Sick With Love | Madi Altman

Cover art by Jackie Kim

I had just gotten home from work with a 6-piece Chicken McNugget, medium fry, and large Coke from McDonald’s. It was my only meal I would have eaten that day.

It was 8:30pm.

It wasn’t like Hallmark was bustling with elders trying to buy cards for every special occasion occurring within the next five years that I barely had enough time for my 20 minute break. I still took my break per my coworker’s request. Diane was always looking out for me. I just didn’t pack anything to eat for dinner. I was too heartbroken to eat, as cheesy as that sounds.

My boyfriend of a week and a half –– yes, we only dated for a week and a half –– had just broken up with me over text a few days prior. He was the first boy I have ever had a real relationship with and felt an actual connection with. I thought we were both in it for the long run, considering those were his exact words to me when we first started dating.

I first met him five years ago when I was a freshman in high school and he was a senior. He was a guest performer at my studio for our annual performance of The Nutcracker. I thought he was the cutest boy ever. I understood that he was too old and mature for me at the time and he ended up dating one of my fellow dancers who was also a senior in high school so I didn’t stand a chance. He graduated from high school and performed on a cruise ship for a few years while I finished up high school and my dance career came to an end. I never expected to see or hear from him again.

Flash forward to March 13, 2020 when I got sent home due to COVID-19. I was on Tinder at the time and was absentmindedly swiping through the local singles in my hometown after my return. I remember finding him, swiping right, and matching. I was completely and utterly shell-shocked. I messaged him first, thinking he wouldn’t remember who I was because I look much different from my brace-faced, awkward 15-year-old self, but he did. And he was interested.

We talked during the entire quarantine at all hours of the day. My crush for him came swinging back in, but it was different this time because I was actually getting to know him as a person. And he crushed on me, too. It was so easy talking to him; it had felt like second nature at some points, never finding a dull moment in our conversations. We filled each other in on our lives during the five years that we didn’t have contact with each other. He supported me wanting to become a doctor and I supported his choice to nix the college route, focusing on a trade. We talked about cars that he loved, shared music with each other, reminisced on the short time we danced together. He always mentioned dating and had big plans for us once the quarantine ended like going to the zoo, going on a picnic, even renting an Airbnb together. We ended falling for each other a little too fast, but hey, that’s what happens when you’re young, dumb, and bored in the middle of a global pandemic.

After months of texting, FaceTiming, and promising that we will hang out soon, we finally met up at a local park. I was a mess of nerves on my drive there, but when we locked eyes, I immediately felt my usual pent-up anxiety dissipate. He made me calm. We spent six hours just talking at a picnic table on our first date. It was my favorite date I had ever been on. After a month of going on dates and hanging out, he asked me to be his girlfriend and I obviously said yes.

A week had passed as an official couple and we went to the drive-in theater together.

A week after that, he texted me saying that he just wanted to be friends.

He texted me that he still wanted to hang out.

He said that he still loved me.

So a few days later, I sat at my kitchen countertop after my shift at Hallmark with tears streaming down my face, my McDonald’s growing cold on my plate because I couldn’t stomach anything. I couldn’t stop thinking about him and what could have been. He knew this was my first relationship. He knew about my anxiety and that I didn’t trust easily, but I trusted him with my life. He knew I was willing to do just about anything for him, as I thought he would have for me.

Where did I go wrong? Was he lying when he said it was him not me? Did he think that maybe we could date again in the future when we’re both ready? Was I not mature enough? Did he mean it when he said he loved me?

Did he ever love me?

I choked out a loud sob into the silence of my house, my meal long forgotten as I mumbled to myself,

I still love him.

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