Love Through the Fire Door

When I curl up in my fluffy comforter each night, I fall asleep to the meandering chatter of the couple next door. Their whole relationship has transpired in her bedroom. It began there nearly six months ago as she gabbed on the phone with friends, gushing about her first date ever. It unraveled through late nights of confessions and fears revealed, through Valentine’s Day and weekend movie nights. And it continues there now as the nightly banter and hiss of soda cans interrupt my rest and lure me to eavesdrop on their discussions.

I’ve never met this girl. I don’t know whether black bangs graze her nose, whether her shoulders roll forward when she sits, or if her glasses sparkle under the florescent glow of dorm lights. Yet from listening to hours of her conversations I’ve figured out the basics. She speaks Chinese at home and has a tenuous relationship with her family. She’s spends her afternoons reading George Eliot and Jane Austen. She has a boyfriend.

He’s a senior, as is she, and has dated a few girls long-term. This is her first relationship. She has some confidence issues; he has some control issues. All in all, nothing too out of the ordinary.

Fall semester they applied to jobs, fellowships, and grad schools. In the spring they started receiving offers. That’s when things began to fall apart. He got a job in Boston. She was accepted to elite grad schools far away. He encouraged her to stay nearby because, as he said, seniors in love always move in together after college, and they were in love. So, following his advice, she started considering Boston schools, apartment hunting on Craigslist in her spare time.

Two months later she learned that she was granted a traveling fellowship for a year. He told her not to go, that leaving would be selfish. The conversation escalated into a passionate screaming match; she broke it off.

In ending the relationship, she realized, for a glimmering instant, that he saw his career as more important than a compromise. She understood that, unlike the heroines in her Austen novels, she needed to keep her own career in mind. Maybe I imagined it, but even through the fire door I could see that the one-sided love of the nineteenth century did not apply in her more complex reality.

But complexity is intimidating and love can dominate rationality. Two days after breaking up, the girl and her boyfriend got back together. He called her on the phone, saying that he was sorry and that he was waiting in the courtyard. She said that she didn’t want to see him, but he coaxed her downstairs. Within minutes they were back in her room, talking out their issues over bubbly Diet Cokes.

They’re still together, and I remain privy to their conversations. As they speak, I imagine her head tilted against his collarbone, her nimble fingers circling his knuckles as she talks about when they can go look at some of the apartments she’s picked out in Jamaica Plain.

When he tells her he loves her I want to rap on the fire door. I think about going over to her entryway and slipping an anonymous note across her threshold: The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history (Oscar Wilde). I would tell her that she is intelligent and capable, that she should listen to herself. I would tell her that she shouldn’t be too afraid to prioritize her own future. I would tell her that her eyelids and fingernails flicker with flames of love, that she should warm the whole universe with her energy, even in her boyfriend’s embrace.

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