Sophomore year began on the third floor of a low rise that stood in the shadow of the tower I’d lived in the previous year. I hugged my returning roommates – a response they had taught me, one I was just starting to feel comfortable offering and receiving. Hugging was not part of the language I had learned at home. I lingered, letting their smiles and laughter feed my hunger for belonging. There was also a new face, with long dark hair parted in the middle and an eager smile. She would become part of our solid group.
A few other familiar faces floated by, including an unexpected one. He had scanned my meal card in the cafeteria each day, while his blonde fiancée across the way scanned a parallel line. He was half of a well-known couple at this corner of campus. They were always together. He had playfully teased and joked with many of the young women who passed through his line, seemed to have an eye for shyness born from innocence – or maybe innocence born from shyness. His attention towards me had escalated as the year progressed. I always found my way to his line. Unable to control the rush of blood to my cheeks or the fluster of a reply, I often resorted to laughing as a way to respond without words to his comments. I had heard that he was on his way to graduation and then marriage at the end of the previous semester; yet here he was sitting in my new dorm’s lounge area, joking around as usual and sending his glances my way. His return to campus was unexpected, his break-up unbelievable, and his immediate attention aimed at me unmistakable. He made his way to my end of the room. We talked a little then walked outside. He offered a ride on his new motorcycle – the small foreign kind. I donned a helmet for the first time and held on tightly as my life raced into the fast lane, towards what I would believe was love.
It happened very quickly, the initial passion already primed with past flirtations. It was an education I was ready for. He skillfully introduced me to the world I had only dipped my toes into over the past year. At first I thought I might drown, but then learned to swim, and then to dive into the deep end. As the story of unexpected abandonment by his fiancée began to unfold, the cracks in his strong outer shell appeared. My heart opened as it never had before. If I loved him enough, I was sure he would be able to understand how good he was, how strong and complete we could be, how wonderful life would be together. After all, wasn’t this what love was? Supporting someone through the hard times, giving so much of oneself that the other would be healed, unconditionally and without the need to control? That was what I intended to do. I had vowed never to be like my mother, never to be controlled by or dependent on anyone. I was different from her, had taken a different route, was going to have a different kind of relationship. And it all began here, with real love.