The Ice Girl

Here is where we last left high-school Brenna: she’s just been asked out on her first-ever date and now, in the privacy of her physics notebook, she is hastily backpedaling.

On the surface though, everything looks neat and under control. Smooth as glass.

The date goes down like this:

Dill shows up at my house precisely on time. He wears matching shoes because he wants to make a good impression on my parents. I don’t tell him that whatever impression he makes will have nothing to do with shoes and everything to do with whether or not he strikes them as being interesting.

The movie is enjoyable. There is popcorn, which I like. (Soccer season has started, and I’m perpetually starving.) Dill is polite, entertaining, and very much a gentleman. When the movie is over, he asks if I want to hang out for awhile and get to know each other, and even though my interest in kissing has kind of evaporated, I say yes.

So instead of taking me straight home, he pulls into one of the scenic overlooks above the city, where upperclassmen go to flail around in the back seat and grope each other.

I consider this. Even at her most flustered, new Assertive Brenna has a certain coolness, a chilly mantle of calculation. She is self-possessed. She is completely without diplomacy.

“I’m not going to make out with you,” I said. “I don’t know you very well.”

He laughed. “I didn’t bring you up here for that. Really, I meant I want to hang out. To talk.”

He was looking across the seat at me, smiling awkwardly, and he wasn’t even lying. Much.

But Dill is true to his word and doesn’t try to kiss me. Instead, he unbuckles his seatbelt, leans back, and starts to talk. And I spend the next two and a half hours feeling really, really happy. The city looks kind of glorious, lit up below us like a sea of colored sparks, and I’ve been waiting for months to have a conversation with someone who is not my sister.

It turns out that Dill is a lot of fun to talk to. He’s animated and enthusiastic and actually thinks about things like art and religion and philosophy.

There is, however . . . a problem.

The thing is, he doesn’t like people very much—not the way I like people, with a strange, uncomplicated like, where it doesn’t matter how selfish or misguided or messed-up they are.

You could name anyone in our class, and for the most part, I’d be able to tell you some captivating piece of trivia, some defining thing that I enjoy about them. With Dill, it kind of goes the other way. Name almost any person and chances are, he has a complaint—some old grievance, some time in junior high when they offended him or annoyed him or he thought they were ridiculous. He doesn’t even like TS, which I find incomprehensible, since she is both hilarious and one of the nicest people I know.

This, the way he finds fault with people, is troubling, and it makes it hard for me to tell him about the things I like, because no matter how many times he says I’m cool,* I have this nagging fear that if I keep talking, we’re eventually going to reach an awkward, empty place where I will say exactly what I’m thinking and he’s not going to understand.

This makes our conversation increasingly one-sided, until eventually, I shut him out completely.

“Tell me something about yourself,” he said.

“I like to draw.”

“That’s cool, but tell me something else.”

“I play soccer.”

“Look, I know that. I’m trying to get you to tell me something real. Something about you.”

“Sometimes,” I said, still looking away, “it starts to snow and I look out the window and wonder what it would be like, you know, to be a snowflake. Instead of a girl.”

“Jeez, that’s so cool.”

I pressed my nose against the window. “Why?”

“I mean, you think about stuff. Most people don’t. Most of the people at school are just stupid.”

“You really think so?”

“What, you think they’re smart?”

“I think they’re sixteen.”

He didn’t say anything.

When I tell him about the snowflakes, I’m not lying. I do think about being a snowflake. I also think about what if people emerged from chrysalises like butterflies and what if the planet lost its gravitational pull, and whether dogs have friends. But I say the thing about snowflakes because it seems tidy and simple and at least I won’t have to explain myself.

Okay, let’s back up. That’s not even close to a clear picture of the level of weirdness involved, so allow me to break it down: in my logic-addled brain, it seems much easier to tell a relative stranger that I sometimes anthropomorphize the weather than it is to admit that I spend a huge portion of my day imagining other people’s lives.

Dill, however, seems delighted by my affinity for snowflakes. He keeps saying how cool I am, which I’m forced to admit is amazingly gratifying, and I have the vague idea the maybe I’m not really being fair to him. After all, he seems like an excellent boyfriend in many ways—yes, some of them having to do with his biceps—and not everyone is going to share my pathological interest in what other people are doing.

