The following story is by guest contributor Madeline Gressman. Madeline is a recently graduated English major from the University of Minnesota Morris. She has completed two course with The Institute of Children’s Literature and hopes to begin a career in publishing. Madeline Gressman lives in Lakeville, Minnesota and spends her time writing, reading, and doing Pilates. You can follow her work on facebook at www.facebook.com/maddy.gressman or on Instagram at maddygressman.
The First Day I Met You:
I was sitting at a metal table, fiddling with hang nails and noticing the leaves with tiny spots of brown on their edges. It was fall in the beginning of sophomore year. I was afraid of my upper-level classes in chemistry and you walked by laughing with your friends. One of their backpacks smacked me in the shoulder as he turned to look at you. You noticed.
You asked me if I was okay and I brushed you off. I was sitting alone at a table waiting for no one and I wanted to look busy. You sort of waved goodbye after assuring that I wasn’t injured and continued laughing with your friends. I pulled out a text book and attempted to do some homework while soaking in the last bits of sun before the dining hall opened for dinner.
An hour later I hadn’t made considerable progress. I got distracted by passersby and friends and music and Facebook, and you plopped down in the seat next to mine. All of the other tables were empty outside the student center. I gave you a judging look.
“I’m the friend of the backpack guy, remember?” you said.
We got to talking. About classes, on-campus events, and just about everything else. You were wearing a navy blue polo with a collar that wouldn’t quite lie flat on the left side. You kept fiddling with it as we talked. Your laugh filled the empty quad.
Our conversation lulled when I shivered, noticing the sun was setting. It was seven o’clock. I had missed my usual dinner time with my friends and you offered to accompany me when I cursed under my breath.
It was French toast sticks. You dripped syrup on your polo and I dropped my half-eaten apple. All of the tables but one were empty, as most students had already gone to clubs or were hidden in their rooms studying or digging into an especially hefty reading assignment. My own backpack was heavy with looming assignments but I couldn’t take my eyes off your smirk when you thought of a pun and your laugh made even the emptiest spaces feel warm. When we parted to go to our separate dorms, I pulled you back and kissed you. You were genuinely surprised but squeezed my hand three times.
My friends and I were making our way to our Wednesday late afternoon class. We had all decided to take an easy geology credit to get an elective out of the way. I made a stupid joke and my best friend doubled in hysterics. When he stood up straight again, he ran into a chair with you in it. It wasn’t the first time I had seen you, but this was the first time I had an excuse to talk to you. I didn’t know your eyes were downturned naturally, so at that moment I thought it looked to me like you were going to cry. You kept saying you were okay and waving me off. Your hair was one of the darkest brown I’d ever seen and the sun gave it a halo.
In my class I couldn’t stop thinking about you. It was the longest that class would ever feel. I almost leapt up the stairs to the quad where you were still sitting. I sat down next to you and your moderately annoyed look told me you didn’t remember who I was.
“I know who you are. What do you want?” you asked when I refreshed your memory.
Your voice was scratchy and I liked that. You didn’t talk much at first, so I tried to find excuses to ask you questions. You had a teasing sense of humor and a long necklace that dangled down to your lap that you would spin whenever you didn’t know what to say. Your dress rustled whenever the wind picked up and I couldn’t stop thinking about just how beautiful you looked and how obvious it was that you had no idea.
I was starving by the time you brought up dinner and looked genuinely disappointed that you had missed your friends. We went together, which was probably a first date, and we ate French toast sticks. You tried to act like you weren’t incredibly excited by the dinner and laughed when I spilled syrup. You covered your mouth when you ate and laughed. The dining hall was basically empty but I have never felt fuller. I was too afraid to ask to see you again when the time came to go back to our rooms. When I began to turn away I had no idea you would pull me back and kiss me. I grabbed your hand in mine and squeezed it. You were warm and smelled of vanilla and I closed my eyes to capture the image of such an incredible moment.
The Last Day I Saw You:
You were looking at your feet, unable to make eye contact with me. We were standing on a sidewalk outside of your apartment, both of our hands in our pockets. It was frigid and the snow sounded like breaking bones whenever I took a step. You were shuffling between feet, making dense crunching sounds. Neither of us had much to say.
I had thrown up shortly before this meeting. It had been a week since our breakup and the thought of seeing you always made me feel ill. I had tucked my hair into a hat, pulling it down to my eyebrows to hide its knots and the fact that I had spent an entire week in bed. My joints ached. My muscles groaned. My chest felt like it had caved in on itself.
You said you had loved loving me. It felt like the worst possible thing to say and I wished that you would just cry. You had always been emotionally withdrawn but for whatever reason I expected that I deserved a breakdown from you. You stood pretty tall and stiff, like you had been frosted over with the rest of the landscape. I was the first one to walk away, back to the parking lot where I would throw up for a second time. I turned on my heel when you started to croak clichés and closure. I spat an insult and wished you luck with her.
Your breath made circling white clouds in the inky black night. It was the coldest night of the year and I regretted inviting you over to talk. I knew it wouldn’t solve anything but I hoped we could go back to before the yelling, the trust issues, and the spite. I hadn’t eaten in three days; the cold wasn’t the only thing making my knees shake. You just stood there, outside of my apartment, with eyes so full of expectation.
I told you how much I loved you. I wanted to tell the truth but you just cursed and started crying. Your red fingers would swipe your face a few times before retreating to your pocket. You asked me why and I had no answer. Our relationship wasn’t perfect, I reminded you. I didn’t tell you that I thought you would always be too good for me. The street light barely illuminated your face and you just kept standing there in silence, staring at me.
When I started to try to wrap things together, I knew your insults were coming. You straightened your shoulders, the way you always did when you were about to express your honest opinion. I was an ass, I was at fault. You turned and wished me a spiteful good luck with the woman I had made the biggest mistake of my life with. I watched you walk away in the cold until your body, heaving with sobs, turned the corner and the night became so incredibly dark.