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Ann Arbor Affairs: A thing

Illustration by Megan Mulholland
Illustration by Megan Mulholland Buy this photo

By Carlina Duan, Daily Arts Writer
Published September 3, 2013

I bumped into him on my way back from a club meeting. The October moon glazed over the street. I barely made out his face in the dark.

Illustration by Megan Mulholland
Illustration by Megan Mulholland
Illustration by Megan Mulholland
Illustration by Megan Mulholland
Illustration by Megan Mulholland
Illustration by Megan Mulholland

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Tentatively, I called out his name.

He paused, then walked closer. Behind us, a streetlamp beat out its own steady light. His eyebrows kicked upwards in recognition. “Carlina! How’ve you been?” We chatted briefly. No, he wasn’t in school this semester. He was working at a restaurant in town. He’d be traveling abroad in the winter.

The talk ended after we’d exchanged numbers, and I hustled back to South Quad to gush to my roommate over how cute he was.

A few weeks later, he texted me: “Sooo … we should hang out.”

And so, I found myself in Kerrytown in early November, drinking hot chocolate with a cute boy and blabbing earnestly. More of a friend-date than anything, I convinced myself. Until he texted me later that night: “You’re awesome Carlina. Like really. We should chill again soon.” My heart winked for a tiny second. I analyzed the text over dinner with my friend, Andrew. “He’s definitely interested,” Andrew declared, stirring a watery bowl of lentil soup. Still, I wasn’t sure.

I hung out with him a few more times that month before I realized how much I was beginning to like him. It seemed that I had finally found a guy who got it. How to listen and absorb, how to be fascinated by the world, how to be sexy and modest at the same time. When I went home one weekend, I told my sister he had potential to be The One. “I’ve never felt like this before with anybody,” I exclaimed. “I just like him so much.”

He kissed me over Thanksgiving break. A small kiss. He had to duck down, tap his mouth to mine, standing beneath the streetlamp by his car. I adored him: his cheeks, the Angela Davis books scattered in rectangular piles all over his room, the blonde splash of hair nestled in the center of his head. I thought I was on my way to being in love.

And then, it stopped. He stopped calling me as frequently. Wouldn’t reply to my texts for days. Acted uncomfortable and distant when we hung out. The confession came past midnight, both of us nested on a curb by East Quad. “I’m about to leave in less than a month, and we got into this so fast … too fast, almost,” he blurted, “I just don’t think this is feasible, given the time that we have.”

When he finally left, I cried. I cried at the Diag, running into a friend who fetched me toilet paper from the men’s room at Mason Hall. Cried in my room, unleashing my inner-emo while staring at a blank ceiling and listening to Bon Iver. I wanted him to be The One. Or if not the One, then a One. I loved his hands, and his eyebrows and the stupid dog hairs on his shirt. I loved how he surprised me, constantly, with his brain.

For six months, we exchanged the occasional Facebook message or e-mail. His messages were always simple, short. Nice. When I left for my spring semester in New Hampshire, he told me to expect a letter. I spent six weeks in New Hampshire painfully checking the mail every day, awaiting an international postage-marked envelope that never came.

If one flavor of love is yearning, then I suppose I did love him. For half a year, I wanted him to think of me as the girl he might want to love back, time given. But I also wanted, desperately, for us to keep on having our cool and calm conversations in comfort without the wrenching anxiety that came with waiting for his replies back, his affirmation. My two wants seemed incompatible with each other. “Love” versus Friend. “Thing” versus Friendship.

When he finally came home over the summer, we split a sandwich at Jimmy Johns and read astronomy books at Dawn Treader. Neither of us mentioned our “thing.” But he told me I was an important friend. “I’ve learned a lot from you,” he said, “I’m grateful.” I never told him how much, exactly, I thought I’d been in love with him. In a way, it didn’t matter anymore. I still loved him, but it was a love that wasn’t curried with demand. He gave me a letter he meant to send me a month ago. It was signed, “Your friend.”


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