I leapt to embrace Adam, but his body was rigid. Pulling back in concern, I asked, “Baby…what is it?”

“Lie down with me for a minute,” he said somberly. Alarm bells rang in every cell of my body; I knew that tone of finality all too well when it came to boys. I inhaled sharply in anticipation.

“I hate to do this, but…” he began forebodingly, “…I need to end things with you.”

The silent air hung between us for what felt like hours. I was speechless; I had no idea what I had done wrong, and I had just planned my entire summer around a relationship that no longer existed. He continued talking but the ringing in my ears kept drowning out his rationalizations for dumping me.

I faintly heard, “…want to be single this summer. I’m getting my own apartment, and my cousins from Italy are going to be in Boston. I just don’t want to be tied down right now.” I felt a wellspring of anger arise in my torso, and began a futile, pathetic protest.

“But, I, I already made plans to be with you! I’m spending my entire summer up there, what am I supposed to do now?!” I cried despondently. 

“I’m not stopping you from coming up. you’ll love it there-“

“Do you just not feel the same way anymore?” I interrupted. “I don’t understand, we just made love yesterday! How could you do this to me now!!” I spewed.

“Hey, don’t act like you’re a victim here, ok?” he replied darkly. “I wasn’t under any obligation to keep our relationship.”

I stared at him, aghast at his frigidness. “Oh my god, I shouldn’t have told you I loved you. That was a mistake.”

“You’re right,” he replied coldly. “You shouldn’t have told me.” My jaw dropped. With these words so callously delivered, an invisible dagger pierced to the deepest, softest recess of my heart. Feeling my vulnerability being so viciously discarded was too much to bear. I exploded into tears, not understanding how I had shared such intimate space every day for three months with someone made of hardened ice.  But deep down, you knew who he was, my inner critic reprimanded. You just chose to ignore the signals when everyone tried to warn you. Somehow, you thought you’d be different?

Adam took a deep breath and attempted to steady me.

“Listen Ella,” he said with the faintest note of compassion. “You’re an amazing girl. Honestly. I really enjoyed our time together. And you’re going to make some dude very happy, OK?” He put his arm around me as I quietly sobbed. No, not ok, I thought ruefully. I didn’t want some dude. I wanted him. I felt like we were just getting started climbing our mountain, and he cut my rope and dropped me into the precipice.  

The next few days of final exams were a personal purgatory. I spiraled into a vortex of self-loathing and self-pity with no attempt to see the light at the end of a dark tunnel I created for myself. I attended my exams with bloodshot eyes and a violent cough that arose hours after our rupture, leaving the exam room acutely aware of my atrocious performance. I tore through a 30-pack case of mushroom ramen, wore the same pajamas for a week, and didn’t shower once. I was a pitiful mess and I didn’t care.

In between exams, some friends and I ventured to The Underground tavern for a drunken X-Files marathon. The green neon lights eerily swam in the painted black cinderblock walls through my swollen eyes. Someone I didn’t recognize struck up a conversation with a mutual friend. He spied me for a time, and then asked me a question that jolted me out of my depressed delerium.

“Hey, are you Adam Friedman’s girlfriend?” he asked. I snapped to attention.

“Um…I was. We…” I valiantly attempted to stay composed. “We just broke up.”

“Oh,” he said awkwardly, not realizing he had stumbled into delicate territory. Not deterred, he continued his inquisition. “I thought I saw you around the hall with him earlier this semester. I transferred out of his hall in March. I’m Steve,” he finished, extending his hand.  Hey Steve, my inner grouch replied as I reluctantly shook his sweaty palm. I can’t tell how not interested I am in making your acquaintance.

Apparently he didn’t hear my grouch and continued. “Yeah well, that’s a bummer. I mean, it’s not surprising. That guy is a playaaaah!” I had a sudden urge to inflate Steve’s prematurely balding head with a tire pump until it made a satifying “pop!”.

“That might explain why I saw him with Gia yesterday.” I nearly choked on my Zima.

“What do you mean why you…saw him with her.” It aspired to be more of a pained rhetorical question, but of course he was too eager to answer.

“Well, I mean…” I detected his growing acknowledgement that he tripped a wire. “It’s ok,” I said in resignation. “You can tell me.” I regretted that sentence the instant it crept out of my mouth.

“Well…Adam and Gia hooked up, like, the first week of school. During orientation, I think. He was all talk about how in love he was with his girlfriend, and then he totally nailed Gia. He broke it off with her right before his girlfriend came to visit from Boston. Man, that guy is cold!”

