The short book’s ending was not happy. Is that how all stories of forbidden love end? In tragedy and longing?
Holly walked back to her apartment and considered the concept of selling her bike, placing Smart’s book amongst the few others she brought along for her final year of being an undergraduate. All the websites she looked at regarding selling a bike indicated that she needed proof that her current bicycle belonged to her, and Holly knew that receipt was long gone. So, she called Ocean Cyclery, where she had purchased the bicycle two years before.
Hearing Joe’s familiar voice on the other line from the bike shop Holly would frequently visit when she lived off Ocean was a friendly reminder of a life she no longer lived. Joe told Holly that she was in their database, and he could provide her with the proof of purchase she needed, yet she would have to venture all the way to San Francisco to pick up the receipt – he was unable to send an electronic copy. Holly told him she’d be by Saturday to pick up the receipt – she had a plan to be in the city that day, anyway, for the birthday of two dear friends, twins, she had befriended before she moved across the bay to Berkeley. Holly thought of a possible future conversation in which Joe would ask her just why it is exactly she needed this proof of purchase, and she excited herself just thinking of how to tell him she is in the market, looking for a new bike.
Holly absolutely loved bicycling. Especially after this last summer… but before that too. After she had bought her bike from Ocean Cyclery two years earlier, she fell in love with hills, even though going up them wasn’t as fun as going down. She would ride her bike to Pier 39 in San Francisco, and became good at letting go of her handlebars; her favorite thing to do on a mellow evening was ride down Embarcadero at night, no handlebars, and watch the Bay Bridge light up with spectacular colors.
In Budapest, Holly had a bike that was much taller than the one back home. It actually fit her tall frame, so when she came back, and got back on her bicycle in America, she realized that the bicycle she rode all over San Francisco with was actually a bit too small for her. Her goal for this new school year was to rectify this, and find a bike that satisfied a small list of requirements she had developed in her head. She looked forward to getting one ne that fit her body, that she could ride to get groceries, go to yoga, explore.
While she would have loved to go to trade in her bicycle that very day, she realized she must attend to the issue with her hearing: her right ear had become plugged up from earwax that had melted in the heat of Sevilla. After a while looking at beautiful bicycles online, ones with drop-down handlebars, and beautifully colored frames, she decided to go the school’s health center and schedule an appointment to get her ears cleaned. She was told by the appointment nurse that she must wait an hour until there was an opening, so Holly exited the building, looking for something to occupy her time.
Right outside the health center is the Career Counseling library, which she remembered hearing about in a transfer student class when she had taken in the previous fall. The purpose of the Career Counseling library was different than that of the Career Center. The latter provided you tips for getting hired, reviewed résumés, did mock interviews, and held networking events. The Career Counseling library was the step before this: for those students who have no clue what sort of companies they would want to be sending their résumés to. So she entered the small building, and easily scheduled a meeting with a counselor to talk about the future, set for two Thursdays from then. Holly thought to herself, asking for help doesn’t mean you’re weak; it just means you’re not doing what you’re doing alone. And after last year, Holly was a bit fed up with being alone. However self-realizing it may be, being alone just gets boring after a while.
After the week she spent in Spain with her mother, after she left Hungary, her mother attributed her physical laziness in large part to her loneliness. Holly learned that loneliness is one thing she does truly want to avoid.
* * *
Holly’s good friend Josephine, Jo for short, just so happened to be in town that night. Originally, Jo’s plan was to arrive in Berkeley on Sunday, yet a data science ‘boot camp’ drew her to campus for a few days that week. Jo texted Holly, asking her when she would be back in Berkeley. Before she even set her phone down, Holly had already responded: I’m already here! And Jo immediately called her, excited about the news.
“Hi! Yes, indeed,” Holly stated, “I am in Berkeley. I got here on Wednesday!”
“Oh my god. I am too. I’ll be at your place in 15 minutes! I even walked by your place earlier today and thought about messaging you then, but figured you wouldn’t be here until later.”
“Really? That’s so funny!” and as Holly hung up her phone, she put on her maroon high top converse, and a light jacket.
Fifteen minutes passed quickly, and when Jo and Holly saw each other, they erupted into a fit of almost animalistic noises of joy and excitement, embracing each other dearly after being apart for over two months. Both Jo and Holly were slightly new and different people, the lessons a summer apart taught them building them anew in their own ways. They spent the evening learning who the other had become.
