personal essay

Crushes and Cake and the Summer I Turned 15

published Jul 6, 2022
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Illustration by Ellice Weaver of girls on bed calling their crush and eating cake.

I had two best friends: N and S. We had frequent sleepovers — we ate, we talked (about boys), we watched movies. One summer night, I baked a cake: two layers of vanilla sponge, made from a box mix, unevenly frosted with a tub of store-bought vanilla buttercream, and decorated with green M&Ms and strips of Cinn-a-Burst gum. It was to commemorate the first time I met my crush, A, and that he had just graduated from high school. “Our future was uncertain,” I wrote in my notebook. 

My notebook was red, spiral-bound, and wide-ruled. I documented all of A and my encounters — at a friend’s house, at a family wedding, at his high school. My accounts were highly fictionalized; they included witty banter that never took place.

I wrote breathless reports: “Six More Words” was about how he touched my arm and asked for more cake at his nephew’s birthday party. I noted his tastes in music (Rage Against The Machine) and TV (In Living Color), and his favorite foods (cake; Cinn-a-Burst gum; Mountain Dew). I thought he would make the perfect boyfriend, even though we hadn’t exchanged four words.

I imagined my life as a slow-burn rom-com: Eventually, he would recognize me as the right partner for life and we would finally succeed in becoming a couple.  

N and S scrawled their thoughts into my notebook all the time. They responded to my observations or wrote hilarious anecdotes of their own. At the sleepover, N giggled at my recount of my last meeting with A — he briefly held my hand; was it an accident? — and contemplated what additional notes she might make in the margins of the notebook.

S and I were taking Spanish classes that summer at the community college, and she’d penned in her comments when I saw her on campus. My notebook was more than a diary; it was a collective memory. 

 “You should talk to him,” N said.

Whenever I saw him, my face flushed, and I averted my eyes. Despite my witticisms and bravado on the page, I was shy, insecure. I thought he wouldn’t like that I loved Bollywood movies and Madhuri Dixit, whose shimmies and pirouettes I studied and combined with hip-hop and jazz I saw on MTV; that I had long, frizzy hair and that I liked wearing glasses; that I aspired to be an artist or a writer. 

“He’s leaving for college!” she added. “Let’s prank call him.” 

We huddled around her phone and I keyed in his number — I had memorized it. “All That She Wants” was playing on the boombox, and when he picked up — thankfully, it wasn’t his mother or father or older brother — I put the receiver against the speaker. “It is a night for passion/But the morning means goodbye/Beware of what is flashing in her eyes/She’s going to get you.” We hung up and collapsed into howls and giggles. 

I sliced thick pieces of cake and put them onto N’s and S’s Styrofoam compartment plates, already full with puris, alu gobi, dal, baked ziti, Cheese Doodles, Doritos. I had never baked a cake before, and I loved sharing my creation with others. 

“You love the idea of being in love,” S said.

S was right, but I didn’t acknowledge it then. I liked the joy of a crush: the brightness, the color, the drama. I loved the fantasy I’d created in my head, in my notebook. A boyfriend would be too real — far less fun than what I had, what we three had. 

“Do you think he knew it was you?” N asked, and we burst into screams and whoops again. 

We crowded onto N’s couch and turned on the latest Madhuri release. N’s father made frequent trips to the Indian grocery/movie rental store and always picked up the latest releases. These pirated VHS copies were grainy and distorted; oftentimes, half of the frame was cut off. During Madhuri’s song sequence, we jumped off the couch and danced along. I could still taste the cinnamony sharpness of the gum in my mouth.