“What is it like to be so beautiful, yet so alone?” My friend Matt asked me this as we sat at my kitchen table to design the EAS Halloween Reading poster together. I was looking for a legible, spooky font.
I looked up from the drop down menu to see Matt’s face. His blue eyes didn’t smile; he was serious. “Um…” I hesitated. I looked back down at the laptop, watching the curser move with my finger. “Well…” I looked up at Matt again. “Honestly?” He nodded quickly with his mouth closed into a tiny smirk. “It sucks!” I clenched my fists and pressed them to the table. I swallowed the lump in the bottom of my throat, and Matt rubbed my shoulder to comfort me. I realized then how consumed I was by this emotion.
My mom says things like: “You are going to make an incredible wife and mother... You have such talents to share with your family... You’ll find someone someday that will be crazy about you.” I think, no I won’t. I can’t see it. My mom was beautiful. My mom was talented. Look what she got. “All of your blessings say that you will get married, that your husband is being prepared for you.”
“I don’t think I believe them,” I say. Maybe all of those blessings apply to my life after death. But there have been times when I believed my mom, when I believed my blessings.
Last February, Jordan said he’d talked himself into everything—into marrying me. I forced this from him during a phone call on my birthday at three in the morning, and I cried in short breaths like a child when we hung up. Now it’s October, and I see him at the Reading Center through a long string of glass windows every time I come to work. He’s a business major, I think, why would he work there? When I got my job at the Writing Center in January, he was the first I told, even before my mother. It’s become my sanctuary. When I am not in class or at home, I am at the Center. I come here to write—this is my space. I come here to talk to the friends that I share my greatest fears with—they are my friends. His wife has applied to work here twice since I’ve been here. I can’t imagine sharing essays like these with my ex-boyfriend’s wife. He smiles at me when he clocks in at the computer, and I think things like, we decided to name our first boy Dominic, and you were the first man I ever loved. I met Graham a week after Jordan and I broke up.
In June, I told Graham to stop calling me from Alberta if he felt obligated to. So, he did stop, and I never understood why. Coming back to school this semester, I was addicted to the idea that Graham and I finally lived in the same city. I’d walk through the Crossroads cafeteria and hope he’d be sitting at a round table somewhere; he’d see me and ask me to come eat with him. I’d imagine him bringing a Political Science paper to the Writing Center and requesting me to be his tutor. Or I’d think maybe, since I live with his step-sister by coincidence, he would have a good enough excuse to come over without being obvious. Maybe he’d leave me a note on my hippie bike—that’s what he used to call it. Maybe he’d ask me to go with him to Music Outlet or play him one of the new songs I’ve learned on my Jasmine acoustic.
After about a month of disillusionment, I asked him to come over to talk. He only agreed to come over when I told him over Facebook chat that I needed this to move on. We sat about three feet apart on the couch. I shoved my body against the stained armrest and watched my own fingers pick at the torn knee of my jeans. “You’re going to pick those so much you won’t be able to wear them on campus anymore,” he joked. I sighed a laugh and told him I still loved him. I took the brown hair tie from my wrist and weaved it through my fingers. “I dunno, Aly,” he said, “I just wasn’t happy.” He grabbed my hand from my lap, and I took a deep breath to suppress showing what I felt. He told me he would never want to “rekindle an old flame,” and I smiled to prove to him that I was okay. We hugged goodbye.
When I see attractive men on campus, I think I bet you’re a jerk. Because I remember how Jordan had to talk himself into loving me and how Graham lost interest after four months. I remember the time when I dated an attractive salesman in Texas for a week, and after asking him what his intentions were he said that, basically, all he wanted was someone to kiss while watching Casino Royale on a big screen. I remember the time my dad told me he’d be in the parking lot at 1:00 p.m. on early release day, and he didn’t show up until 7:00 p.m. When I see attractive men on campus, I get this contracting feeling in the back of my throat, like a gag. I feel my upper lip turn, and I clench my molars together. I don’t know if I’ll be able to trust any of you again, I think. When I see a couple—even a married one—hugging in a hallway or kissing goodbye, I think, I wonder how long that will last. And I walk faster with my head up and my shoulders back. I’ll be one of those amazing, single women like Sheri Dew or Barbara Thompson, I tell myself. I’ll write books. I’ll get my MFA and teach. I’ll travel; I’ll sing; I’ll paint.
