ZOEY LIU/THE OBSERVER
I am more familiar with the McMahon B stairwell than most who live on the 10th floor.
The dusty, lumpy maroon coverings that grace each flight are actually a welcome sight after a long day of work and classes. The echo-filled, maroon-tiled liminal space filled with people simply passing through is my favorite place to stop and live in the moment.
An odd choice of hangout spot, no?
It may surprise you to learn that I don’t all that much relish sitting down on the top step outside the 10th-floor exit, resting my head awkwardly against the cold railing. When I position and reposition myself in the clinically-lit, altogether uninteresting B stairwell, I wouldn’t blame you if you judged a little. You certainly wouldn’t be the first — many a laundry room-seeker has awkwardly stepped over my sprawled form, and their “what-the-hell-are-you-doing-here” faces are memorable.
I really don’t care. In that dirty, disused stretch of residence hall, I do what I’ve been waiting to do all day.
I call my girlfriend.
She’s the cutest thing I’ve ever laid eyes on and the kind of person who could get that bust of Leon Lowenstein to crack a smile with ease. She makes me want to be a better person with clearer skin and funnier jokes. She amazes me every day with her strength, her resolve and her commitment to others.
Oh, and she’s six hours away by bus. Seven, if traffic is especially bad.
I’ll be honest; when I pictured college life, stairs were not part of the plan. Hour-long phone calls were not what I envisioned. Then again, learning how to love someone on a level I’d never experienced before — all from long distance — wasn’t either.
I’ve learned things I never imagined I’d need to learn.
Things like: Buy your bus tickets very early or last-minute. Anything in between will break the bank harder than need be. Spend your money on the things she mentions in passing over the phone, but there’s a great flower shop near the place where she’ll pick you up, just in case.
I’ve learned when’s best to send a paragraph of motivation over text, the best times for 15-minute phone calls and the right moment to buy a spontaneous midnight bus ticket two hours before departure.
I’ve learned that if you’re planning on sleeping on the bus, get a window seat. Ball up a jacket and use it as a pillow as you lean against the window. Try to contain your excitement at being so desperately close to actually seeing and touching your significant other, and get some sleep. If the sweet old lady next to you ends up falling asleep on your shoulder, well, that’s just the way it goes. It makes for a good story to tell one day.
I’ve learned that a long-distance relationship is tough. There is a lot of time, space and telephone silence for doubt to creep in. Schedules evade each other as texts get short and “I” sometimes gets dropped off of “love you.” You blame them for having a life, making friends without you, and you hate something, but you can’t put your finger on what exactly it is, but you’re sure it’s not them, right?
And when you do it for a long time — this commitment to love someone who you only see in your wildest dreams — you learn that cellphones make your voice garbled enough that it pays to be genuine.
When you recline on the dusty steps of Stairwell B and call that person who may very well be waiting for their phone to light up with your name, you learn to talk about fear.
My authority on long-distance relationships — that is, simply that I am in one — hangs by a thread. A lot of the time, it seems that the only way I can justify my relationship is simply because it’s still standing. If the bedrock that has supported us so far reveals deadly faults, poof — it’s over. I’m no longer a shining example of how love can withstand anything. I’m just a kid who wasted time and money on something silly.
I fear that all of this will come to nothing. That one day, a misunderstanding will snowball into a week of silence and a fatal phone call where neither of us says what’s really on our minds.
I fear leaning up against the cold cinder blocks of the B stairwell and staring at the phone, daring it to play her voice on speaker again. Saying anything but “goodbye.”
I fear reading these words one day and feeling bitter enough to post a correction. “EDITOR’S NOTE: They broke up. Don’t bother reading. It wasn’t worth it.”
Maybe I’ll look like a fool. Maybe it’ll work out in the end. Maybe we’ll end up together. Maybe we figure out we’ve become two different people after growing up and apart. But I promised myself that I would support this relationship with everything in me until I woke up one day and didn’t feel that desire any more.
Today, I woke up at 7 a.m. to a blinking indicator light on my phone. One new text message, 6:30 a.m.
“Hey you! Good morning! Have a great day today, okay? I love you :)”
Today, I woke up and knew I was doing the right thing. Today, I felt the familiar certainty that tells me all those Greyhound rides are worth it. That every last phone call and bus station goodbye has been worth it. That she is worth it.
I don’t know how this will end, but something tells me there’s only one way to find out. The space between us is up for us to fill — and doubt always threatens to seep in — but day by day, bit by bit, we fill that space with love.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a call to make — and a bus to catch.
Editor’s Note: They broke up. This story is still worth reading. We grow as human beings only when we love deeply, supremely and without fear. Find someone worth writing about.