simply dig: thinking about the stories we tell ourselves

As I’ve indicated in earlier posts, I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how and why we tell our own love stories. And as I write, I keep coming back to a particular moment.

The night before my college graduation, J came to visit. He was not my boyfriend then. I had not seen him in a year and a half.

Four of us were sleeping in my dorm room that night: me in my bed, my roommate Katie and her soon-to-be husband Joel in her bed, and J on the floor in a sleeping bag. After a celebratory dinner with all of our parents, after settling into our respective spots sometime around midnight and turning out the lights, I realized I wasn’t going to sleep. The person I’d spent the past sixteen months dreaming about was in my room, and I could hear him shifting, still awake, the rustle of his skin against the nylon bag. Every dream I’d had about him been the same: his body next to mine under the duvet, his chin against my clavicle, the weight of a leg pressed upon my abdomen. And each time I’d wake up angry. Angry with the duvet for covering only me. Angry with myself for wanting him there. But then he’d written a letter saying he was coming to visit. This person who hadn’t even attended his own graduation wanted to come to mine. This person who I thought I’d never see again was lying on my dorm room floor.

I knew I should sleep—my family was arriving at eight the next morning—but instead, I stood up and whispered to him, “Do you want to go for a walk?”

We spent the night wandering the campus. He told me about his mud house in the Andes, about how he passed the days hiking through the forest above his home, about amoebas, about weeks of eating only rice and eggs and beans. And for the first time I could see that I’d been living in his past, in the life he’d left behind. What could he care about the ordinary world I still inhabited? The content of my letters, which before had seemed mundane, now also seemed childish.

So when we were sitting on the track sometime before dawn and he said, “I think about you, a lot,” it felt like someone had dropped a rock on one side of the scale in my stomach. And that mantra I’d been chanting—”Grad school in Florida. Grad school in Florida.”—just slid off the other side. It was the mantra I’d been using to steady myself, to remember that his visit was just a visit, not an opportunity to get distracted from the exciting new life I’d worked so hard to arrange for myself. But even in my unbalanced state, I remember thinking: this will make a good story someday.

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