Love in the Time of Caller ID

I’m going on vacation soon, so I arrange to meet my professor at a different university to take my exam ahead of time. I’d been studying all day — I was confident I’d do very well, despite the millions of things I had on my mind. I show up a little early, make sure I have my pencil and my calculator on hand, give my notes a quick once over. I can do this. It’s a phrase I have been repeating over and over all day in the hopes that it will actually come true. I greet my professor and muster up every ounce of energy in my body to try and smile. I’m sure it ends up looking like a grimace. Whatever.

She hands me my exam and as I look down to check it out — to my horror, I realize my mind has gone completely blank. I am in total shock. My palms begin to sweat as I feel panic start to set in. I try my best to talk myself out of it. “Calm down- you got this!” I silently hiss to myself. Except I don’t. The longer I try to decipher what the fuck these questions are asking, the harder it is to make sense of them — my face is now hot with humiliation and I can’t read shit because my eyes are swimming pools. I sit there for an hour silently pleading with my brain to please cooperate with me. It doesn’t. It’s like trying to extract water from a rock. I’m both embarrassed and angry at myself, something that rarely happens. I turn in my exam and can’t even bring myself to make eye contact with my professor. I say “Thank you” in a voice so soft, it almost sounds like a prayer. I walk out of the classroom feeling completely defeated. As soon as the door shuts behind me, the tears start running down my face. I sit in my car with my face buried in my hands for a solid ten minutes, but the tears don’t show signs of letting up, so I wipe my hands on my skirt and start the engine. I will drive the entire way home rapidly blinking and wiping the tears from my face as fast as I can — but it doesn’t matter. They just keep coming. And coming. And coming…

I decide to take the streets home because I need time to compose myself, so I let the GPS guide me. Sure, it will take longer — but I don’t mind it. I’m crushed and I feel numb and just want to get as far away as I possibly can. Suddenly, I find myself at a stop on a secluded street. I don’t know how long I have been driving, I don’t even know how I’m operating this vehicle, much less where I am. And then I see it. Directly in front of me is the bar where we had our first date. My heart sinks and my blood goes cold. Not today. Please, not today — but this Judas of a GPS has other plans and continues to route me through your neighborhood, past the restaurants and bars where we shared so much of ourselves, past your apartment with the prettiest views, and as a grand finale — cruelly makes me stop at the very last place I saw you. The weight of your absence, something I always thought of in abstract terms, suddenly hits me like a ton of bricks. At this point, I have fucking had it and I want to yell — instead I just let the tears fall and do nothing to stop them. I am sobbing so hard I feel my entire body shaking and I am helpless to stop it. I look in the mirror and don’t recognize myself. I have never been so miserable in my life. I have reached my nadir, right here on this lonely ass road. I am heartbroken, stressed, and exhausted — this is a physical manifestation of everything I’ve been suppressing for the past few weeks — and it isn’t even really about you.

***

You hadn’t crossed my mind in months.

The last time I saw you, we’d had a really fun night. It had been a rough week on both of our ends — we were so down in the dumps that we considered canceling. You were in the kind of mood where you withdrew into yourself and didn’t want to talk to anyone — I was jet lagged from a trip and exhausted from my academic workload. Ultimately, we decided that we’d be better off miserable together. So, I put on a dress and met you at your favorite bar fifteen minutes later. Your eyes were sad and tired, and so were mine, but I instantly felt a little better just being in your presence. We grabbed some pints and sat down to talk. It didn’t matter what topic came up — you listened intently, hanging on to every word I said. You teased me about my favorite drinks, but I dished it right back when I laughed at your questionable taste in beer. We discussed our holy trifecta- movies, music, and literature- as you comically wrinkled your nose while I tried to convince you of the merits of my favorites. I rolled my eyes when you tried to defend your corny ass movie faves. We had a good thing going — I loved how you’d ask me why I liked X, Y, or Z — you were always trying to get me to open up just a little bit more. I felt honored when you asked for my input on whatever project you were working on — the look on your face when I told you I couldn’t wait to read your book is still one of my favorite things. It was nice. This was nice.

I’m not sure what was in the air that night, but this one felt different from the others. We floated from bar to bar, making our way through narrow streets and abandoned lots, guided only by moonlight and whatever place looked inviting. We shared secrets and dreams in between laughs at my clumsiness and your shitty jokes. The night seemed to go on forever — not that either of us minded — and the city felt like it was ours and ours alone. Looking back, maybe I would have taken the time to appreciate it more if I knew then what I know now: I’d never see you again.

