Today, she’s just a girl in my psych class. With dark jeans and expensive highlights, she could be another anonymous face lit by fluorescent lights. I’m all the way across the room. She turns her head and her dark eyes meet mine. I feel something echo in the space between us, something deep and darkened by sadness. I want to text her, but instead I turn off my phone.
I met her in seventh grade. She was new and awkward and invited me to her birthday party even though I didn’t invite her to mine. Once, on a lazy vacation to our friend’s lake house, we illegally bought fireworks. We came home and told anyone who’d listen that we bought TNT. Our eyes were bright with exaggerated glory, and from that moment on, we were attached.
Fast forward four years. Let scenes of snow days, history tests and suburban angst run together. Let the blurry details escape. But notice the two of us, together, always. Me and her. Laughing, fighting, singing in my car, asleep on her couch. Together, always. We were saddened by the future, which we thought would bring separation. But we both ended up at Penn. When she got in, she called me. I was filling my car with gas, but I howled with joy like I was dancing alone in my room. The summer after graduation, we traveled to the lake house where our friendship began. The future felt certain, glinting with promise like the light bouncing off the water. But we were shaky and unsure on move–in day, sweating through our carefully chosen t–shirts. A million potentials spilled forth from our parents’ SUVs, and all we had to do was get out of the car. She leaped, but I stood still.
Freshman year was a swirling lash of confusion. I had trouble making friends, I hated my classes and I was troubled by the question of who I wanted. I’d always dated guys in high school, yet I was unable to shake away the icky wrongness I felt after sleeping with them. I let myself be carried to body after body. I want you, I’d say. But I couldn’t convince myself. I texted the words before I said them aloud. I think I like girls. I think I like her.
I liked her. I had trouble understanding it then, but looking back, it’s obvious. I always wanted to be around her. I wanted to sit near her, make her laugh, walk home dizzy–drunk and holding hands. But she didn’t feel the same. I was an afterthought to the person I was always thinking about. Unsure how to cope with that prickly feeling, I pushed her away too far and too often. We struck a fragile balance, our relationship anxiously hanging by a thread.
One night, that thread broke. She stumbled into my dorm drunk and angry. Upset about her own shit and upset about me. We fought, cried. She walked out and shut the door gently. In my hazy, angry stupor, I sent her this text: I’m gonna tell you something that will ruin our friendship. I think I’m in love with you.
I don’t remember what she said. I fell quickly into sleep and woke up the next day with a black hole gaping in my stomach. It was over. She was gone. We stopped talking. Our friends told me she was sorry, but I refused to listen. I was more embarrassed than I could admit. In public, we averted our eyes, each acting too busy to notice the other. Once, we passed in the College advising office, perfect strangers. She was wearing a sweater that used to sit in my closet.
Pain manifested in my body. My skin broke out in deep cystic acne. I couldn’t sleep. I gained weight. I felt like magnets were attaching me to the ground, making it hard to walk. I felt like my chest had been scooped out cleanly, leaving me empty and raw. For months, I was dulled by sadness and anger.
I thought I'd feel that way forever. I'd always be miserable and failing my classes. But things change. Time creates distance and eases pain. I spent the summer at home, clearing my head. I put all my effort into going through the motions of being alive—getting out of bed, showering, answering texts, going to work. These things sound like a given, but at the time they were challenging. Accomplishing them made me feel better. I started to think about other things. I dedicated myself to writing, and developed an unrequited crush on a girl who loved dogs. I found a therapist and ate three meals a day. My body began to heal, my skin to clear up, my heart to resume its normal beat. Some days, I cried for hours and cancelled my plans. One night, I emailed my advisor and said I wanted to drop out of school. But I always got out of bed in the morning, no matter how much I wanted to remain glued to my blankets. Progress wasn't easy or straightforward but it was happening.
One August night, I realized I wasn’t angry anymore. I forgave her for whatever she’d done. I forgave myself for what I’d done, too. Without anger clouding my vision, the world seemed a brighter place. I texted her: I forgive you. I don’t remember what she said back. Today, she’s just another face in my psych lecture. We smile across the room, letting history erase itself.
I came out to my friends, then my family. I switched my Tinder settings to “only women.” I dated someone, for a brief and beautiful moment. Now, I sleep with girls I barely know and forget to text them back. And that’s it. This story doesn’t end with love or with heartbreak. There’s no great lesson because stuff like this doesn't always happen for a reason. But it happens, it hurts and then the moment’s gone.