From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul on Love & Friendship

What I Really Learned in

World Geography

Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit.

Kahlil Gibran

The heavyset, middle-aged teacher scrawled his name across the dusty chalkboard as I studied my new classmates that agonizing first day of school. I felt like a kindergartner again. In reality, I was much older and all too familiar with the mass chaos that comes around every August. There was something about my third-period class, however, that told me my life was about to take a dramatic turn.

At the age of sixteen, I was just beginning my junior year, which meant rigorous studies in advanced placement computer science, physics, precalculus and, well, world geography, a course I’d somehow missed taking as a freshman.

During my first few moments in the class, it was exactly what I had anticipated—freshman guys and girls leaping wildly from seat to seat, endlessly chattering about “how different it was from junior high.”

Just as I was reluctantly preparing for a semester of childish pranks, the class suddenly became much more appealing.

“Hey, Rosalinda, you’re in this class, too?” asked a boy’s voice that grew louder as he approached the skinny, pig-tailed girl seated in front of me. From what I gathered, the girl was Rosalinda, and he was one of her freshman friends.

In my relatively short life, never had I been so intrigued by a person as I was when that boy walked through the doorway. At five feet, four inches and about 125 pounds, Ethan had an aura about him. His skin was smooth and very fair, almost gleaming. His hair was a rich shade of brown and shinier than most girls’ locks, with subtle golden highlights and perfectly spaced spikes at the crown.

Ethan was not beautiful in the way that most teenage girls think of Leonardo DiCaprio or even one of those boy band singers; he was a true original. His eyes, blue like midnight in the country and green as a sparkling emerald lagoon, were like nothing I’d ever seen before. They were reminiscent of a baby’s—wide-eyed, innocent and glowing.

From the very moment I laid eyes on him, I was drawn to examine his every move. Ethan may have been physically breathtaking, but his mannerisms fascinated me, as well.

I found Ethan’s walk particularly amusing. He strutted with a seemingly intentional limp, as if one leg stretched just a millimeter or so longer than the other. His walk was almost funny, but only if you paid as close attention as I did. It certainly made him unique.

As the tranquil autumn days wore on and my fellow world geography students became better acquainted with one another, casual friendships developed within the confines of room 522, namely my own with Ethan.

Slowly but surely, I became familiar with the dynamics of the boy whom I’d only weeks before admired from afar. Ethan possessed a genuinely giving heart behind that endearingly quirky smile. Our conversations flowed like a smooth piano melody after weeks of rehearsal.

The moon vaguely shone in the darkening sky that late September evening when Ethan first called me from his house, which, as it turned out, was not too far from mine. My feelings for him were becoming stronger. I was on top of the world and feeling as if thousands of angels had lifted my heart into the clouds and fluttered their velvet-soft wings against its glimmering surface. For the first time in my life, I felt an incredible surge of energy pulsating throughout my body. Something amazing was happening to me.

Ethan wasn’t like any boy I’d ever known. The way he dressed (like every day was a special occasion), the way he laughed (like a clown who’s had too much sugar), even the awkward way he pronounced his words were all his own. Everything I learned about Ethan made me twice as anxious to learn something else.

Establishing a relationship, however, would not be so simple. Our age difference of one year, seven months and thirteen days was magnified about thirty times in the eyes of our judgmental classmates. A junior girl dating a freshman guy was unprecedented and utterly incomprehensible, especially since my favorite pair of sneakers put me about a half-inch taller than him. For some reason, such details never seemed to interfere with Ethan’s adoration for me.

Every day I debated the significance of those details, and every day I remained indecisive. I pursued an answer for nearly two months, continually asking myself if outward appearance and age actually overpowered real, true emotions. Ethan just listened as I poured out my fears over the phone, sometimes late at night.

The moment of truth came after Thanksgiving. I had spent the holiday at home with only my cat and a collection of my favorite television shows on tape. Ethan celebrated the holiday with his family at an uncle’s house, somewhere up north. He was out of town for nearly a week. Never before did I realize what missing a person truly felt like. Along with everything Ethan had become in my heart, he was also my best friend. A part of me felt as if it had drifted off into space, leaving only a cold, sore wound when he was away.

I remember how delighted I was to hear the first tones of his voice when he returned home late Sunday night. I was so happy, in fact, that all of my doubts about the potential for a relationship had dissolved into thin air. Finally, I was ready to accept my feelings for him with open arms, and he reciprocated.

Like even the happiest of couples, Ethan and I were not without our troubles, but I was rewarded in ways I never knew possible when I was with him. Ethan taught me the power of courage, trust and, most importantly, that what lies in the heart exceeds all else.

Cortney Martin

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