Dante's Tenth Circle


          The attack comes out of nowhere and relentlessly worms its way into my brain until my head’s spinning and my insides are tied into hopeless knots. Everything disappears until all I can focus on is a pair of hazel eyes framed by stupid crinkles at the corners, callouses resting on hands so familiar to mine, and the hint of cologne which rubbed off on me the last time we hugged. I can be in the middle of a French test — c’est la fin des haricots — making calls at work, or laying down to go to sleep when just like that, the film starts replaying in my head of the last conversation we had, or that little smile I caught before I had to tear myself away.

            I’m talking about boy brain. It’s a condition that should only affect twelve to eighteen year olds because, of course, I am an intelligent, sophisticated, twenty-one year old college student who is above such things. I’ve studied languages, history, art, science, traveled the world, read a vast array of literature, and am a firm believer in feminism...yet, it’s inescapable. No matter how determined I am to ignore all romantic inclinations and focus on my future career, I find my mind drifting from Faulkner and Hemingway to that time I was trying to read him a lame joke I found on the internet, and I kept laughing so hard I couldn’t finish.

            “So the carrot at the party says…lettuce turnip the beet.”

            He shook his head. “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard…but God, you’re so freaking cute.”

            Conversations play on a loop in my head, good and bad, and I find myself thinking the same things over and over again. When will I get to see him? Will he text soon? Snapchat? Did he really mean it when he said…or am I just making everything up? I’m probably making everything up, because there is no way that a guy like him would ever go for me. Then I get another text and the cycle goes on.

            Boy brain is a curse and a blessing. When I’m bored in a class or driving home, it can be fun to dwell on that time he held me a few seconds longer than he should and I felt his arms tighten like he never wanted to let go. When I’m trying to sleep, though, and I keep getting assaulted by that stupid thing I said seven months ago or that picture I saw of him and another girl, the fun ends.

            Illustrious authors, philosophical poets, sensational singers, and moody teenagers—all have attempted to capture this phenomenon in their own words. Aristotle said, “Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.” Well, I have one question for Mr. Aristotle: can I have mine back, please, and is there a cure? I guess I could marry, and I’d grow out of it eventually—but then, I could find myself catching the bug again years down the road and self-sabotaging. I could date, and find myself in the same boat as the married people until I’ve got a ring on my finger or a broken heart. He could demolish my dreams with just a few words which usually start with “Sorry, but…”

            Or, if none of these happen, I’ll be stuck in Dante’s nine circles of hell — talking, but not talking, flirting around but never solidifying anything, and constantly remembering that dumb, crooked, sweet smile and that time he pressed his hand to mine and left an impression that tingles every time I think about it.

            Welcome to the mythical tenth level of hell, where you’re everything and nothing at the same time. Good luck trying to get out, because when you do—ooh! Another text!