He takes me home and walks me up to the door, but doesn’t ruin it by trying to kiss me. I go inside feeling torn. Dill is interesting and fun. He seems like a decent person and I’m relatively sure that I enjoy his company. But I also think there is only the faintest chance he’ll ever actually understand me.

Note that this does not in any way make me disinclined to keep seeing him. I’m determined to demystify dating if it takes every ounce of my intellectual resources. I am going to Win at Dating. With newfound resolve, I settle in and apply myself to the problem.

The prognosis is not good.

I’m trying to figure out what feels so wrong about it. It’s like maybe you should be friends at least, first. We’re not friends. We’ve spent a week playing badminton together in PE. What is that?

The thing about friends is this: Irish is my friend. I don’t like him better than as a friend. He is awkward and skinny and freckly, with big hands and feet, but the point is, he knows how to be my friend. I don’t talk to him for weeks, and then he comes up next to me when I’m walking and starts talking to me like we never actually stopped.

Last Friday, I was at my locker and he hit me on the shoulder and said, “Hey Buckaroo, you want some teriyaki rice?” and shoved half his lunch at me.

Yesterday, Dill had been walking with me, talking to me, and I was just being how I am and listening and when we split up and I was walking to class alone, Irish came up behind me and started talking and it was just so much easier, to be standing there in the hall with him and not trying to navigate “Girlfriend.”

Despite my obvious reservations, my pseudo-relationship with Dill persists for nearly two months. I’ll spare you the play-by-play. Suffice it to say, April rolls around and I’m still pretty much exactly where I started, taking stock of the situation almost every day, trying to decipher the complicated world of Boys.

Tensions are rising steadily, though not on my end. The thing is, I have a bad tendency to back away from anything that smacks of emotion, which in turn makes Dill needy, and then the situation just exacerbates itself. Basically, by April, we are spiraling down into an epic relationship death-plunge. We keep having these state-of-the-union talks and Dill demands to know where this is going, while I’m still back at the here-and-now, trying to figure out where I currently am.

In typical Brenna-fashion, I discuss the situation with myself constantly. Sometimes I make lists. They all reflect the numerous ways in which the outlook is not good.

[I have] a tall, good-looking boy with blue eyes and a strange smile, who calls me too much and sits next to me at lunch and will never make my heart beat faster, no matter how cool and funny and nice he is.

And I’ve even tried to tell him that, I’ve tried to explain. Every time he starts talking about relationships and us, I’ve tried to make him understand. But he just keeps saying we can make it work, all it takes is a little effort [. . .]

He’ll break up with me though. I know it. He has to. He’s had a lot of girlfriends and he never keeps them very long and I keep hiding my face when he looks like he might kiss me. I’m such a nerd. If he dumps me, that’s fine, that’s easy. That’s cowardly.

I like going out, with something to do on a Saturday night. I used to wish sometimes I was those girls, you know the ones. Now, I have a date every Saturday and most Fridays too, and Dill brings me flowers and it’s nice but not right. What I really want isn’t this.

I say this in black ink. In ballpoint pen. Without equivocation. I say it very clearly to the physics notebook, but never to Dill, never out loud. Because no matter how clearly I think I’m communicating, I’m . . . not. It doesn’t matter though. As usual, Dill is far more proactive than I am, and in another week, he takes matters into his own hands.

Dill’s going out with Christie now. If this were a movie, I would be upset, but instead it’s sort of close to funny. When I asked about it this morning, Catherine and Elizabeth told me the story like they were talking to a girl on her deathbed.

“Oh, Brinnie,**” Elizabeth whispered, looking like she might cry and I started laughing.

“What’s wrong with you?” Catherine said.

I took a long breath. “Just, thank God!”

And they just stared like they couldn’t believe I was real.

Catherine told me Dill still likes me, but probably wants to make me jealous or hurt my feelings. It all seems too much like a daytime drama. The only thing that bothers me is that he didn’t ever come out and tell me. But that’s so hypocritical, since I should have broken up with him a long time ago.

That’s right. Dill starts dating someone else without actually telling me. And instead of feeling hurt or confused or rejected, I find myself standing in the Language Arts hall at 7:30 in the morning, fabulously relieved that I don’t have to be the bad guy or take responsibility for the situation at all.

And if I feel just the smallest bit disappointed? Well, it’s due to a suspicion that I’ve somehow failed to master the mechanics of dating. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I leap to the conclusion that I have failed at relationships, not because maybe Dill just isn’t the person for me, but because Dating: I’m doing it wrong.

