I’m trapped in a heard of other freshmen in Boston all wearing matching tan tee-shirts with an orientation logo emblazoned on it, promising me that if anyone wanted to think I was a cool, sophisticated college student, they will see my t-shirt and sneakers and know better.
I hold my phone in the palm of my hand inside my pocket, sweating against the keys. I wait, and wait. I spend the first three weeks waiting.
It would have been better if I didn’t have the evidence that I had spent the last ten days in the middle of the woods in upstate New York telling a group of people I had never met before that this boy, he and I were a thing. A thing I couldn’t define, a thing I couldn’t quite pin down, one Starbucks lemonade and one impulsive kiss against a car door the afternoon before I left, but a thing. I was sure of it.
He doesn’t write back. I keep myself away from the ten digits I’m sure I’ve memorized in tracing them over and over in my pocket, because I don’t want to text him but I want to text him, and I promise I have to let one more hour go by where I’m silent, and the hour becomes two, becomes a week… and maybe I don’t know the ten digits as well anymore, was it 7-8 or 8-7 and was there a 9? But I imagine what I’d say, in my first-year indignant heart, it is rageful and spiteful and angry. And I start to spin the story.
I tell my roommate in hushed whispers at 4am while we’re eating cookie dough straight from the tube how much experience I have with boys. I laugh to the girls on my floor as one of them puts a 5 day Garnier hair dye in my hair about the fact that if you kiss someone in the middle of the night on a beach you’re going to find you are covered in sand, completely, the next morning. I proclaim that my love language is physical touch. And I wink.
God catches up to me on a walk around the quad right before first semester finals. I don’t notice Him at first, walking head bent to the concrete against the early-December drizzle. But I’m worn thin in trying to write that scene between Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Birmingham Jail and his wife. I’m thinking about stage directions when I realize God is there, too.
Do you want to talk about what happened?
I have said no a thousand times, I remind Him. I’ve told the story already. It’s better the way I tell it. It’s safer the way I tell it. I keep walking, repeating things about the Kings and the scene in the jail. I read over the words in my head.
Do you want to talk about what happened?
I still say no, but perhaps there is a crack, a pause, just small enough for a bit of the Spirit to slip inside my well-walled heart. I sit on a bench, damp from the rain that just stopped. I put my books next to me, not realizing until I hear the slap of paper on water that I put them in a puddle. I cringe, and put them on the wet concrete at my feet.
You cared for someone.
He didn’t stay.
And this means something to your heart.
I start to cry. I’m eighteen and in college and I had a thing that wasn’t a thing and I told that group of people in the middle of the woods in New York that I had a thing that turned out not to be a thing, and now I’ve told everyone that I was pleased with myself, with all that I did and said and I made it this story, and that was going to make it feel better, was going to make it safe again, I was going to be safe inside the laughter and the knowing wink and the hair dying on the first floor bathroom.
It can’t be the kind of beautiful I want it to be, Hil, until you let it mean something in your heart. It can’t be restored to you if you keep it.
I stop crying.
Let Me have this story.
I don’t want to give it back, and my version is safer, steered clear of it meaning something. Of it hurting. Of it aching, and healing.
Let Me have it.
The rest of eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, and counting, I watched Him make more of this story – more healing, more peace, more delight, more laughter – maybe even something like wisdom.
It began that first night. It began with the thing that wasn’t a thing, that became an entirely different and more beautiful thing. I gave Him back the story.