(I’ve censored some names for privacy.)
Let me tell you about the time I set myself up for heartbreak by falling in love with someone I didn’t even know. It was the summer of ‘13, and I was in the hardest class I had ever taken, a summer calculus class. Calculus is hard on its own, but during summer, any class becomes harder by the compacted schedule. I was learning what I would have learned in a week, each day.
Before the class even started, when the crowds were hanging out next to the door on the first day, Nick was accompanying me to class. When we arrived, he noticed that his friend Royce was also in my class. Nick joked about his envy of Royce and my brains. Royce seemed like a cool enough guy, and he seemed interested in a friendship with me, so I conversed with him every now and then.
Going into this class, the first thing I noticed was that it was my first real lecture-hall style class. There were not desks, rather a movie theater-type seating in rows, all looking down towards the professor at the center. The seats were spaced closely together, and the only thing you had to write on was a fold-over lap table that came out from between seats.
The first day I tried the second row, then the third row the next day, before finally deciding on a remote seat in the back. It was darker in the back, and the elevation meant that there weren’t a lot of heads in my line of sight. It was scarcely populated back there, so I usually had the seat to either side of me to myself, to put extra things on.
I had a good view of most of the class from back there as well, and it didn’t take long for me to notice that there were some really cute girls in the class. The teacher would frequently call out people’s names and have them come to the front when he was handing back homework and tests, so I got a pretty good look at each person.
I noticed that there was about five girls that were consistently catching my eye. Because the teacher would say their names before they came up, I could match the face with the name. Over the next couple of weeks, I narrowed my favorites down to four, then three, then two…
The two finalists sat next to each other, with what seemed to be a posse of theirs. This made me nervous, I didn’t know how I could even talk to either of them. Usually girls, (or just people in general), who already have a lot of fiends, have a greater self worth, and are more selective to whom they give serious consideration to. One day I was casually watching my ‘interests’ from across the room, when I saw one of them doing something peculiar: she started playing with her hair; Her long, black, straight hair. She took the ends of strips of hair and held them out in front of her face, running her fingers along the strands.
Somehow this simple act started a massive chain reaction in my head. I thought if she would do something as whimsical as that, she must not take herself too seriously, and if that, then she must not be the typical snobbish attractive girl I feared she might be, and if that, then she must be eccentric, and silly, and friendly and quirky and… before long it felt like I had known her forever, like we’d already been chummy for a lifetime, all I had to do was remind her. So the hunt was on…
It was easy from the start, the teacher called each person by last name when handing their tests back, so I knew I was crushing on a “Ms. A*******.” It was quick and easy to log into the class portal and search through the roster, matching the last name to a “C******.” A quick surface level search of the internet didn’t yield any specific results about her. I couldn’t ask many of my hometown colleagues either, because I was still banned on Facebook. That being the case, I just used a primitive, yet always-effective method for satiating my appetite for the sight of this female; I followed her after class. Well, follow is a misnomer, I really just saw which way she was heading, and then got there before her the next day, and saw which way she was heading after that, and arrived in that new place before her the next day, getting a little farther each day after class. I was always stationary during this process, always appearing to be looking somewhere else.
It was halfway through the second-to-last week of school, when she deviated from her normal path. Intrigued, I actively followed her for the first time. That’s when I heard Royce’s voice behind me, “Hey man, where you headed?”
I couldn’t tell him that I was in the pursuit of the girl in front of me, so I gave him a vague response.
“Oh, I’m just wandering around.”
“Oh cool, I’ll walk with you then.”
At first I panicked and thought this might throw a wrench into my plans, but then I realized that there was no better inconspicuous disguise than a decoy who’s unaware that he’s a decoy or even that a hunt is going on at all. If C****** happened to notice me following her, she’d see Royce going on about whatever he was talking about, and it would actually be perfectly genuine because he thinks that we’re just strolling along. So I stayed on C******’s trail with Royce at my side, paying just enough attention to him that he wouldn’t notice my ulterior motives.
