Pink Lemonade

January 28, 2018 Amherst, MA, USA

From late-night texting to winter sunrises, the author navigates the uncertainty of a first relationship...

Illustration by Suzan Hijink

In my dorm, there is a paper apple tree underneath the stairs. Next to it are instructions.  Students are told to write their goal for the year on a paper apple, and then pin that apple to the tree.

I’ve passed that paper apple tree many times, never really looking at it. One day, I spontaneously decided to write one. Taking out a marker, I wrote down my simplest goal for the year – to be there for others.

As I pinned my paper apple on the tree, I looked around at some of the others already tacked on. They were as one would expect from college students. Most people just wanted to survive classes. One apple said simply – “Nationals.”

And others still were about love:       

“I want to find someone.”

“I want her to look at me.”

Some were cruder – “I wanna get laid more.” But one spoke to me:

“I want to fall in love. This is my last chance. I’m a senior.”

For a long time, I paused –  my eyes lingering on those words. It was if an incredible loneliness emanated from that apple and suddenly washed over me. My heart left my chest, and I began to daydream.

My first relationship – if you will call it that – began and ended last year. College had just started. People were still trying to shake off that summer laziness. I myself was still in the process of unpacking and organizing my life –

Then she stepped in.

I met her through a mutual friend at our dining hall. I’d seen her before around campus, but we hadn’t formally introduced ourselves. Soon, we were talking about poetry and writing and drama, and it seemed like we had everything in common. At the end of the meal, we exchanged numbers with the promise to meet up again and talk more.

On Friday night, she texted to ask if I was going to a party. I was too far, so I replied no. Instead, I spent the night lying on my bed, browsing my phone in the glow of a lonely bed lamp. She messaged me throughout the night, bashing the party.

At one point, she said that a boy was hitting on her.

Her: He asked me if I had a boyfriend.
Me: What did you tell him?
Her: I told him he didn’t stand a chance.
Me: How did he react to that?
Her: He started hitting on my friend!

I laughed audibly when I read that text, then felt immediately bad and dug myself under the covers.

Me: He’s probably drunk out of his mind.
Her: He’s creepy that’s what. I hate it.
I agreed.
Me: The guy’s desperate.

Later, when the night grew old and the party was dying, she texted that she was lying outside with her friend on the grass, looking up at the moon and the stars.

“Did you know?” she said, “When I get drunk, I start composing poetry.”

I thought of that image – of her just lying down, buzzed, on the lawn, staring up at the moon and stars, and composing drunk poetry. I thought it was beautiful.

I wanted to tell her as much, but I was shy, so I said she was living the archetypal college life – that this was a snapshot, a moment to remember – and that was beautiful. I asked her to send a poem over. She laughed, in the way text messages can do.

“I really am living the life,” she said, “Laying out here, drunk out of my mind, composing poetry in the night breeze, talking to an interesting guy. I’m so lucky.”

I thought it peculiar that she would mention talking to an interesting guy. But I didn’t think too hard. I got out of bed and looked out the window and saw the same moon and stars that she must have been looking at. I wondered what she was thinking. There were a thousand things I wanted to talk to her about.

But I didn’t say anything. I was young, and inexperienced with love after all.

It would only be a day later, when she texted me and apologized for what she said last night. She wanted me to know that she usually wasn’t so upfront about her feelings. For a moment I was confused. I didn’t recall her ever talking about her feelings, unless she was referring to that part about an interesting guy, in which case, she never did tell me who that interesting guy was. Unless...

And then something clicked.

Over the next few weeks, we started a list of things we wanted to do together. Bicycle to the local farm. Write poetry together, alternating author line by line. Spontaneously decide to ditch classes one day and do whatever we wanted. The list grew longer and longer, and I mentioned this, concerned. But it didn’t matter, she said, if we never finished the list –  if it kept growing on and on –  as long as we were making progress.

At one point, I felt obligated to disclose that this was my first relationship. For me, inexperience was a key insecurity. When someone goes for twenty years without a single love, the natural inclination is for them to look inwards and wonder...what makes them different. What makes them unloveable? I rationalized my answer, convincing myself that I just didn’t want love.

I confessed my insecurities to her. I told her that because it was my first relationship, if I were to make a mistake, I hoped she would tell me and give me leniency. I hoped she would know that my heart was in a good place.

Even now, I wonder if that was a mistake –  if admitting that, and showing that vulnerability, made it true – the idea that I couldn’t be loved, that I was just different.

She was surprised. She thought I would be more experienced. She said it was fine though. We had all the time.

