It all had such a promising start. The boy from vacation, the one I would later call If Things Were Different, and I were both genuinely happy to be together at the start, happy to love and be loved. But we were also both damaged in many ways, and instead of trying to help ourselves, we tried to lose it all in each other. Later recounting this time in my life to my friend Charlotte, I tell her “We were crazy in love. I was crazy in love with him, and he was crazy in love with me, and unfortunately, there was a little too much crazy in that situation.” I have never come up with a better way to describe my relationship with If Things Had Been Different.
It’s a Friday night in my dorm room. I’m working on a paper that’s due Monday, when there’s a loud knocking at my window. I know who it is immediately, because no one else ever comes to my window. It’s If Things Were Different — and he’s not supposed to be here. I pull up the blinds, so he know’s I’m going to buzz him in and then go to my door confused by his arrival…because it doesn’t seem pleasant.
Before he’s even through the threshold he’s cursing and asking me what’s wrong with me. I don’t understand what’s happening, but I do know he smells like alcohol. I don’t even hear what he’s saying as my own inner monologue starts about how I can’t believe he’s driven all the way here after drinking. Finally I snap back into the moment as he tells me, “You know, I could have effin‘ cheated on you many times.” I’m still confused, but actually aware of the conversation now. I ask him what he’s talking about and he acts like I’m playing dumb. We do this dance for awhile and finally he tells me about how Indecision answered my phone earlier and told him I was sleeping and he wasn’t going to wake me up because I had a long night. Indecision’s statement was true. I had been up getting sick a lot of the night, and I must have been sleeping when If Things Were Different called, because I don’t remember it. But, I’m sure the was he said it implied much more and If Things Were Different was at the end of his rope with this kind of stuff. Did it justify his response? No not at all, but at least now I knew what we were fighting about.
I try to set If Things Were Different right, but he doesn’t want to hear it. Instead he begins to tell me about all the times he “almost” hooked up with other girls. My blood boils. At least two of these almosts count as actual cheating to me, and I can’t believe all this time I’ve had no idea that he was spending all this time with other women. Now I’m screaming too, and I have plenty of things I want to say in the moment about how he’s a cheater, and a drunk and a needy bastard who doesn’t deserve my love. And somewhere in all this screaming, Indecision hears us from upstairs, and comes bursting in just as If Things Were Different grabs a picture frame from my desk and throws it the ground smashing it at my feet. What happens next is a blur of chaos, tears and confrontation. The RA comes rushing in and threatens to call campus public safety if If Things Were Different doesn’t leave campus immediately. He storms out and Indecision comes toward me to comfort me, but I want him gone. In my mind, this is his fault. I send him away and cry alone this time as I pick up the shattered pieces from the floor.
“You definitely broke up with him this time, right?” you might be asking at this point. No. I suck at love and I took him back. I blamed my own time spent with Indecision for my boyfriend’s need to seek attention elsewhere, and after a long, drawn out reconciliation process where we both swore to be completely faithful, emotionally and physically, we were back together. And more so than ever, as my health declined and I was forced to take the next semester off from school.
I move back home with my parents to try and recover and get back on track from my recent relapse. And within a short amount of time If Things Were Different is having such bad problems at home that my parents allow him to move in, too. We all live together like a weird little family for awhile, and things are good. The only other person he has to share my time with is my friend Heather, the only true good thing If Things Were Different ever brought into my life.
Heather has health issues as well and it’s a comfort and a solace to have someone to discuss IVs, side effects and physical therapy with. She becomes one of the best friends I have ever had, and I become supremely loyal to her. As spring turns to summer, I get stronger and she declines. I drive her to pick up her prescriptions, sit with her through therapy and become the one who tries to make things normal for someone else.
If Things Were Different eventually moves back home, feeling unwarranted guilt for leaving his family, and with the separation comes issues once again. My willingness to be there for Heather when she needs me, even if it means cancelling plans with him, makes him jealous and he goes back to filling his alone time with reckless behavior. We try to make things work, but as Heather becomes more ill, I become more distracted and my priorities change. It takes everything he and my family have to convince me to go on our yearly vacation that summer, and I do my best to enjoy it, especially as I hear how Heather is doing better than when I left.
I check in with her in the few days between returning from vacation and moving back into school and things seems to be fine. And they’re fine with If Things Were Different, too. Being on vacation has made things good again between us, and since he starts school later than I do, he moves me in on a Saturday and stays with me the first three days. After classes Monday, we go to a bunch of stores collecting stuff for a care package for Heather that I’ll deliver to her in the hospital on Thursday. I spend Tuesday night cutting silly construction paper flowers to put all over the box because I know she’ll think it’s cheesy, and therefore laugh one of her old man sounding chuckles, a sound I needed to hear to know she was really going to be alright.
On Wednesday morning, I get up late like any other morning and make myself oatmeal in my room with my semi in violation of dorm rules water boiler, bring my laptop back to life from its sleep, and then peruse people’s AIM away messages to entertain myself as I eat. And that’s when I see it. One after another, RIP. My heart stops. I check my dorm phone — no messages. But no one really has that number except my schoolmates, parents and my boyfriend. I get charged for using it so I prefer to use the cell phone I’m already paying for…except it rarely works in the dorms. I grab it and my keys and run outside shoeless to try and get service.
The messages on my voicemail shake me from my hope and denial. I go back inside, now soaked from rain and stand in the middle of my room in shock. I don’t know what to do. I feel like my heart has been ripped from my chest. I see the stupid box covered in flowers and I throw it all the wall. I must start to scream because a RA comes in my unlocked door and is so scared by how I’m acting that they call campus mental health services. They must tell them to bring me down there, but I don’t remember agreeing to go. I don’t remember anything except the heaviness of my rain soaked clothes, and the blisters the wet flip flops were giving my feet as I trudged along with an RA I barely knew to the office.
They make the decision to have my parents come get me. When my father arrives, he has no idea what to say to me and it’s ok because I don’t want to talk. There’s nothing to say. My best friend is dead.
Her death weighs heavily on me even now, but when it first happened it shattered me. The guilt of putting off that final visit to Thursday, when I could have gone sooner, should have gone sooner, broke me for awhile. Nevermind that I could have spent those final weeks with my friend, instead of on a stupid vacation, with a stupid boy who would never be able to get past his own demons enough to be there for me like he should have. But I suck at love, and not just romantically. I make bad choices and I have to live with them.
Losing Heather made me realize that life is too short to feel anything less than happy. And that realization made me leave If Things Were Different… because things never would be.
As Rebecca Wells so brilliantly put it, “There is the truth of history, and there is the truth of what a person remembers.” I’ll try to bridge that gap as I tell you the story of how I eventually figured out I suck at love. Come back weekly for new installments.