We arrived at the area in front of the cafeteria, and C****** turned to make her way in. The path of Royce and I was curving naturally in the opposite direction, so I couldn’t make a hard turn to follow C******, it would be too sudden and Royce would notice. I slowed down and Royce took it as a queue that we were stopping here. I had to either ditch him, or find a way to lure him after her, before her trail went cold. I brought up the cafeteria in our conversation. The talk went from how crowded the cafeteria used to be, to how empty it is now, to me asking if it was even still open, (even though I knew it was, in fact I had just seen C****** walk in there), to him explaining how it was open, but it no longer served food. I acted like this was news to me, and took a step towards the building. Royce picked up the scent and we both went towards fate. I would find out if I had lost C******, and he thought he was going to show me the cafeteria.
We went inside, through the hall, and into the main table area. Going from the hall into the eating area, our field of view into the large room started as a slit, and then grew into a larger cone as we stepped closer. This meant that the first tables we saw were going to be across the room, and the last ones we were able to see were going to be on either side of us. The place looked empty at first, and I thought that I had lost the hunt… but to my amazement, she was sitting there, directly to our right, with her backpack on a table.
Royce was beckoning me into the kitchen area, so I followed him in there, and feigned interest in whatever he was showing me. My love was right outside, sitting at a table, alone, a perfect opportunity waiting for my seizure. My mind raced as I tried to think of a plan, I was in a set of circumstances that I was completely unprepared for.
Royce was wrapping up his presentation of the kitchen area, showing me the vending machines where there had previously been people. He seemed like he was antsy to go, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t step back out there yet, I had no plan, and once I was back into the room with C******, I’d have to do something or walk past the opportunity, possibly to never get it back. I decided it was time to let Royce in on the charade. I looked through the entry way out into the main hall, and saw her still at her table, alone. I called Royce over.
“You see that girl over there?”
“Do you see that girl right there?”
“Is she hot?”
“Yes very, I like her a lot and she’s in our class.”
“…Go talk to her.”
“Dude, no way it’s waay to scary.”
“Just do it haha”
“I don’t know man, that’s a lot of pressure.”
I guess he decided time was up, so he started walking out. I knew my time was now or never. I walked with him towards the exit, until we reached the table C****** was at. He went on foreword and I stopped and looked down at her sitting there.
She had big innocent eyes with huge brown irises to match, these would put puppy dog eyes to shame. Her smile was so perfect and inviting, that even when she was saying nothing at all, her face seemed to yell “hug me, hug me!” Thick, dark hair fell far past her shoulders. Her features seemed to point to a Hispanic origin, but her skin was white. It seemed as if she was a person that I had created myself with all of my favorite aspects.
“Hey you’re in my calc class, aren’t you?”
“I’m Robert by the way,” I set down my water bottle on the table, “and you are…” she hesitated for a second, and I didn’t want to hang the sentence, so I spoke for her, “C******?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Oh yeah,” I realized it might seem a little weird that I already knew her name, so I decided to explain how I knew it, “I heard your name when they were passing back tests and saw you.”
“Wait, they called me? Did I not get my test back?”
That one actually caught me off guard. Instead of interpreting my sentence as a confession of how I knew her name, she interpreted it as me politely telling her that she missed something. This meant that she was even more innocent than I originally believed.
“You- No, haha, you got your test alright,”
“Oh, I like your shirt!”
“You what?” I looked down and noticed that I was wearing my cat shirt. “Oh you’re a fan of cats huh?”
I pulled out a chair, “may I?”
“Sure.” I had her full attention, so I started with something I already knew we had in common.
“That last test was just absolutely brutal though, wasn’t it? I‘m just glad I had a good cheat sheet or I would‘ve been dead in the water.” (For clarity, out teacher allowed us a standard double-sided paper as a ‘cheat sheet’ on tests.)
“Oh, yeah haha, my cheat sheet has so much writing on it, the professor said I’d need a magnifying glass just to read it, here let me show you!” She wasn’t lying, the sheet was filled with tiny formulas that were hard to make out.
