‘You are in love
what does love look like’
to which I replied
‘Like everything I’ve ever lost
come back to me.’
Hello from the land of 100-degree, 79% humidity days! Yes, I am talking about St. Louis. Despite its hellish summer (and fall) climate, I have to say that St. Louis is a pretty cool place.
Once again, I feel I must apologize for the delay in my blog post. My days consist of waking up, reading, going to class, reading, going to more class, reading, taking five minutes to eat anything I can make in five minutes, reading, and attempting/failing to get some sleep so I have the bare minimum level of energy required to do it all over again. Oh, and every once in a while I have a minute to curl up into the fetal position and cry. Perhaps some of you have heard this before, but law school is a lot of work. It requires all of the time, energy and thought that you have to give. That’s a price I’ve always been willing to pay, but I nevertheless feel like I’m gasping for air sometimes.
Fortunately, I have at least one source of relief to make it bearable. Every Thursday night, the Student Bar Association at my school organizes a “Bar Review.” No, bar review does not consist of reviewing for the bar exam. It consists of “reviewing” a local bar, drinking excessively and getting to know our classmates. I’ll admit, Thursday nights are the best part of my week. Thursday is the one night a week I can let loose, ditch the reading and the thinking and the analyzing, and just relax with friends. I’ve gone almost every week since school began, and part of the reason why is because I’ve found my niche here.
It happened fast.
So fast, to be honest, that I can’t even believe it. It was both unexpected and completely expected, if that makes any sense. When I toured this school back in March, I knew. I don’t know exactly what it is that I knew, but I knew something. I knew that something about this place was right, or would be right.
The first week here, I’ll admit, I had my doubts. Though it seems like forever ago now, I remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach as I unlocked my apartment door for the first time, walked inside, and stared at the vast, foreign emptiness that enveloped me. My parents had been about an hour behind, driving the U-Haul containing my entire life toward me, toward this apartment, toward this strange place I was supposed to call “home.” I had never seen the apartment before. My school employs a housing concierge to help incoming students secure adequate housing, since many of us come here from different parts of the country. I had trusted her with my criteria, and I had somehow expected her to know–based on approximately five e-mails–exactly what it is that I was looking for. The truth is that I was looking for home, just as I have been since the day I left for college over four years ago. But I had forgotten to add that to my list of criteria, had forgotten to sandwich it between “one bedroom” and “within walking distance of school.”
As soon as I stepped inside my apartment for the first time, several thoughts hit me at once. An excerpt:
1. I am alone.
2. I am really alone.
3. Where the hell am I?
4. Is that a cockroach?
5. I know nobody.
6. I have to start over.
7. I am in law school.
8. I am old.
9. I am dying alone, in this strange apartment.
10. I am scared.
11. I can’t do this.
12. I can’t do this.
∞. I can’t do this.
As soon as I stepped through the door of my apartment, it was just me and the emptiness, facing off. I was scared. After such a heart-wrenching, unbearable three and a half years, after finally finding in Milwaukee the closest thing to happiness I could conceive of after so much sadness and hurt, the reality that I had given all of that up to start all over was the only piece of furniture included in my rent, the only thing waiting for me when I opened the door. The vastness of my former pain, the vastness of this new space, and the vastness of the unknowns lying before me pinned me to the floor, left me barely able to breathe. I thought I would pass out. My parents had the pleasure of watching me break down several times throughout the coming days, and I’m immensely grateful that they showed strength when I couldn’t seem to find an ounce of it on my own.
But after that first week, the day I started orientation, everything changed.
I made friends. People talked to me, and I talked to them. I met my section mates. I said hello, and people said hello to me. And one day, while I was sitting in the commons before one of my classes, I gathered the courage to sit down next to three guys I had talked to a couple of times earlier in the week.
“Hey guys, do you mind if I sit down?” I asked, feigning confidence.
“Yeah, of course,” one of them responded.
And that, as they say, was it.
The four of us turned into five, then six. As it stands, nearly three months into law school, these guys and the people that followed are the people I spend every Thursday night with. They are the people with whom I now share inside jokes. They are the people I rush to meet after class, the first people I turn to to vent about how hard Property is getting, the first people I look for in the commons when we finally get some relief after class. These are my people. I have been looking for them for so long, searching high and low. I searched every corner of Boston, every dusty shelf of my hometown, every nook and cranny of my undergraduate institution. I searched in Denver and Milwaukee and Ireland and Prague and Rome and South Bend, and I finally found them. I found them here, in St. Louis. I found them through the sweat from the sweltering heat, through the tears, through the glaze over my eyes as I studied The Law. I found them.
A couple of weeks after school began, I hosted my friends at my house before we went to bar review. I was excited to host people for the first time in…well, to be honest, probably forever. I finally have my own place–I no longer live in a dorm or in my childhood bedroom, nor do I live in a studio apartment that’s not even big enough for the bathroom door to close without being cut to fit around the toilet (true story). Not only do I have my own place, but I have people to fill it. I was downright giddy to host.
My friends arrived, and we talked and sipped on tequila and orange juice, relaxing after a long week. I had made a point to tell everyone before the night began that my couch was available in case anybody had just a little too much fun. Nobody would be driving, of course. When the night ended, after we had throughly reviewed the bar just down the street from my house, one of my friends took me up on my offer and asked if he could sleep on my couch. I assented without hesitation.