Now, in my grown-up life (equipped with the benefit of hindsight), I feel comfortable saying that it’s a little bit from Column A, a little from Column B.*** At the time, however, I conclude that my first foray into the world of boys has been an abject failure.

For his part, Dill is courteous. Respectful. He spends the next few weeks judiciously staying out of my way. (However, this will certainly not be the last time we see him.)


Okay you guys, the responses from last time were phenomenal, and I’d lovelovelove to hear more. I’m looking for stories, and they can be about romance, or break-ups, or anything you want to talk about. You’re more comfortable with a theme, you say? Then tell me about a time when you knew in your heart what you wanted and wow, your actual real-life behavior was not consistent with that.

Any reason counts—any circumstance or situation. Sometimes, we keep our true feelings to ourselves because for one reason or another, it seems necessary. Or, as in the case of Brenna and Dill’s not-so-fated romance . . . sometimes it’s just because we’re cautious and scientific and kind of selfish.

Update: Also, I just realized that this discussion topic is totally abstract, so in an effort to be more . . . concrete (?), I will change it!

Instead, tell me about your first break-up.

Unless it is too traumatizing. Then you don’t have to. But if it is somehow traumatizing *and* hilarious—well then, please consider sharing!

*And oh, I am cool. Just not in the way he means. I am liquid nitrogen. I am Freon gas. Hands to yourself, unless you’re in the mood for contact burns.

**Most-hated nickname of my entire life. Yet another thing I never actually, you know, told anyone.

***Okay, fine. More from Column A.

22 thoughts on “The Ice Girl

  1. I think you’re doing an excellent job, and REALLY? EVERY GIRL ANALYZES the first boyfriend thing like CRAZY. I cannot tell you how many hours I spent obsessing by myself/in my journal/over the internet/to my friends over pizza about FIRST BOYFRIEND. Although I married my SECOND boyfriend (ahaaha), I can still rember the blood coursing in my veins over the first one. Take it for what it is: an incredible experience as a human, trying to mesh yourself with another human, learning the give and take of relationships, and what it means to learn to care for someone in a romantic fashion. Sure it can be scary, but it can be SO much fun too. Listen to yourself though, if it gets too uncomfortable, it’s okay that you end it. Even if you think you’re just being paranoid. BEST of luck, loving reading about your romance =)

    • Although at this point it probably goes without saying that I did *not* marry my first boyfriend (or my second, actually), I did marry my college sweetheart, so there’s something to be said for that kind of young, idealistic love.
      It’s funny, I used to be so wary about people seeing me at my worst, but now that my career periodically involves a whole parade of various unattractive behaviors (pacing frantically, talking to myself, staying up for days, eating cookies as meals), it’s nice to feel like my husband knows me well enough to just keep calm and carry on. After all, he’s seen me when I was in grad school—he’s prepared to handle anything!

        • If my husband could handle me through architecture school… boy, I don’t think kids are going to be an issue!
          Haha—yes! It’s very comforting to have weathered a crisis or two and seen how it can all play out :)

  2. OMG, I know that feeling of relief so well! I dated someone who was completely wrong for me, and when he eventually broke up with me, I was ecstatic. I was relieved to be done with him, and I was relieved that I didn’t have to be the one to dump him. It was glorious.

    • It’s funny how that works! Even when I *knew* that I was being totally unfair and passive, I absolutely didn’t want to be the one to instigate a breakup and be “mean.”
      (Well, apparently Dill didn’t want to either, since no breakup was initiated by either party, but . . .)
      Overall, I think it worked out well :)

  3. I wanted to say here too that I love these. Of course, they’re incredibly insightful; but the reason I love them is because they put me right in my own high school mindset. As I’m in the middle of a new draft, this is so, so helpful. Thanks for inadvertently helping me relive my awkward romance year(s). :D
    And I think I could tell you a million stories of love/loss/lust. Okay, maybe not a million, but enough. We should find Syl and have lunch soon.

    • Aw, thanks! I definitely find that writing them gets me thinking about all kinds of high school elements that had just sort of slipped my mind over the years.
      Good luck with the draft—and yes, we should definitely get together soon, grab coffee, lunch, commandeer Syl!

