In class, I secretly spent time constructing schedules of all the assignments that I wanted to finish several days in advance. Not a single waking hour passed by in vain because my mind had to be occupied at all times. Once I became idle, my thoughts began to drift to things that I once considered as trivialities, like the warmth of a romantic embrace, the moment when my lover’s eyes and mine connected, the comfortable silence between two likeminded souls where neither one feels the pressure to utter anything not sincerely felt.
In other words, I busied myself to ignore the fact that I craved an intimacy that could not come from a platonic friend or a relative; it could only come from someone who wanted me romantically. The years spent in college had eroded my faith in finding a guy who would single me out in the midst of all these attractive and intelligent men and sincerely want me. I tried to thwart my heart growing bitter and cold from the pain I felt from being neglected by becoming a workaholic. Like I said before, I was not prone to wasting time and I used to categorize any nighttime diversions as such.
And yet, the brief moment that you and I shared together could not have been more wrong.
I was exhausted from a long day interning at the posh building in SoHo where I spent several hours alone and barely speaking to anyone. As I walked down Prince Street towards the subway back to Penn Station, my senses were overwhelmed: I saw so many people, so many interactions, and yet in the midst of this cosmopolitan city where connections are infinite I could not have felt more insignificant, more unable to connect.
My plan was to just return to my dorm room and be my own company. Like Manhattan, Princeton was another place where I could harbor an immense amount of loneliness, especially on the weekends where couples re-emerge from the weekday studying spots to traverse the community footpaths at night. My girlfriends convinced me to go out on a Friday evening and the idea intrigued me because the place where we would go was somewhere I had never been before. Perhaps I could meet someone tonight, I thought. Perhaps I spent so much time trying to find someone new in old places and I could not expect a different result using the same tactics. But I did not allow myself to become too excited on this idea. My compulsions to schedule my everyday activities are underscored by the fact that I like to project into the future. But by making this prediction, I tend to lose sight of the reality of the present because I cling onto what could be rather than paying close attention to what exists.
The Friday night of September when I met you was the exception. It was the moment in which I fully immersed in my present surroundings that I found my dreams moving slowly in alignment with reality.
Although I was the middle of a moderate-sized room with chaotic 90s house music mix playing overhead, I felt in sync with everyone else for I was awkwardly jutting my hips to the rhythm of the song and moving alongside all these unfamiliar people. Somehow I managed to extricate myself from the fear of being in the moment and spare not a single thought to the work that awaited me in my room.
You, on the other hand, brought your work to the party. You were standing beside me with a huge backpack on your back, laughing with your own group of friends. All of a sudden, you leaned in towards me:
“What’s your name?” I looked at you. You had an endearing smile and your eyes were just as welcoming. You were not exceptionally tall but because I only stand at five feet, you were tall enough.
“Morgan. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too. Do you come here a lot?”
“Actually it is my first time. I’m not even supposed to be here. I’ve been in New York all day for an internship and frankly, I’m a little tired.”
“Oh I know what you mean. I actually have my backpack on because I intended on getting work done tonight and not partying. So what year are you and what are you studying?”
“I’m a senior in the Comparative Literature department.”
“Don’t you have to learn foreign languages for those?”
“What languages do you know?”
“Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, and Russian. But I’m using Japanese and Russian for my thesis.”
“Wow, that’s…that’s amazing. And what do you want to do after you graduate?”
“I really would like to be a writer but I know how hard it is to be one. So, I’m kinda nervous.”
“Well do you write?”
“Yeah. I’ve written articles, screenplays, and a few manuscripts.”
Your smile grew broader and then you lightly chuckled. Then you said in a matter-of-fact way, “Well after all that you told me that, there’s no doubt in my mind that you will become one.” The manner in which you spoke was beyond endearing – it was impactful and genuine. I did not think for a second that you were just saying that to make a pass at me because I knew better to assume these things. I took you for your word and it moved me.
