Discover more from This Is Not What I Expected
Or why I always wanted to be somewhere else.
This is THAT post — the one I referenced several weeks ago that seemed too raw and personal to publish. It’s still all that, but now…I don’t know, I’m just like, fuck it; why not?
I never did the MTV party in Miami thing for spring break that is not only a staple for eighty percent of teen movies but a reality for a lot of people. I went camping for spring break. With my parents, with friends, with boyfriends. As much as I love camping, though, it seemed like I always wanted to be somewhere else. With someone else.
My senior year in high school…
…my parents took my sister and me camping. It was still chilly, and there’s a picture of Bonnie and me by the campfire in the flannel and baggy jeans of the era. I’m wearing a large, faded navy blue hoodie that belonged to the boyfriend du jour. Actually, that’s undercutting him a lot. He was the boyfriend du quatre ans. We were together on and off for four years. He was a slippery one, hard to hold yet difficult to divest myself from entirely, so I held onto what I could. I hoarded his clothing.
I was seventeen years old and managed to have a decent attitude about family camping (according to my memory anyway), but I wished I were with my friends, which is where I always wished I were back then. Our group was almost inseparable, and if you were gone for a few days, you’d surely return to find you’d missed out on some new geographic jokes.
A blustery holiday weekend during my freshman year in college..
…my friends and I drove up somewhere north of Dallas to camp. We set an alarm to get up at noon, so we ended up erecting tents in the dark, in the wind. That same boy du quatre ans — okay, his name was Russell — and I played frequent “I’m ignoring you” games (so healthy). So, after directing the setup of our two-person tent, I promptly abandoned him to go sleep in a cave with two other boys. One I was flirting with, and the other was going, I’m pretty sure, to chaperone us for Russell’s sake because Russell was too scared to sleep in a cave, or so he said. I perceived a stubborn pride in him. If I was not going to stay, he was not going to chase me. Since the cave was pitch dark, I didn’t have any trouble making out in it while still maintaining plausible, if not probable, deniability.
A rainy spring break a couple of years later…
…Russell and I had finally shaken loose of each other, in name at least. Another group of friends, another boyfriend, camping in Bend, Texas. The tent leaked, I woke up at three AM in three inches of freezing cold water and let everyone know, loudly, just how miserable I was, especially said boyfriend, whose tent it was. He’d sworn it was waterproof.
What I’d really wanted to do — and part of the reason I was so pissed — was go with Javier, Trey and Matt on their road trip to Big Bend. They were my buds, and I had big-time FOMO (before FOMO was a commonly acknowledged thing) about not going. By the time they’d invited me, I’d already committed to being drowned in Bend.
Another camping trip on the tail end of winter break…
…marks, in retrospect, the end of an era. At the last minute, I asked my boyfriend — he of the leaky tent — not to come. He wasn’t part of the high school friend group, and I wanted them all to myself, so I sent him back to Austin. I am ashamed of my selfishness now, as I was even then. He was deeply hurt by my request. Actually, I didn’t even ask; I simply said, “I don’t want you to go.” I am undeniably the asshole here.
At the time, Russell was sleeping with a close friend, also camping with us, which was perfectly acceptable on paper. He and I had broken over a year ago, I was dating someone else, and she was single. I truly harbored her no ill will about it. After all, I had made out with her ex-boyfriend at a party many years before. My hypocrisy only goes so far.
But it hurt. I was still in love with him (and in denial about it), which is perhaps why I shooed my boyfriend so brashly away from this situation. I was unable to hide my agony; I was afraid he would see. I could ignore those feelings while Russell and I were 200 miles apart most of the year — him in Dallas, me at UT. It was a lot harder when he was sitting across the fire from me, holding her hand.
She and Russell went to bed in the same tent, and I stayed up talking to that same ex-boyfriend of hers I’d made out with years before. We sat close, but nothing more. We were both hurting. Russell was his friend, she was mine; she was his ex, he was mine. The trouble with dating your friend group? It’s hard to get distance once you’ve broken up — the kind you need to grieve, heal and realize you’re okay without them. And the likelihood they’re going to date your friends is high.
Eventually, I was awake alone, sitting in the cold darkness, staring out into the trees, just like Russell was all those years ago when I was off making out in the cave. Touché, mon cher.
My heart was stabbed through with misery, and I felt like I deserved it. Maybe I did. I didn’t want to want Russell anymore. He was manipulative and complicated in a way that made me question my sanity. I didn’t need that in my life, but I wanted him all the same. And that night, I felt it all. I sat there with sadness, longing and heartbreak and with frustration and anger at myself for being unable to let go of him. The pain in my chest was physical.
When dawn rose with my still not having slept, I realized I’d survived. All of that pain had passed through me, and I felt scrubbed clean and raw. I was finally able to put Russell in my rearview mirror. I didn’t go home the next summer; I stayed in Austin going to summer school and working. I cited those practical reasons — the school to stay on my four-year graduation plan, the work for experience and money — but it also kept me away from him, kept me from backsliding. I did not see Russell again until I was engaged several years later.
This post was going to be about always wanting to be somewhere else…
…about how eventually, I have learned not to be always looking over into the next yard for where the party looks edgier and more fun. How I am so much better at being in the moment and loving it for what it is now. But it’s turned into a story about heartbreak, too — feeling it, and stumbling through it (for way too long) to come out the other side. I don’t know what this is. It’s kind of a mess, but my life in my 20s was like that. It burned bright — so many good stories, so much laughter and freedom in those years. And so much uncertainty, so many mistakes, so much pain and immaturity of thought. I’m glad I was there, glad I have the memories and the lessons, but I wouldn’t go back.