My body flushed hot in realization at his words. Adam had cheated on Lissa with Gia, which is why she had stared us down in the cafeteria. Adam had boldly taunted Gia, gleefully almost, and lied to my face so elegantly. I began to wonder what other secrets he had withheld. My head swam with this highly unwanted information.

I stood up abruptly and excused myself, fighting a sudden wave of nausea. “Nice meeting you,” I murmured weakly.

“Yup, have a great summer!” he called after me. A few of my friends looked on in concern, and I waved them back to stay.

I stumbled home alone and vomited a disgusting brew of shitty malt liquor and cheesy bread into my trash can, heaving sobs of anger and betrayal into the mix.

The second to last day of school, I decided to resurrect my corpse and reunite with my hallmates for one last “fuck-this-shit” hurrah at our favorite frat house. This involved partaking in a haze of blacklights, Everclear punch served out of a garbage can, and reenacting Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” dance routine.

Sometime before sunrise, my crew and I sloppily stumbled past Adam’s dorm building. Suddenly, one of my closest friends stopped to shout, “Fuck you, Adam!” My jaw dropped in humiliation. Then the rest of my friends joined in a chorus of, “Up yours, Adam!” and “Suck it!” I couldn’t help feeling vindicated by this act of fealty, and I hooted in laughter at their silly solidarity.

I realized in that moment that I had completely neglected my hall family, continually forsaking my beloved nights of chasing each other with our faces creepily plastered with peel-off cucumber masks and playing Goldeneye on Nintendo64 with Jay-Z’s “Can I Get a Wha Wha” as our sniping soundtrack. I had left all of that behind for three months in order to indulge in more and more Adam. All to have it unravel just when I had thought our bond was stronger than ever. And yet, they still loved me unconditionally. Regret and adoration for them flowed through me.

I dared to look up at Adam’s window and noticed a shadowy movement in the window. I clearly saw his outline, and then that of a woman. The figure evoked was of Gia, his earlier conquest. Of course…the crushing realization he probably cheated on me with her toward the end. Or perhaps, he didn’t wish to cheat on me and preemptively broke up in order to satisfy his urges. Either way, it didn’t matter. We were done.

The final day of school arrived, and as quickly as my hall family’s whole lives had arrived in neon colored plastic crates, they vanished. Our hall was a ghost town, haunted with with remnants of laughter, hijinks, and tears that I had enjoyed and missed out on. Adam and I had arranged a brief goodbye for old time’s sake, and took a photo together with empty smiles and a tepid embrace. I would stare at that photo for months after, trying to energetically sew back together the invisible fabric between us that he ripped apart so suddenly.

As my father drove me away in our stuffed Ford Taurus, I looked one more time through the rear window and silent tears at the exquisitely landscaped Gothic campus. I didn’t realize it then, but that look was my last. My final exam performance was unsurprisingly abysmal, and my parents could no longer justify an Ivy League education bill with lackluster grades. Off to a brand new city still madly infatuated, and now alone. My parents sensed my wistfulness and took it upon themselves to unsolicitously discuss my love life.

“Did he try to…make you go to second base?” my father uncomfortably inquired. I squeezed my eyes shut in mortification, stifling an ironic laugh. Oh, Daddy, I thought sardonically. Your little girl’s getting coal in her stocking this Christmas.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I allowed Adam’s influence upon me to be a vice grip that held tight for the next decade. I spent years trying in some way to stay within his energy field. Befriending his roommate, smelling his cologne in department stores, and watching his AOL Instant Messenger handle go from active bold to inactive italic in my chat window every night. Some night were harder than others in ignoring my personalized pathos.

I hardly dated for the next two years. No man I met matched his intellect, his charisma, and his electrifying male vibration that could instantly render me his for the taking. As such, I imprisoned my sweet, guileless inner love child that had allowed his deception to grow such deep, gnarled and tangled roots. My love child could no longer be in my driver’s seat.

I scoured fashion magazines to transform myself into a designer-labeled version of myself that he would love. I dyed my hair a dark brunette color to match his preference of Italian models. I spent the next three summers in Boston, numbing myself with alcohol, marijuana, and mushrooms. Each day there I would pray I’d encounter him so I could show him that I’ve become exactly what he wants. In the process, I completely lost myself to the idea of someone I never truly knew.

And so were the harsh lessons of Adam: envy, indulgence, betrayal, and self-loathing. They had sat buried under years of relationships and heartache. Buried, yet very much alive. And there they remained, forgotten and dormant…until now.

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Continue the Journey…

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