Many people spend their entire lives searching for “the one.” But for some men, “the one that got away” is the more visceral love story. (Some guys call their lost loves “the white buffalo” or “the white whale,” though we’d probably steer clear of such unflattering, if literary, terms.) It’s no wonder a missed connection, a profound relationship or even a memorable one-night stand can inspire a lifetime of regret. Here’s one such story.
I was traveling to Park City, Utah with a few friends. I was 16, and it was the first time most of us, including myself, had been allowed to travel alone. We’d told our parents that we were just going on a ski trip, which we were. But what we didn’t tell them — in part because we didn’t fully realize it ourselves — was that the trip was more of an excuse to party, free from chaperones and curfews.
A few minutes after we waved goodbye to our parents, bottles of beer were pulled out from inside backpacks, flasks were pulled out of pockets and I saw a guy pull a blunt out of a highlighter. By 6 a.m., the entire bus was drunk and stoned.
At some point everyone tried to sleep in their own corners. That’s when I saw Julianna* sitting across from me, next to her blonde friend who was already talking to my friend Sid. Eventually, I worked my way into their conversation; from that point on, I could tell there was a connection. We talked on and off during the eight-hour drive from Los Angeles to Park City. I’m a shy person, so once we got to the hotel, I didn’t ask for her number. But I knew that Sid had gotten her friend’s number so it wouldn’t be the last time I’d see her.
That night, there was an event hosted by the organization that put together the trip. When I got there, Julianna grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the dance floor. She danced in my arms until we kissed, and she whispered in my ear that she wanted to get away from everyone. I took her to a nearby stairwell. After all, she was a senior in high school and I was only a sophomore — stairwells were still iconic.
While we were making out, she kept biting my lip — something I’d never experienced before. She would suck on it for a couple of seconds and then chomp down as though she was trying pull away chunks of flesh. I found it extremely sexy. The only problem was that a week before the trip I had been sucker-punched by a kid at school and I had six or seven stitches on the inside of my lip. It was like picking a scab. It hurt but you can’t stop because it also feels good.
When we got back to the party, she wanted to play this game where we’d put on sumo wrestling suits and wrestle each other. It was an awkward turn of events considering just a minute ago I’d had my hands down her pants, fingering her in the stairwell. But there again was her smile and for that I could oblige.
We left the party together and had that typical movie scene night where you stay up together until the sun comes up talking about everything and nothing.
The next day while on the slopes, my friend Sid told me that he had some bad news about Julianna: She was a lesbian. I’m not sure what it was about that moment that caused a momentary twitch in my brain, maybe it was the altitude, but I believed him. It helped that a few of my other friends, including her friend, were in on the joke. So when Julianna joined us for lunch that day, we barely spoke and I started to wonder how much of the night before was real and how much of it I had imagined.
It wasn’t until after lunch that Sid told me he was joking around and that Julianna wasn’t a lesbian. She did, however, have a boyfriend. At that point I was so relieved I thought, “Okay, cool, the boyfriend thing we can get past.” But I didn’t see her for the rest of the day.
The following morning, which was our last, I ended up breaking my finger snowboarding. On the bus ride back back, I sat next to Julianna, and it was then that she revealed that she had a boyfriend who was in college. My first reaction was, “Sweet, I just hooked up with a girl who’s two years older and whose boyfriend is in college.” She also told me that she didn’t want to be with him anymore. I don’t remember much of what else we talked about during that drive home. It didn’t matter. I was suspended in this irresistible feeling — I could have sat on that bus for the rest of my life.
When we got back to the parking lot, I gave her a hug goodbye and she gave me her phone number. I didn’t know then, but that was the last time I saw her.
We chatted a few times on MySpace and AIM. She told me she broke up with her boyfriend and asked if I could hang out one night. Immature fool that I was, I tried to play it cool, so I canceled on her last-minute. I don’t even remember what excuse I had come up with. After that, I tried texting her but I never heard back.
A year later, I was sitting on the couch watching a show on the Disney Channel when I realized one of the characters with an excruciatingly awful foreign accent is none other than Julianna — the girl who Sumo-slammed me. I tried reaching out to her one last time after that, but again, radio silence.
Nowadays, in between relationships, I catch myself looking her up on Instagram to see what she’s up to. Or an old friend will bring up that trip and I’ll be reminded of her.
Not too long ago, she acted in some stupid play off the Hunger Games. I watched the trailer. Another time, she was dressed in lingerie for an episode of Desperate Housewives. That was tough to watch, though I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
I will say this though — more than a decade removed from the first time I met her — I’m still optimistic our paths will one day cross again. We’re both in similar industries. I’m a model and she’s an actress, so you never know. But if by some miracle we were to see each other again, I don’t think I’ll be the one to reach out. That would just be creepy.
— Chase, as told to Andrew Fiouzi
*Names were changed.