Sunday, September 18, 2011
I hate how much I missed Mudd. How as a student I could go there after a long day of classes and meetings and be comforted by the feeling that everyone there was in it together, working for this one collective goal. In a lot of ways, I liked being there more than my own house. My favorite place was this spiritually dead room, a window-less cube full of computer monitors and desk chairs. No color, no human interaction, hardly a sound. I couldn’t conceive of a better place to study.
Now that I’m here again it’s like an addict falling off the wagon: the brilliant glow of the fluorescent lights drawing me in, the smell of charcoal and pine outside filling my lungs like the flame of a kerosene lamp. And then there are the stars, lucid and unfettered, burning up in the sky. I could go to Mudd at my absolute lowest, and still feel better knowing that someone in there knew my name. Now, the same sentiment holds true, even if it's done in obscurity.
But if Mudd itself is full of the peculiar liveliness used to comfort individuals, then leaving at night, once the study carrels have emptied and the computer screens are left glowering at vacant seats, has a certain loneliness to it. Walking out into the stark night air—jacket zipped, bag thrown over my shoulder—I am immediately reminded of that senior year. It is a sensation so vivid it shocks me to realize it’s only a memory. Every detail, from the smoke-laced outlines at the side of the ramp down to the cold rush in my hands as I stoop to unlock my bike, is the same.
I saw her for the first time last week. It was midday, almost lunch, and there she was sitting at a bench with friends, speaking in loud gestures, the rise and fall of her hands like she were conducting a symphony. Before that moment, I never experienced what it felt like to have to avoid someone—how it was suddenly inappropriate now to make conversation with a person who, not long ago, had occupied an enormous part of my life. We dated prior to me leaving to go to China, and in the ensuing aftermath that followed, haven't so much as exchanged a word since.
Her friends stood up to leave and, against my better social etiquette, I walked up to her, not knowing what to say but knowing that I had to say something. It was short-lived, a string of empty pleasantries, and pretty soon the conversation was over, and I was walking not towards her but away. The whole episode felt so unsettling, how the underlying force of our convictions were laid dormant. Why is it that love always feels most alive when it's past its end, fraught with the sudden, crippling onset of its nonexistence? The passion that comes with all rejection—a sudden departure, a loss of life. Like how in some cultures even mourning can't be done quietly—a funeral pyre set in a torrential blaze, fiery and vivid and raw.
I hate when things fall apart. Even worse, when they fall apart and you don't understand why. I emailed my dad about it. He told me that sooner or later, you learn to let go. Sooner or later, he wrote, you learn that there's not always closure that is satisfactory. Sometimes things kind of sour and rot and smell bad. Sometimes you just have to walk away.
I saw her again yesterday, this time at Mudd. She used to tolerate my time at the library, but joked that I spent more time there than I did with her. This time, I managed not to talk to her. We were now just two people in the world, our lives detached from one another's, and I realized that it didn't have to be this long, drawn-out sadness. I remembered what my dad had written: If she deigns to see you, by all means, but be aware that it may actually be re-traumatizing yourself. Try not to be attached to the outcome. Give it your best. And if it doesn't work out, then let it out talking to me, or chopping wood, or sparring. But don't go back to the well again and again to be re-wounded.
Two years ago she left a note by my bike. Tucked into the metal crux of the handlebars, a slip of notebook paper, folded and creased, that read, simply: “Saw your bike and thought of you. Don’t stay out studying too late. Miss you. Love, C.” That should have been my cue to go and see her that night, but knowing me I probably didn’t. Here’s what happened: I pocketed the note, rode my bike south and west (the opposite direction of her dorm), walked upstairs to my warm, dimly-lit room, and, with the smell of sandalwood and marijuana piping in from my roommate's screened-in balcony, I went to sleep.
Weeks and months passed, but every day since then I kept checking my bike. Edging down the library ramp, hands bristling from the cold, it was the same routine—first the handlebars, then the front wheel spokes, even the narrow slit underneath the seat. Each time I left the library—fingers clutching the bike keys—hoping in vain for some trace of her. The fruitless game I played. I still do.
This is a piece of creative non-fiction, part of a new experimental direction I'm taking with my blog about short semi-fictionalized vignettes from my daily life, lightly polished and greatly embellished for online consumption.