I smiled to hear him say he would be with me on Saturday night. I had been invited to a party off-campus and wanted him to meet friends and to share a laid-back party atmosphere with him. Each night that week I heard carnival noises from four blocks away and already had our Sunday night planned: we would spend it in the humid air, holding hands through the aisles of carnival games and shows, under the flashing lights of the tall rides. But if there is one thing I know to be true from being in a long-distance relationship it’s that plans are like clouds, beautiful and well-crafted in the mind, incredibly delicate in reality.
From the time I heard the good news until Saturday afternoon, I tried not to let my hopes soar too high, kept my plans from becoming puffy cumulus. But even based on years of experience, trips canceled last-minute, of timing oh-so-perfectly off, of buses not arriving, the prospect of spending time with John is simply too delicious to not savor the anticipation that comes with it. But by Saturday afternoon he could not give me a certain answer, of whether or not he was coming, let alone at what time. Currently he is interning in Maryland as part of his college career, and this weekend his mom had driven down to help him move everything from his old apartment to a new one. If all went smoothly, I would see his face on Saturday evening. If not, it was unclear when I would see him next.
During the Activities Fair at my college, I stepped away from the picnic table where I chatted with my friend to give him a call and demand an answer. He told me he and his mom were engaged in “a race against the clock.” I pictured them side by side in the car, driving at hyper speed, U-Haul jostling along behind them, as he told me that they had to reach the storage unit in Pennsylvania before it closed at 7 PM. I checked my watch: 5:45. If they didn’t make it to the unit in time, he would have to stay the night at house, move things the next morning, and see me after that. At 7:30 I received the news that they had arrived at 7:02 to find the unit closed.
I resigned myself to a Sunday morning rather than a Saturday night visit and shifted the plans in my head, knocking the party off my list, condensing two nights together down to one. On Sunday I woke up and stepped into the shower with one thought on my mind: he is calling me. I told myself not to worry, but after my shower, when I walked to my phone, wet flip-flops slapping on the linoleum, I discovered two missed calls and a text message that read, “I’m not sure I should come anymore. I can’t answer my phone or talk about it for a few hours.” Worry about some deathly event that had occurred to prevent John from speaking for a few hours mixed with the bitter disappointment of beautiful plans breaking apart, delicate hopes dashed.
But the story’s not a sad one in the end. He made it! This Sunday and Monday I spent my time joking, teasing, cuddling, reminiscing, and enjoying my time with one of the people I care about most in this world and the boy I’ve called “boyfriend” since a bitter cold day in February 2008 when he turned to me on our walk from the lake in our small town and asked if I would be his girlfriend. We came to be friends in our sophomore year of high school, hanging out with the friends who came to be known as the Group, but during that time I only noticed certain details about him: his skill in Ultimate Frisbee, his love of debate, and not too much more. In our junior year John and I sat next to each other at the lunch table. Our conversations reflected what I now realize was a clear interest in each other, expressed as highschoolers often express such a thing: writing notes on tiny scraps of paper even though we sat elbow to elbow, signing them with our full names and a flourish, laughed when the other smiled. I teased him for his lunch, always a Popsicle (which he insisted was not a popsicle but an ice cream bar) and a bottle of iced tea purchased at the snack bar, while I ate the lunch my mom had packed me, every food group included.
Our lunch time conversations segued to nighttime ones in the fall of our senior year. We met every night on Instant Messenger and talked for hours, on every topic, until my parents had told me again and again to do my homework, turn off the computer, go to bed. Our talks solved world hunger and violence in organized religion. They created inside jokes and produced gut-wrenching laughter. A few months later John told me he had a crush on me and asked me to the school dance. It was there that we held hands for the first time, slow danced for the first time, and there that I came to begin to understand that the friendship I loved so much was breaking, into something different and possibly better.
He asked me out and we had a wonderful time for six months. Then we had to attend our freshman years of college and we realized that choosing different schools “for our own, individual good” would prove a challenge to our relationship. We have been working and learning, succeeding and failing, trying and loving in a long-distance relationship for three years. The story above sometimes feels like the story of my life, plans that fall apart and come back together, flexibility, disappointment, and reward. But if the alternative is being without him, I’ll stick with this.