First Prize: Snapshots Of A Summer

Eddie Virgo

Through dense fog, Sylvia and I ran down the barren street. It must have been four in the morning, yet neither of us showed signs of weariness. From above, we could hear the distant rumbling of thunder.

“C’mon,” said Sylvia, “Let’s get inside.” Grabbing hold of my hand, she took off running for the door of the newly constructed dormitory, laughing along the way. I gazed admiringly at her, wondering how on earth I could have gotten as lucky as I did. Our hobbies, personalities, and even tastes in music and film complimented each other in a way that even married couples would envy.

For all our similarities, however, there were stark differences in how we were raised. I was brought up in an upper-middle class background by two well educated and well off parents who cared for me greatly. I cared about others, and I cared about myself. I understood that happiness does not and should not depend on the person you are with, but rather stem from your heart—a lesson I had learnt from my previous (rather unhealthy) relationship in high school.

Sylvia on the other hand, was raised in a toxic environment where her parents ridiculed her and psychologically abused her throughout her entire childhood, which, as unfortunate as it is typical, led to her attempted suicide at age 15. From there, she landed in one unhealthy relationship after another.

It was still quite late, and Sylvia and I were lying on the floor of my room, staring at the occasional cars that meandered up and down the street. Our faces were illuminated by sheer, pale moonlight—and both were streaming with tears.

“Why are you crying?” asked Sylvia.

“Why are you crying?” I laughed, realising I was not alone. We needn’t ask each other, for we both knew why: it was to be our last few hours together for over three months. Summer was beginning.

Neither of us could sleep, so we spent the night talking. As dawn approached, the subject turned to our previous relationships.

“The worst was Seth,” Sylvia explained.

“What do you mean?” I asked, absentmindedly twirling a strand of her blonde hair in the moonlight. The girl sat upright. She spoke calmly:

Seth was the captain of the rowing team, and with a muscular build and a smooth personality, he was able to walk into a room and start up a conversation with anyone. When he singled me out to talk to that night at that one party one of my friends was hosting, I almost died, I was so happy. We chatted a bit for that night, and started seeing each other regularly after that.

For a while, he and I had a normal relationship—(and with a personality like his, my parents absolutely adored him—still do, in fact). He would drive me to and from school, give my mom flowers on her birthday, help out around the house, you know… Well it wasn’t too long before things started shifting. He started to get more forceful with what he wanted to do (and when he wanted to do it). My parents, being blind as bats to the kind of person he was turning into, wouldn’t hear a word against him.

“C’mon, let’s go to the pier,” he said one afternoon. “Some of my friends have some weed and want to share it with us.”

“Seth, you know I don’t like that stuff,” I said defensively. It wasn’t that I had some big moral issue with it; I’m just the type who gets paranoid after more than two hits. I told him this—he knew this—but he wouldn’t hear a word against it.

“Why do you have to be so insensitive?” he asked, poking me with the words he knew would hurt me most. “Can’t you just take one for the team and come along?” Needless to say, we eventually went.

This is just one event in a slew of a bunch that just shows how manipulative he could be, but…well, you catch my drift.

Or what about the other time when he was going to get his tattoo (a colourful boating tattoo on his forearm—to give him credit, it was pretty cool looking) and he wanted me to come with him? I had a practice that day, which when I told him about it, he responded with the usual “you’re-being-insensitive” line. And yeah, practice got cancelled that day.

I dunno. I just didn’t feel like I could do anything or be who I wanted to be around him. Everything had to go through him, and I couldn’t do anything he didn’t want me to.

By this point I was sitting up too, following her story with rapt attention.

“Why couldn’t you just walk out?” I interrupted.

“Well I did eventually, but he was the kind of guy who didn’t make it easy for me to leave… Sorry!” she exclaimed suddenly, nearly jumping up from the floor, “I didn’t mean to talk about all this!” she buried her face with her hands, embarrassed.

“Don’t apologise!” I cried. “I asked!” Confused as to why she was still apologising, I lay back down on the floor and closed my eyes. By now the sun was peeking out over the abyss between the clouds and horizon, and, like a heavy machine powering to life, the city began to awake.

The beginning of the summer was rough, and missing each other greatly, we resolved to calling each other nightly. One evening, I video-called Sylvia and anxiously waited for her to pick up. Eventually she did, looking very flustered as she sat down with her glass of vodka in front of her. Noticing this, I raised my cup of coffee to the screen in a salute.

“I’m so sorry I didn’t call last night,” Sylvia said, not waiting for a moment’s breath to begin the conversation.

“It’s okay!” I laughed.

“No, really, I am so sorry,” she pressed on, “I’ll make it up to you somehow, I promise.”

“That’s such an arbitrary thing to be upset about,” I said, dimly realising she was being serious. “You shouldn’t feel like you have to make anything up to me, much less that—that’s…” I was unsure of how to proceed, “that’s not how relationships work!”

We were silent for a moment when suddenly, I noticed her eyes swell with tears.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, feeling helpless from my thousand-mile-away distance from her. After initial reluctance, she finally wiped the tears from her eyes and spoke:

In my past relationships, especially the one with Seth—y’know, the one with the boating tattoo— we “kept score” all the time: who said “I love you” more often, who asked for more favours, even down to who sent the most texts. Nobody has ever told me that I don’t have to make anything up to anyone… I just thought that’s what you did…

I mean, to give you an example, there was one time when, well… basically I didn’t want to get physical, but he did. After his usual “inconsiderate” remark didn’t work, he told me “you just have to lie there. You don’t even have to do anything!” After counting in my head all the things he had done for me lately—like help my dad mow the lawn after his leg broke, or pay for dinner earlier that evening—I eventually gave in. It was my first time doing…well…it…and that sort of “keeping score” mentality has stayed with me since. I actually didn’t know it wasn’t normal to throw up every time afterwards for the longest time—it must have taken at least four or five years for that to stop…

I’m so sorry—that was probably more information than you wanted to hear… I didn’t mean to weigh you down with all this…

There was silence on my end of the computer. I remained motionless, unsure of how to respond, with tears now forming in the corner of my eyes too.