But the whole situation didn’t make any sense. Although I do not frequently attend parties, any party that I had gone to made me feel invisible and an intense desire to just return to my room to watch Two and a Half Men or The George Lopez Show until I had fallen asleep. In the midst of our conversation, I wondered why were you even talking to me at all. What was it about me that attracted your attention?
Unlike my other friends, some of them dressed in crop tops and shorts, my attire looked more suited for a business dinner than a party. And frankly, I didn’t find myself exceptionally pretty. It’s hard to encourage yourself about your looks when the only voices you hear inside your head are your own, your mother’s, and your closest girlfriends’, but never those of the opposite sex. This lack of resolution confirmed to me that it was best not to make any projections.
You left the dance room and I watched you for a short spell as you walked away. I thought to myself that although I would never see you again, at least you initiated contact with me and gave me your undivided attention for a short while. It had been a while since I felt that special and even though that time was short, I cherished it all the same.
But then you did something unexpected – you turned your back around and returned to me. You didn’t return to the dance floor and join your circle of friends; you returned to me. I could feel my heart racing because I had no idea what you were going to ask me. We’d already spent time asking and answering general questions, after all. So what else did you want to know?
“Do you mind if I get your number?”
I nonchalantly gave it to you but it wasn’t until I returned to my room that I began to reassess what had just happened to me. As I laid in my bed and darkness surrounded me, images of your smiling face and little snippets of our conversation, like how you had faith that I would have success as a writer or how impressed you were of my multilingual skills, appeared in the forefront of my mind.
On Saturday, I felt hopeless in trying to steer away from my old habits of thinking about the future – a future that now included you. It is quite interesting how life seems to slow down and every feature of your surroundings seem to have less vitality because a certain someone is absent.
I suspected maybe you were actually drunk the night that we met and did not remember me although you seemed to have a sound mind on that Friday evening. Maybe, you accidentally wrote down an incorrect digit of my phone number. But no – that was impossible too because you called me so that I could take your number as well. Or maybe you were just simply busy and hadn’t had time to even leave me as an afterthought.
Maybe I just wasn’t that important.
On Sunday, you texted and asked if you could see me. Even the manner in which you contacted me made me think that there was something different about you. All you wanted to do was see me. I did matter to you. I wasn’t confined to a single memory in a single place at a single moment in time. I mattered.
A few hours later, I received a text message that I secretly dreaded: a cancellation. You were sick. I thought, if a person is sick, wouldn’t he have known this a lot earlier in advance? Maybe you didn’t really want to see me. Maybe you’d gotten cold feet.
Monday felt just like Saturday: something was missing – you were missing. Tuesday came around and then you contacted me again. This second two-day waiting period was easier to endure than the first because my expectation of seeing you again drastically diminished. And frankly, I was comfortable in being pessimistic. (In dealing with the opposite sex, I’ve learned from experience than optimism never helps. It’s best to guard your heart because if you let your imagination run amok, reality will never find it. There will always be a chasm between what is and what could or should be.)
I saw your figure waiting outside of a library looking around me. I tarried hurrying up to you and wrapping my arms around you because I liked observing you. You weren’t spending time looking down at your phone or at a book; you were looking around for me. I was your focus. Your eyes never left me when we sat down outside on that quiet Tuesday evening.
“So what do you like to do for fun?” I asked.
“Usually I just hang around Princeton and go to a few bars or watch movies or something.”
“Do you ever go off campus like to Manhattan or something?”
“Actually I haven’t been yet.”
“You haven’t been? Oh my gosh, you gotta go!”
“Of course!” Enthusiasm permeated my voice. “There are broadway shows, museums, concerts, parks, all types of things.”
“Oh really? Well maybe I’ll take you with me when I go. I’ll let you plan out our day together.”
My heart fluttered. I was so surprised that for a brief second, I was robbed of speech. All I could say with blushing cheeks and a coquettish voice was, “Okay. That sounds great.”
The winds were gentle that night and your voice was more distinct to my ears as a result. Time stopped again. I was living the moment and enjoying every last second of it. I was quickly moving away from the present situation and judging by the way in which you spoke to me, I thought that you were accompanying me for the ride but I ultimately ended up wandering aimlessly due to your absence.
