I guess there’s an untold side to every story.
He handed me a Whole Foods bag. I took a peek and saw a glass bottle of red wine vinaigrette resting against some other random-shaped items.
“There’re some salt, olive oil, and chili,” he said, “and chocolates.”
“Okay, I don’t cook, but thank you, Prof.”
I was sweaty and flushed from a run, but it struck me that it was the last day of his sabbatical at Harvard. His daughter’s boyfriend, a bespectacled, blonde man, offered to take the photo for us.
Later, it took me two trips to the Lost and Found counter in Science Center, three awkward conversations with a homeless person, a security guard and a janitorial staff, and more than half an hour before I resigned myself to guiltily abandon the condiments in the Canaday common room kitchen.
That was how my first student job came to a closure—the brown bulging bag, the watery red chili sloshing in my hand, and the almost psychedelic glint from the fluorescent kitchen lighting. They all felt like metaphors for something. I just wasn’t sure what.
We were sitting in Lamont.
“I’m going to press confirm?”
The laptop screen generated my freshly purchased flight itinerary. $452.80. A trip to Puerto Rico smack in the middle of Reading Period. We would arrive there on the 27th and return to Boston on the 29th, a day before I had a paper due. It sounded crazy. It sounded wonderful.
My phone buzzed with an incoming text. Don’t arrive on the 27th!
We exchanged glances.
It might be the baby back ribs we ate in Annenberg during dinner or the neurotic air in Lamont. We made snap decisions. It took no more than five minutes before we charged another $123.00 to our credit cards. The email with the changed itinerary appeared in the inbox—everything was pushed back by a day. Now, I was going to arrive back in Cambridge groggy-eyed at dawn after a sleepless night in flight, attend a rescheduled class at noon and then miraculously submit a final paper by midnight. I felt sorry for myself, but not sorry enough.
I thought about not going, but that would mean throwing my accomplice for the past hour under the bus. It would also mean that I couldn’t be the kind of person who could both turn up on an island during the weekends and still ace my work. That was a difficult reality to own up to.
At least it was until my mum, absent-mindedly playing poker on the other end of the phone, blithely commented, “Don’t be ridiculous, sweetie.”
It made me feel peaceful when I clicked cancel. I didn’t understand how a person could change her mind so fast. Why did I never know what I wanted only until the very moment after I acted? If I reversed every decision I made, where would I end up? How was any choice better or worse than another? It was all so arbitrary.
Two of my roommates and I went running.
We managed to stick together from Canaday to the MAC before dispersing once the river was in sight. One of them ran in her boots.
“I didn’t bring running shoes,” she said. “I asked myself, Would you really exercise in college? Nah.”
“Wow,” I said.
“I ran in heels every P.E. lesson in high school. My feet fit the shape more.”
I told her I was very impressed.
I was soon jogging by myself, down an endless path of asphalt merging with dirt then receding into concrete. The river flowed endlessly, like a long brushstroke, underneath sooty clouds. The ducks sitting on the banks looked almost human, studying the panting creatures in shorts trying to shed their freshman fifteen with an unflappable air. Could ducks get fat? I thought about J. M. Coetzee’s character Elizabeth Costello, who said that everything is an allegory. According to her, a dog could be a vessel for revelation, and each creature a key to all other creatures.
Amongst themselves, did each duck notice if one of them was fatter or skinnier? I saw my roommate standing there in her black, chunky boots at the end of the bridge and then, it no longer mattered.
The room was doused in mauve.
Yardfest had ended that evening. I had bobbed my head in the lawn for thirty minutes, grabbed three slices of watermelon, said hi to every effusively enthusiastic person, finished an ice cream cone and went back to my room to complete my draft—a modernist retelling of Song of Everlasting Sorrow—due at midnight.
At 9:34pm, I decided I was going to go to a karaoke outing. With a writing speed that I didn’t know was possible, I finished four pages in an hour and submitted it on Canvas.
I sprinted in heeled boots to the Widener Gates to catch the awaiting Uber. Half an hour later, we were in a karaoke room warm with cigarette smoke, beery exhalations, and some kind of dancing disco lights that painted everyone indigo. I didn’t know where to place my hands.
Then the familiar music I had heard in three continents started playing, Jay Chou started crooning, and my hands grasped a microphone.
Lots of love,