It was like a movie. The sun was shining high in the bright blue sky, the wind whipped through my hair, driving along the sandy terrain as if we were the only two people in the world. There I was, with this boy I thought I might be in love with, alone among the sand dunes in Vietnam like some scene out of a romantic comedy. I could sense the question in the air, a split second of time when I thought maybe he could feel the same. Our story was about to come full circle. My long-time feelings for him had led up to this moment. The moment that would change everything.
But let’s start at the beginning.
I was eighteen, had just graduated high school, and about to embark on the trip of a lifetime to Vietnam with a group of friends I had known my entire life…one of whom just so happened to be my longtime childhood crush.
The crush was as cliché as it could get and I thought that being trapped together in a foreign country for two weeks straight would change the fact that he couldn’t care less about me.
We were hardly friends, though we grew up in the same circles. He was the silent type; the epitome of the brooding teenage boy trope that I adored in the fictional novels I read; attractive, with a hint of mystery. I wanted to understand the boy behind the mask. I thought that maybe, beneath all those layers of silence, there was someone who could potentially care about me the way I cared about him.
I could tell you all about the trip and every crazy moment, but ultimately, this story isn’t about the trip. It’s about a moment.
Spoiler alert: the trip didn’t change anything between us.
But there was one moment. One moment when maybe it could have.
One day near the end of the trip, when we ventured to sand dunes, and on a whim, decided to rent ATV’s. The group divided into pairs. Before I could process what was happening, or change my mind for the sake of avoiding awkwardness, I was being teamed up to ride on an ATV…alone…with the “boy of my dreams.”
All I could think was he knew what I was thinking. And I knew that he knew. And he knew that I knew. So, we both just had to pretend that we didn’t know anything and everything would be fine.
Besides, I was crazy about him—this could be my chance to make my feelings known. Then again, I figured he already knew, so there was really nothing to say. Maybe this could be the moment he confessed his undying love for me.
He elected himself to be the driver, and I hopped on the back of the ATV, searching for something to hold on to because there was no way I was getting closer to him than absolutely necessary because why would I actually take this opportunity to make a move?
That obviously wouldn’t make any sense.
I threw a desperate look at my friends, who just shook their heads in amusement, directing me to hold on to him, so I wouldn’t fall off the dune buggy. I ignored the idea, and decided instead to hold on to the small metal railing located directly behind me.
Stupidity at its finest.
We started driving, and it became immediately clear that the way I’d chosen to hold on was really just the best way to fall off right into the sand. He stopped the dune buggy before we reached the dunes, suggesting I hold on to his backpack, which was wrapped tightly around his shoulders. I decided that was a good idea, because I mean, his shoulders were so broad and strong, and then we were off again, heading toward the edge of the dunes. My heart skipped a beat as I nearly fell off the moment we picked up speed.
He stopped the ATV again, right as we approached the edge of the dunes. He’d never be able to clear his conscience if I fell off the dune buggy while he was driving. Or maybe I was confusing “care” for “annoyance.” I was slowing him down from reaching the dunes after all.
In the most deadpan voice, he said; “Just hold my waist.” He didn’t phrase it like a question…more like a fact that needed to be acknowledged. Unless I wanted to face plant right into the sand, I’d have to hold his waist.
A million thoughts flooded into my mind; at the forefront the fact that my childhood fantasy had just become a reality. Next came the embarrassment that he’d literally just given me permission to hold his waist. Why didn’t I just do that to begin with?
“Okay.” I said, trying to sound like I was “chill” about it. I was not chill. Eighteen year old me was not capable of being chill.
Butterflies filled my stomach as I wrapped my arms around him. I tried not to let on that I could feel his muscles. Whatever. It wasn’t my fault he was in good shape.
We started driving again, speeding up as we ventured out onto the sandy terrain. We were surrounded by a series of hills, some small, some large like mountains. We accelerated up some of the smaller hills before we ventured toward the larger ones. As we drove up the dunes, we picked up speed. My heart hammered as the wind whipped past us, the thrill of adventure and potential love in the air.
Halfway up the hill, the dune buggy stopped moving, not having enough power to make it clear to the top. We hopped off quickly, losing all control of the vehicle, watching as the ATV rolled backward. Maybe if we had made it to the top, things would have been different. Maybe we could have seen what was beyond.
We got the ATV started again, and continued to drive, this time sticking to flatter terrain.
Then there was this moment. This moment when everything fell into place and it all made sense. It was a moment when fantasy and reality collided. The sun was shining high in the bright blue sky, my hands were wrapped around his waist, the wind whipped through my hair. There I was, with this boy I thought I might be in love with, alone among the sand dunes in Vietnam like some scene out of a romantic comedy. I could sense the question in the air, a split second of time when I thought maybe he was wondering about me too.
It was in this moment of recognition when I realized that this moment was as good as it was going to get. Nothing was going to happen between us. This was only a moment. And that was the problem. It wasn’t enough.
We returned to the group. My friend made a joke, obviously alluding to the “romantic nature” of our time spent alone as I laughed and talked about our adventure and how we narrowly avoided disaster when the dune buggy broke down half way up the hill.
I remember how he just stood there as I talked, a blank expression on his face. Maybe he was thinking about me, maybe he was just embarrassed, truth is he was probably just tired. Somehow it didn’t matter. The scene from the movie was over and we were back in the real world.
On the drive back I thought about those hills, especially the giant ones the dune buggy couldn’t survive. I thought about the view beyond the dunes that we missed. Had we just missed each other?
What if what was beyond the hills was never meant for us? What if it was only the illusion of what was beyond that I was after, not what was actually there?
I glanced over at him, sitting in the front of the car as I sat in the back. He’s just a boy I grew up with. My longtime childhood crush I just couldn’t let go of.
But I had to accept the reality that we would never have a romantic connection no matter how bad I wanted him to look at me and see something more than just me.
But that was the whole point—like those brooding boys in the movies I thought that maybe there was more to him. I believed that maybe underneath his mask of silence, there was a boy who felt the same way I did, and just didn’t know how to show it.
In retrospect, I was unintentionally being absolutely delusional.
He didn’t know the way I felt, and I could never keep it together enough when he was around for it to be probable for him to even consider me an option.
The truth was, I wanted the fantasy, infatuated with the idea of love like I saw in movies. I was in love with the idea of him, not him. I barely even knew the real him. Sure, we had grown up together, but we weren’t friends. He was always the boy in the background, mysteriously silent, yet alluring and I think that’s what made me like him so much. Because I could make him into anything I wanted. Even if he wasn’t real.
Looking back, I see now that the moment was real. Yet, at the same time it wasn’t. You know what I mean? Like everything else related to my feelings for him, it had been in my head. Sure, we had both been on that dune buggy, but the moment meant more to me than it did to him.
What I saw as opportunity—he saw as circumstance. When I wondered about him…I wasn’t even close to a thought in his mind.
And that’s okay.
It’s dangerously easy to fall in love with the idea of someone, yet I also think it’s incredibly common. What I learned is it’s okay to let go of the idea of what could be, for the reality of what is.
I never really liked him to begin with—and that’s okay, but it was time to let the idea go.
So now, I can look back on that “romantic” moment in Vietnam and laugh because you know what, we did have a moment.
But it didn’t change anything. It’s not like he stopped the dune buggy and confessed his undying love for me.
And it’s a good thing he didn’t.
Because if he had, the truth is—it would have ruined the moment.
Hi! My name is Rachel. I love to write. Write about life, love, and reflect on how the past builds the future. Mostly, I love to tell stories because I believe there is something about stories that brings the world closer together. You can check out some of my writing reflections here at Rachel Writes.