I should mention that this particular friend had caught my eye during the days leading up to bar review. Something about him intrigued me. Maybe it was his beautiful eyes, or the way he smiled with them the way I do, or the way he seemed to be listening to absolutely everything, even though he didn’t talk much. Like me, it seemed like he was always thinking. Unlike me, he was quiet about it. But I felt myself wanting to know the story behind those beautiful, quiet, thinking eyes.
It felt strange to notice these things, since for so long–nearly three years, in fact–I could only see one man no matter who I looked at. I became more familiar with the memory of him than I had been with him himself. This was dangerous. The memory of him morphed into whatever I wanted it to be or needed it to be, not what it actually was. In that sense, he was always perfect. When I felt lonely, I thought of him and remembered how only he had and could make me not feel lonely. When I needed to laugh, I remembered how only he had and could make me laugh. When I needed to feel taken care of, I remembered how only he had and could make me feel taken care of. He was always the answer, always the standard no matter where I looked. It was him and only him.
But it wasn’t. He didn’t always make me laugh. Many times, I felt more lonely with him than I did without him. And most importantly, he couldn’t take care of me. He was great, he really was. But we came from different places and we had different values, and even though these things didn’t matter at first, they mattered eventually.
An example: my parents pounded manners into me when I was a little girl. In fact, I had a reputation amongst the parents of my childhood friends of being “the polite one.” Please and thank-you go a long way, my parents would say. They would tell me to leave a place cleaner than when I found it, to at least clean up after myself elsewhere if not in my own bedroom. They taught me to offer to help clean dishes or to help prepare meals or to help do anything. Throughout my time dating my ex, and throughout the time I spent meeting and going out on dates with a couple of guys after him, I realized that not everybody was taught these things. But I realized that they matter to me. They aren’t the only things that matter, but they are an integral part of who I am, of what I stand for.
I thought returning to Milwaukee in December would be difficult because I knew that he was there, somewhere. I was always watching, always waiting to see him again, believing in my heart that I would, that I was meant to. But eight months went by, and I didn’t see him. Not once. Nowhere. I looked and looked, always searching no matter where I was or what I was doing. And I didn’t find him.
And that’s because I was gone. I had changed. I had grown. Even though I kept searching for him, I think that what I was really searching for was something I found in St. Louis: myself. The laughter that I thought only he had given me, the sense of being cared for that I thought only he had given me, the sense of togetherness I believed I had only felt with him, these are things that I found here. I have found them in myself, I have found them in this place, and I have found them in my friends.
And, most importantly, I have finally stopped searching for him. It’s been almost three years. I held myself prisoner for nearly three years, unable to let go of him, unable to let go of the the person I was with him, unable to accept the possibility that there could be something or someone else out there for me. But there is. I know that because I’ve found something else in this place. I know that because I’ve found someone else in myself. And I know that somebody else awaits, just as St. Louis has always been waiting for me. I’m as sure of that now as I was that this law school was the right place for me from the moment I saw it.
And what does that mean? It means that whoever he is, he’s still out there. The prospect of meeting him at any moment is yet another small beacon of hope that the universe has given me.
Readers, it has taken me a long time to write this post in part because law school has been all-consuming. But it’s also because I’ve spent so much time thinking about how to put words to this feeling that I still cannot seem to justly describe. It’s this feeling of elation, this feeling of gratitude that literally brings me to tears, even as I write this blog.
It was happening all the while, but I couldn’t see it until shortly after I moved to St. Louis: the universe was giving me everything. Everything I ever lost was coming back to me, and it’s here. It’s here in St. Louis. Maybe it’s love, as Nayyirah Waheed would say. It’s love for myself. It’s love for this place, and these people, and this experience. It’s love for everything that has happened, everything that is happening, and everything that has yet to happen. It’s a love that I lost, but which the universe has returned to me in a way I couldn’t have possibly imagined or begun to hope for.
It has all come back. Throughout the past few years, countless friends have abandoned me and rejected my love. Throughout the years, I have spent nearly every minute in so many different places where I didn’t belong. Throughout the years, several different men have left me and my space messier than when they found us. There was even a point, not too long ago, when virtually no life was left in me, when I wasn’t quite sure that I had any years left.
I haven’t forgotten those things, nor do I want to. Maybe we have to lose it all in order to find something more, something we didn’t know we were missing. Maybe everything we are is the price we have to pay for everything we could be. It’s cruel, I know. But how else are we supposed to learn? How else are we supposed to grow, to do something so ungodly difficult and painful, if we aren’t forced to?
When I woke up in the morning after bar review, I knew my friend had already left. In fact, I had heard him leave a couple hours prior, and that was ok. I opened my bedroom door, stepped into the living room, and peered at the place where he had slept. Sitting atop the couch was something I had never seen. Not from my ex-boyfriend, not from other men that had needed my couch.
Sitting atop the couch was the blanket my friend had used, neatly folded beneath the pillow. He had cleaned up after himself before he left, leaving my living room neater than he had found it. Tears began to well up in my eyes as I stared at the pillow and blanket in wonder.