A Breakup Bombshell in Buenos Aires

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

I had a breakup of my own in that city two summers ago, but it wasn’t anything as dramatic as this one:

At 15, I went to do a year-long exchange program in Argentina for my junior year of high school. I ended up in a stiflingly strict home in the suburbs, where I wasn’t allowed to go out much. My one reprieve was a part-time job in the center of Buenos Aires working as a teaching assistant at a private English language academy. It was there that I met B.

She was one of the other teaching assistants, having done a year at U Michigan. We became friends, but she was 23, so my schoolboy crush seemed like a non-starter. But something did start (a story for another time), and it was every bit as wonderful as you would imagine a 15-year-old boy to deem an ongoing romantic relationship with a 23-year-old woman.

The only trouble was that the whole thing was shrouded in secrecy. I could only see her on the two days each week when I went to my job, and I couldn’t tell ANYONE.

Meanwhile, I started to get friendly with the girl—my age—who worked checkout at the local grocery store. My host family finally started to let me go out to some parties, where I met other girls my age. Over time, I started to think differently about things with the older woman.

Then I got the chance to go with another family on their vacation to Brazil if I would babysit their two little kids in the evenings. I was away for three weeks and made up my mind to break up with B.

When I got back, I called her and we made a date for the next available time when we could meet. Not wanting to delay, I told her as soon as I saw her, “I have something I need to tell you.”

“I have something to tell you, too,” she replied, and I thought maybe she would break up with me. I told her she should go first, but she insisted on letting me go first. I figured she knew what was coming because we were on the same page, so I just told her: The secrecy and the logistical limitations were killing me, and I thought maybe we should break up. (I didn’t mention the checkout girl.)

She didn’t react too strongly, so I figured it was all good. “What did you want to tell me?” I asked.

“My mother was murdered last week. Someone broke into her apartment. They don't know who it was.”

Seriously. What can a 15-year-old do in that circumstance?

I did nothing, except wish she hadn’t insisted on letting me speak first.