“You’re not mad at me, are you?” Sylvia asked in not more than a whisper. “Do you think I’m weak?”

“Mad? At you?” I asked with a quavering voice. “Of course not! And honestly, for putting up with Seth for as long as you did, weak is the last thing I would think of to describe you. In fact, you’re likely the strongest person I know!”

The next morning, Sylvia’s mother crept silently into her room while she was sleeping. With a swift glance at the unkempt room, the piles of books, clothes, and equipment, she found, lying in its unlocked state, her daughter’s phone. Turning to make sure she was still asleep, the mother snatched up the device, turned on her heel, and strode out the door.

Three hours later, I received the following email from an unknown browser:


So, fun fact: I fell asleep without locking my phone first, meaning my mother took it before I woke up today; therefore, she has no doubt read through ALL my texts by now, for starters. Consequently, I am completely fucked. I don’t know when I’ll be getting it back, but PLEASE DO NOT SEND ME ANY TEXTS, SNAPCHATS, ETC. WHATSOEVER. Currently using my old iPhone 3 to email you – she took my computer too. Wish me luck /:

Yours truly…

Beads of sweat appeared on my forehead as I realised the intimate details we had shared with and about each other. I gulped. This could not get any worse.

After weeks of receiving no word, my phone vibrated:
I am so, so sorry about this, but we need to break up. My parents don’t want me seeing you after what they found.
Immediately, this was followed by:

I’m sorry about that. They made me send that, and I needed to show them that to prove to them I did. I can’t talk very long, but if you want to reach me, it would be best if you sent me letters by mail. I’ve been intercepting them every morning, so they won’t see them. Do not reply to this. If we want to make this work, it’ll need to be some serious Romeo & Juliet shit.
I paced up and down my bedroom with my heart racing, and after a few moments, I sat down at my desk and began to write.

There are a bundle of emotions racing through my brain right now. Because you won’t receive this for a week or so, allow me to explain where I am—and what just happened…
Your parents have just confiscated your phone, thumbed through it (unrightly so, if I may add), and have determined you and I should no longer see each other. You sent me a text in that regard, followed by your desire to make this work under their noses. I wholeheartedly agree with you. Your parents may believe they have the control in this relationship, but can they
truly stop two people from being together who love each other very much? I love you more than I even have words to describe, and, to be honest, I don’t care what your parents think. Honestly, if you and I can make it through this in one piece, there is no stopping us from making it work for the rest of our lives.

P.S. If Dickens or the Brontë sisters had our kind of summer, they’d still be on the bestseller lists…

With that, I brushed the hair out of my face and leaned back in my chair. Nothing can stop us now, I thought.

The telephone rang from the kitchen wall. I glanced at the caller I.D. and immediately felt my stomach drop out. They found the letter.

“Dad?” I called feebly, “I think it’s for you…”

Swiftly taking hold of the phone and glancing at the illuminating name and number, my father sighed and lifted the receiver.

“Hello?” his voice creaked. I could not hear the other end, but I knew exactly what was being said. For more than an hour, my father and Sylvia’s father spoke. Every time the former would interject, he would be abruptly cut off. It was as though the girl’s father simply did not—would not—hear any argument countering his own. Nearing the end of the conversation, my father once more tried to interject, only this time at being cut off, became ghastly pale and found himself backing against a wall. Silently, he hung up the phone.

“Son,” he glanced at me, “I do not want you to step foot into her apartment next year.”

“Why? What could he have possibly said…?” my voice trailed off helplessly.

“I have no doubt,” my father chewed his words carefully, “that if given a weapon and the means of getting away with it, this man will kill you.” He spoke the last words with an icy coolness that gave every implication he was serious.

Later that evening, I received one more text from Sylvia:

I’m still good if you are. Don’t reply.

In my youthful (and somewhat naïve) courage, I smiled to myself. I could have kissed my phone; my life was playing out like a romantic drama before my eyes.

The days seemed to blend into one another after that. It was only a matter of time before both Sylvia and I would return to college, where we would be out of the talons of her toxic life at home. I hadn’t heard from her in a while, but I was unperturbed because, after all, her parents still kept her devices locked away in a safe.

One night, however, my phone lit up. Illuminating in the darkness of my room read the words:

I am so sorry to do this over text, but I do think we need to break up.

The rest of the message seemed blurry—or was that just from the tears—because this time, something in my gut told me it was for real. Upon closer inspection, the text relayed the numerous clichés typical break-ups utter (it’s me not you, I promise, I still want to be best friends, I just can’t be 100% committed to this right now with everything going on, &c ). The entire struggle from the summer shattered into a million pieces right before my eyes. It was as if the world fell down, or the house of cards we had constructed collapsed. Suddenly, I did not feel the same anymore. I felt as if I was missing something. Suddenly, in those few words, everything changed.

A few days later, I scrolled through Instagram absentmindedly, when I came across a picture Sylvia uploaded the day before. After a minute of debate as to whether to even read it, I glanced down. The caption read: Thanks for the getaway to Sequoia Park! Gonna miss this guy! I looked at the photo. In it was the girl and another boy—a boy I had never met, a boy I had never even seen. But there could be no mistaking the tattoo on his forearm.