What stays with us over the decades: Navigating the grey mists of love and affection by the light of a college friendship.
BY CHAPIN CIMINO
For Bram, on your fiftieth birthday
IN A DORM ROOM for junior year exchange students in Oxford, there are two twin beds, but there will soon be three people. Two are the boys who live there this semester. The third is me, a girl who just turned twenty. I am visiting my best friend from college, one of the boys. The roommate isn’t going anywhere, so tonight I will share my friend’s twin bed.
I arrive on an early train from Paris. He meets my train. I hug him, and notice he is nearly vibrating. He says he can’t wait to show me his new city. We spend hours in the grey mist making our way by the unique and quirky light of our friendship. We take pictures in red phone booths and old stone abbeys. We taste different ales in wood-paneled pubs. We buy standing-room-only tickets to Les Misérables in the West End.
He has seen it but I haven’t. He knows I will love it. He loves me, and we both know it, but I love my first boyfriend, back at home. My boyfriend’s picture sits on the nightstand next to my bed in Paris, and that gives me a particular pleasure. It feels right because it is, I think, what girls in love do. I don’t yet know the difference between loving someone and being in love.
After the show, he makes coconut curry in a big pot in the dorm’s communal kitchen to share with me and friends from his program. Our group lingers for a good long while. We might have smoked cigarettes. We drink cocktails made with gin.
Later the two of us make our way to his room. The roommate is already asleep. We climb quietly into the same twin bed in the darkness. He curls around me, ‘to save space,’ he says. My heartbeat ticks up. He lets himself touch only my face, and only after he asks me. I whisper yes. He lets his hand softly skim the skin on my chin, my earlobes, my ears, temples, eyelids, hairline, forehead, cheeks. His hand comes to rest on my mouth. Something in me breaks, and I kiss his fingers. Not very gently.
In one sharp exhalation he is out of the room, a cloth ripped away by a magician in a single smooth and powerful stroke. Some of the hallway light flashes into the room. That flash changes the quality of the tension in the room, but doesn’t diminish it. Sometime later, he comes back. Sometime later, the sun comes up. In the morning light, I say I probably ought to leave today. I will go to Wales, I say, by myself. Yes, I say, I am sure I should go alone. What I do not say: I’m not sure I want it that way.
It is a dry, sunny morning. He will wait outside on the platform until the train pulls away, and I am thankful he doesn’t have to wait in the rain. On the train I sit by a window. We see each other. The train starts to move. He runs beside it as long as he can, waving to me. I am still waving back.
About the Author
Chapin Cimino a professor teaching law at Drexel University, Kline School of Law, in Philadelphia. Her favorite course to teach is one that she created, called Contemplative Lawyering. She is currently taking a break from academic writing to do more creative work. She has in mind a longer piece on her obsession with the irreverent Adam Smith. She is currently working on an essay about pink dresses, and recently published a short story in the online literary magazine, The Write Launch.