He looked tough, but I knew who he really was on the inside.
The schoolyard was packed and there were plenty of places to sit but I felt utterly alone. There I was, the new girl in school, and I had no friends to my name. A friend was just what I needed in this new environment.
Suffice to say, my peers were a little tougher than I was. Strike that — a LOT tougher.
Just as I walked towards the edge of the yard, I heard a small, yet confident, voice jump out from behind me.
"Did you wear those polka dots for me?" asked the voice.
Was he talking to me? I was wearing polka dots, after all. I turned around.
Before me stood the cutest boy I'd ever seen. (Well, aside from Jordan Knight, of course.) But this boy was right there, in the flesh, smiling at me. He stood about 5'6'' with black wavy hair, mocha skin, and eyes so big and brown they should've been bestowed upon a puppy, a child, anyone or thing, but a young boy at the ready to use them for evil.
"I'm Jasin and I love polka dots. I love you in polka dots," he said.
Holy crap. Since when did boys talk like that?
There's no denying the kid had game but this was the seventh grade and the only game I knew how to play was dodgeball. And I sucked at dodgeball.
Just as the pubescent smooth criminal was asking me to sit down with him, I heard the loud and scruffy voice of the lunch monitor.
"Brenda, please come here."
I did what I always did: what I was told.
"You're new here and you don't want to get in with the wrong crowd," she warned. "It's best to leave Jasin alone."
"But he seems so nice," I said.
"People aren't always what they seem, especially not a bad boy like him," she said in a judgmental tone.
I looked over and saw my new friend waving at me. I just stood there, staring at him, when I felt something in my tummy: butterflies.
Now, let me be clear about something: Up until that point in time, my experiences with boys had been limited to chasing them on the schoolyard (having no idea what to do if ever I caught one) and squealing when New Kids on The Block appeared on-screen.
Surely none of these suckers had ever made me feel insecure about the new pimple-things that were appearing on my face and they certainly had never sweet-talked me. The boy with the black hair and white tank top did both.
I defied the lunch monitor and waved back. I was in love.
The next day, my new love interest met me at my first period class and was suspended by lunch time.
"I'm going to meet you at the bus stop after school," he said, as he was escorted out of the principal's office. And he did.
By that evening, I'd been forbidden to engage with him, a demand that would be uttered nearly every day for the next two years. The home I lived in took issue with white girls dating Mexican boys. I took issue with bigotry.
Besides, Jasin was cool. He spelled his name with an "i" and had promised to marry me. It was on.
After one particularly humiliating punishment, I snuck in a phone call to share the sordid details through sobs. He went ballistic.
"I'm getting my brother to drive me over there right now. We're coming to get you and we will run away together," he said in our secret phone conversation.
I was down — but there was one small issue: I was 13.
This is who he became to me: an anchor in a chaotic time, a source of love and support when I'd lost the most important person in my life (my Grandpa).
This young man who everyone judged was one of the few people who didn't judge me. More than that, he was the only person I felt I could trust, something he never betrayed.
As we went from Junior High to High School, I watched Jasin grow into a more confident and daring version of himself. I'd look for him before and after school (he was often not allowed on-campus), and he seemed to look for a way to dodge the trouble that always seemed to find him.
Once, we had a disagreement when I vocalized my frustration and for a short time we didn't speak. He started going out with another girl and I decided to get myself a boyfriend, a nice boy named Frank.
Jasin beat him up in front of the gas station. Frank broke up with me. No more boyfriends.
For a while, he seemed to get back on-track and was allowed back in school. I took sex education and was given "egg babies." Jasin and I had twins. He was my egg-baby daddy.
He'd walk me and the twins to class and sit with us at lunch. In the halls, he'd tell people not to bump into his "family." The whole thing was silly and sweet, and completely disconnected from what happened before and after school.
But that was us — very protective of one another. I wanted to protect him from the path he was on and he wanted to protect me from everyone in the world, including himself.
"You need to think about where this is taking you," I said to him in one of our heart-to-hearts behind the car wash.
He brushed me off, assuring me that he was just "having fun" and could change at any time.
I looked at the numbers tattooed on his hand and held it tightly. His world was so different from mine, and he'd toe the line between bringing me in and keeping me at enough of a distance so that I would never see what was really happening or who he was when not with me.
A perfect example of this was when he saw me trying to smoke a cigarette behind the trash can and started yelling. "This is not for you," he said, angrily, taking the cigarette away from me (and smoking it himself).
The next day, he gave me a necklace to hold onto for the weekend with a promise not to tell. I didn't understand why but slept with it under my pillow, while praying that he wouldn't get into trouble and disappear again (something I feared every night).
He later said it belonged to his grandmother and he wanted to give it to me someday because I was the only person aside from her who seemed to really care about what happened to him.
Funny, at the time, I felt the same about him.
Everything changed in the middle of my freshman year. I woke up one morning and was abruptly moved to another home.
Jasin had gone MIA again, which meant there was no goodbye. I called his house several times but no one knew where he was. A few years passed and I made my way back to where he was and found him. He took me to our spot (behind the car wash) and kissed me.
"I love you," he said.
He was one of the few people to ever say that to me and I believed that, in his way, he meant it. I loved him, too, but as more than my first crush — I loved him as a person. This young boy had been the primary focus of my life for two and a half years and the first to ignite that burning feeling in my heart.
I also knew a different side of him. I knew how smart and sweet and funny he could be; I knew how hard his home life was and how badly he wanted to succeed, but how limited he felt. This was the only way of life he knew and I was terrified that it would be the only one he'd ever know.
I also knew something else, something that no one else seemed to know, including him: I knew that he was so much more than the boy from the broken home who looked for a family on the streets, stole cigarettes, and held doors open for women.
Our lives continued to move into different directions and we lost contact. With the help of mentors, strangers and friends, I found my way into a calmer existence and always worried and wondered about him, hoping his life had also moved into a better direction.
About a year ago, I decided to search for him on Facebook and was shocked to find him. The years had taken him from boy to man, and judging by the few photos posted it looked as though life had gotten even harder. But those sad brown eyes were still the same.
Normally, I like to leave the past where it belongs, but I felt compelled to send him a note. Within an hour, he wrote back. I stared at the words on the screen and smiled.
"It's about time."
This article was originally published at The Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author.