It’s true that I never thought I’d write a love story. The mechanics of romance just never interested me in quite the same way that dissection or cage-fighting did. It’s not that I’m a huge pragmatist, or even very morbid. It’s just that as a teenager, I viewed relationships as a recreational indulgence. And, admittedly, I prided myself on being far more cynical than I actually was. But now, I’m writing this YA romance (bizarre, right?) and I can’t stop thinking about it, because the implications are just so fascinating.
I’m coming to believe that while the adult heart is complicated in its functions, it’s essentially an orderly structure. Like a textbook diagram, it illustrates basic principles, and though its complexity may be daunting, I suspect that some people do become experts, surgical masks at the ready, scalpels in hand.
The adolescent heart is different. It seems to more closely resemble a piece of religious iconography. Structurally, the design is simple. No chambers, no valves or aortas, just a chunk of muscle the size of your fist. Often on fire, it mystifies the scientific mind. Bristling with arrows and unidentified protrusions, it bleeds on a regular basis. Sometimes, it’s wreathed in thorns.
I don’t pretend to understand the actual physics of the flaming heart. At 15, I figured out that sharing infatuations was a way of socializing—that the answers you gave didn’t matter. It was simply about the act of conspiring. When other girls asked for confessions, I deflected. I had a smile that pleaded sincerity. It said, I am a forthright, honest girl who is telling you everything. Once, for roughly eight months, I let everyone around me believe that I was very taken with the star of the debate team, because that somehow seemed preferable to revealing the boy I was actually interested in. I realize this is strange behavior, but I was not the kind of girl who named names, and I’m beginning to think that’s not unusual.
There’s the other kind of teenager, of course; the 17-year-old who declares passionate and undying love, gazing raptly on bent knee, and then declares it again two months later to someone else. One of my best friends was the declaration-type, desperate over the captain of the soccer team one week, and preferring the drummer in jazz-band the next. We strategized together, planning conversations and chance meetings, and it was entertaining and satisfying. She liked the conquest. I liked the logistics, the tactical reconnaissance, but mostly I liked how safe it was to borrow someone else’s infatuation. I was the lieutenant with the clipboard and the diagrams—high involvement and low risk.
So, now I’m starting to admit that this is interesting to me—high school romance—the pursuit, but more importantly, the delicate cultivation of subterfuge and denial. When I was 17, one of my favorite words was obfuscation. I’ve always been interested in the keeping of secrets.
The story itself is messier and meaner than it first appeared, and becoming more complicated by the second. But maybe that’s just what happens when your starting question is a simple one:
What would you do if you could do anything you wanted and there was no risk involved? And then, what if it turned out that there was?