Modern Love: At Night

My girlfriend is writing a novel at night. It’s her thesis. It’s more than that, too, but that probably goes without saying. She writes until dawn while I lie near her in a shallow sleep. We argue over whether she should be allowed the glow of a tiny lamp. She turns it off because she knows I like sleeping in total darkness. I turn it back on because I don’t want her eyes to hurt.

She lies with me when I go to sleep. We talk, and sometimes I’m so tired words tumble out of my mouth without making any sense at all. She strokes my hair until my breathing lapses into slow, regular waves, and then she gets up and puts her clothes back on and sits at her desk and writes.

I have a friend, a senior, who’s engaged to a girl he started dating freshman year. They live on opposite sides of campus; he jokingly refers to her as “another extracurricular activity.” Then he laughs and his eyes glint, and so does his ring.

People give me looks and ask if it’s worth it. My own mother–who, by the way, adores my girlfriend–even implied I should be having sex with different people while I’m young and in college. I hear people at school say they don’t have time to be in a relationship, that it’s more important to concentrate on doing well in classes and achieving executive positions in organizations. I listen to all these things with my mouth closed.

It’s true that she eats up my time, and I eat up hers. We switch between each other’s houses, one night in each, which is a pain in the ass when it comes to things like laundry. Sometimes in class I’ll reach for a textbook in my bag and end up pulling out a pair of underwear. And sometimes I wake up crying because I’m so tired.

If I have a cold and my sinuses are blocked and I feel claustrophobic, so does she. If she can’t sleep because she feels sick about the novel sitting in her open computer, neither can I. It’s like that, when you prop each other up. But there are rewards. Like when I whisper something at night, there’s always someone to hear it.

Over summer I had a dream that was set a year from now, after she graduates. The dream was just an image: me, sitting under a window with all my hair cut off, talking to her on one of the red phones that sit uselessly in every Harvard room. The sun was shining brightly through the window, and the dream was neither good nor bad. Or I guess it was both.

When I told her about the dream she took my long hair in her hands and told me I couldn’t cut it. But I liked what I saw; the short hair meant something. It meant that I was in mourning, that I was carrying a certain level of unhappiness around with me, but that I was also a stronger and tougher kind of person. When I think of how I’m going to cope when she leaves, the promise of short hair makes me feel better. But another part of me only cares about looking how she wants, so who knows if I’ll actually do it.

I wake up in the night needing to pee. I can see the warmth of the lamp and her shadow on the wall and can hear the gentle tap tap tap of her fingers at the keys. I slip into the bathroom without her noticing.

When I stumble out, I find her standing up, looking worried.

Was I keeping you up?

No, no.

Without saying anything, she lies back down with me in bed. I think of my classes the next day, and hers, and my midterm, and the deadline for pages of her thesis. I take her hands and press them to my lips and say the only truth there is on nights like these: I love you.

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