In the middle of May five and a half years ago, I stood on the platform at a train station in Ontario, California for the last time. Five months earlier I was home on my winter break from Virginia Tech waiting on the other side, for the train to arrive rather than depart. It was a surprise: I hatched a plan with my girlfriend’s sister to be there with her and, to my girlfriend, I said I’d just wait until she was home before I saw her.
My girl hopped off the train, and once she noticed I was there sheepishly ran over and kissed me and gave me a big hug. It was a cute moment.
I had no idea at the time that we were in the middle of an inevitable end. Her and I got to spend Christmas together, and the ensuing few weeks that followed. It was a happy time. On January 19th, 2009, I left from LAX to my typical flight pattern through Delta’s hub in Atlanta before catching a regional flight into Roanoke, Virginia. When I arrived it was freezing; snow was on the ground and it felt like forever before the bus came to get me.
Back then it was all a matter, like the NCAA Tournament, of surviving and advancing. I went to school from August through November, then came home for Thanksgiving. A few weeks later I came home for Christmas. By then I was over school. I just wanted to spend time with the girl I loved, with my best friend, and live happily ever after.
Once I got back to my dorm room on that cold January night, I was exhausted by the entire experience. I couldn’t ever focus in class, the long-distance relationship was taking its toll, and after being with my friends and family for a month I realized just how alone I really was. For the first time, I could really feel it.
The next couple weeks were strange. My girlfriend’s mom got really sick and my communication was growing thinner. I know it’s selfish to say that I wanted desperately to be the center of the universe, but for that time I had to take a backseat.
For Christmas my girlfriend’s sister got her a web cam so her and I could see each other, and we utilized it both practically and when we had time alone to express just how much we missed each other. But on the first day of February, when we were talking, I feared a complete breakup and suggested her and I take some time off, more for her sake than mine. I just didn’t want to lose her.
Crying, we agreed it was for the best. And what followed was the longest month of my life. Conflated with daily Oreo Cheesecake and pizza and cheeseburgers, I easily gained the freshman fifteen and then some during my first semester at VT; in the month of February alone I lost over 30 pounds. I ate the absolute minimum, which I imagine is the only way you can accomplish such a feat. Without the opportunity to talk to my girlfriend on a regular basis, I was living the nightmare of depression mixed with cabin-fever; when I make mention of my stomach being in knots, it all goes back to that one specific month. Every time I feel horrible I’m back in that room, waiting for my phone to light up, waiting for the five minutes where my appetite comes screaming for me to put food in my system.
Things picked up a bit in March. It was my birthday month as well as the time I got to be on spring break. My sort-of-girlfriend and I started talking again on the phone, albeit with a different sort of tone, and by the time spring break came we were spending time together again. The problem was, I never really changed. Even with the scare of losing out on the only thing I wanted it wasn’t enough to corral my boyish insecurities. People always say long-distance relationships don’t work, but it isn’t true. It just takes two special individuals and a lot of love. We came close once upon a time.
After spring break I was counting down to when I got to come home, in May. The year was coming to an end.
I only had about a week at my disposal before my girlfriend was to move out of state with her mom. In theory, we were just going to be doing the same thing all over again. Like a couple kids, we cooked up a master plan for me to transfer from Virginia Tech to the University of Texas so we could be closer, but we never made it to that point.
But back to the opening statement: In the middle of May five and a half years ago, I stood on the platform at a train station in Ontario, California for the last time.
It was sunny; I still remember that day vividly. Earlier we were lying side-by-side on her twin bed, looking each other square in the eyes. I asked her, now that I’m back, do you really want to leave with your mom? She took her finger and placed it gently over my lips, as if to tell me how obvious the answer is, and tears started running down her faced and onto her pillow. It was almost surreal how emotionless it looked. She wasn’t crying, she was just sad. We were spending what, at the time, were our final loving moments together.
The train was due around 3:30. I wore a T-shirt and jeans and she wore a long melon-colored dress, down to her toes. I never wanted that train to come. We stood there together for several minutes, not nearly long enough, and spoke about the future. Where we would be and what we would be doing. We were going to have black appliances in our kitchen one day. This was only another small hiccup in the big picture, we thought.
The train came and they loaded up her luggage. We kissed and hugged and decided this wasn’t the end, just to be continued. Her mom got on first and she waited out on the steps when the train actually took off. When it started moving the gravity of the situation materialized; this time it wasn’t me leaving my loved ones behind, and I discovered just how much better it is to be on the other side of that transaction.
As the train took off, she blew me a kiss and mouthed forever so I could see. Then she was gone.
Leave it to me to fall in love right before I traded in the west coast for the east. Leave it to me to still be writing about it six years later.
I was a late bloomer. My first real girlfriend has been my only real girlfriend. In True Detective Matthew McConaughey says The reason I’m alone is because I know what I want. I can’t describe anything better than that, but I also think a big reason I’m alone is because I’m only likable to some people. I was joking with Trey the other day after he and I went to get our hairs cut that Two percent of girls are all about me, two percent are completely not about me, and the other 96 percent are neutral. I don’t know how accurate that is, but it beats most of my other explanations.
Another thing is that I’m extremely comfortable with the way I am and the way things are. If I can’t have what I want, then I’ll be fine being alone, meeting new girls here and there, testing the waters. I’m not Casanova or anything, but I’m not exactly starving out here.
Where I’m at is the line between fantasy and reality. In the short-term I’m OK working and handling the business in front of me; with the big picture I still see a love story. A lot like how the first time I made the hour-plus drive to the beach when I was 16 made the world feel a lot smaller than it seemed, at 24 I’m looking at life like it’s more of a marathon than a race. I swear to god I used to operate like it was a sprint; everything had to be just right all the time or I would stress it and be an asshole to everybody; now I see it for what it really is. Make the minor improvements, shore up the weaknesses, be nice, et. al.
Yes, I’m still impatient and I still feel like a 15 year-old on the inside. But some things just fall apart. Others just take time. One of the beauties of experience is being able to understand that. I only wish I’d known what she already knew.
But yeah, fantasy. I don’t care what any guy says, The Notebook was a great movie. And it’s movies like that, combined with whatever else I knew growing up — probably Disney movies — that make me think forever actually does means forever. What’s six years in a lifetime? What’s 10, or 20? I’m not going to live forever, but I will leave my mark. I simply need another chance in a long line of chances. I said I would change and I never did. I asked for a second chance and a third and a fourth and a fifth, and every time I said, yes, this is it. I don’t ask for very much anymore, but I do know the next chance, if it ever comes, will be the last. And I’m fine with that because I know I’ll succeed with it.
Do I deserve it? Hell no. I haven’t deserved nearly as much love as I’ve ever received. That’s where the love comes in, though. It works both ways. I’m here, writing six years later, and since it still comes to my mind I know it means something. You never forget your first, just like I know she hasn’t forgotten me. I believe in next to nothing, but I’ve always believed in myself, and her, and us. It’s pathetic to say, but if I ever had to pinpoint my faith it would be there. There’s no reason for anyone to agree or take it seriously, or for them to even support my line of thinking; these are things I don’t talk about to anyone through sheer embarrassment.
Goddamn me, I’m hopeless. But I’m not stupid. I’m blinded by the irrationality of love, but if I’m forced to adapt I will. Shit, I have been adapting. This is me adapting.
In a few days it will have been a whole year.