I don’t know how we got here. Well, that’s not totally true. I can remember the past clearly, can easily flip through memories of dates and times, but the string of moments somehow fails to weave the complicated web in which we are now both caught.
On my first day in Providence, I sat with my mom at Meeting Street Café, idly picking at the toast we were sharing and wondering at the brick buildings all around me. I tried names out on my tongue – Thayer, Pembroke, SciLi, each of them clunking through my teeth. As my mom and I navigated our way around the maze of one-way streets and oddly angled walkways, I felt unsettled. The air was not west coast fresh, the sky too blue here, the ground devoid of pine needles. The first time I stood in my empty white dorm, I felt the roughly painted walls and looked out at the view that was soon to become my everyday and let my mind slide over the simple colors and shapes. I filled my shelves and walls with choice relics from home, the most brightly colored, the ones that seemed to project what I thought was “me” – and if it wasn’t me they were projecting, at least they looked nice.
When my mom said goodbye, our sticky knees pushed together in the oppressive heat, I did not cry. The night before, my roommate and I had gone out together, breathing in freedom and newness. I thought about that moment as I watched my mom cry and as I felt her hug me. I think that is the most scared I have ever been. I sat on my bed later that day, looking out at the carefully maintained grass outside my window, and decided I could never love the east coast.
The first weeks of school were an awkward dance of lunch invitations and stilted conversations, tentative phone number exchanges, and nights spent wandering through the warm campus darkness. On the first Saturday night that I went out, I hooked up with a boy, both of us moving fast, drunk mostly on the idea of physical connection with someone in college. I’ve never done something like this before, I said in a rush, and his eyes met mine as he said, me neither. When we had sex, I thought it was supposed to feel fun and exciting and liberating, or maybe I was supposed to feel used, like my mom always warned. Instead, I mostly felt passive. After, as we lay with our sweaty limbs entangled on my bed, I patiently counted the minutes until I could ask him to leave. Later, lying in bed on my own that night, I ran my hands along my stomach and legs and arms, wondering about ownership and choice and all the factors that had led my body to connect in this way with someone I had never met before. I guess college is different, I thought, so maybe I need to be different.
Since I mentioned it earlier, I will tell you that on the night when we first hooked up, I was wearing a black, long-sleeved button down shirt with denim shorts, my hair carefully braided. My friends sat around me on the floor of the room. We laughed together. I was warm with alcohol and the still-new feeling of college. You were wearing the same black skirt you always wore. Your body was close to mine, your eyes bright, and your hands tentatively touching my hair, my face. Do you like girls? you asked me. I knew we were going to kiss before we did.
As days fell into patterns at the end of September, my thoughts often floated to you. I thought idly about kissing you, about the way you laughed, about the way your sweaters slipped off your narrow shoulders. I felt tension in our interactions, but I was sure it was only coming from my own awkward insecurities. As I called my friends each weekend, I casually mentioned you, getting a small thrill as I daydreamed about our conversations.
I remember the first time your soon-to-be girlfriend came to a party in your room. We had exchanged numbers earlier that week and she texted me to ask if I knew of anything going on. Friday, September 25th, is the date my phone tells me. I told her yeah, of course, and to come over. I watched you both interact, analytical, clinical, itching understanding seeping into my skin.
I also remember in October, sitting on your bed and us both noting how glad we were that we were not uncomfortable together. We were good friends! And that was truly how I felt. You were with her and I became swept up in other people, a blur of names and faces as the weekends grew colder. My eye was easily caught, my body easily given, but my heart lay mostly in laughing and running through the evening with my deepening circle of friends.
When I went home for winter break, I forgot that Brown existed. Maybe due to physical distance, Brown and my home are two absolutely separate worlds for me. I ran down the beach with my high school friends, arms out and feet pushing into the cold sand, and I thought, this is where I am supposed to be. Lying on the floor of my best friend’s bed room, walking through my neighborhood every night with my mom, snuggling up with my brother as he talked about his day, cooking dinner with my dad: these are the things that are imprinted on my heart. I missed Brown, but the reality that I had been in college for a semester felt like a dream. I was fairly certain none of it was real.
In fact, I am still unsure whether first semester really happened. When I think about it, my mind turns up gossamer memories of emotion and warmth and touching people’s hands. I think about dancing to Feliz Navidad and jumping through leaves and dorm rooms packed with semi-strangers, all flowing through my veins with ease. This semester has been entirely different, though.
I guess at this point, I don’t know what to say, because I could talk about week-by-week emotions and days unwound like DNA, about watching my life spiral around me. I could talk about sitting in class, mind racing, thoughts filled with the fear of a life still to be lived. Maybe I should talk also about circular conversations with you, your lips finding mine in the corners of hallways, about inhaling you the way you inhale cigarette smoke. Addicting. Toxic.
This semester, I have started to understand the necessity of family in my life, their absence not creating the sharp longing I expected, but rather manifesting itself in a listless, floating sense of not belonging. I have let myself become defined by the number of green message notifications that light up my phone each day, gotten caught up in the need to be hemmed in by lunch plans, and convinced myself of the unattainable happiness of everyone around me. Creating my own life from the ground up is hard and does not flow quickly, not like the rapid, fluid Spanish I used to speak, but instead like my clunky attempts at French grammar. I don’t know how much of my life now needs to matter to me. Each day is as full of the same coldness as the last.
Here is what I do know: I have never been in a situation like ours before. I have never met a person like you before. I am afraid for you and I am afraid of you. I am drawn to you in a way I have not been to very many people. What I mostly feel is powerless, but like I am actively allowing myself to have no power, and that makes me angry with myself. I like you. Maybe I love you, but loving you mostly feels like pain. I do not know how to understand you. I do not know how to find the truth anymore.
It’s late now and my roommate is asleep. I am looking around at my room, soft Christmas lights glowing over the accumulated objects and emotions of six months of my life. Tomorrow I will sit in biology and wordlessly absorb information about genetic engineering, far away facts about lives that don’t feel connected to mine. Tomorrow I will talk to an old friend on the phone, hear about his life and wonder at how our paths have somehow disentangled themselves from each other. I will think about him and me and my dad and the cute girl in my French class and my friends and you and what I ate for breakfast and whether I should drink a cup of coffee and whether I prefer being alone or with other people.
Tomorrow, I don’t know what will happen.