Her and I talked non stop for the next hour or so. We talked about just about everything there was to talk about. I told her about my hamster and how it always bites people, and she told me about her pet mouse that likes to pee everywhere. I found out that she went to high school at St. Bonaventure, and I told her about the time me and a few buddies invaded the face painting booth at one of their carnivals. As it turned out, she had operated the exact same face-painting booth one of the years. I heard about how she survived hurricane Sandy, sheltered in her dorm at Pace in NY (she was actually a student there, but was taking one summer class here to brush up on her math skills before returning). She explained that the only lights were in the main hall and elevator, so she’d spend a lot of time playing cards. I told her about how it had always been a fantasy of mine to go through a massive event like that. We talked about our favorite series, she was fond of the Harry Potter books, and we had a common interest in the Walking Dead. Apparently, she had watched the entire first season in one day. I told her some of my greatest stories, like the time my half eaten bag of hot Cheetos brought coyotes to my fifth grade camp, and how I tried to hit Gabin with a crushed taco, only to have it accidentally fly into someone’s car window. She was a fan of both Taco Bell and Cheetos. We both had similar experiences as kids too, trying to stay up as late as we could to catch our favorite Adult Swim shows. I explained how frustrated I was as a kid when I would stay up just to watch new episodes of Inuyasha, (also one of her favorites as a kid, I found out), only to fall asleep before it started, and wake up during the credits to realize I missed it. Her favorite character was Inuyasha’s brother, because he had a tough guy personality but he was soft around his little girl companion. Sometime during the conversation I found out that the ‘posse’ she sat with during class wasn’t a posse at all, it was just people who happened to be near her. She knew the name of one guy, Chewy, but none of them really talked to each other.
When we ran out of things to say, and there was the first long pause, I decided I should quit this time while I was ahead and end the conversation. Since I knew C****** now, I could talk to her anytime I saw her and had something to say. After saying our goodbyes, I stood up to leave, but didn’t really know how. I was still looking at her eyes, and she was staring back. Was I supposed to turn around and walk away? In high school, most of the girls I talked to at school or the mall liked to hug hello and goodbye, but was this girl like them? I stood there for a second before offering my hand. She came with her hand, but we missed, fumbled, and tried again. We both let out an awkward laugh at our messy handshake, and I offered a meek “good enough, haha.”
Walking away from that experience, I was the happiest I had been in almost three years; I can say that factually because I specifically remember the last time I felt the kind of feeling I did that day. At the wishful most, I had planted the seeds of a romance with the cutest girl in class, at the still amazingly gleeful least, I had made a friend with the same girl. Without wasting any time at all, I was already thinking about what to say to her on our next meeting; perhaps I could ask what music she likes, or what her favorite animal is, or if she was aware that her last name sounds like the word “armadillo.” I wondered what would happen if we got close enough, even platonically, and I met her friends and family, what would they think of me? Most of all I fantasized about what could happen the very next day; We had breaks between hours of our three-hour class, and usually I just went to the bathroom, ate a few bites of a snack, or stared at my phone, but now maybe I’d be talking to her! She didn’t really even know anyone else in the class, she had told me herself.
Before leaving school I went to the computer lab, and searched for anything on her again. With the additional information I had learned from her that day, it was quite easy to narrow the results down and find a Facebook account with four pictures of that face I’d fallen in love with. I downloaded them and brought them home. I spent the rest of the day and night thinking about our talk, and staring at pictures of her face, sighing yearningly.
The next day, she arrived five minutes late to class, (which was usual for her), and took a seat in her normal place. I watched her from a few rows back and across the room, wondering what would happen. During the breaks, she just stayed in her seat, sometimes sporadically chatting with those seated adjacent to her. I wanted to go over and talk to her, but I couldn’t see a plausible way to do it. To her left was the aisle, and people would be walking up and down it, so I couldn’t stand there and talk to her. To her right was four filled seats of people, so I couldn’t get close to her from that side either. I decided it would be best to wait in this case.
After class I waited a while to gain my confidence again, then went back into the cafeteria where I’d found her the previous day. This time she was sitting at a corner table with a laptop open in front of her.
“It’s now or never,” I thought, as I went over to her table.
“Hey buddy,” I said as I chose a seat to her left, where I could see her behind the laptop, but could not see what was on the screen. While sitting down, however, I couldn’t help but glimpse the familiar logo of Skype out of the corner of my eye.
“Hey, what are you up to?” she asked.
“Just chillin, hanging out. Is Skype your favorite thing?”
“Yes… well, my favorite thing online,” she nodded.
