Marty Anderson didn’t exist for me during the first weeks of Philosophy 101. He was not yet “Meanderson,” so dubbed after his first exploration of my mountainous regions. He was just one of twenty-nine other students in the room. Wedged in my desk chair, I doodled in the margins of my notes, thinking not of Aristotle or Kant but of the kind of person I had been in high school:defined. Now my map splayed outward, endlessly, to include any road, any destination.
But as October’s fiery breath enflamed the maples, I noticed the lanky one sitting catty-corner from me. Once I did, he appeared magically wherever I went. He was there in my periphery in the dining hall, in the walkways, always on the threshold of my consciousness. Was his proximity on purpose? I wondered, suddenly and excruciatingly hopeful.
The effect of his small details accumulated into a sort of harmonic tremor within me—his slightly parted lips, the angle of his jaw, the way his bookless arm swung with his loping stride.
In the depths of the library--near the geography section--I looked up and caught his gaze. Cheeks flushing, I held it for a few seconds, to see what he would do. His eyes lingered, then surveyed the people between us.
Pulse racing, I dropped my pencil and walked into the dimly-lit stacks. I pulled a book randomly from the shelves, thumbing through the musty volume as he crept closer. He read aloud over my shoulder, quietly.
“…The term “bottomland” refers to low-lying alluvial land near a river…”
“Alluvial?” I said, a little unevenly. “What does that even mean?”
But I knew already, and thoughts of flood plains only exacerbated my physical state.
After that, we would meet and whisper amongst the atlases and books on societal collapse. Checking furtively for eyewitnesses, we fell into wordless wandering, while I fought half-heartedly to keep his hands out of the lowlands. Sometimes.
It was perfect.
Then--just like that--it was over.
I could no longer catch his eye.
He changed seats, came late, left first. He studied elsewhere; ate at different times.
And when I opened my dormitory door to see him across the hall, murmuring in someone else’s ear, I closed the door again and wept as quietly as possible.
How unfair that his world and mine must overlap, when his happy carelessness, his impulsive wandering was such a painful, choking lump to swallow. Dinner would not, could not fit. I skipped meals and classes and even days, and when I emerged--half raw, half numb--my world had narrowed to a dark tunnel of misery.
But even then, I had had so many options. It was only my vision that had funneled and frozen.
Now, now that it is so difficult to move, to find my reading glasses, to remember to take my medications--now I see.
Every direction but Marty had been wide open still. I chose my tiny sad way.