“Lucky to be in love,” my friend Jenny said, wishing me well on my short vacation to see my boyfriend. Love it was indeed, and I found myself on a small dirty airplane - bargain flight - from Palm Beach to Pittsburgh, my suitcase, bludgeoned from its harrowing business trip overland to Mexico, stuffed with all the winter clothes in my possession. During my flight I thought of my beloved Justin, chivalrously driving the hour and a half from Seven Springs Mountain Resort to collect me at the arrivals gate, imagining him in his red 4Runner, nicknamed “Gaia,” listening to the Disco Biscuits and drumming his hand on the steering wheel. Albeit eleven years my senior, our age difference didn't seem to affect our almost immediate rapport. “You're ageless,” he said to me once, “just like me.” My roommate and I swap stories one night like playing cards, tossing them back and forth across our square wood kitchen table, which reminds me of dorm issue furniture in our employer owned apartment just south of West Palm Beach. “First kiss?” “Terrible. Holiday traditions?” “Seeing all my Florida cousins. Lots of singing. Meeting their significant others.” Her parents live two hours away and throw an annual Christmas party. “That's always fun! And sometimes funny…” “I know!” She laughs, demure. “I don't know if it would stress me out to bring a boy home to meet my parents. I guess I would want them to like him.” “I used to bring my college boyfriend home for school breaks all the time.” I twist the faucet, water running, time for dishes. “His parents are expats and were living in India, so he spent a lot of holidays with us.” I think of kind, intelligent Seth, ornithology aficionado, sitting beside me in my Subaru as we rolled across the Mass Pike on our way from Cornell to Rhode Island. Unable to drive a stick shift, he was always relegated to the passenger seat. “Aww, that's so fun!” “It was! When I broke up with him, I warned my Mom, because he'd spent so much time with all of us!” I'm laughing now. For some reason, it suddenly seems hilarious. “He actually invited me to spend a month in India with him and his parents, but I said no. I got a career related opportunity and, well, that was more important to me in that moment.” Dishes are in the rack, dripping. Dampen the sponge. Wipe the counter. I remember not feeling very sad when I said goodbye to him then, more excited about my opportunity. I can recall the feeling of getting in my car and driving south, feeling less sad to leave him and more freed from a mantle. “I guess we both should have seen the end coming at that point! I think we broke up about two months later? But we're friends again now, actually.” “I think it's a little weird you're still friends!” She laughs. She's very conservative. Sometimes I feel like gender roles and the marriage plot rule her life. “But I guess knowing your personality, I'm not surprised after all!” I'm laughing again, mesmerized by our differences. I put the water to boil. “You want tea?” “No thanks. But India, that's a huge commitment! I understand why you didn't want to go.” I flop back down in my dormitory chair to face her. Squat, square wooden back and arms, all blunt edges, scratchy navy blue seat cushion. “If Justin asked me to go to India for a month, I'd drop everything.” And it's true, I would. “Well, your priorities are different now!” In reality, my priorities aren't really that different. What's different is that while Seth saw someone he thought I was but who I really wasn't, Justin perceived me exactly for myself. The alienating sensation of being misconstrued by someone close to you was replaced by the warm, inclusive sensation of being identified exactly for who you are. Of course I would go to India with Justin. Indeed, I'd go anywhere! The world waited… but first, Pittsburgh.
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