I was in the middle of telling you one of my millions of silly stories when suddenly, you interrupted me — I was a few drinks in (you had that effect on me) and I worried that I was being too loud — but it was only to tell me how much you really loved my enthusiasm about everything. You said it with such disarming sincerity that I didn’t know how to react. You were cynical and jaded for the most part, but I found it kinda endearing and liked you anyway — especially when you sat there across from me in your stupidly stylish sweater, your dumb perfect hair, and that mischievous grin on your annoyingly cute face. I was a ray of sunshine in your otherwise bleak world, but that wouldn’t be enough no matter how much I wanted it to be. I suppose I knew this would happen. I don’t know what it is about me that attracts people like you — but I sure wish it didn’t. I remember one of our early conversations — specifically, how jarring it was when you admitted that you really liked me but quickly followed it up by dismissively adding that despite that, I hadn’t changed your mind about modern dating. I brushed it off because I didn’t know how to take it. What did that shit even mean? This would continue for the duration of our whatever-this-was. I was dating a sphinx. Cool.

It was getting late and we were both way too drunk to exist, so we begrudgingly agreed to call it a night with the condition that we’d see each other again in two days. My uber showed up so quickly that I didn’t even have time to finish my sentence, so I gave you a quick hug and a little kiss. As I turned to leave, you pulled me back in for the tightest embrace and the kind of kiss that doesn’t happen to girls like me. You knew how much I hated PDA, but tonight I didn’t mind it. It was different, remember? It had been such a terrible week that I found comfort I didn’t even know I needed right there, resting my head on your chest. I peeled myself away and took one last look at your smiling face before I jumped in the car. My uber had barely turned the corner when you texted me to tell me how much fun tonight was and how much you’d really needed that. I rode home with the biggest smile on my face. Five days later, I’d be crying in the parking lot at school because it was all over.

I remember it like it was yesterday — both the sky and my eyes were competing to see who could unleash the most water. I cried so much on my commute that I nearly crashed into a car head on because I began to make a non protected left without paying attention. It was pouring rain, so the only reason I’m alive is because we were going like 5 mph. This was the last straw. As soon as I parked my car, I finally took it upon myself to ask you what was up — but all you had for me was a nebulous non-answer. I don’t like to exist in emotional negative space. I never have. This was not good enough for me, so I told you I was finished. I sat in my car and questioned if I’d done the right thing. I left the door open for a friendship and I truly meant it — but you didn’t take me up on the offer. You didn’t say anything at all.

A few weeks later, I’d find myself on a date with someone else at a whiskey bar. One of our favorite songs came on just as the bartender asked me what I wanted — and instead of my usual, I ordered your favorite drink. I felt mildly guilty about it, but then I imagined how amused you’d be that I of all people would behave like such a dirtbag. I finally felt the pangs I’d successfully kept at bay. I thought about how long it had been since we spoke and wondered how you were doing. I sincerely hoped you were doing well. As upsetting as it was, I never really tortured myself over what could have possibly changed between us. I knew it would be a fruitless endeavor. The why ultimately didn’t matter to me — for all I knew, you probably didn’t even know the reason, either. As far as I was concerned, from one day to the next, you decided your life would be better without me in it. Who was I to stand in your way and tell you otherwise?

***

So here I was, months later, thinking of you again. Only it wasn’t really you. I barely remembered what you looked like, let alone how your voice sounded. No, this was different. Someone else had broken my heart — for real this time. He’d entered my heart the way the best ones do — not with a key, but with a pry bar. And just as soon as it began, it was over. It was abrupt and left me feeling dazed and ashamed — once again, I was left with no answers. It was the kind of heartbreak that is so overwhelming, it leaves you feeling nothing. It just kinda is, and you have no choice but to accept it as such. So what do you do? You let it fucking go. It certainly doesn’t make it easier, but thinking about it in these terms was the only way I could turn my brain off and attempt to study and maybe get some sleep. With only a few weeks left in the most important semester of my academic career — I simply couldn’t afford to wallow in my misery. I pushed it to the furthest corners of my mind, but on that day — as I looked at that stupid fucking bar, it all came to a head. How do people walk away from such visceral experiences like this without feeling wary for the future? It’s a strange place to be.

It suddenly dawned on me what you meant so long ago — why does anyone bother to try when people are brutally transient now? You had been in my shoes time and time again and it had finally worn you down. I didn’t want the same fate for myself — I found solace in the fact that I could still feel, at least. It was easier to project my frustrations onto you than to try to make sense of why this happened to me. There were nights where I stayed up late wondering what I did to deserve this — but bad shit happens to good people all the time, right?

A few days later, I found your number and sent you a text- I’m not sure what I expected, but to my surprise, you answered immediately. You said you were happy to hear from me — you’d hoped I was doing well and wanted to meet up for drinks soon. I stared at the message blankly before deleting it without responding. What was the point?

The thing about life is that it goes on, with or without you. I’d hoped you had the answers I so desperately sought, but I found them within myself. My short foray into the world of dating was characterized by the painful sting of a lesson that I am destined to learn over and over: it (everything) happens. That realization lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. And so, as I write this sipping on your favorite drink, I raise my glass to you. With the semi-faded memories of your capriciousness, the stress of academia, and this asshole of a GPS — in my week of hell, I managed to find zen.