“I like Skype too. My favorite online thing used to be Facebook, until I was banned- I used to have crowds of people waiting with anticipation on my every update, like I was some legendary philosopher; 900 of them.”
“That’s a lot of friends,” she remarked.
“It sure is.” At this point I was less confident in myself. She was looking at me, but there was still an open laptop in front of her, so I didn’t know if she expected to get back to it. Then again, she might just be waiting for something or someone online, and would want my company to pass the time. It would be too awkward to ask if she was busy, and even if I did, would she be able to tell me if she actually was? She was an extremely nice person, so she might not act like I was imposing, even if I was, but I didn’t want or need pity or feigned interest.
I took everything into consideration. I thought about the fact that after today, there would only be one week, four days of class left; if I wanted to have any chance of remaining in contact with her after class was over, instead of being forgotten as just a former classmate acquaintance, then I had to interact with her as much as possible before classes ended. That meant that I had to take this opportunity and make something of it. So I’d talk to her, but I’d make sure not to keep her too long so she could get back to whatever she was doing, if she was doing something.
I started with one of the topics I’d planned to talk about: The floral pattern on her backpack reminded me of my blanket back home.
She chuckled a little, “why does your blanket have flowers on it?”
“I don’t know… I didn’t pick it out, I didn’t like… shop for it. Has anyone even shopped for a blanket? Have you?”
She looked pensive. “Hmm, I guess not, most of my blankets were from gifts and stuff..”
That started a long string of back and forth. For the first fifteen minutes or so, she would look at her laptop or phone while I was talking, and then look back up at me as I finished what I was saying, but after that, she closed the laptop and focused only on me. I told her all of the crazy childhood stories I could think of, when we all were camping and heard someone say “dude” in the bushes, sending us all into a panicked retreat, the time Jacob got half the county’s fire dept. to swarm my house after lighting smoke bombs in my garage, the time Gavin tried to help this girl stuck in a tree by yelling and shaking her leg, the time I accidentally got my biology partner’s hair caught in the model skeleton’s fingers, the time we were learning about the double helix shape of DNA and I heard someone in the back whisper “get twisted!”, the time I kneed Gavin three times in the face in a hurricane simulator machine, and the time Will chased Cody around with a chair over his head after Cody put shaving cream all over Will in his sleep. In contrast to the previous day’s conversation, I found myself carrying this one a little bit.
She seemed interested in my stories, and would offer comments after each one, “oh I would have been so mad if that happened to me,” but she had less of her own to contribute. I asked her if she ever did something super crazy, and she just shrugged. She explained that she spent a lot of her time indoors, surfing the web or something like that.
I started to second guess myself again. I wondered if she was really a tame person, or if she was trying to seem like the opposite of me, so I would lose interest in her and she wouldn’t have to actually shoot me down in any way. If she was trying for the latter, it didn’t work, because the subtle personality of hers just added more to the illusion of her I’d already constructed in my mind; it just made her seem all the more sweet and adorable; On top of that, it would mean that it would not take much to show her a fun time, taking pressure off of me, should I ever have to opportunity to do it.
Our second talk lasted about half as long as the first, and when I got up to leave, we did the standard So-Cal high five and fist bump, which felt a lot more natural than our handshake the previous day. I also noticed in that moment just how small and delicate her hands were.
The end of this conversation left me with a mix of feelings: I was happy that I had gotten to see her again, and that I was able to make her smile, even if it was less than before. In a feeling unknown to be previously, I wondered if the reason things seemed to go so well the first time was simply due to the fact that I was the newest thing, an unknown person that was interesting because I could have been anybody. Now that she knew that I was just a person with person-like interests, maybe my glamor had worn off; maybe I would be even less interesting the next time we meet, because she knows even more about me now, she has a solid understanding on my basics as a person.
The weekend was upon me, so I wanted to put the whole thing out of my head temporarily, but I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Even when I was out with some of my best friends, fucking shit up like we do best, all I could think of was “I wonder what C****** will say when I tell her that I was doing all of this, maybe she’ll be fascinated, but she’ll probably just be puzzled; After all, this is some crazy shit I’m doing right now.”
