What I Really Learned In College

Brittani Lepley
Brittani Lepley

Sometimes it just hits me out of nowhere, like I’ll hear a bassline on the radio and instantly remember the songs that would coax Jay out to dance, to shrug off his ever-present black parka and dance in whoever’s bland college apartment we were in that year.

John and I would always dance wherever we were, with no shame and no inhibitions, but for Jay, it had to be some song he connected to so he could shed that shyness hidden under shaky masculine bravado. The boys were all like that when we were in our early twenties; brash and loud and shouting over me in the newsroom every Sunday, laughing at their own brand of smart-boy humor, but a bundle of shaky underneath.

And the parties were always the same, too. We’d get drunk, hang out and blather for hours and then someone would start the dancing and that’s how we’d end the night. I would always be hoping that you’d kiss me and you usually did, coming up behind me while I did Becky’s dishes and leaving your mark in a bite shape on my neck.

Even though I was always shopping for the girl I wanted to be, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there. I knew I wanted to write and I knew I wanted to create a beautiful little life for myself, with our collective group of smart, talented friends filling up my rooms every Sunday and beautiful songs trickling out of the radio. I’ve always been the one to bring people together. I wanted to be strong, successful, good on my own but better with you. We were back and forth and off and on and fucking and fighting all through college and for years after.

We always argued about dumb things, like which Glass family characters we were, and how you thought Holly Golightly was a terrible character. We were trying too hard to be literary. I argued then but I agree with you now.

I wasn’t better with you. I was far, far worse – desperate and clingy and vulnerable and never sure of myself. I was issuing ultimatums and throwing tantrums when they weren’t fulfilled to my liking. I was a terrible version of myself, and you were terrible too. When you’re younger, you think that kind of fucked-up love is romantic, but a few years’ time changes your mind.

If I really think about it, I guess I learned a lot in college. I learned how to network. I learned how to drink, and how to make a family out of my friends. I learned who I was and started figuring out who I was going to become. But you were my most important lesson of all, and I’m still learning it almost every day, when something reminds me of you (a certain color of shoe, the way a guy stands, the smell of black Chapstick). I learned that even if you love someone with the kind of passion that hurts, sometimes that kind of love isn’t the healthy kind. Maybe you’ll never quite find yourself ignited by another in exactly the same way, but you can’t sustain love on fumes.

I wonder sometimes if you’ve gone through my archives, reading my version of what happened. And if you have, that’s OK, though I will never care to hear your side of our story. I connected the most intensely to it. It was always my story to tell. TC mark

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