The golden-haired king, popcorn, and vaseline: what I learned from my Roman Holiday

I would, most honestly, like to state that most of my crushes happened because I am a Cancer; indeed, blaming your lovesick nature on a horoscope mumbo-jumbo seems to be a trend these days. However, being far more down to earth, I do realise that it’s not reasonable to put all fault on stars, but rather dig in deep into yourself.

This story does not have a happy ending, but neither it is sad. This story could have become a tear-jerking young adult novel that could make it on screen, but it is also a story you could have heard many times, or even been a part of it. You’d say it’s all about love, but it also speaks of denial, blindness and sweet dreams that have nothing to do with the reality.

It is a story of a subtle romance during a vacation. Set in Oxford, United Kingdom, blessed summer. Allow me to introduce you protagonists: a 17 years old me (I think; it was a long time ago), and a 20-something guy from Poland. Or Czech republic?… Ah, details.

It was a dreamy meeting set up by fate: I was an English language student, he was a group organizer in said college. His name was Karol, and everyone I knew called him ‘The golden-haired king’ — admittedly, his hair was like a golden halo, and in my eyes, he had a noble air to him. His smile was cheery and gentle, he chatted me up with no problem and at that point already I was charmed. I had over a month to get prepared to my IELTS exam, and in a bored meanwhile between my classes, I tended to help him run his routine.

I can’t say that I fell in love, but I most definitely had hearts in eyes and followed him around like a lil pup. He did not mind my constant presence and soon we exchanged phone numbers, leading us to most ridiculous adventures. Punting? Yes! Pub crawl? Yes! He covered my back, watched me get drunk for one of the first times, gave me his jacket when few proactive and unsustainably tipsy studs from his group dipped me in the river with swans. He helped me with my homework and went out shopping for art stencils with me.

How could you not get struck in heart, if you were in my place?

I was engrossed in the chemistry we had, or what I thought it was. In my mind, I was preparing to a little victory, to the dreams that followed me every evening: we laugh, we kiss, we start going out. I had no concerns back then: I was a young girl who desperately needed to be loved like any other would.

So when he offered to watch movies together, my thrill became borderline unhealthy and I spent whole day giddy and giggly, unable to concentrate on my studies. Here, allow me a frivolous interjection: I got disastrously chapped lips a few days prior to it, courtesy of reckless lip-licking during a visit to windy Brighton. Realising that it was not the best condition for the long-awaited (and almost definitive) kissing, I made up an excuse of going to the pharmacy after classes to buy popcorn (yes, they have it in pharmacy in the UK), in order to grab a chapstick- anything that could relieve me. ‘Of course,’ said Karol, and we strolled to local Boots shop, lovey-dovey chatting on the way.

As I sneakily ran down the isles, an unheard happened: they ran out of lip balm. I was anxious, frustrated, and I had to act quick on feet; there was no other option than vaseline, so I grabbed it and galloped to the cashier, hoping that the golden-haired king would not see this embarrassing purchase.

Well, as you can imagine, things went from ‘almost wrong’ to ‘can’t be worse’ in mere seconds. As I was about to pay, my dream man yelled ‘Oh, wait!’ from somewhere behind and dashed to me, shooting a breathless ‘I’ll return you money later for it’ while putting the package on the desk.

The cashier snorted, desperately trying to cover laughter.

I stared at the items, threateningly flushing up with beetroot red.

Karol made a sound that was a mix of weep, groan, and awkward chuckle.

Apparently, our pre-movies goodies bag consisted of popcorn, vaseline and a pack of condoms.

‘It’s for my friend,’ he muttered awkwardly, realising the total embarrassment of the situation. The cashier made another ailing, guttural noise, in a vain attempt not to break down in a hysterical laughter fit right there. I packed everything quietly and we walked out, trying not to look at each other.

…This story does not have a happy ending because in a few days, as we had had an incredibly romantic night date, sitting on a top of a hill with a bottle of wine, his jacket over my shoulders, my hands in his, he told me that he sees me as a friend. I swallowed it and nodded sluggishly, finishing off the bottle in one go. We sat in painful silence for few more minutes before I excused myself and departed home only to see him once again when we were catching a bus to London.

My problem was that I sought for love so badly that I mistook all the signs and took a wrong call. As I mused over it years later, more and more came to my mind: we were just friends, who hanged out. He saw it, I didn’t. I wrote up a scenario of a perfect ‘Roman Holiday’ and I stuck to it, seeing things through a prism of youthful, girlish desire to be loved.

There never was a chance, but I failed to admit it. Teenage crushes are dangerous and vile; they make you believe in the ultima of ‘dreams coming true’, and eventual heartbreake leaves you crushed after your stupid crush. The hard lesson I learned — but a good one — that you should always have a bitter grain of rationale and not get swept off feet with a flood of feels.

But who doesn’t want to believe in miracles and close their eyes on obvious facts, just for the sake of good memories and burning fire in heart?… Well, I fell for it. Did you?

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