You were a graduate student in the GSB; I was a sophomore at Stanford when we met. You were the person I almost fell in love with, and I was the almost-twenty-year-old you would lose your reputation for, becoming a “sketchy grad student.” I am not so sure now, a year later, if the relationship carried as much resonance in your life as it did in mine. Maybe that is the downside of being with someone nine years older — I am not really sure if it is infatuation or love. And maybe that is the downside of being with someone nine years younger; you are not really sure if people would see it as lust or love. Even still, when I think about your warmth embracing mine, I am still overcome with loneliness.
We are two fringe people trying to find our spotlight. You told me that you wanted a genuine friendship, one exemplified by a person calling you for Sunday brunches instead of Friday parties. You also told me that you make conscious efforts to establish yourself as “the party guy” while you are really “the corner guy.” And I laughed because I tried that social experiment back in middle school, but found out that I was just better at being the observer. I told you I believed in true love and I had this dream about a new acquaintance whom I fell in love with because he understood me more than any other being including myself. You said in your gentle melodious voice that you believed in love too, but also confessed to being selfish. And I said, “Yes, because the self, the “I,” is the only person who would be with us 24/7 and live the consequences.” You were glad that I understood.
The second time we met, the time I was painting the painting I never finished, you told me that you graduated from Harvard with a psychology degree, worked as a therapist for abused children and cried every night because you were so affected by them. Then when you worked in China, my motherland, you hung out with children of the homeless who collected garbage for a living. I thought to myself, who is this guy kidding? Did he prepare the speech so he would sound like perfection?
We had study sessions before and after we first kissed. And you would read case studies and explain to me what they were using Coke and Pepsi as an example. Of course sometimes I didn’t really care what you said as long as you said it in your deep-gentle-radio-host-of-a-night-jazz-station-voice. That one night I came over to study, I sat myself on the little corner you reserved for your guests because I didn’t know how I fit into your life or into your room. Then I asked you some random question concerning butter on your lamp, you knelt down, nose level, face inches away from mine, and your magnetic voice spoke, “You know what, it’s because….” My heart took a skydive, my brain pulled the siren, and I glued myself to the chair so I wouldn’t stop you mid-sentence with my craving lips.
The morning you left was dark and gray. I didn’t have my glasses on, so even my memories are vague. You said you couldn’t be in my life anymore because of what they would say. I lay in your lap and sighed. In my heart I was begging you not to go, but I did not tell you to stay because you were doing it out of your free will. My body trembled with loneliness beneath my skin: I am the fringe person again and I am by myself. So as I treasured the last seconds with you, my heart felt just as silent as the night we first kissed, the night I told you, “I’m scared,” and you told me not to be afraid.
Perhaps I was afraid that you would give up your fringe-self for the spotlight, or your free spirit for public scrutiny. The experience we shared from November through January is bittersweet, like the heart-shaped, chocolate-covered espresso beans I made last Valentine’s Day. I joked to my friends that the one looking like Africa was for you — how I missed your deep but gentle voice, your smooth chocolate skin and your amber gaze. But most of all I missed and still miss our conversations and our level of understanding. I miss being around you as a free spirit who is exactly as is without a disguise. So if I were to relive my life, I would tell you without hesitation that age really doesn’t matter when it comes to love. Love knows no boundaries no matter what age, race, sex… it is what I knew when I was eight; it is what I know again now. And it is something worth celebrating this Valentine’s Day.
Tell Yanran about your adventures with the not-so-sketchy “sketchy grad students,” or your experience as the “sketchy grad students,” or simply help her endure Single Awareness Day (SAD) at email@example.com.