This essay was selected as an honorable submission from Street's Love Issue personal narrative contest. Read some of our other favorite pieces here and look out for new pieces as we publish them throughout the week!
I woke up early on May 15, 2017—graduation day—to brew a pot of coffee, zip up her dress, and guide a graduation robe over her head in preparation for the day. I sat for hours at the ceremony in Franklin Field and stood for almost as long to take pictures at the Love statue. I celebrated, feeling pride and regret at saying goodbye, but not to Penn.
I met Miranda in the fall of 2015, at a welcome–back event for international relations majors, right after I transferred into Penn as a sophomore. A confident and accomplished junior, she clearly could see that I was a bit bewildered by the high–octane environment of Penn. Over the course of that first semester, Miranda occasionally invited me to social events for IR majors. With her straight, blonde hair, rich laugh, and energetic passion, she was certainly attractive. But she was going off to Cambridge the next semester. We parted ways after our last Microeconomics study session that fall. I mumbled a quick, awkward goodbye and walked away.
On November 7, 2016, we had celebrated and grinned at each other as we watched speech after speech under the shadow of Independence Hall at that final Clinton rally. 24 hours later, states flipped red and Trump marched to victory. I left a despondent watch party and walked alone in the cold to the 16th floor of Harnwell. She opened when I knocked, and for the next hour, we just sat on her bed and talked, as I held her, and her tears soaked into my sweater. Like so many others, election night jolted us. In the days that followed, we each reckoned not just with the sudden horror of Trump’s victory, but also the realization that we had gradually fallen for each other.
In September and October, we had drifted together, but only ever as friends. We always found excuses to hang out, but also mentioned the people we were matching and meeting with on apps. What followed election night was a slow, two–month courtship—slightly ridiculous considering that we had been “platonically dating,” in the words of one of her friends, for weeks. We could both tell this could be something special, but it made sense to take our time. After all, now a senior, she had only a few months left. Did it make sense to start dating when she could be living in Arkhangelsk, Russia in six months?
We decided to give it a try. Over the next five months, we fell in love at Penn. Like any new couple, we explored together and changed each other. She turned me on to jazz and tried to teach me to dance (only mildly more successful than our attempt to learn to case). Occasionally I coaxed her out for a run with me along the Schuylkill. Our walks downtown once a month for a ballet, concert, or play were a mutual contribution. But what we came to appreciate most were our routines. Making two cups of coffee every morning that we woke up next to each other. Knowing the days and times when we might pass each other on Locust in transit to class, if only to just smile at each other. Cooking together most evenings. Most of all, nights of studying together—her on the bed with her Mac, I at the desk with my pens and paper. We'd inevitably share a pot of tea, and I could always spin around, mug in my hands, to bounce an essay idea off her or hear her latest thoughts on experienced truth in Russian literature.
We said goodbye to all that the morning of May 17, 2017, but new routines have replaced those we can no longer share at Penn. Exchanging calls, letters and postcards. Meeting at bus and train stations along the Northeast Corridor whenever we can snatch a weekend together. Those old routines, though, the ones we built as we slowly fell in love at Penn, still haunt us. Miranda longingly looks back at them from time to time, when the “real world” serves up a challenging day.
For this past year, I’ve had to continue the old rituals alone, with only Miranda’s ghost for company. She’s gone, but I still brew two cups of coffee each morning—only to end up drinking both myself. I still walk briskly down Locust—but without the excited hope that I might see her any moment now. I still work away at my desk most nights—but when I spin my chair around, mug in hand, all I see is an empty bed. They’re all things I still have to do, but they are things I have to do without the person who brought simple joy to them. When you fall in love at Penn, you build up patterns and routines with someone, and those patterns and routines become part of what makes you happy here. It may not be common, but I know I’m not the only one to fall in love with a peer at Penn, only to cheer them across the stage at graduation before it’s my own turn, not saying goodbye to either them or Penn, but them at Penn. In a few months, I will get my chance to say farewell to Penn, and farewell with sadness to the friends, professors and study spots I’ve come to know so well. But I will also at last be saying a final goodbye to all those routines that lost something when Miranda crossed that same stage, one year before me.
Cornell Overfield is a senior from Buffalo, NY.