1. Meet somebody in the back of the bus – the place where three seats face three seats. Your friends and you will fill up one row and two boys will sit down in the other. After a few minutes on the circulator, Stanford sweater will ask if you girls go to Hopkins? Your friend should say yes. The other boy has cauliflower ears and you wonder if he’s a fighter like you, he is a pale man with a ginger beard and rough hands.
2. Stanford sweater, who is smaller with elfish ears, surprisingly also goes to Hopkins. Like you. He says that his brother, beard man, does not go to Hopkins but likes to fight people in his spare time. Laugh and say, me too. I do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He does, too, he’s a blue belt like you. He is training to be the next Renzo Gracie. When he asks for your number, give it.
3. A few days from now, he will send you snaps of him wine shopping with Mr. Gracie, to show off. He will start giving you texts, everyday, asking how your day was, how studying is, how training is going, complimenting the art he saw on your snapchat story and saying so cute, so artsy. He will invite you to visit him. Come to D.C. He’ll say that it would be nice for you to have somewhere off campus where you feel safe.
4. Friendzone him: You’re not my type. He will act fine with that and offer to sleep on the couch. He just wants to get to know you.
5. Go. Dinner with him is sincere. Easy. He is the most charming fucking person you’ve ever met. He asks you about your life and makes you laugh, loves your novel, asks to read your latest story, asks for you to read his own. Say it would be your pleasure to read his writing. He will say that the pleasure is his.
6. Do not sleep on the couch that night, neither will he. The sex will be amazing. For a few months, things will be good; scattered weekends and train rides with thank you texts and kiss emojis.
7. You will get used to feeling cared for. You will get used to the text at the end of the day, asking how yours was. Things your ex never gave you: a ride in his car, Jiu Jitsu tips, cuddles on the couch, orgasms.
8. A few days pass and it’s radio silence.
9. When he’s on campus next, for his brother, he will talk to you. You will be confused. He’ll say that since he’s done with graduate school and you’re still a freshman, none of this makes sense. He is looking for a wife, and you have barely begun your life. You will wonder: if this is true, why stop being your friend?
10. On Valentine’s Day, he posts a picture with another girl. At one a.m., crying to your friend in building B, he will text you saying that she’s just a friend. She wanted to make her ex jealous.
11. Go home to New York, be confused. Live with the discomfort and fill your corset in. You will see that he’s in Brooklyn that weekend, closer to you than DC is to Baltimore. When your mom catches you crying, and you tell her why, she will say that “if he’s here and doesn’t make time to see you then he never really cared about you.” This is the last time you tell your mom about boys.
12. Match his silence. Go all in. Block him from your life. He will notice and block you, too. But eventually you’ll fold and end up talking things through. You will see him in Central Park and cuddle on a bench. He says he’ll try to make an effort but won’t. Silence can be awkward but with him it never was-- until now. Enjoy his arm around your shoulder, you head pressed to his T-shirt. Enjoy it because he’ll move his arm off in a couple of minutes. Enjoy it because this is the last time you ever see him.
13. You throw another lifeline, send another draft, but he never grabs on. You will blame yourself. It’s in your Canadian genes and your shithole history. After all, you were the one who kept screaming at him for answers and, eventually, everyone gets tired of accusations.
14. One night, months later, he’s in Baltimore and doesn’t tell you. Seeing that is the straw that breaks your back.
15. Years later, when you see ginger bearded men around campus and think they’re him, that he’s in town and never told you, you realize how little you ever trusted him. This is not your fault. He was too charming. Maybe you don’t believe that somebody can be both charming and sincere anymore. I beg you not to believe that, though, because you are.
16. Remember that you never knew him, not nearly as much as he knew you. You were an open book and he ripped out half the pages. He is a locked diary and never gave you the key. So trust yourself. Trust that you would not have made so much noise if you were being heard. Trust that if he had given you more of himself, you would not have seen his face amongst crowds and wondered where he was hiding. Trust that you are naive and vulnerable, but that it gives you strength.