I think I may have been in love with her.
She was curly and blonde, conventionally attractive. She had those naturally-occurring ectomorph abs I spent middle school sitting up for. I first met her when my roommate’s friend brought her to our dorm room on the second night of school. She wearing an off-the-shoulder red shirt—midriff exposed. I paid a lot of attention to her midriff.
She was taller than me. Most girls aren’t taller than me, which makes me feel wiser than them. (Wisdom and height are synonymous; it’s a fact.) But not her. I looked at her and felt she had experience I didn’t—a certain boldness I’d yet to harness from within. I wanted to be experienced. I wanted to be bold. I wanted to know her.
We spent the first few days of school repeating the same routine: smoking our brains fuzzy with varying strangers, and then wandering around campus—swapping origin stories, recounting childhood memories, sharing hopes, wishes, dreams. We had a lot in common, but less than I’d initially hoped. Except I liked that. She was a new kind of friend. Unphased by social capital. Content with her lack of artistic talent. Needing of physical intimacy. Apt to laugh at her own jokes. Sincere. She always got very stoned, I did too.
High in the dining hall one night, she got scared and asked me to hold her hand. The lightning was so harsh, and the workers were so mean, and everyone was less high than us. We were annoying and anxious and everyone knew it a week and a half into college. She begged for companionship in her paranoid state. I nodded into the void I’d been melting into for the past five minutes, offering her my greatest gift: affirmation. I turned to her, momentarily sobered, and embraced her shaking palms.
She hugged me long and hard when we said goodbye that night, and at the end of each night we spent together, as if I’d forget her in the morning and smoke with someone new tomorrow. As if our time together was nothing more than an impermanent and transitory comfort in the first few weeks of school. It was, and I knew that (maybe she didn’t)—but she was here now, and she was so soft.
As quickly as I’d become infatuated with her, I was irritated. I was better than her. I’d distracted myself from our overwhelming differences with weed (pathetic) and unrequited romantic fantasies (more pathetic), but somewhere inside, I’d slowly realized we existed in a state of intrinsic contrast. Suddenly the earnestness I’d once admired became unbearable. She was unknowing of my cultural references, naive, maybe even solipsistic too. She wasn’t as pretty as I’d once imagined. Most girls had soft hands, and all girls had midriffs. Classes had started, and I was joining clubs where I met people far more similar to me. I began to think the liberal arts experience wasn’t about settling for the friendship of differently-minded people. It was about remaining unsettled until you found your niche. I grew anxious spending time with her. Soon, people would be less friendly and more distant, and there would be no opportunities to make new friends. And then I’d be stuck—either with a friend I had no interest in, or with no friends at all. Terrifying.
I’d always been the submissive reactor in our dynamic: the receiver of texts, the agree-er to plans, the eternal nodder. So I withdrew. I blamed missed calls and texts on naps. I sought ought new settings. Settings without her. We spent less time together. We spent weekends with different friends. We drifted.
In the final stages of our friendship, brought together by the whim of an off-campus party, she convinced me to join the rugby team with her. Due to conflicting schedules, practices would be the only time we could spend together. And being on the team ensured joint time on the weekends too. It was appealing at first. Her proposal was a nice way to soothe my guilt for denying her my time, while meeting new people and being invited to parties. I wanted a community at school, too; the team, although less organically formed than a friend group per se, was one. I was also smoking a lot of weed, and subsequently eating a lot of food, so maybe playing a sport would keep me in good health.
At our first practice together, she basked in the camaraderie of sport, declaring at the end that this was the happiest she’d been here. (This excited me in the most egotistical way possible. She had a distraction!)
I hated rugby. It was hot, and I didn’t like running on something that wasn’t a machine (grass), and I was freaked out by the thought of spending Saturdays at rugby tournament, watching nothing more than balls passed between sweaty bodies. But I couldn’t tell her that—I was scared to let her down, I was scared to reject the recruitment of the eager coach with the scary British accent, I was scared that I was a chronic quitter with zero patience. And I knew I was a coward. If I were to quit, I’d only feel comfortable doing it like a coward. College sports just didn’t feel like a thing you could blow off until it stopped texting you. I watched the cross-country boys run shirtless on the field adjacent to us, wondering if I could bear a season of such discomfort.
I was tormented by the thought of having to abandon her. Yes, she was self-centered, and my reluctance to advocate for my priorities in our friendship lent itself to her selfishness. But she meant well, and as far as I knew, she was always honest with me. Why couldn’t I do the same? She liked me so much, but I couldn’t even reciprocate liking any longer. How do you drop someone for lack of preference? Is there a proper way to break up with a friend?
At the campus health center, as I received my sports physical, the problem was solved for me.
“Hmm. You might have a heart murmur. Let’s have the doctor check,” the nurse told me, worry in her wavering voice. Then the doctor came in. And he took my heartbeat. And the doctor confirmed: “You have a heart murmur.”
I couldn’t play rugby.
Illustration by Sophie May.