It was the kind of frigid January day where my breath seemed to suspend in the air longer than usual, droplets hovering, obscuring everything around me for a moment too long. OK, maybe that was just him.
I walked into his palatial house, high ceilings and curved banister towering above me, even above him. He was tall. I was into it, of course.
He told me that his mom might come home at some point while I was there that afternoon. If she saw me, he told me to tell her I was a medical student in his class. That I was about to take the boards, too.
I’m a law student. I have bachelor’s degrees in journalism and writing. I managed social media and marketing at a museum for three years after undergrad.
I do not study medicine. I am not in his class.
He got his coat, and we left to get ice cream. I ordered a scoop of strawberry, and he ordered a banana shake.
I can’t remember what we talked about. Probably his med school, my law school, back and forth, a blend of stress and exams and exasperation. We had both actively signed up for this, after all.
I still have a hard time processing the clearest indication I’ve ever received that I was not good enough for the man I liked. Ice cream did not soothe the sting.
Rationalizing his behavior occupied my time much of those six months, as I assured myself it “wasn’t that bad,” that it was even normal. I keep an ever-growing list of quotes from favorite books in my phone. I’d like to think Past Tay saved each one knowing that Present Tay would need it someday.
I keep coming back to this quote from Maxine Hong Kingston’s I Love A Broad Margin to My Life: “It’s easy to talk yourself out of leaving. Easier to move in, stay, than to move out, go.” I remember reading the book on a bench outside Central Library in downtown Des Moines more than two years ago. I read the whole thing in a single sitting. The spine of the book stamped a faint, red line where it rested on my legs. The sun stamped brighter, red splotches on skin that had been outside too long.
That quote echoes in my mind on loop, almost — a reminder that staying in a situation that’s familiar, comfortable in its mediocrity, often feels easier, less uncertain than leaving, even when it made me sad and anxious more than it ever made me happy.
I still order the strawberry ice cream at the same place, and when the lady who scoops my ice cream asks me what I do, I tell her I’m a law student.