  4. i wish high school dating had been like that for me. instead, after my first boyfriend in the new school i was at dumped me because i wouldn’t put out, i spent my time going to concerts, listening to music on my cd-walkman in the hallways, and hanging out with all sorts of different people, and my grandmother. i didn’t navigate the ways of the boy untill i was a bit older. in fact, i didn’t really DATE untill i met my husband. this is just because i have a horrible, horrible track record with men in general (sexually abusive stepfather, first boyfriend in high school dumped me cos i wasn’t a slut), and was perfectly happy to stay away from boys unless they didn’t want anything from me.
    i kinda feel bad because i DID marry my second boyfriend… when i was 31. but then again, he is the best apple in the entire bunch. :)
    i love these entries, Brenna. you should turn them into a story. :)

    • Whenever I think back on my high-school dating experiences, I really do feel like I dodged the jackass-bullet. I was lucky enough to only date and hang around with boys who were generally just really GOOD guys. Even the guys I didn’t date—the ones who were just my friends—were quality for sure, and having watched some of the stuff other girls went through, it’s something I’ve always been grateful for!
      (Also, all things being equal, I haven’t really dated much either—I married my first serious boyfriend, and couldn’t be happier about it!)

      • hehe. :) if i really think about it, i dated that arseface in high school for about 3 weeks. thats not serious. so i did also marry my first serious boyfriend. :) and im extremely happy about it. next week we’ll celebrate our 2 year anniversary of being together, and then in September our 1st wedding anniversary.
        all in all, im kinda glad i didn’t meet Anthony (my husband) untill i was 30. my 20’s were really messed up! lol :) <3
        i had guy friends in high school, and they were good guys as well. like i said, because they didn’t want anything from me!! :) but most of the dateable guys in high school were jerks. i dont know if they make them different in Wisconsin or what…. i had to come all the way to England to find my husband! lol :) <3

  5. Ohh… my first breakup was horribly awkward but not a great story so I’ll go with my second.
    I was a senior in high school. My boyfriend and I were introduced by a mutual friend. There were a lot of things wrong, in retrospect, but it was my first experience really dating someone and I didn’t know for awhile how bad it was. We dated for four months.
    Following your example, I found my journal from that time. This is one thing I wrote (there is A LOT as I tried to analyze it all):
    “He deserves someone who will love him in every way, who would never settle for being friends with him. […] There is something missing in what we have and there’s nothing I can do about it, and nothing he can do about it.”
    I didn’t break up with him, actually, because I didn’t know how. Instead, I avoided seeing him for several weeks until he started the “this isn’t working out” conversation and then we “agreed” to break up. A year later we had a huge fight and from then on he has refused to speak to me and refers to me only as “the b****.” I probably deserve that, but, in my defense, he got very good at bringing it out in me.

    • I didn’t break up with him, actually, because I didn’t know how.
      This—I totally, totally get this. And that journal excerpt is great! I remember having so many of those same kind of self-aware interior thoughts, and not having any idea how to connect them with my real life. It was like if I just thought hard enough, the things I knew I should be doing would manifest without, you know, me having to DO anything.
      I will say that Dill and did I wind up having several almost-blowouts over the years, but really, God he was a good sport!

  6. Nope. It never gets better as you get older.
    I have never actually broken up with a boyfriend… I guess since I never, ever, *officially* HAD a boyfriend. Anyone who could have fit in that category we just eventually went our own ways and no one was ever too broken up about it.
    The closest thing to the “boyfriend” that I did have was my best friend since ninth grade. His name is Tom Sawyer. (no joke) and we did everything together, even through all of my fickle crushes and high school dramas he was there, and somewhere in all those years there came a day when I needed a boyfriend. The boy from another of my comments on a previous post, my first official kiss, was being an a$$ and asked if I wanted to do something after school and I said “No, Tom and I are celebrating our anniversary.” Boy #1 got this quizzical look on his face and I followed up with “Yeah, we’ve been dating for a couple of months now. Maybe if you’d talked to me you’d have known.”
    I really just wanted to hurt his feelings because I was feeling spiteful towards his disregard for me. So after choir class was over I bounded down the risers and grabbed Tom’s arm and said to him: “If anyone asks, you’re my boyfriend and we’ve been dating for a few months.”
    After that point, Tom was basically my boyfriend. I mean none of our usual behaviors changed, and he never did kiss me, but he did take me to our Senior Prom. (that was nice.) eventually his family moved out of state and I was left behind where I met my now husband, but still thought I loved Tom… well, three years later we all realized what we wanted out of life and I got married and Tom walked away gracefully. There was never any break-up or talk or anything. It all worked out…
    Then, fast forward five years – I’m happily married and tom and I still talk periodically and one day, out of the blue. Tom calls and we chit chat and he tells me he has a date and I ask “what’s her name?” and he says “Mark.” And suddenly I realized that he is totally gay and THAT to me was *THE BREAK UP TALK.* Like he’d been sitting on this news for years and just let it fester. Would you believe that I felt totally dumped by this news? Like our whole relationship had really just been a lie. Heck. There was a point I seriously considered marrying him. I held on to my composure during the conversations, but once it was over I burst into tears… (and then again for several days, maybe weeks afterwards.) Of course, my husband was totally jealous that I was so crushed over it, but I had to let my silly girl heart run it’s course of the break up news.

