Letter From My 48th Year (Mar 1)
I want to tell you more about C. I want to tell you how tall, dark, and handsome he was. I want to tell you how I couldn’t take my eyes off of him the first time I saw him in the dorm where we both lived. He may have been wearing the tri-color windbreaker, which I can still so clearly in my memories. I want to tell you the first time I talked to him it was to ask him if I could borrow a pair of his socks for a Secret Santa prank I was playing on a friend. (We may have misunderstood the premise of Secret Santa.) He did try to kiss me once when we were freshman. I ran like hell. I broke in my American Express card taking him to dinner when we were seniors.
There is more I could say, but it feels, strangely, like I’m violating his privacy, even though there are a few people reading this who know exactly who C is. And though there’s no reason to believe he’d recognize himself in anything I’m telling you. I know now that we all freight our moments, even the exact same moment, differently. That what to me is a rough pebble to be tumbled over and over in my memory until it grows smooth and cool in my palm is for someone else the pebble you kick out of your way while walking without even noticing.
I can still hear somewhat the sound of his voice, albeit like a radio station that I can’t quite tune in without static. I remember that since he’d moved here as a boy, his American accent still had a bit of European polish to it in a way I can’t quite articulate, something about the way he ended his sentences maybe, a certain angularity to some of his words. His athlete’s body was as comfortable in a track suit as in a beautiful double-breasted suit I once saw him wear. At parties he’d wear tailored button-downs, not silk, but something close to it, another nod to the European in him I think, though my memory may be embellishing that detail. I know he was confused by me. And I know that there were many times that all he could do was put up with me.
And I think that’s another reason I can’t fully commit to telling everything. I’d be invading my own privacy, the high fence I’ve built around the girl I used to be, the girl whose actions still fill me with shame even from the distance of decades. The endless afternoon’s wasted walking around a certain part of campus so I might casually bump into him. The times I showed up at his dorm room or his various apartments unannounced, ignoring all the gentle hints—or one memorably not so gentle one from one of his roommates—that it wasn’t a good time, even as I settled into their couch to wait. The time I rummaged through his closet and his personal letters while I was crashing in his roommate’s room over a holiday break.
I’ve been thinking too about why I still feel shame over my behavior. I’ve long since sent apologies for my behavior. (It’s interesting how finally getting your own apartment will teach you a lot about boundaries!) And when friends share their own stalking stories, I laugh sympathetically because I know we’ve all been there. At least intellectually I know we’ve all been there. Emotionally, however…
I’ve never been able to wear my mistakes lightly. Because of how I was raised (as I’ve written about here), mistakes or missteps of any kind flood me with shame. It can feel like utter failure to me to not recognize the correct set of boundaries for a particular situation or person. And though I’ve taught myself to deal more constructively and kindly with failure, and to put failure in its proper perspective (which is generally smaller than I’m feeling it), those missteps from before I came into that wisdom still feel immeasurably enormous to me.
No one died. No one was injured. And, for the most part, as far as I know, no one was seriously angry about my behavior, just annoyed and probably weary. Many young women stalk the objects of their affections, particularly if they haven’t actually dated a lot and don’t quite know what to do with their lust and love. Which is what I’ve told myself over and over again and yet still…