A boy in your Psychology 101 class will invite you to his dorm room to study for the first exam of the semester and you will think that this is meaningful. When you arrive, you’ll hear chords escaping from his fingers and his guitar and you will think that this ambiance is curated and calculated but in all the right ways, it will be a math problem that’s already been solved. And as you settle in to pore over notes, as he puts his guitar back in its case, you’ll hear the soft of the song he was playing along to, the words are saying, “This is the moment/ That you know/ That you told her that you love her but you don’t/ You touch her skin/ And then you think/ That she is beautiful, but she don’t mean a thing to me.” And you will find yourself thinking, it seems there’s been a miscalculation.
Later in the semester, a mutual friend will invite you back to the boy’s room where a jam session is taking place; the boy is playing guitar again and a girl you’ve never seen before belts out words like “accident” and “mistake” into a microphone and her voice sounds like butterscotch and it is then that you become convinced that you — who cannot sing very well, or dance very well, or do anything very well — you are the loser in whatever invisible contest you’ve entered for this guy’s affection. You are correct about being the loser, but not for the reasons you think.
Around this time, you will meet someone new who resembles every movie star you’ve ever swooned over. And he will swoon over you. And your roommate will say, “He’s hot, can you introduce us?” Your heart will crack a little, but you have a crush already and what does she have? So you befriend him and you prime yourself to make the introduction and he tells you he’s not interested in her but would you like to come over sometime to smoke a bowl with him? So you pick a Wednesday afternoon and you go to his dorm room and together, you listen to emotional music and it will make you want to kiss him. You will really, really want to kiss him. Instead, you will tell him that you can’t. A month later, he will have a girlfriend. A year later, he will leave school. You will never see him again.
You begin to figure out who your friends are and on weeknights you all get together and watch movies you never heard of before college, like Requiem for a Dream and Donnie Darko. The butterscotch girl, the guitar boy, everyone in between — they’re all there. You sit huddled in dark rooms around the bright crackle of a television screen and these movies make you cry, or maybe it’s something else.
Movie nights will compete with the bar, where your school ID gains you access to 25-cent beers and vodka-soaked social interaction. You will meet a guy who doesn’t play guitar but who is more interested in you than the guy who does, and so he’ll find himself spending the night in your extra-long twin bed and you will wake up happy. The next night, you will go to the same bar and watch him leave with someone else while Neil Diamond croons in the distance. Oh, oh, oh.
During winter break, you will find a hometown boyfriend who is too old and too nice to be taken seriously. He will ride a motorcycle and live with his parents and be everything you never wanted. Spring semester will arrive and you’ll return to school with that unmistakable boyfriend glow, a glow you only wear in hopes that one of the boys who left you will notice it and come back. On the first warm day of spring, your roommate will borrow someone’s convertible and four of you will drive an hour to your hometown so that your friends might meet this mysterious boyfriend of yours, the one who never visits, the one who is too old and too nice to have remained celibate while you were away at school. When you see him and feel nothing, when you’re more stimulated by the sensation of sky whipping through your hair than you are by the soft of his touch, when you and your friends pile back into the convertible and head ‘home’ and sing Gwen Stefani at the top of your lungs, you realize that this is more like what happiness is. You will break up with him over text message a week later.
Your friends will tire of bars and of movies and instead turn their kitchens into dance floors. Everyone you lost track of throughout the months seems to reappear again, the fatigue of the year a muted memory whenever the perfect song comes on. It will give you that funny feeling in your tummy.
At one of the last dance parties of the year, you’ll meet a boy from another school who will set his head in your lap and ask you to share one half of his earbuds. He will let you choose the song and you will both listen intently as the party whirrs around you. You will not know if you’ll ever see him again; and that won’t matter, this is a night when nothing matters. (You will see him again.)
With three nights left in the school year, you and the boy with the guitar somehow end up alone and underneath a bridge, sharing a blunt but not sharing words, him thinking, “This is the moment/ That you know,” you thinking, this is a night when everything matters; and this time it’s him who’s correct, but not for the reasons you think.