It was a story that made sense. An old story, but one that felt truer for it. Young love goes stale and slackens. You change, and you shed what you no longer need. It’s just part of growing up.
I thought I had understood. It seemed so simple at the time.
We moved in on a humid morning in June. Our suitcases bumped and scuffed the walls as we climbed three flights of stairs, the rest of the boxes and furniture waiting unguarded in the foyer. The locks were clunky and finicky, resistant on the first few attempts. Sunlight streamed through the smudged windows, and the floorboards creaked beneath our weight. The apartment looked smaller than it had before, on the day we signed our lease. “I’m going down for some boxes,” Evan said, holding the door open with one foot. “You coming?”
“I’ll be there in a minute,” I said. I stood in the center of the room, alone, finding that I couldn’t breathe.
What else was I going to do? He had a job and a place to be. I didn’t, but I had him. I could feel the tremors of change even before we graduated, growing more pronounced as the date approached: time to get serious. We’d been dating for more than three years, and we loved each other, and my friends already had roommates, and I couldn’t afford to live by myself. So we signed a lease. We packed our things in shared boxes. It felt sensible and grown-up. And maybe taking this plunge would repair whatever hairline crack had already appeared between us, in the late months of senior year. Double or nothing.
In New York, we settled into a routine along with our friends, accruing habit fast. We all endured the same things: shoe-box apartments, crowded subways, overpriced groceries, indifferent bosses. What kept everyone going was the dream: store windows on Madison Avenue, brownstones lit golden in the night, town cars gliding across the park. Imagining what it would be like when you got there, someday. Manhattan was like a dazzling life-size diorama. A motivation to work harder, stay later, wake earlier. Fantasy is the only escape valve—what’s all the pain worth without it? But not for me. I’d screw my eyes shut and try to imagine it, what the future would look like, what alchemy might transform our current situation. But nothing came. There was no thread of hope. Who was this man next to me, his body curled up against mine? What was this feeling of vertigo that sometimes came with the blurry edge before sleep? I realized that I had made a mistake. Evan wasn’t the one. We weren’t meant to be.
And so my life in New York grew smaller and smaller, a thorny tangle of dead ends. I rattled around in the tiny apartment. I hated my job. Evan was too busy. My friends were too busy. I was lonelier than ever. The problem was obvious. I was trapped in an airless bubble, with no plan to get out. My life lacked any escape.
Until, against my better instincts, I went looking for it in the wrong place.
I could hear footsteps and murmurs from the other room. The creak of the door opening finally dissolved the last shards of sleep. When I opened my eyes, there was a pale face peering through the crack.
“Who is that?” somebody whispered.
The door slammed shut. The alarm clock said it was a little past 9:00 a.m. It took me a minute to remember where I was: on the third floor of an old stone building in New Haven, still wearing my clothes from the night before. I found a half-melted stick of gum in the back pocket of my shorts, tugged my T-shirt straight, and pressed my palms against my hair. When I opened the door to the common room, a plump woman was surveying the scene with a look of dismay. Empty Bud Light cans were scattered across the floor, and dirty clothes were heaped in one corner. She started fanning the stale air toward an open window. It was move-in day, late August, the first real day of college. This had to be my assigned roommate, Arthur Ziegler, and his family. I’d meant to clean up that morning, but I’d forgotten to set the alarm last night when I stumbled into bed.
Arthur was crouched in the corner, fiddling with a nest of wires. Arthur’s father, a bald man in a polo shirt and khakis, was humming to himself as he peered down at the street. Arthur’s mother was sniffing the air, her frown deepening. The room was quiet except for the car honks and shouts from outside. I cleared my throat. The three of them turned in unison.
Arthur’s mother forced a smile. “Well—hello,” she said, stepping over. She was small, round and doll-like, with a tartan headband and sensible shoes. “I’m Elaine Ziegler, Arthur’s mother. This is Gary.” Gary waved. “And this is Arthur. Arthur, what—what are you doing?”