I recently came across this beautifully written essay by Caroline Hamilton. I'm not very good with words, but she perfectly expressed everything that I've been feeling for the past few months. For a long time, someone had made me feel guilty for having these feelings that I have little control of. Sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing, but now I've made peace with the choices I've made. If you're reading this, I hope you can understand why everything had to happen the way it did...
During my senior spring in college, I began the process of malting and distilling an especially painful heartbreak. I'm speaking in whiskey terms because that was the drink of choice of the six-foot-seven law student from Tennessee with the amber eyes and a voice as thick as molasses. When he invited me to his year-end barrister's ball, I saw it as a silly adventure. I joked to my friends about the Big Friendly Giant I had met.
The night of our first date the BFG picked me up at my sorority house wearing a suit. From the passenger seat of his sedan, I got a chance to examine his face while he drove. His eyelashes were long and thick, and he held himself with a gentleness "that his big frame necessitated," he later told me as we kissed goodnight. I had already decided that I would never date him, but as I climbed into bed—our fumbled goodbyes replaying pleasantly in my mind—I acknowledged that some other girl would be very lucky to have her own BFG.
I was moving to New York in two months, but it was spring in North Carolina and, in the weeks leading up to graduation, he continued to invite me to do things like get ice cream and play tennis with him. Slowly we started to do things real couples did: We talked on the phone. We shared music. I liked learning the country anthems of his hometown in Tennessee, but I was annoyed that he didn't know the Dave Matthews songs I used to sing in New England. It seemed like the only people we both had heard of—on or off of the radio—were Hootie and his Blowfish. One night he drove me home and asked me to listen carefully to a Christian rock song with lyrics about Jesus' love and forgiveness. I was both touched and creeped out.
"I'm not sure how I feel about that stuff," I said when we got to the parking lot. I tried to explain that church in the north was about wearing panty hose and eating powdered donuts. "You're a really special girl," he said, not seeming to mind. "I like you."
We started going to Top of the Hill, a bar where only seniors hung out. One sticky night, when the bartenders were wiping their brows and the Carolina Pale Ales were sweating, the BFG showed up in a pair of cowboy boots that lent him an extra two inches. On his way to greet me, he accidentally stepped on the foot of a handsome fraternity guy that I recognized from class. I flushed with frustration, wondering if he was getting between me and the boyfriend I should have.
"I'm moving to New York," I reminded him the next day. "We should probably wind things down."
"Maybe I could come see you," he said.
I wasn't so sure.
But once I landed in the city, the BFG became a creature of comfort. From his dependable nightly phone call I learned that he had a pulse on everything from macroeconomics to the human heart. By day, he worked on an independent study on credit default swaps; by night he purred with me about my family cat.
A month later, we met on a brick path near 116th Street where I was enrolled in a publishing course at Columbia. That weekend we enjoyed the anonymity of the city, eating guacamole by the pound and holding hands along the Bowery. If I was looking for a guy who could both ace the LSAT and dunk a basketball, he was right in front of me. I couldn't explain why when the weekend was over and he boarded his plane, I went back to walking wide-eyed around the city, looking for something—someone—else.
As if he could sense my reticence, the BFG said that we could take it one day at a time and assess how I felt later. By the time Obama was elected, I had reluctantly agreed to be exclusive with him. For my 25th birthday he bought me a black rabbit fur hat that tied under the chin. "A rabbit for my rabbit," he said as he expertly tied the bow. I looked up at him from inside the fuzzy halo, and we beamed at each other.
I started to consider myself "luckier" than my single girlfriends who were looking for love in all the wrong sports bars. The BFG was visiting a lot, helping me to navigate the trials of first jobs and first apartments. Summer came again, and he let my drunken friend puke into the palms of his hands in the back of a taxi. "The BFG is a prince," she texted me the morning after. It was hard to disagree.
But when he finally asked, "Do you want to come home to Tennessee with me?" I felt my palms go sweaty. I had agreed to be his girlfriend, but somewhere inside, I still wasn't convinced he was my "real" boyfriend.
"When do you think you will be sure?" he pressed every so often.
"I don't want to get married until I'm 29," I told him.
One winter night, while we were watching a movie in my apartment, it began to snow. The storm was pelting down so hard that all you could see out of the windows was the warm, yellow fuzz of the streetlights. We needed toilet paper, and he said he would go to the corner store to get some. Classic, lovely, helpful BFG.
Sometime between deciding to go to the corner store and actually going to the corner store, he began to cry. The tears were appropriately giant. They fell slowly from his long eyelashes and ran down the side of his nose, which I had slowly come to admire for its perfect straightness, like that of the noble German Shepherd I often saw on the subway.
"You don't love me," he said without looking at me.
There it was. The thing my best friend had said. The thing my mom had said. The thing I thought maybe I could hear myself saying all along, but that my loneliness and insecurity and neediness didn't want to hear.
I put my arms around him. I kissed his tears. I asked why he would say such a thing. In short, I did all the things that guilty people do. That's all I remember. He probably went to the store. We probably finished the movie and ate little chocolate biscuits from the bodega.
We dated on and off for two more years after that. In those last years, I visited Tennessee, brought him to my holiday work party, and introduced him to my grandmother. She mailed me a letter afterwards, calling him a true gentleman. I glued it into my diary like a prize.
But when I finally "met someone else," an inevitability that the BFG had feared since the beginning, I tasted that spellbinding ingredient I had been so hungry for: It was simply a matter of cinnamon versus sugar; here versus there; yes versus no.
We deleted each other's phone numbers on New Year's day. I was so distracted by new love that, for me, the resolution was easy to keep.
The last step in making whiskey is maturation. The spirit is sealed in wooden barrels, which is then flavored by the air that seeps in through the wood. Several years later, I'm finally able to open the seal that I had long ago put on our relationship. What I learned about heartbreakers, from being one, is that they aren't always cruel out of indifference. They are oftentime slaves to ambivalence. Season after season, I kept thinking my uncertainties would disappear or become less important as I got older, but they never did. In waiting for the BFG to feel "real," I had been preventing us both from finding love elsewhere. I wish I had had the strength to pull away sooner.
I'm now happily married with a baby on the way. And yes, I'm that girl preaching to the brunch table that certainty does exist. When I dream about the BFG, he's still patiently waiting. He watches me kindly from across bar tables in Chapel Hill, from the front seat of his sedan, from the top of the stairs in my old Upper West Side walk-up. Gently, he asks if I've made up my mind yet.