Throughout the days of the weekend, I even wrote down a list of things I wanted to tell her the next time I saw her. All the best stories I’d forgotten to say previously, and a bunch of questions about her. I went as far as to guess the most probably responses she would give, and then how I would react to that. I had entire conversations in my head with this girl, based on how I thought she’d act. I was most exited about one particular string of questions and answers I had formulated: I would ask her what the spiciest thing she’s ever tried was, then I would tell her the story of the time I ate a habanero whole from Snapper Jack’s, then I’d ask her if she’s ever been to that place, and if she said yes and she liked it or if she said no and she wanted to try it, I’d ask her if she’d like to trot across the street over there one day after class with me and let me buy her lunch. The plan was flawless, because she always had a few hours to kill after class before her ride arrived, and class went through lunch time, so she’d probably be hungry.
Monday. I, as before, didn’t try to talk to C****** during class, not only because there was no feasible way to do it where she was sitting with the aisle, but also because I feared she might have gotten bored of me. After class, I would come in swinging, I would have so much to say, and be so engaging, that I would rekindle the magic of my first talk with her, and I would get that first high back, as it were.
I walked extra slow to the cafeteria, shaking with nervousness, thinking about all the worst case scenarios. I stopped at the corner of the building, out of view of the main entrance. I thought about just turning back, forgetting about this girl, letting go of the opportunity and all the associated pressures. I sighed. I convinced myself that if I didn’t try, I’d feel a lot worse than if I tried and failed… Although I had already experienced both pains in previous adventures, and I honestly couldn’t say which was worse, only that they were different. I was so afraid I wanted nothing more than to turn around, but I took the steps foreword, the plunge into darkness, through the automatic door.
Entering the main room of the cafeteria with all the tables was like my own personal D-day. I scanned the room as soon as I could, so I wouldn’t look like I was lost or something. A rush of a relief-and-disappointment-cocktail enveloped me. The room was empty. Empty, except for some old guy and his odd roller luggage pack.
I looked around again to make sure I had seen correctly, and then started the troubleshooting process. Why would she not be here? My first thought was the time; I had missed her, that would be an easy, painless explanation. However, no matter how much I wanted to believe it, I couldn’t. The time now was almost an hour before the time I walked in on Thursday. There was of course the possibility that on Thursday her ride was abnormally late, and/or today her ride was abnormally early. All of that just sounded like I was building an explanation to fit the reality I wanted. It seemed a lot more likely that she had just moved camp, so to say; chose a different place to wait after class, a place that I didn’t know.
Even worse: If that was the case, then what did she think of me? Was I a fly that wouldn’t stop annoying her? Was I a naive kid trying to pitifully hit on a girl the wrong way? Maybe she caught on that I knew too much and just found me creepy. I had all these negative thoughts, but I, in truth, still clung on to the faint hope that it was just a time difference or some other uncontrollable circumstance that caused me to miss her that day. I went as far as to imagine her earlier that day staring at the door waiting for me to come in, disappointed when I didn’t show up before she had to go. Even if the chance was small, as long as there was a chance, I couldn’t stop, I had to know. Again, I told myself that ambiguity would feel worse than a real flat rejection.
I did, however, decide one solid thing sometime after that experience and before the next day: Pretentiousness was going to get me nowhere. Even though it seemed like her and I had such similar ways of viewing things, such as the way that Whovians don’t make Dr. Who look like an attractive show at all, she certainly wasn’t doing any of the active persuading, especially during class. She would always be looking down when she walked in, and pack up very hastily at the end of class. While she had a busy aisle on one side of her and a packed row on the other, I had open space for about two seats on either side of me. If she thought I was worth getting to know, the way I thought about her, she had plenty of opportunities, opportunities which she didn’t make any effort to pursue. Late at night, I paced back and forth in my room with clenched fists. I was either already lost, or on the brink of failure. Facades would do nothing to help me at this point. I decided to pull out all the stops, and go all in. The summer semester was ending in only three days, and being slow or subtle hadn’t gotten me anywhere. I had to let her know exactly how I felt, in a blunt way, but without backing her into a corner or tossing a monkey on her back to do it. So I made a full ‘dork-mode’ plan.