    • Re: Nope. It never gets better as you get older.
      Is it bad that I laughed out loud over this? Because I totally did. Because I love this version of the break-up talk, and the fact that against all reason, sometimes it’s the least personal things that have the ability to smack us in the face and make us feel like the whole world is ending.
      When I was in high school, I did eventually get a very-best-friend, and he was a guy, and my Sense of Betrayal moment actually came when—after a year—I learned that he *wasn’t* gay. But I think that says more about me leaping to wild conclusions than about him being dishonest . . .

      • Re: Nope. It never gets better as you get older.
        No, it’s not wrong. Go ahead and laugh. I can laugh about it now, but it did take a while. :)
        I’m constantly told that my “gay-dar” is broken since 3 of my guy frinds have all come out in the last few years.

  7. Not so much a break-up story, but….
    After reading your high school entries, I decided to go back through my old high school journals. Cue cringing and awful hysterical laughter. So, so many break up stories. And they all seem to follow the same pattern: ‘He deserves someone who can put up with him; who’s older; who has more time” etc, etc. There was one about a guy who wanted me to wait the four years while he was in the service. That one went “he deserves someone who has nothing to do for the next four years.”
    It’s interesting, isn’t it, that when we need to justify why we break up with someone, we talk about what HE deserves, rather than what we deserve. Or maybe that’s just me.
    In any case, the story I have isn’t necessarily a break up story, since the break up actually happened about a year before this happened:
    During my senior year, the high school decided to rebuild. There’s a rumor that my high school was designed by someone used to building high-security prisons, so imagine two-foot thick concrete walls, absolutely no windows (this made lockdowns really really dark), and rows of lockers that tended to fall over because the school wasn’t actually built for lockers… So rebuilding commences – while we’re still attending school – so they stick us all in trailers. Some of the trailers are nice and connected, and we stay dry as we walk to and from class. Some of the trailers are connected by narrow wooden bridges, where the water leaks in and you can smell the mud from underneath. It’s on one of these bridges that I run into one of my friends.
    We haven’t seen each other for awhile, and she starts to tell me about her new boyfriend, who’s wonderful and she really likes him, etc.
    I ask, logically I thought, what his name was.
    “Oh Horse*,” she says.
    “Horse what?”
    She tells me his last name. I look at her. She looks at me. Finally, I say something along the lines of, “He has a beard, right?”
    Outside its raining pretty hard. I remember there was rain leaking through the cracks of our narrow wooden bridge. The late bell is ringing and people are running past us, slipping on the wood, and still we’re just standing there, and finally it clicks.
    “Wait,” she says. “YOUR Horse?”
    Because of course she’s already heard about Horse from me. She was there when we dated, the first time we broke up, the second time we broke up. She was there when I debated how long to stay with him. If I should stay with him through the summer. And all this time, we didn’t realize.
    I nod. “My Horse.”
    She starts hyperventilating. I start laughing. And we spend the next hour and a half in the guidance office being offered “guidance” on how to deal with this situation. In my journal that night I write, “Honestly, I find the whole thing hilarious and think it would make a great scene for a move or a book. Better as a movie. I should write a screenplay.”
    In retrospect, I can’t tell if that’s sarcasm marring my “I should write a screenplay” or if it’s honest-to-goodness, I’m okay with this mess.
    Maybe it was what I needed to actually get over the guy. To find out he was already with my best friend. Strange how these things happen.

    • Re: Not so much a break-up story, but….
      Oh, I should note that Horse wasn’t actually his name. His name was Sam, but I already took care of a horse named Sam, so I often referred to him as Horse…

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