The truth is there is nothing I want more than the love of a man. That’s all I’ve wanted from the time I turned 16 and could date. I want to get my simple B.A. in English and start my family with a man who will ask me to explain the symbolism in my collages. I want him to remember that I like dark chocolate over milk, and that I can’t stand it when the toilet paper is facing up. I want a thousand small pieces from what I’ve had in my past relationships to combine into one person—a person I don’t even know how to define.
I think a lot of what I do want I’ve picked up from the movies. Still, when the movie is over, I think, Now what happens? Does Meg Ryan move back to Baltimore after she finally meets Tom Hanks at the top of the Empire State Building? Do they try long distance for a few months, and one day, Tom decides he’s been talking himself into everything? Does he decide she’s not worth calling anymore? I’m afraid that what I want is a lie, an elaborate fabrication, something the media or my own imagination have told me to believe.
All of my siblings are married, and the favored topic, when I am there or not, is my dating life. One time, during a family gathering, this was brought up again. My sister-in-law Lindsay related her stories. She told us that when she met my brother, she saw so much of her dad in him.
“You know,” she said, her tiny hand pointed towards me, with her palm up, “they say that you marry your dad.” She smiled at me, and I felt something inside of me drop. “Aly, you’ll probably marry someone just like Chuck.” I looked at her, trying to smile, and I excused myself from the room. I don’t want someone like my father. That’s all I am sure of, and it makes dating scary.
I remember New Years this year; Jordan flew from Puyallup, Washington to my home in Austin, Texas and stayed for five days. We had waited to exchange Christmas gifts so we could open them together. He told me earlier that he wanted to learn the guitar, so I printed every Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson, and John Mayer guitar tab that I could find from the internet. I alphabetized them in a book and collaged the outsides of it to say Jordan’s Book of Guitar Tabs and Chords. I wrapped it in gold paper. I glued a Reese’s to the top—his favorite candy. He bought me a scarf and had it wrapped in the bag it came in. I smiled to be polite and later on, couldn’t help but think of the Christmas my dad bought my mom a toilet seat cover from Home Depot. The farther I get from my relationship with Jordan, the more similarities I see between him and my own father.
This semester, an old roommate introduced me to Adam. He’s an illustration major, and he wears four leather bracelets on his right wrist. I asked him if he had a story for them, or if he just wore them to look cool. He spent the next fifteen minutes talking about a week-long pioneer trek in Nauvoo and a little girl in Guatemala. Adam has shown an amount of depth and sensitivity that I look for. After dating a week, he invited me to spend Thanksgiving with him and his sister in Portland. I thought that’s something you did with someone you were serious with—I felt trapped. One night before the holiday, as Adam and I sat on the cold leather seats of his car, I told him I didn’t want to date him anymore. Now, I wonder if I threw something away that I shouldn’t have. I wonder if I threw someone away who will ask me to explain the symbolism in my collages or who will remember I love dark chocolate over milk. Maybe what I want is perfection.
And here I am, buying my own 3-dollar ticket to watch 500 Days of Summer at the cheap theater on a Friday or Saturday night. Some nights I’ll make fat-free popcorn and write rhetorical essays about deductive and inductive arguments for class. Other nights I’ll go to bed at 9:30 p.m. without being tired, texting my mom about how I want to go home or how I need her to tell me she loves me. I’ll be one of those amazing, single women like Sheri Dew or Barbara Thompson, I tell myself, because until I find what I want, I will be alone.