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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Twenty Eight








Princeton was hard.
Harder than hard.
The end of high school had introduced me to my first Bs, but the beginning of college was a new low—all Cs. This new reality made my inner perfectionist squirm. Made me doubt myself, my abilities, my choice to come here in the first place.
School had always come so easy for me. In high school, I’d been the best of the best—at least until the Porter thing had thrown me off the tracks—but here, I was surrounded by students just as smart.
And smarter.
In the middle of all these brains, I suddenly felt very average. 
Just like my dad had at Harvard.
At home one weekend, I shared this with my mother over leftover lasagna.
“So I’m thinking about getting pregnant so I can blame dropping out of college on the kid.”
My mother didn’t look up from her fork that was trying to cut through the huge wedge of noodles, cheese, and meat. “That’s funny. Can I take this to mean that you are dating someone?”
“Now who’s the funny one?” I asked before taking a bite of my garlic bread. I was not dating anyone. I had been out, as a group, with people from my dorm. And there was a regularly scheduled study session with Brian Cardwell, who I highly suspected would like us to be more than friends if I ever gave him even the barest hope that I wouldn’t verbally castrate him should he suddenly gather the nuts to ask me.
And I had no intention of ever giving him hope in that department.
But there were plenty of good-looking, very smart guys at Princeton. And not a single one of them was Porter.
My mother was thoughtfully mopping up the remaining sauce on her plate with her wedge of bread. She was thinking about something she wanted to say before she said it.
“What?” I asked.
She looked up at me, wide-eyed, faking confusion over my question.
“I know you’re going to ask me something. I can tell by the look on your face.”
Her mouth twisted to the side in the way that told me she was almost ready to spit it out.
I sighed and took a sip of my water—really, I already knew what she was going to ask.
“Don’t you think it’s time?” she finally blurted.
“Yes.”
“You don’t even know what I’m talking about yet,” she added.
“Yes, I do. You think it’s time I let go of Porter, get past it, move on, find someone new, open my heart to another, finally use some of those condoms you can’t get rid of upstairs.”
“Ruth!”
I smiled and put down my fork. “Yes, I do think it’s time. I’m just waiting for the rest of me to get on board with my brain.”
Her eyes shifted out the window and she picked up her glass of wine. She sat there, quiet, not drinking, not eating, just staring out the window.
My mother should never, ever play poker.
“What else?” I asked her.
Her gazed shifted to me and her eyebrows raised.
“There’s something else,” I said.
“It’s like sitting with a detective,” she balked. “Why are you studying neuroscience instead of criminal justice?”
“I’ve lived with you a long time. I know all your tells. So what else?”
She took a deep breath and let it out through her nose. “I can’t decide if I should share this with you or not.”
“Well, there’s absolutely no way you’re not telling me now that you’ve said that.”
She nodded. “Yes. I’m familiar with your level of persistence.”
“It’s one of my greatest strengths,” I added.
“And faults,” she countered.
“It’s about Porter,” I guessed.
“We got a request for his records yesterday.”
I let this information sink in, not entirely sure what it meant.
“I wasn’t sure if I should tell you. If it would possibly start you all over at square one. Maybe it was better to just let you keep moving on.”
“Wait, someone requested his academic records from the school . . . so you know where he is?”
She hesitated, then nodded.
If I asked her, she would tell me.
Now it was my turn to stare out the window and think about this. It was true: ever since those days I’d driven up to Tennyson, and Porter had refused to come down, I had desperately hoped to see him again. Talk to him again. Make sure he was okay. When they moved him, and I had no idea where he was or how I could find him, my desperate hope had shifted. Every ring of the phone, every knock at the door, every day the stupid mail was delivered—opportunities for Porter to be contacting me.
Because it occurred to me, I didn’t know where Porter was—but he knew exactly how to find me. My house hadn’t moved. And when I did go to Princeton, less than half an hour from my mom’s house, it’s not like I had flown to the other side of the world. Porter knew where I was going to school in the fall.
He could have contacted me anytime—and didn’t.
“No,” I said, even though the word, and what I meant by it, caused me physical pain. I was closing the door on what I really wanted. “I don’t want to know.”
My mother watched me from across the table, then nodded. It was the right decision. Yes. It didn’t matter how much I wanted her to tell me, to jump in Vader right now and race off to wherever he was. The reality was that a relationship takes two, and the other side of our sad equation was a Porter that didn’t want to see me back.
The clarity of that thought was a bullet piercing my heart.
I gave her a weak smile and looked back to my half-finished lasagna. I suddenly couldn’t eat another bite.

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