Out of all the short-term crushes I had (although I wouldn't really call The Zebra Project short-term), the one that lasted the longest - over a number of years - was also the one that hurt the least.
That's not to say that it didn't hurt at all. It did - all my crushes hurt - but, this time, I was older. As was she. We were both in our late teens. I was also three-and-a-half years older than her, but at that point I didn't care. I first met her when I was 19; she was 16, and she was beautiful. Short girl, with red hair cut into a bob and square glasses. She played the drums. She liked indie music. She was a Woodcrafter. It all seemed to fit into place. She even lived in London.
I spent the years counting down to national Woodcraft events because they were my lifeline, but no small part of that was the fact that I'd get to see her. At every event, her hair colour had changed, but she was always the same - cute mannerisms, odd sense of humour, wonderful smile. I started to leave trails - presents for her via the secret friend system, even if she wasn't my secret friend, with very small hints that it was me. I even snogged her at one point - four seconds, right on the mouth, tongues and everything - but I'm not sure that counts (she was drunk!).
As the gaps between events became wider and I was increasingly worried that I wouldn't see her again - ever - I wondered whether or not this was still a crush, or whether I was actually in love with her. Our brief MSN chats were all too brief; I talked to a few people about her (who didn't know her, so it was a bit pointless); I even told a fellow Woodcrafter about it. She sympathised - and understood. The sight of her kissing another girl, also while a little drunk, was enough to reduce me to tears once.
As the years went by, and I stopped attending events (at one of which, allegedly, she lost her virginity - in an orgy that took place just one event after I stopped attending - typical!), I started spending time in a confused haze. I was, with increasing and alarming rapidity, writing songs about her; this started with a funk jam that I'd wanted to do for a while and her name just kind of fit, before throwing caution to the wind and writing a full-blown love ballad about her (and some stadium rock...). Even at the age of 21, when I'd left university and hadn't seen her for months and possibly also had a crush on H, I still thought I was a little smitten with her.
Maybe if I hadn't written all those songs, or taken all those pictures, or kissed her...
And then, at the age of 22, I was invited to an event that I could still go to, as the age limit was 23. I didn't know that she was going, but I was pleased to find out she was there - again with a different hair colour, and again with the pretty smile. I was sure, at this point, that I would have moved on - that this whole stage of my life had ended and that I'd found someone else who took my fancy a little more. Surely this wouldn't cause any confusion. Of course not.
For the whole week, I couldn't keep my eyes off her.