“Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.” -Ernest Hemingway
One of the best parts about my recent trip to New York City was talking with my travel companion on the bus.
Heading west on the Mass Pike, my husband of four years and companion of 11 remembered taking the bus every week to visit me when I was a student at UMass Amherst.
Greg and I had only been dating for 2 months when I returned to college in the fall of 2003, but we didn’t break up as many summer couples do when things become inconvenient. Something special was happening, even though we weren’t quite sure what it was then.
Now when we talk it’s usually across our kitchen table, and often I’m on my iPhone. A terrible habit. But I decided to put my damn phone away for a little while to talk with my husband, sitting right beside me on the bus.
There’s something more romantic about sitting beside someone instead of across from them.
I have a terrible memory, which is the real reason I write. I have no memories that aren’t written or photographed. I have no idea how someone writes a memoir about their childhood several years later from memory alone. I could never do it without lying or interviewing everyone from my memories extensively.
Greg reminded me how he visited me at school one time when I was really sick. He wasn’t familiar with the UMass campus, yet made his way down the hill from my dorm one morning, asking strangers for directions to the People’s Market.
People’s Market was my favorite place at UMass. It was a student-owned collective that sold fair trade coffee, freshly made bagels, vegan cookies, organic snacks, and more. Each morning I’d pour a medium cup of fair trade coffee, adding two Sugar in the Raws with no cream, feeling good about drinking coffee that paid South American workers a fair wage.
Then I would pick out the perfect everything bagel and a thick piece of Muenster cheese. I’d cut the bagel in half, skip past the toaster which always had a long line in front of it, put the piece of cheese in between, and eat it like a sandwich.
Greg went to the People’s Market and got my usual without my knowledge that Saturday morning. I imagine it must have made my day when he brought me my weird bagel sandwich and hippie coffee while I was blowing my nose miserably in my dorm room.
My last serious boyfriend would have never done something like this for me. He would have called me lazy for lying sick in bed and would have discouraged my eating anything that wasn’t a salad. Then he probably would have become frustrated me and left, as he always did whenever I wasn’t acting perfect enough for him.
Greg and I also talked about the time I sprained my ankle at UMass. I was on crutches, pathetically swinging from class to class and rubbing my armpits raw with the ill-fitting crutches I received from the University Health Center.
He visited that weekend and I remember how he held on to me and encouraged me as I struggled with my crutches up the steep hill, in the autumn cold, to my dorm. The buses were running on a limited weekend schedule, so we were forced to walk. I know I was whining over-dramatically the entire time, but he was patient with me when no one else was.
There was also a time when it was snowing really hard and Greg’s bus was scheduled to leave. I walked down the hill with Greg to the bus stop even though he told me not to. I wanted to savor every last moment with him that I could before he left. So we stood in the snow together, sans umbrella and shivering, waiting for the bus that arrived late due to the blizzard-like conditions.
I thought that was such a sweet memory, especially because of the way he smiled when he recalled it: “You waited with me in the snow.”
I tend to remember negative experiences with more clarity. I couldn’t remember those nice memories as much as I remembered how much I missed Greg when he went to Marine Corps boot camp, and later Iraq.
How absolutely lovesick I was… I would see his face everywhere- on the bus, in class, in a coffee shop, at a party. I really like that song “I Still Miss Someone” by Johnny Cash, because it describes exactly how I felt when he had to be away.
And I remember how many of the girls I knew at school would complain about how they hadn’t seen their boyfriends for a week or a few days. I wanted to strangle every last one of them. Sometimes I’d tell them how grateful they should have been, and sometimes I’d just let them whine and silently stew about it.
Before he joined the Marines, he rode the bus every week to see me with the last of the money he made working the night shift at BJ’s Wholesale Club.
I think I chose him for the long haul because I’d never been so damned lovesick in my life. It was jarring and strange to me, because I was so callous and detached in my early 20s. I was still that way when we first met, but over time, he fixed that in me. I’ve evolved into a completely different person who cares about people beyond immediate family and believes in love.
I didn’t quite understand those feelings at first. I also didn’t want to feel them because I’d been hurt in the past and those feelings made me feel vulnerable.
But when you meet someone who shows you what love truly is, you can’t help it.