Wednesday came around and I did not hear from you. Thursday came around and I heard nothing from you.
Then it was Friday. I walked around New York City with a refreshed mind, a mind full of expectation. It didn’t matter that the man who brushed shoulders with on the N train hadn’t even bother to look up at me. It didn’t matter if I glanced at a cheerful couple holding hands down Prince Street because I had someone in Princeton thinking about me. I mattered to you and you mattered to me. You texted me while I was working and you did not know that it made me feel significant. You did not know that I barely conversed with my co-workers and I did not expect you to know this. But the fact that you did this of your own volition at such an impeccable time made me feel like we were likeminded. I wonder if you inherently knew that you should contact me or was it random?
I did not feel exhausted when I returned to campus on the NJ Transit. You said that you might get in touch with me to hang out and by my request, you agreed to get in touch with me to confirm. I mentally skipped over the part that you might get in touch with me. I had a firm conviction in this weak possibility that we would be together that you did. But if we wouldn’t, at least we can talk when you contacted me to reschedule. But you never did. I waited by my desk in my room, practically falling asleep and looking at my phone, believing that every vibration would be from you but it never was. Finally, I had enough and texted you. I had waited about four hours for a call from you and I was starting to feel offended. When I texted you, you said that we had to reschedule and asked if I was fine with that. I gritted my teeth as I responded that I was even though I wanted to sternly tell you just how much you hurt me for leaving me out on a limb.
We never did reschedule. That was the last time I heard from you.
All of these experiences, this maelstrom of emotions, happened within a mere week. Whenever I remember that in seven days, I felt both the highest and lowest of emotions, from pure exhilaration to disappointment, in seven days, I get upset at myself for expecting so much in such little time. But I cannot condemn myself anymore. Nowadays, time goes quickly. Someone who you’ve grown close to can become a stranger. Interpersonal dynamics change all the time and at a much quicker pace due to technology, for example. So I should not be upset that the rise and fall of our experiences together happened at warp speed. But I will not detest any emotions that I felt towards you – I can’t, because they all were real.
I have trained myself to be a master of concealing my emotions by busying myself with work to not worry about silly things like romance and relationships. Now I realize that romance and relationships aren’t silly things. It’s what I want. No matter how much I try to occupy my time with work, my desire for this sort of intimacy still exists and it was only during my time spent with you that I recognized it. The reason I wrote this confession is because I do feel hurt that I had no closure. But I have to close this chapter by myself. You were just one man that characterized a microscopic part of life that will eventually fade into nothingness the older I get and the more people I meet.
After you, I began to think about dreams and reality, the present and the future. Some moments in our lives we are presented with a situation that resembles a dream or may actually be that dream at that specific point in time. During my time with you, the beginning and the middle of this story both contained parts in which my dream and reality overlapped. But ultimately, the end made me realized that they could not have been more separate. And perhaps that’s all that matters.
What is the end result? Maybe there isn’t an end result because an experience with another person is an exploration no matter how long it lasts. Any emotion felt during this exploration should be acknowledged. But this sort of exploration is not half as enjoyable when executed alone. So I must abandon it just like you, in a sense, abandoned me without any answer as to what went awry.
Was it me? Was it you? I knew anything at all. I still know nothing now. I remain confused. And the reason why I’m still talking about this mere one-week encounter with you is because I never got closure and maybe never will. I can’t explain what went wrong and because of that, it plagues my mind. It’s like a problem that you spend all night trying to solve even though you know you can ask your professor or even the internet for the answer and receive it rather quickly. But this is different.
Human interactions are always different. There is no formula. There are no guarantees and absolutes and this is what saddens me the most.
I’m writing this not as a way to get back at you (if you even read this) but for myself and, yes, others too. It is a risk that I’m taking to see if there is anyone out there who has experienced this sort of ordeal no matter how absurd and melodramatic it may seem. I want to feel like readers can feel my emotions imbued in this essay because they may have been too afraid to express these same sensations sometime in their own personal lives.
The truth is, I just don’t want to feel alone anymore.