The first time I set eyes on Zola*, I wondered if she was a celebrity. All of the other girls in my sober house gathered in a circle, engrossed in whispered conversation when she arrived. Who is she? Is she famous or something? I bet she’s a bitch. Zola casually stepped out of a limousine, adorned by a pair of oversized sunglasses. She slid them down the bridge of her nose while biting her bottom lip and glancing at the crowd of standing clichés. She shrugged her shoulders. Gossip didn’t phase her in the slightest.
I think it’s fair to say that even the most beautiful humans would envy her flawless skin and perfectly placed freckles. When I looked at her, the whole room seemed to disappear. But with Zola, it wasn’t just about her looks. She was intimidatingly cool — confident. Her “I don’t give a f*ck what the world thinks of me” demeanor was enticing as all hell. She wore ripped black skinny jeans, a free-flowing crop top (sporting the name of some indie rock band no one’s ever heard of), and apple red flats. A rush of sensations suddenly took hold of me — a wondrous combination of excitement, curiosity, and lust.
She and I officially met the following day. We were temporarily residing in a sober house in Boca Raton, Florida. I nervously asked if she was a wealthy YouTube personality or someone of great importance to the world. Giggling flirtatiously and twirling her rich brunette curls, she replied: “No, thank God.” Zola didn’t blend in well with societal norms. She was eccentric and worldly but never pretentious. She was unique and sexy in a punk rock band sort of way. I’d never met anyone quite like her, unrivaled and unique as a blue diamond.
We understood each other; she and I spoke the same language of life. Over the course of one week, we bonded closely. As our friendship evolved, we turned out to be best friends and even roommates. She introduced me to classic American literature like Kerouac and Thompson. My love for classic rock is undoubtedly an homage to Zola. I can remember us singing “Isis” by Bob Dylan on a lazy afternoon. She memorized every last lyric. I lounged poolside watching her, entranced, studying the nuances of her body language. Zola became one with the music, dancing freely, the way the hippies once had at Woodstock. The witchery of her beauty was casting a spell on me.
She was my confidante, my mentor, my secret crush. I’d dated girls in my teenage years, but not any who could compare to Zola. She was an old soul, one who would’ve fared better in a kinder generation. Boasting a high intellect, immense empathy, and a keen insight into the human condition, she qualified as different — special. Sadly, she was at a constant war with herself, battling the deep depression that plagued her. My sweet Zola ruminated on the true meaning of life, trying to understand its purpose — her purpose. Day by day, I was falling more and more in love with her.
She was an advocate for free love. I mistakenly assumed she’d be open to the idea of being with a woman. One evening, we snuggled up in a hammock, talking. We were surrounded by towering palm trees and the soothing buzz of the cicadas. A burst of euphoria exploded through my veins when I felt the warmth of her skin pressed up against mine. The timing felt so right, so natural. The moon lit up the entire sky like a firework show arranged just for us. Several moments of nervous hesitation later, I decided to make a move. I brushed the curls that were flowing onto her shoulders behind her gauged ears. My heart pounded so loudly, I could hear it ringing in my ears. I wondered if she heard it, too. I delicately brushed my lips against hers, like butterfly wings — just long enough to inhale her breath.
When I kissed her, she anxiously jumped up and asked me what I was thinking. The smell of her raspberry chapstick lingered long after she rejected my advance. How had I misread the situation so badly? Zola seemed to feel bad and even blamed herself for unintentionally misleading me. She stumbled over her words, trying to provide me an explanation. I did my best to pay attention, but my mind distracted me, shouting words of criticism: “You’re a failure. A moron. Of course, she’d never go for you. What were you thinking, Megan?” I’m unable to recall all the words she spoke, but her speech went something like, “You are my friend — best friend. I’m just not into girls like that. I’m sorry; I’m sorry.” And bam, there it was. The first woman I’d ever fallen deeply in love with had tragically confirmed herself as straight. My heart shattered like the vase I later smashed on the floor while my tears uncontrollably fell down my face and onto the glass shards.
My failed attempt to romance her didn’t destroy our friendship. In the two months that followed, we remained besties and roommates — the same way we were before the hammock and moonlight and cicadas. We never mentioned that night, and I knew this was the closest we’d ever be. Zola was straight; I was friends-only material. My feelings didn’t just dwindle away after she proclaimed her heterosexuality. I tried refocusing my priorities, priding myself on my newfound sobriety from my former heroin addiction. Yet, the further I distanced myself from drugs, the more I noticed her intoxicating me. I was hooked.
Today, it is 10 years later. With the exception of one brief relapse, I remained sober after returning home to New York. Zola started using again the same day she was released. We stayed in touch for a few years, and admittedly, I yearned for the days when we were together all the time. I miss her laugh, wit, knowledge, and platonic embraces. I miss her. I haven’t heard from her in seven years. I wonder if she’s okay. Is she alive? Sober? Happy? Overdosed and dead? I may never know the answers, and that kills me. I’ve googled her name countless times, but to no avail. She was never fond of social media, and I suppose she still isn’t.
Not a single week goes by where she doesn’t enter my mind in one way or another. Forgetting her is as impossible as denying her existence. I still remember the first time I laid eyes on her, as she stepped out of the limo wearing her favorite sunglasses. On the off-chance that you’re reading this, Zola: I know you’re straight, but I’m still in love with you anyway.
* Name has been changed.