What have I done?
PART 2: THE TIME I FELL IN LOVE
One of my friends called me the other day to tell me about the forbidden affair she is having with her TA. “We went out to dinner,” she exclaimed. “I think I’m in love.”
She is not in love. One knows when one is in love.
I don’t remember exactly when I met Jacob, but I do know we started to become friends my senior year of high school. Both editors of the paper, we spent inordinate amounts of time together, which eventually blossomed into best-friendship. Jacob is tall and lanky: His shoulders are a bit broad and his legs a bit thin, but the disproportion suits him. His eyes are blue (the kind that twinkle), and he has a dimple that slices into his right cheek. His voice is deep and soothing: He is a beautiful singer and has deemed himself as having “the voice of an angel.” Modesty is not his strong suit.
My feelings for him, foxlike, snuck up on me. In my family, we learn from our mistakes, and if dating Ryan had taught me one thing, it’s that feelings must be expressed. So I told Jacob (drunkenly). And, like many (post-drunk) Sundays, woke up the next morning thinking what have I done?
He asked if we could have coffee and discuss what I had said the night before. I shamefully agreed, and we met somewhere more convenient for him than me.
“I just don’t want to risk our friendship,” he said.
I couldn’t tell if he meant it or this was his way of saying no. I told myself he meant it.
And that was that, in his mind at least. But for me the feeling grew, slowly but surely, like a balloon being filled with helium, until I was so full of longing that I could barely breathe. And then all of a sudden I popped.
I thought it would be like being enveloped in a summer sky: Life would be painted in a backdrop of oranges, reds, and purples, every second as breathtaking as the one before the sun hides behind the horizon. I thought I would radiate joy, and people would notice a sudden, positive change in me. I thought that all the years of waiting around for someone I cared about would pay off.
When people talk about being in love, they rarely speak of the unrequited variety. The only time I’ve really seen unrequited love mentioned, it was in the movies, and generally the unrequitee got the unrequiter in the end anyway.
What I didn’t expect love to be was hard. Frightening. Painful. Knowing that the moments I stowed as keepsakes of what happiness could be weren’t meaningful to him. Realizing that he could raze my entire world with something as meaningless as a word on an off day. Listening to him talk about vapid girls and other love interests. And, despite being absolutely petrified by my dependency, wanting to spend every waking second with him. I’d never felt so helpless.
I went in to college still in love with Jacob, and very much not wanting to be. “College will be better for you,” my mother declared. “Larger pool.”
Except not really. My high school is a feeder into Wesleyan, the school I attended my freshman year, and there were three other boys coming from my grade of 82. One was my best friend, another was a person I despised, and the last was a kid with whom I had my first kiss, way back in the day—David. He also spent his senior year hopelessly in love with a girl who wasn’t into him, so we had evolved to be the type of friends that had sporadic deep emotional chats.
Being on the field hockey team meant missing all of orientation for two-a-days and two-a-day recuperation. I didn’t get along too well with the girls on the team, and I felt deeply lonely for the first time. I’ve learned since then that bad things happen when I feel lonely.
I returned from a party one night and decided that I was too drunk to be alone, so I called up David. My intentions were in no way innocent. Things led to things, but we kept it fairly PG. He was worried that I was too drunk, but I assured him that “I’m a strong independy woman makingg my own decisionses.” We lay down next to each other and talked about everything and nothing, and I felt a new sense of security. “We have the next four years together,” he said, and I was strangely comforted by this sentiment. We both agreed he shouldn’t sleep over because who in their right mind wants to share a twin bed.
I woke up the next morning thinking what have I done? High school is based on filing someone away as a stereotype and never allowing them to leave the cabinet. David had just left the cabinet, and I had opened the Pandora’s box of reconsideration. This was the kid who used to stretch his hand into weird positions to show off his triple-jointedness. This was the kid who almost lost his acceptance to Wesleyan because he went nuts on the Model UN trip. This was David.
I spent the entire day trying to digest the situation, to no avail. I’m far too neurotic to sit around waiting for any situation to pan out, so I thought through every possible way things could go. By the end of the day, I’d determined that it was my destiny to end up a crazy cat lady. Then I received a text from him, and everything was fine.
The next weekend it happened again, but this time I was not drunk and virginities were still kept. Soon the parts of myself I really don’t like came out. I think I have a tendency to be clingy. I think it stems from my late-bloomerness and feeling like I have to hold on to someone who actually pays me any attention. My mother’s boyfriend tells me that women have more space allocated in their brain for wanting and maintaining relationships and that’s where this tendency comes from. He also reads People magazine, so I don’t know if I trust him.
After a week, David called it quits. “I don’t like the way I see you anymore,” he said. “I feel like this is tainting our relationship.”
What surprised me most was not that he felt this way, but rather that I didn’t. I didn’t have feelings for him and that was fine with me. My entire perception of a physical relationship changed, and I contemplated life again. I again resigned myself to the crazy cat lady fantasy, disregarding the fact that I hate cats.
From then on our relationship was a bit weird, but, in an effort to prove to ourselves it wasn’t, we hung out from time to time alone in public.
Two weeks before the field hockey formal, I ran into him at a party. We were both very happy to see each other, and the tension and confusion from the last few months melted away. Enjoying our rekindled friendship, we decided to celebrate with food. Determining the grilled cheese truck too far away, we decided to head back to his dorm to make mac and cheese and chat with his roommate. To our surprise, Charlie, the roomie, was asleep, so we headed to my room. Intentions: innocent.
And then it happened.
It wasn’t good or bad, painful, or pleasurable. It was just new.
The next weekend we had our field hockey formal, and I didn’t know what to do. I invited him, knowing his brother would be there and wanting to avoid the remote possibility of a situation. I didn’t want to invite him though, as my feelings had changed since the previous weekend. I noticed his hair had grown unattractively long, and his personal scent, which I once found handsome, was now unappealing. His coming home with me at the end of the night felt forced by circumstance.
“I have to get up really early tomorrow,” he said, as he turned off the lights, “So no time for foreplay.”
As he climbed on top of me, I felt very alone. He didn’t look at my face or ask if I was ok. Our bodies were like two notes in different keys: out of tune. When he finished, I felt empty, and I stared at the ceiling. I was confined in my body.
A week later, we returned home to Chicago and actively avoided each other. We made an effort to go to a meal once at school, and all he could talk about was the frat he was pledging. At the end of the school year, I sent him a text telling him I was transferring. He didn’t respond.