenty.
She also said that I could always stay in a dorm if that’s what I really wanted.
But to be honest, Houston did sound kind of cool. I mean, NASA!!! It’s science and engineering combined. And imagine if I worked there someday!
But all my friends here, everyone.
How would I tell Kaycee, and Wren, and Jordan, and Ali?
How would I tell Callum?
I can’t take this anymore. I’ve been thinking about her non-stop. In every waking moment, I can see her blonde curls and her deep amber eyes.
In all my dreams, I imagine studying science for the rest of my life if it means I get to be with her.
I cried last night, not knowing what to do. Not knowing how to stop this tsunami of emotions from drowning me.
And I still don’t know how to tell her, how to tell her that I love the way the sunlight from the library windows shine in her eyes, how to tell her that I love the way her hand move when she talks, how to tell her that I love the way her hair sways as she walks.
I don’t know how to tell her that I love the way she listens, the way she cares, the way she actually thinks about what I say and responds as though she’s thought it out thoroughly.
Everytime I see her, there’s a pounding in my chest. I feel my eyes drawn towards her, and my breathing speed increases rapidly.
And worst of all, what would I say, what would I be, what would I do, if she didn’t love me too?
It wasn’t the fact that we were already packing. It wasn’t the fact that I had seen Mom tuck away the engagement ring Dad gave her. It wasn’t the fact that Bubba had asked Mom why there were so many boxes everywhere.
It wasn’t the fact that I had felt a huge swelling in my chest and a weird burning sensation in my eyes.
Just like when Dad died.
But I would not cry. I wouldn’t, I couldn’t, I shouldn’t.
Asher had already moved to Ann Arbor and was attending the University of Michigan, so we didn’t hear much from him.
But I can’t stay here on my own, even though Mom said that if that’s what I wanted then I could rent out this place to a roommate. But I can’t. Bubba needs me. Mom needs me.
So I agreed to move to Houston. Away from my friends. Away from my teachers. Away from Arkansas.
Now how do I tell everyone?
I’m really nervous today. In my journal (not diary!) I decided I was going to confess. I was going to tell Phoebe how I felt.
And if she didn’t love me too, then so be it. Right?
No. It’s crazy. School year is almost over. I’ve got nothing left to lose. Right?
It’s still making my hand shaky. What if she rejects me? What if everyone finds out and laughs at me? But I won’t cry. Right?
I practiced last night. I got this.
I’m going to rehearse my lines. Great idea, Callum!
Hi Phoebe! I just wanted to let you know that I’m in love with you.
Ew. What on Earth was that?
Can’t believe I’m going crazy over a girl.
Hey Phoebe. I’ve been thinking, maybe we should take it to the next level.
And then imagine she says, “Oh yea sure! We should totally be friends!”
Then I would feel so dumb. Argh!
What’s up Phoebe? I was wondering, and you don’t have to answer right away, but, maybe we could try being together?
Umm. I can’t tell if that’s better or worse.
And then we’re here.
And she’s standing outside. Staring at me. As if she was… waiting for me?
She’s biting her lower lip as I walk up to her and she won’t meet my eyes anymore.
“Hey, Phoebe.” I say.
“I’m fine. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Well, I need to tell you something.”
This wasn’t in any of my trashy scripts. “Yes, Phoebe?”
“Callum, I’m…” She begins.
In love with me? Is she confessing first? Did she actually like me?
“I’m moving to Houston.” She says in a rush. “Sorry, but I can’t tutor you anymore. But I talked to Ali and she said that she can tutor you. Her grades are practically as good as mine and I know how much you like science, even if you’re barely passing.” She looks away.
I can’t believe it. Phoebe. Is. Moving.
To Houston, no less!
“I-I… I don’t know what to say.” I take one of her hands.
“Phoebe… I don’t really like science.” I start.
She jerks her head up. “Then why are you always so happy during our tutoring sessions?”
“It’s not science I’m amazed by. Phoebe, I love you.”
It felt like I was being dragged under an enormous boulder and then hauled into quicksand, slowly being buried until I couldn’t breathe anymore.
“You…you…” I stuttered.
“Shh.” Callum put a finger to my lips. But I didn’t feel any butterflies. I couldn’t appreciate the hopeful expression in his face.
Because I don’t love him.
And I can’t, even if I wanted to.
Because I’ll never see him again.
“Callum, I… I’m sorry.”
I thought about Pepsi, and the way his head went limp.
I thought about Asher, and the way I might have never seen him again.
I thought about dad, and the sinking feeling in my chest when he told me he loved e for the last time.
I thought about all the heartaches and strains and times I've tried to stay stable and solid.
And then it hit me. Everything came crashing in, like a tidal wave of sorrow and sadness and anguish and grief and distress and all of the times I've tried not to cry.
And then I burst into tears.