The bathroom fan was loud enough that you could hear it from where I was: still laying in bed, trying to shake off the anxiety I’d been carrying for days. The buzzing sound made me shiver, even though I was fully clothed under the duvet. He was awake and it was definitely time for me to get up. My head was aching with the need for morning coffee as I drug my feet across the carpet. He used to make me a pot before he left, but the buzzing of the fan had stopped and he was already out the door on his way to work by the time I wiped the crust from my eyes.
It had been months since I’d tried to make him love me again. I had stopped completely. As the fall turned to winter, my focus had turned onto myself, submerging myself into work and taking classes. Things I excelled at, things I felt rewarded for putting effort into, things I never had to be suspicious about. You put the work in, you get a good grade- simple as that. And that was what I desperately needed: simplicity.
With this in mind, I rose and dressed myself in neutral colors. Simple. I let my hair bounce down against my chin. Simple. I decided not to put on any makeup. Simple. Okay, I decided to put on a little makeup. I was still a girl that cared how she looked. Simple enough.
Alex had noticed I’d been putting on makeup the last couple of weeks. When he asked, I brushed him off with “I want to look nice at school- it makes me a better student.”
This was halfway true. The other half of the truth was that I wanted to feel somewhat seductive while making bedroom eyes at my English professor. Realistically, given the opportunity, I don’t believe I would cheat on my boyfriend. But Alex, a chronic cheater who had been the source of many devastating blows to our relationship, always had his radar on full blast and always made it a point to accuse me of the worst. This had become an almost daily occurrence that often ended with me storming off to someplace quiet like a library or a theatre and writing until my hand cramped before I returned solemnly to the home we shared and crawled into a bed that felt usually much too crowded. And since I’d started taking this English class, the crowdedness loomed over me like a willow tree over an innocent picnicker. Well, maybe not quite innocent.
The drive to campus was so heavy and full of thought, I only realized once I’d made it to the parking lot that I’d never turned on the stereo. Instead, the same quote had been on repeat in my head:
“Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality.” – Emily Dickinson
These were the words written on the whiteboard on the first day of class in Ethan’s classroom. Love is immortality. I sighed, remembering that day. It was not love at first sight- I’m not even sure such a thing exists. No, he was average. Average height, average weight, even his hair color lied between blonde and brunette in a way that was less than extraordinary. He was extraordinarily average. He was not the kind of man you’d find in the ads of a magazine or modeling for the cover of a book. He was the kind of man whose words you’d find inside delicately printed onto the pages, filling the blank spaces of the paper and filling the blank spaces of your mind. I could think of a few other spaces he could fill for me. Cue the fantasies. Blood rushed to my face and warmed me as I walked through the frigid winter air to class.
I slid through the doorway as a swift wind caught my back and pushed me forward, slamming the door behind me. A few eyes glanced up at my not-so-graceful entrance and I pulled my bag up to climb the stairs. I always sat in the direct center of the risers. I had read somewhere that teachers are least likely to pay attention to students in this part of the seating arrangement, so at least in the beginning, I figured if I sat here and Ethan paid me any mind, then I might be worth noticing. It didn’t take long before my writing style and overwhelming effort in his class became noteworthy enough and I realized I didn’t actually have to try to be noticed. After a while, this had just become my spot and my passion for literature got me the attention I so craved.
Ethan sat on the far side of room reading from his computer screen. He had reiterated to us throughout the quarter that the best writers are those who read often. Not necessarily books, but anything, really. Reading a billboard, even, initiates enough creative thought to prompt the writing process. I admired him for reading whatever he was reading. It was easy to admire him but less easy to be polite about it. I stared at him for six minutes or so as he ran his fingers across his mouse pad, wishing to feel the same gentle touch across my body. Cue more fantasies.
Unable are the loved to die. The terrible thing was, Dickinson’s poem neither referred to being in love with someone who returned the feelings or unrequited love, but just love in general. Generalized love, if there is such a thing. And I could hardly call it generalized with the way it ran like blood through my veins and captivated every part of me. I innately knew that this was the kind of thing people write stories about. And I had no easy way of following through. With so much to still work out with Alex, I instead choked down the feelings as much as I could, but I was sure that, if Dickinson was right, Ethan was going to live forever. Simple.