First they love you then they hate you then they love you again
When my girlfriend and I were together, in person, we got along just fine. We spent so much of the prior summer within arm’s reach of each other, aware of the expiration date that was soon to come. By the time I made it home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, again, the same concept applied: I wasn’t going to be there for very long. The reality of leaving left no room for arguments or unhappiness. It was all love all the time.
It was when we were apart that became harder to manage. Phone calls and text messages were no longer going far enough to mask the distance between us. I didn’t doubt that she was in love with me — because you have to really fucking love someone to put up with what she put up with — but I was 18 and in my first relationship and still treated every little thing like the end of the world. I was inexperienced at how to treat people I claimed to love.
When her mom became sick with a blood issue… towards the end of my Winter Break… my girlfriend began spending more and more time with her. Our communications became shorter, and our phone calls less frequent. She was sad, and I couldn’t change that. Her mom’s situation was the priority, and I never gave her the slack she deserved for focusing more of her time there.
We stayed at the Radisson near LAX the night before I flew out for my second semester at Virginia Tech. My mom got two rooms, one for her and another for us. That night we ate dinner downstairs at the bar/lounge; I believe there was a playoff game between AFC North teams, but I don’t remember if it was Steelers/Ravens or Steelers/Bengals. I think the Steelers won.
I didn’t know it at the time, I could only sense, that the relationship was beginning to unravel. I could see it happening before my eyes and did nothing to change it. It was as if I would rather go down with my pride and ego, sticking to my guns, than try to help her in the first real crises she went through while we were together.
When I look back on it now, as a 26 year-old, I wonder if Virginia wasn’t, after all, the reason we stayed together for so long. At the time it regularly acted as the scapegoat for why things didn’t work out, but I was just a kid. I would have been no closer to changing my ways if I never left California in the first place. One way or another, the tears in the fabric were going to get exposed. I couldn’t hide forever.
It was freezing cold, and snow was falling, the night I returned to Virginia. I hit a delay in Atlanta, and I only made it to Roanoke in time for the final Smart Bus shuttle of the night. I sat towards the back of the bus talking to a girl who was also a freshman. She was from St. Louis.
When I got back to my new dorm room, I realized I was alone again. I would have to wait another month and a half — March 1st — before I could go home again. Somehow, I needed to find a way to survive the longest month-plus of my life.
* * * * *
It was the end of January, roughly 10 days after I went back to Virginia, when we broke up the first time. Her sister and sister’s boyfriend bought her a webcam for Christmas so she could talk to me on there. Between us, almost nothing had changed. Her mom was still sick, and we weren’t talking nearly as often as we had been before. In an attempt to cut my losses and hope for something better down the road, I told her over the webcam that we should take a break.
We were both crying, but she agreed that would be for the best.
I was genuinely heart-broken at how little I actually thought that through. Maybe in the back of my mind, I don’t know, I thought she would tell me no — that we should try to make it work. At most, I assumed it would be a week or two, she would realize how desperately she needed me, and we’d get back together like that. But I wasn’t so lucky.
February of 2009 was the worst month of my life, and nothing comes close. Whenever I feel the worst of life’s pain, I’m returned to my dorm room in Virginia. I worried about everything, whether it was her finding a new guy, or her hooking up with someone. She was the only girl I’d ever been with, and I was the only guy she had been with, and so perhaps wrongly we always viewed each other as property, to an extent. Like we had some sort of claim on each other.
But mainly I just missed the hell out of her. I’d spent so much of my days in Virginia talking to her; my favorite part about being out there was getting to tell her about it. When that got ripped out I was lost. I quit going to class, couldn’t eat anything, couldn’t sleep. Through all the phone calls with my mom and dad and Trey, nothing was helping my situation. I just had to wait it out.
During the month of February I went from weighing 165 pounds down to 130. I looked pale as a ghost. My mom sent me care packages filled with snack food and candy that I liked, and that was what I mainly lived on. I didn’t want to go out anywhere. I just wanted to sleep and forget where I was. It was pathetic.
