Life Lesson #1: Sh&t Changes

UMass_big[1]Hey there, Ari. I swore to myself when I began this, that it would be about you and not me. But the other day, I remembered how much you like it when I tell stories about my life. Assuming that’s still true, I’ll occasionally share some, with the promise that they include life lessons I wish someone would have shared with me.

It was 1992. I had just started college and was sick with obsessive, quivering love for a high school girlfriend with whom I’d recently parted ways.

One day, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to see her. I skipped my classes; I talked a friend with a car into driving me across Massachusetts and I arrived at the U Mass Amherst Campus, without a phone number, cell phone (no one had them then), address, anything. Just her name…on a campus of more than 20,000.   I didn’t know why I was there. I didn’t know what I was going to say, and I had no clue how to find her.

Kim was short, moon-faced, smart and silly. She was honors track. I was not. I met her and fell in love quickly for the first time in my life. I don’t remember if I ever told her that–probably–but I remember, vaguely, how caught up I was. I had made her everything, probably smothered her and then found out she cheated on me; I reacted badly; the whole thing ended, and I even vandalized one  of her family’s yard decorations (though I actually thought she’d find it funny…I was such a weirdo.)

We forgave each other during a marathon, all-night phone call two days before we went to college: I to Fitchburg State, she to U Mass. Then I convinced her we should hang out during our last night together. She agreed, but then cancelled at the last minute.

The next day, I was a brand new college student. Everything was tainted by a horrendous aching–like my body was a toothache, my life a nightmarish, anti-circus in which every act was meant to drain and sadden me. I remember the smell of my own shampoo reminded me of her (but I don’t remember why.) Every shower was a dreaded, moist pity party.

So there I was at U Mass, on a campus the size of the town you were born in, complete with several high-rise residential towers. I spent hours looking for her.

I refused to give up. My friend Geroge really wanted to leave, and was almost ready to ditch me when somehow, through some detective work that I can’t remember, I found her last name outside one of the residence halls. I rang the bell. I went inside. She was shocked, flattered, happy to see me, and sat deliberately in front of her mirror so that I wouldn’t notice she kept no pictures of me there (along with the many other high school friends she’d commemorated.)

She showed me around campus. We talked. We kissed goodbye. I thought this act filled some need in me for closure at first, but soon the ache returned and I was miserable again.

That was it. We never really hung out again. I think I ran into her once or twice in the years beyond, but in terms of Us being Us, Together, two friends seeing each other to see each other–U Mass was the last time.

Why do I tell you this sad story?

Because in six months, I was over her and in love with someone else. Then I broke up with that person. Then I drove 13 miles to her house late one night on a borrowed-without-permission bicycle to tell her I wanted her back and we got back together.  Then she  broke my heart. Then I broke another heart. Then the next one broke mine. Then I broke a heart again. Then I got married, 1,000 miles and 12 years away from that unbearable place.

Each time I fell in love, my previous love felt weak and unreal by comparison. (And nobody could touch how I feel about your mom.) Of course there were dalliances in between where no hearts were broken because it never went that far–one of them included a THIRD impulsive, long-distance trip to tell someone how I felt about her: this time all the way to Philadelphia. If the link isn’t broken, you can hear that story here in front of a live audience.

I tell you these stories because whatever it is, however deep–good or bad–it’s temporary. If the me of today appeared to myself at age 18 and said “Andy, I know it hurts, but Kim is not going to matter to you at all. She’s barely a blip in your life,” I realize I might just ignore me. But if I could redo the first semester of my college years, I would try to live with the impermanence of my pain. It was heavy because I was unable to just accept it, surrender to the hurt completely and dwell in the absolute truth that it was Temporary.

You may hear older people try to minimize your love, tell you that you don’t know what love is (and if I have, that sucks.) It’s not nice and it’s not fair.  If you’ve felt that first heartbreak yet, it hurts more now that it may ever hurt.  And that stuff is REAL. VERY REAL.

But if there’s anything that young lovers fail to grasp, it’s that your heart is only broken for now. It only hurts now. The pain you feel isn’t a snapshot of the rest of your life. Six months is a long time. A year is a long time. Ten, twelve, twenty years…they may put you in another state, another country, practicing exotic new skills…loving someone who makes you think you’ve never been in love before.

Don’t resist the pain and don’t fear it. But NEVER think that the nagging obsession or heartbreak won’t go away. It totally does.


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