Virginia is beautiful.
At Roanoke Airport, a tiny six-gate hub about the size of a can of Pringles, I took the Smart Bus to Virginia Tech. However, since I arrived so late in the afternoon, what with the time change and all, I couldn’t register into my dorm room. I was unaware of this supposed deadline. I walked aimlessly around the large, foreign campus, trudging along with my big ass suitcase, a backpack, and the briefcase that held my laptop. I watched students playing beach volleyball, sitting, laughing, talking like they had already been there for weeks. I felt like an outsider showing up halfway through a party I wasn’t invited to.
Overwhelmed, I found a bench as far away from human activity as would allow me, and parked all my belongings. In the middle of trying to figure out what the fuck I was supposed to do next, I called my girlfriend — who was at Disneyland with her family as a consolation present for me being gone. I told her what was happening, that I loved her and missed her, and let her get back to her favorite place in the world.
Then, sitting on the bench, I sulked my face into my folded arms and cried my eyes out.
When I finally got my shit together, I called my mom and asked if anything could be done. I had no credit card and, as far as I can recall, very little money on my person. But moms know how to do everything, so it didn’t matter. She called the front desk of the Holiday Inn across the street from campus — the same one her and I stayed at during orientation — and it took me about 20 minutes to walk there with all my luggage.
That night I ate at KFC, and it was delicious.
* * * * *
Because Virginia Tech overbooked its freshmen class in the fall of 2008, my dorm was larger than it was supposed to be; it was meant to be a common room, where kids study or whatever. On the plus side it had a ton of space, roughly three times that of a normal dorm. The minus was it didn’t have a sink, so I’d have to brush my teeth in the restroom (which I never found to be a major inconvenience). If it was up to me that would have been my dorm for the whole year.
Also because of the space, I had an additional roommate. I had two roommates. The first was Jason, who would turn out to be my closest ally on the east coast. He stood about 5’9″ with brown hair and had a lean figure; he played multiple sports in high school. He also played guitar, and was so laid back you would think he was the one from Southern California.
The second was Jeremy, an engineer whose purpose in life was to conquer the world at video games. He played nonstop. Jeremy was a sad creature, someone I didn’t know if I should feel sorry for or just think he was fucking weird. I ultimately decided on both. Towards the beginning of the year, in the honeymoon era of being roommates, Jason and I invited Jeremy to go to dinner with us several times. After about a month of witnessing his strange social behavior, we stopped the jig.
Still, it was a strong situation to be in. Jason had a girlfriend, so there were nights he would sleepover at her place. Jeremy and I didn’t keep much communication. He did his own thing and I did mine.
When Jason transferred dorms in October, Jeremy and I had the gigantic room to ourselves for the rest of the semester. He got involved in some gaming club, so there would be entire days I’d have the room to myself. That gave me ample time to have phone sex with my girlfriend, which was soon cut short by her mom receiving an embarrassingly high phone bill. So it goes.
That’s how my life was in Virginia. I went to class, ate lunch, went out to eat with Jason and his group of friends from Lynchburg for dinner, and there was a pocket of time each day that I’d talk on the phone with my girlfriend. Most days, Trey and I would talk on the phone as well. It was simple, and for those initial few months everything seemed to be working out.
* * * * *
Whether it was movies, television, or just word of mouth, for my entire life I was sold the meme that long distance relationships don’t work. The night before I left for Virginia, my girlfriend and I were in my room at my parents old house, packing things for my eventual trip. I remember telling her explicitly if she found somebody while I was gone, to just tell me and that would be the end of it — an oddly mature response from me as an 18 year-old.
I don’t know why I was so surprised when she told me she had no plans of breaking up with me. I guess I just assumed, by the time summer ended, that she wouldn’t want to be tied down with a boyfriend on the east coast. It’s almost like I needed her to tell me she wasn’t going anywhere to reinforce my own love for her, which wasn’t going anywhere, either. I just try to let myself down as easily as possible.
I won’t deny it was difficult, but the beginning wasn’t so bad. From August through October we had a couple fights over the phone, but this was before the days where the fighting seemed to be more common than the loving. These were just normal, mostly petty, disagreements that I can only assume were initiated by me and my insecurities.
The whole time we had planned to see each other over my month-long winter break. It was supposed to be a surprise when I showed up for Thanksgiving in November. But I couldn’t hold it in, since I was just as ready to see her again as she was me. Everything felt like an eternity back then.
One night I was walking around the football stadium, a normal route I took when I was on the phone for long periods, and she was feeling sad. So I spilled the beans right then and there, next to Lane Stadium, told her we wouldn’t have to wait a month and a half to see each other, that I’d be home in a couple weeks. She was so elated she started to cry. “Thank god,” she said.
I came home for Thanksgiving and both of our parents agreed, since I was only to be home for 5 days, that her and I could sleepover together. It seemed like an easy decision to us, but looking back, we were only 18. We’d only been together for like 5 months, and half of that time we spent 3,000 miles apart. Our parents did us a real solid.
Home always feels familiar. When I think about California, being away from it, it’s always going to be through the eyes of my 18 year-old self. It has its beaches and mountains, great weather. Anything anyone could ever want.
I only wanted one thing: Her. I hated how much I missed her, but I loved how it felt to be missed. When I was in Virginia to see the leaves change in the fall, for the snow and rain and sleet, I couldn’t appreciate it enough without her. It was like I was stealing these images. California was still home, and it was always going to be home, but it was also the place she was. That was what made it home to me.
Thanksgiving came and went, and I flew back to Virginia for finals. A few weeks later when I returned to California, she was on her way home from a train ride with her mom, so I didn’t see her for my first few days. They had been looking for houses in Texas.
Her sister and I picked them up from the train station a week before Christmas. It was cold and breezy, and snow capped the surrounding mountains. On the ride back to her mom’s house we held hands in the backseat, something we had grown accustomed to by that point. We were together again.