The first sure thing I ever knew of love flickered darkly between two blazingly white sets of squares- that boiling spill of a laugh kept caged by sharp teeth, let loose in both public and private with equal abandon. Long eyelashes, blonde on the tips, and a slim nose that seemed to smirk at dimples already blushing for unspoken reasons. Not as tall as I, jittery roving green eyes without any threat to them; slender fingers that were always curling around wires, spattered with paints, marching along with text on a page.
Summer, more than half way through high school, dancing blind and naked and sweaty to sitar records up so loud, endless letters scribbled with beat poems and ironic haikus, mounting recitations of every country’s capital and every recipe locked in memory, late night conversations on borrowed cell phones from our 1 hour 25 minute separate locales, watching his dad carefully pry open the white bee hive boxes and hand me a chunk of comb (they always kept some in the freezer to gnaw on), ashy elbows on the counter of the coffeeshop during work hours, surprise visits that were reciprocated many times over: we intuited eachother, knew how many more minutes we could beg of the other’s exclusive company before showing up late and gleeful to a party or reservation. This love was directly between minds and hearts- we were seekers, inventors, Dada collage cutting masters, public high school kids who ate lunch in the art rooms and journalism rooms and called our teachers by their first names and kept our eyes down in the hallways. I sucked at playing pool and had never touched an instrument in my life. He couldn’t ever tell a lie straightfaced or remember the crucial parts of jokes.
Our different-small-town-weekdays were colored by my thrift store excitement at finding the perfect fringe leather jacket (from Easy Rider, no doubt) and his freckled ecstasy upon discovering the blueberry pickin patch (after driving in circles around flat Indiana in a crowded Subaru for 3 hours). Our heightened emotions, sensitivity to parents and siblings, news headlines, library fees, and infinite academic ambitions drove our imaginations beyond silver linings and annoyed the hell out of everyone we knew (they were just jealous). I am laughing now.
We argued over where to eat and when, over what song to pick next and how high the volume should go, over who should have printed out MapQuest directions before we left, over drug use and boring friends. He cried like a patient cries before a serious surgery, suddenly out of nowhere, alone, with hope, but shoulders shuddering and eyes red all the same. I cried like I had witnessed a hideous car wreck- grateful for the fact I could feel the tears, physically needy and flooded with a release of resentful stress and anxiety.
I was frightened by his intense love, his naive air of superiority, his confidence and greedy grin, his generous kisses and habit for singing along out loud even when he didn’t know the words. I was scared of my ‘rapturous joy’, my full-on leap of devotion and demands, my self-doubt and insecurities that vanished so often only to reappear again and again. I feared my oppressive parents and their conservative Baptist value judgements- their imposition on my time and will. I dreaded and reveled in his surreal, absurd sense of humor as much as my own.
Of course, college decisions came in, and in a matter of is-it-a-big-envelope-or-small-envelope, months that had previously stretched ahead as pure open shared freedom began to condense into countdowns. I was rejected, he was accepted. I was now excluded permanently from a world I had given everything to. How could we share everything if I wasn’t good enough? If I hadn’t the scores or the vocabulary or the luck of the fucking draw? With Reed College accepting Andrew and rejecting me, and Andrew accepting Reed College in return, I felt rejected by Andrew. It is impossibly juvenile to me at this moment that I could feel jealous of an institution and a partner whose life was one and the same with my own.
I was separated from a part of myself then, and soon after I separated myself from Andrew, from South Carolina, from the United States. I went to India, confused and making excuses, searching for early morning revelations and epiphanies along the Ganges. I spoke as a cliche, dressed as a cliche, appraised melons in the Delhi bazaars with equal parts lust and disdain. I waded hip high through lunar floods in Mumbai, needing only my blonde hair to hail a clunking taxi. I exhastibly relied on my Indian friend Monica and her family with whom I was traveling for guidance, and I found it in a lot of ways. I gave up clinging to any claims to privacy, independence, or ‘personal space’- those refuges were not necessary and considered the highest of luxuries. Their generosity and immediate acceptance broke my sullen spirit into a million little pieces. I wrote long unsent letters to Andrew, saw his face at every crowded street corner and in every roadside stand. I caught snatches of Hindi songs and imagined his reaction to the oxcarts and emaciated cows causing traffic jams.
India healed the insolence of my open love wounds. Jolting train rides, 48-hour vomiting, gap toothed grins from dusty kids, witnessing marriages and pilgrimage sites, waking up to see the sun rise in the reflections of terraced rice paddies. I learned to weep silently, to never complain, to feel again that intense love and dizzying affection. I came back to the US, moved to Charleston 10 hours after my return flight had landed in Columbia, and started over. Andrew visited, often if I recall, and the curve of every squiggle in my grey mushy brain loved him. My arthritic knuckles confessed love for him at each pop and grind. My brown shoulders, bad posture, the arch of my lower back loved him. My chest creaked and throbbed inside for what I had missed and who I had pushed away. But he was already gone.
Portland is a nice place, I hear. I haven’t ever been, but I’ll get there some day. The cherry trees bloom along the Willamette River in early spring, and a gauzy fog comes in through open windows and around door frames. People ride bikes everywhere, and there are Ethiopian restaurants and ski cabins on Mount Hood, flea markets and fire dancers, distinguished professors and long-weekend debauches. There are also papers to write, a less sizeable time distance than from Varanasi to Spartanburg, but still something to be considered. There are short haired plat eyed Portland girls to kiss, rings to take off their fingers, fishing lines to be cast out, rugby to be practiced, and emails and phone calls to be left unreturned.