by Christie Smith ’17
She climbed the brick steps and tiredly searched for her house key, thrusting her hand into the depths of her unorganized pocketbook. Demanding order in almost every other area of her life, she was eluded by the fact that this bag was chronically a wasteland for miscellaneous items. Finally maneuvering through multiple tubes of empty lip balm and countless receipts, she apprehended the key and made her way up to the third floor.
Letting out a sigh of relief, she flipped on the lights and let her bag land with an exhausted thud onto the floor. She knew she was going to check eventually, but she went to the kitchen and started tidying up instead, as if procrastinating beforehand would somehow eliminate her mounting guilt.
It had been over five years, so she couldn’t understand why this was flustering her so much. It’s not like the last couple of years hadn’t been good to her. After graduating, she started medical school at Dartmouth, which simultaneously brought her stress and contentment. It also brought her Collin, who she met sophomore year. Without exaggeration, Collin was the prototypically desirable significant other. Communicative, hardworking, and attractive—his seemingly effortless persona left her in awe, sometimes even with a flicker of jealousy.
Perhaps his unwavering dedication and faithfulness is what made her attend to the dishes before checking her email. She had started washing silverware by hand instead of putting it in the dishwasher when finally the lure of what potentially was sitting on her desk became too enticing. She slammed off the water and grabbed a paper towel with so much haste the entire roll almost came unwound. Leaving the kitchen she reminded herself to “slow down,” as if her physical pace could somehow help to calm her frazzled nerves.
Her desk was littered with various to-do lists scrawled on sticky notes and piles of manila folders stacked precariously at each corner. She remembered ordering the desk online, so excited that her dreams of creating a home office were finally coming to fruition. Seven to 10 business days later a large, oblong box stood propped up by the front door. In her haste to design this work sanctuary she hadn’t taken the time to be overwhelmingly practical.
She had just stood there dumbstruck, staring awkwardly at her purchase, coming to terms with its sheer size. Perhaps with enough staring she could mind-will it to climb the winding stairs itself. No such luck, however, so the next three hours became a heated battle, filled with intermittent profanity and a continual reminder to her housemates that she’s “got it just fine!” The inordinate amount of time she spent that night pouring over Chinese instructions in attempt to piece together 34 assorted wooden pieces made her truly appreciate the desk’s presence in her home.
She now sat down tentatively, as if the white wicker chair might give way beneath her slight frame. Her entire day had been obscured by anticipation for this moment. Giving in to her excitement, she clicked on the “Inbox” tab and began searching. Sure enough, there it was. She leaned in, cupping her chin with both hands, and began hungrily reading.
“I appreciate you getting back to me. Especially since I didn’t expect you to even read it. It’s amazing to me, how you’re everything you said you wanted to be. That’s not to say I’m shocked though, you always were that way. Look, it’s been a long time for both of us, I’m aware of that. But I also know that there are some things time can’t put away. So if you agree, I would love to know…”
Unblinking, she leaned back into the chair, arms lying limp beside her. He was wrong though, right? Time could put things away, and it could refurnish childish, fantastical emotions into more mature, appropriate feelings. That’s exactly what had happened. She had traded in clandestine for straightforward; sporadic for steadfast; exhilarating for trustworthy; passionate for secure. His appearance in her life came with an expiration date. They must have known that such elevated levels of arousal couldn’t be sustained long-term, yet this did little to stop either of them from committing wholeheartedly to their noncommittal relationship.
Flashbacks to summer, six years ago, began taking over space in her mind. She stood in the middle of the empty room, her overalls splattered with various shades of beige paint. The sun was beginning to set, its fervent rays spilling in through the floor length windows. A dripping paintbrush in one hand, a beer in the other, she laughed while watching as he stared intently from wall to wall, trying to decide which utterly indistinguishable shade of tan was best. Straight-faced, he turned back to look at her, and he kept looking until his face broke out in a smile.
“You’re really not helping, you know,” he muttered while moving in, closing the space between them until he was all she could focus on.
“Hello? Katie, are you in here?” She sprang up, involuntarily slamming the laptop shut and jarring her mind back to the present moment. Of course, it was Thursday night. Collin always came over for dinner on Thursday night. She turned to see him standing in the archway of her office, “Oh, there you are! How was your day?”