Cheap disco lights, deafening wannabe DJ tracks, and the stench of sweat. That’s all it takes to have a good college party. Seventy college kids are crammed into this musty basement, packed so tightly any dance move more intricate than a wiggle is impossible. I scan the crowd and easily find my boyfriend off in a corner with his arms around some unsuspecting freshman girls. I’ve been shoved right into the middle of the room. I hate off-campus house parties. Any attempt to push my way out is thwarted by big overconfident “men” trying to grind up on me. One look from my roommate’s 6’4” boyfriend sends them in the other direction. I’m about to use him as a battering ram when—you tap my shoulder.
“Hey girl, can you hold my drink while I’m in the bathroom?”
Light brown wavy locks are plastered to your hairline with sweat, mascara runs down your cheeks from the hellish body heat oozing from every pore in the room. The light tank top you’re wearing makes me wish I could wear short sleeves. Your tight jeans, heels, and open can of Twisted Tea tell me this is your first party. Your face is ordinary, but your creamy coffee colored eyes are alight with an innocence I’ve forgotten.
“You got it.”
Reaching out with my right hand, I grasp onto the lukewarm, cheap, yellow can. You thank me and make your way towards the horde of girls waiting their turn to use the only bathroom with a door. After what seems like an eternity in my drunken stupor, you return, give me a hug, and my boyfriend pulls me away to leave.
From that day forward, I see you all over campus—walking from the library to the student center, from the science building to the dining hall—turns out we even live in the same residence hall, on the same floor. You’re always the first to wave.
I’m lying in bed the first time my boyfriend mentions you.
“Sorry baby girl I can’t hang tonight. I told JJ and the girls I’d go out.”
Peering past the end of the bed, I watch him kick off his black slides before climbing in and shoving me towards the wall.
He rolls his eyes and mutters, “Met her at a party. Said she was friends with you. Drop it.”
The semester continues and I see you at parties; making friends, dancing, quickly finding yourself and your crowd, which just so happens to be mine. I hear of you from my friends. How great you are, how funny, what a party girl you’ve become. All qualities that sound very familiar. It seems like you’ve finally found what it means to have a real “college experience,” or at least a freshman’s perception of that.
My boyfriend and I have been sitting in my parked car for far too long. Ahead of us we watch as people swing the door of our dorm open with a force only known to drunk idiots. The rhythmic sound of my knee hitting the wheel from anxiety induced shaking is the only noise filling the small space. My left hand twiddles with my curls as I stare out beyond the dashboard. In the passenger seat, my boyfriend, sighing louder for every second I wait to speak, forcefully whines, “Do you have anything to say or can I leave?”
I flinch as if the question had been a flick to the head and begin to pick at my sleeves. “You’ve been distant recently,” I say.
“I have a life.”
“I know, but we barely see each other.”
“I’m seeing you right now.”
“I found a girl’s earring in your bed.”
We both stop and stare at each other. I hold my breath and brace myself for his outburst.
“And? Get over yourself. You really can’t think you’re enough for anyone.”
Pain pierces my chest but I stay silent, lowering my head and pulling my arms in closer to cover my stomach, attempting to make myself small.
He pulls out his phone to play Fruit Ninja.
By the time I found out you were the other woman, the only way I could be around him or anyone else was if I was drunk or high. I remembered the first time we met eight months ago in that steamy basement. I still wonder how long the two of you had been sneaking around. I hated you. I should hate you. But over time my overwhelming feelings of gratitude outweigh my hatred. I tried to warn you in the bathroom, the only place without his suffocating presence, but was perceived as the crazy ex-girlfriend. The raging parties, physical altercations with my boyfriend, and deafening self-loathing was rotting me away from the inside out. If you hadn’t taken my place, I would still be there now. As much as it hurt, you saved me from what I thought I wanted.
I see you walk from the student center to the dining hall. Your long wavy brown hair is tangled, dark purple bruises are hidden under your sleeves, and the light behind your creamy coffee colored eyes has gone dark.
I hope someone takes your place.
Emma Warshauer is a student at Central Connecticut State University
Headline Photo credit of Emma Warshauer
Emma! It’s Claire (in your writing about health class last spring) Your name caught my eye and I immediately read your piece…it’s amazing! I can feel your pain, yet you clearly are wise enough to recognize it happened for the best. But you really wrote it beautifully. Hope you are doing well 🙂
This is so powerful. Thank you for sharing your story.