College is all about choices. In fact, there are so many choices sometimes that, out of a weird choice-induced paralysis, I end up doing nothing. It was like this even before I got here.
This was my senior summer, last July. It was a cycle: I was happy, thought I was happy, wondered if I was, wasn’t sure, wasn’t. More than a clever experiment in tenses, though; this was something tangible that was making summer an endless stretch of grey. I wanted my summer back.
I had never broken up with a girl before—especially not one whom I had been dating for a while—but for the first time, this was an actual consideration.
What was I thinking about at the time? Well, in less than a month, Diane and I would be more than three thousand miles apart—she in California, I in Massachusetts. I’d heard of couples making the distance thing work, and I’d heard horror stories too, but either way I needed to make a choice.
In the distant future, I saw a door slightly ajar, and from what I could make out, it looked like what everyone had been telling me: the best four years of my life. I saw myself living the life I saw in all the brochures; the humble glamor of dorm living, the countless friends I would make, the post-party regrets and triumphs, and the laughter looking back on it all.
When I stopped peering beyond that threshold, I looked back towards my life in the present. I imagined what it would be like if I chose not to step through the door, and I saw four long years trailed by a growing shadow of regret—for missing out on all the brochure had promised. I imagined myself blinded by the new surroundings all around me, and struggling with the burden of someone far, far away whom I still cared deeply about.
When July ended, I decided to break up with Diane. A brief text letting her know we needed to talk, and then I was sitting across from her on her patio. The sky was grey, but it wasn’t raining. I began a lot of sentences with “I’m sorry” and other vaguely apologetic noises, but when it was all over, I drove back home.
I lay in bed that night and before drifting to sleep, I saw the door again. I saw the choices that had tempted me: the hazy silhouettes of the women I would be with, in my search for someone special. The door was wide open, and for a brief instant, I felt frighteningly free. The realm of possibilities yawned before me, and I had already made the first step; then I paused upon hearing another door gently click shut behind me.
It was a door I had overlooked—a view into a future that guaranteed no more than an undisclosed amount of time with the girl whom I still cared for, who still meant more to me for being herself than the siren infinity of unrealized fantasies I had fallen so hard for.
I had made a big mistake.
Following expectations of good form and taste in breaking up, I would have gone to college alone but regretful. I would have lived the life I had looked forward to with such zeal, and I might even have forgotten about this whole episode, maybe. But knowing me, good taste just isn’t my style.
I spent two days in limbo, and standing before the door of her house, I almost drove back home. Finally, though, I did it; I knocked four quick raps on the door of uncertainty.
The door opened. Diane stood there; she looked beautiful, unhappy.
“What do you want?” she asked me.
“Can we talk?” I said. I smiled, but she didn’t seem to notice.
We walked solemnly upstairs to her room. I noticed that the books I had lent her were missing from her desk, and noticing my hesitation, she thrust a box containing them and other forgotten, indefinitely loaned items into my arms.
I set the box down on the floor, and took a good long look at her. She was wearing the same outfit as the day I broke up with her—blue and red pajamas, an off-white graphic t-shirt. We sat apart, and I wanted to fix things. Words came—I don’t remember them anymore—and she said she’d think about it.
I went hiking with friends the next day. We went out to the Delaware Water Gap and when we reached the clearing, looked for a long while out into the expanse of clear blue sky. I don’t remember much else.
To tell the truth, I don’t remember anything else from that week. But then one night, Diane and I were out in Princeton for sushi and before long, we became us. I was happy, and so was she. We were happy, again.