February was also the month I picked up smoking. At the student store, I bought a pack of Marlboro Reds and smoked three or four at night when Trey and I spoke. That was around the time that Trey was arrested for using graffiti; the police connected it to shit he did all the way back when he was 17. He spent a few days in jail, and would be on probation for the next 6 months, so he had to be home at 9:00 every night. That was usually when we spoke, around midnight on the east coast.
* * * * *
On March 1st, I arrived at Ontario Airport. My (now ex-) girlfriend picked me up, along with her sister and sister’s boyfriend. She wore white boots and a black American Apparel-ish looking thing, and I — per her request — wore my tightest black Krew jeans and a white V-neck. We were going dancing that night.
When I came down the escalator, I wasn’t totally sure how I was supposed to treat her. (Am I, like, not supposed to kiss her?) She came to me and we hugged, pulled back a little, and we kissed. I think she asked why I was being weird, but in my head we were broken up. I don’t fucking know.
We went to the club and danced, and took pictures, and then went to her mom’s house. I was elated to be back. I gave her mom a hug when I got in the house, then followed my kind-of-girlfriend into her room along with my luggage. I shut the door behind us. We started kissing some more.
She took off her black dress thing and I got out of my pants, and I laid on top of her while we held one another silently. Behind her bed she grabbed a book titled My Friend Leonard and handed it to me, with a page bookmarked by a pink sticky note. On it, it read:
Eric, my darling, please read this to me.
So I read a couple pages, put it down, and we spent the night together. For the first time since I left for Virginia in January, I felt like everything was back together again. I had been worrying about nothing. From summer love to the coldest winter, only that night, laying with her in bed, did I discover how worth it she really was.
A couple days later she left for Texas with her mom, to close a deal on the house her mom wanted. So we spent a few days crazy in love, and instead of me she was the one to leave. I flew back to Virginia a week later, primed with optimism about the future.
* * * * *
The end of my freshman year at Virginia Tech was a blur. Around the time of my 19th birthday, on March 20th, my girlfriend and I were official (again), though we still dealt with a lot of the same issues we had before. Even after my bout with depression, my behavior never fundamentally changed. I was still jealous of her time when she wasn’t talking to me, and still judging meaningless aspects from her past. There was absolutely no saving me.
But we did make it through the end of the school year. Over my last couple months we spent much time on the phone speculating how I could transfer to a school in Texas, get a job and live with her at her mom’s house. Only young people can create such a fantasy. When I finally told my mom and dad, who made an enormous financial commitment so I could go to my dream school, that I planned to leave Virginia Tech because I wanted to be with her, they weren’t happy. They pleaded with me, even in spite of how much they loved her, to not abandon my dream school for a girl.
In my head the decision was already made. If it was up to me I never would have left for Virginia Tech in the first place. I would have attempted to make it work with her. But the universe didn’t have that in mind. It was only after I got accepted to a once-in-a-lifetime school — one I didn’t feel like I deserved to get into in the first place — that I became smitten with a once-in-a-lifetime girl. I was 18. I did the best I could.
She left with her mom for Texas on May 15th, two days after her 19th birthday. We walked in circles together on the platform at the train station, hugging and kissing and talking about all the big plans we had. The afternoon before we laid on her bed, and I asked:
If it was up to you, would you be leaving for Texas?
She gently put a finger over my lips, like someone from a movie, as if to tell me not to be so loud because her mom might hear. Tears started running down the side of her face, as we laid facing each other on the same pillow. That told me everything I needed to know. She wasn’t anxious or scared. She had accepted it. She was resigned to leaving.
I watched the train leave with her standing in an open space, so we could still see each other. We blew each other a kiss and she mouthed “Forever.”
A week later we got in another fight over the phone, and didn’t talk the day after. On May 22nd Trey and I were caught trespassing, and spent the day in jail so the cop could prove some stupid point. It was that night, but not because of getting arrested, that her and I broke up for good.