I knew it was a bad idea. Even before thinking up the idea I knew it was bad. Sitting in class that Tuesday, July 30, my hand trembled as I drew two overlapping circles on a fresh piece of notebook paper. To the teacher, or any of my classmates, it would have appeared as though I was just taking notes. To compliment myself, I actually managed to keep a calm, bored face while working, even though my insides were a violent, stormy sea. I wrote a few words in one circle, then the other, but it was the space where the two circles met that I was the most interested in. I wrote a few words, then paused to think, then a few more: “small… adorable… mesmerizing eyes… neat…” Before folding the paper in half twice, I gave it a nice, underlined title on top: “A Comparison of C****** and a Cat”. That’s right, I can’t make stuff like this up; I wrote a fucking love Venn-diagram, comparing the best qualities of my favorite furry feline to my cute calculus crush C******. Just take a moment to soak that in, just think about how ridiculous that really is, and how awkward I have to be to make something like that. Maybe in my head it was more acceptable because one of the first things she said to me was that she liked my cat shirt, and that spurred our first conversation along. Maybe if this was my cause’s death, it would be a fitting one, from cat it began, and from cat it will end.
Whenever I remember this story, I will always be particularly proud of the method I used in delivering the note. During one of our breaks, C****** got up and left the room. I figured she was either going to the bathroom, or the vending machine, both of which were downstairs. I calculated that I had somewhere between five and ten minutes before she returned. I waited two minutes after she left the room, and walked down my row of seats, to the room’s left aisle. Her seat was on the second row, adjacent to the aisle. My plan was to walk down the aisle, casually drop the note on her unfolded chair desk, and continue down the aisle, towards the exit on the left side of the room, as if that was my destination. As I traveled down the aisle, each step I took was harder than the last. Gravity seemed to intensify my morale atrophied. I felt like I was walking out to a firing squad. If anyone saw me put the note down, and asked me what it was, or assumed I had dropped it accidentally and tried to return it, I would be dead in the water, I had no plan B. The entirety of my senses was dedicated to observing the attention of those around me. With my peripheral vision, I masterfully tracked the lines of sight of those in my immediate vicinity. I reached her seat mid-stride, held my arm slightly out, let go of the note, and gravity took it the few remaining centimeters to her lap desk. During the last few paces to the exit, my body was on fire. I was expecting to hear the dreaded “hey,” or “excuse me?” from someone who had witnessed the odd, feeble act. To my astonishment, there was nothing. I walked out and bathed in the sunlight. Landmine planted, fate sealed. The hardest part was over, but I decided to wait outside a few minutes, just to make it look like I’d gone outside for a reason; it would be less conspicuous that way. I walked back into the classroom before my crush had returned. She entered just as class was starting back up.
I had no idea what she thought about my gesture. I didn’t even dare to look over at the other side of the room where she sat, but I listened as hard as I could. At one point I heard some giggling from that direction, a few minutes later some paper crumbling or ripping, occasional whispering, two females talking… I was able to make out the word “cute” in the middle of a sentence, but that wasn’t very helpful. I had no idea where any of these sounds were emanating from other than to my left somewhere. The classroom was pretty packed. After class, C****** packed up quickly and left, as always. I casually strolled past her area on my own way out the door. The trashcan in the corner of the room had had the ripped leftovers of a pulled-out spiral-bound notebook paper. That must have been the paper sound I heard. There was nothing on the floor around that area. I concluded that at the very least, C****** thought my note was odd (or pathetic) enough to keep, and that was a solace.
Now that I had eliminated all doubt about how I saw her, (if there was ever questioning in the first place), I figured the ball was in her court. If she thought I was worth getting to know, she could be confident that I already liked her a lot, and could talk to me whenever.
I didn’t try to see her in the cafeteria that Tuesday or the next day. Me coming to her after giving her a note like that would just be unneeded tension and awkwardness. I’d decided it was pretty certain that she wasn’t too interested in me.
After class on the day of the final, I knew this was probably the last day I would ever see her. Class had ended, and she was going back to New York once the school year started again. I felt like I should see her up close one last time. I didn’t know what I wanted to say or do… Maybe she would tell me that she had someone waiting for her in NY. Even if it would be an awkward meeting/goodbye, we’d basically be strangers again anyway starting the next day, because she never actually shared any contact info with me. When I walked in the cafeteria for the last time, she wasn’t there. It was probably for the best.