I opened my mouth to speak. There was so much more I wanted to say, but nothing would come out, and I was frustrated that I couldn’t understand everything that was happening between us. Sensing that, she put her hand on my mine –  “Hey, let’s get something to eat” –  and taking me by the hand, she led me out.

One December evening, one of my friends was doing a liquor run. I told him, jokingly, to get the biggest and cheapest liquor for me. He ended up returning with a large multi-liter jug of Svedka Pink Lemonade. It was on sale, he said.

Quickly, I found out why. It was the vilest thing I had ever tasted, comparable to lemonade-flavored Smirnoff. I despised it with all my heart from the very first shot. The thing was disgustingly sweet. I remember thinking they shouldn’t just ever make flavored vodka, ever. It was an abomination. But we kept drinking it anyways.

She dropped by later that night. I asked her if she could bring some cups from her room, since we were running low. She left, and for a while there was silence. My friend excused himself to pick up another friend. I was alone when she returned with the red solo cups.

“Where’d your friend go?” she asked.

“He left,” I replied.

“I brought you your cups,” She put down a stack of red cups.


“How many shots have you had?” She asked.

“Not a lot.”

“You’re slurring,” she pointed out.

“Okay, maybe a couple,” I conceded.

“Really,” She put her hands on her hips.

“Okay, quite a lot,” I admitted.

“Good, then you won’t remember this.”

She suddenly pulled me close. Surprised, I opened my mouth as if to say something, but was silenced. She kissed me, and it was as if time had stopped. She pulled me closer, fiercely, and wrapped her arms around my neck – and in that moment, in that space of time, amidst the fragrance of her perfume, the taste of pink lemonade, and the dim lighting of the Christmas lights in my room,

It was as if the world were on fire.

When it was over, she was busy fixing herself in front of the mirror. “I think there may be a problem,” I said. “What is that?” she asked. “I don’t think I’m going to forget this.”

“That’s fine,” she laughed, “I just had to say that for the effect.”

“Now I’m going to head off with the girls,” she added, “You should stay in your room. I think you’ve had enough for the night.”

I nodded dumbly, which was all I could do, and watched her leave. As soon as I was sure she was gone, I retreated outside and felt the cold December air brush against my face. I buried myself in the snow – I thought that my face would melt the whole pile. Later, I turned around and made snow angels. I couldn’t get it out of my head: the softness of hair when I ran my fingers through it, the fragrance of her perfume...

Everything that was my first kiss.

After, she went radio silent. Completely, utterly silent. No texts, no calls, nothing on Facebook. I couldn’t seem to find her on campus either.

She had completely disappeared.

Initially, I thought perhaps it was just a bad day, or even a bad week. But after a week, I knew.

When I came back from break, I decided it was time to move on. Stop remembering and moping. I told my friend as much, and we made it a mission to forget.

One night, my friend and I celebrated making it down to a quarter of the Svedka Pink Lemonade by visiting one of the party suites. It was midnight. At this point, we were pretty far gone. One friend had trouble telling the difference between a lamppost and human being. Still, we made our way into the party, somehow. It was when some basic Chainsmokers song that even I recognized started playing, that I spotted her out of the corner of my eye. She sobered me instantly. Immediately, I considered whether I should approach her, but then I saw she was with her ex. I saw her arms up all around him. I saw her dance to the beat with him. I saw it burn into the back of my eyes.

At the time, I had a solo cup of something in my hands. I finished it quickly and crushed it. I left. I walked down the stairs. I walked outside. And I just kept walking. Past the dining hall. Past the college center. Past the bus stop. I started walking faster and faster. I didn’t know where I was walking. I didn’t care.

In the end, I stopped by McDonalds on the way back. I ordered three McChickens and three McDoubles and washed it all down with some McCoffee. I ate glumly watching the cars drive past Route 9. When I was done, I walked back to my dorm, feeling queasy, and still a little drunk. I was about to stop when I felt the warmth of the morning sun hitting my back. I turned around.

I saw the sun rise. I saw it peek up from beyond the horizon. I saw the light reach the frosted tips of the trees and power lines dotting the highway. I saw it and it was beautiful.

So I walked back to my dorm. I went into the bathroom. I washed my face. I looked at myself and realized I could still taste the night. I grabbed my toothbrush and my cup and I began brushing my teeth. I felt the mint taste overwhelm me, erasing everything – the taste of coffee, liquor, whiskey...and the taste of pink lemonade.


Phillip Yan is a silly writer who loves to meet new people and make friends. He mostly publishes on his personal Facebook, but wants to expand to other frontiers one day. He currently studies in Amherst MA, but comes from Texas. He is sad to have only one accent.

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