Holly was asked to speak to some new transfer students on her own experience as a transfer student, so Jo sat in the back of the classroom while Holly sat before a group of newly admitted Berkeley Bears, and Jo made faces at her when their eyes met. The energy of and unknown newness brewed between the two girls, excited them, and made both eager to finish up the informational workshop. So, Holly told the new students not to let their heads be lost in the clouds, to take more immediate action because their time was truly so limited. She used the metaphor of clouds a few times, almost like she was speaking to herself a year ago. When all the advice she could possibly think of was spoken, and all the questions the new students could think of were answered, everybody slowly shuffled out of the room.
Jo commented on how attractive the boy sitting next to her was. Holly commented that the boy who kept asking questions was cute: they were both reminded of their completely opposite taste in men. Jo also told Holly that she did a good job relaying the experience of a transfer student. Holly wasn’t expecting the compliment, so the nicety was received even more warmly than if she was expecting it. Holly offered back a genuine thank-you.
Surely, they fell into their old speech patterns and behaviors, shouting out our passions, and speaking so quickly, and in such secret code. To anyone listening in on their conversation, they probably sounded absolutely bonkers. Taking each other in, they were reminded of the splendid idiosyncrasies of each other, the minutia, the nuances that drew them together so closely.
Jo told Holly that a new friend, James, from her summer adventures, was on his way to meet her, and Holly offered the idea of a hike to the Big C, which overlooked Berkeley’s campus, overlooking the grandeur that a new semester offered. While they waited for James to arrive, they began teaching each other who they had become. Admittedly, Holly feared Jo’s summer would not be very successful, so she braced herself for tales laced with complaints and lamenting, but, oh, how happy Holly was to be wrong.
A nine out of ten, Jo rated her summer. Adventures with a new entourage: hiking, exploring, adventuring. Of course, Holly was overly eager to share of her summer in wonderland[i], of the build up to, and the final two weeks of absolute pure magic and bliss. So, Holly did quite a bit of talking, hoping Jo was just as eager to listen; Jo’s comments and interjections were warmly welcomed. For over thirty minutes they sat on our hidden bench just outside of Wheeler Hall, speaking about all the lessons they learned, the memories they wished could come back, and even some of the mistakes they had made. Jo reminded Holly that her impatient attitude towards her slow and unable mother was inappropriate, that despite her inability to walk long distances and her lack of interest in trying new things, she was still, in fact, Holly’s loving mother, who enabled her to live the magical European adventure that she did. Jo is – can be – very wise. This is one reason, amongst many, that Holly was so fond of her.
When James showed up, he proved to be an intelligent, funny person, so introductions only needed to be brief, and within minutes the trio were all quite friendly with one another. His presence in Jo’s life only made Holly curious as to what she had gotten herself into this summer, for she noticed James had affection for Jo, and less, but Jo for him as well. Not an overbearing sort of affection, but at least a lukewarm sort of wondering, the type of wondering that stems from the unspoken tension of young single bodies.
Their hike up to the Big C heated our bodies, which had become cold from Berkeley’s August night air. Some friendly, intoxicated hellos were shouted at them as they walked past the swing below the C, but they did not stop to socialize. Drunken hellos with absolute certainty meant drunken conversation, and as none of the trio was even slightly inebriated, drunken conversation did not seem appealing. Instead, they continued up to the hill sit at the bottom of the C.
Great views have a way of silencing conversation, and the view of the bay, from the tall and pointed Campanile, to the twinkling expanse of lights that shone out over the bay, San Francisco’s brightness shut up the trio’s conversation, forcing them to be struck by awe, as they arrived. Yet, humans most powerful folly is their ability to forget; soon, as their eyes adjusted to the twinkling and clouded stretch of land and sea, conversation began again, and Holly couldn’t help launching into story after story of her great, two-week romance, sharing pictures and memories as fluidly as they flowed into her head. And Holly spoke so much, and was so in love with telling memories, as if she was trying to relive them, that soon James and Jo told her they had reached a maximum of what they could bare. To save more for later. True, Holly thought of the months upon months to squeeze out all the details; there is no reason to tell them all of it tonight. But ideas of him still bubbled in her head, like boiling water that someone tries to put a lid on.
Amongst the things Holly told them, she mentioned her open invitation to visit him. She shared the mental plan she had constructed in her head, yet not shared with him yet. James and Jo told me that indeed, I should let him know of this idea sooner than later. But Holly was afraid of this proposition being met with rejection: was this an irrational fear? Distance is said to make the heart grow fonder, but their time asunder had only contributed to the sad, unavoidable act of forgetting. The same kind of forgetting that settling into a beautiful view atop a mountain imposes on wonder: still lingering in the background, but not actively sensed or felt. This is one way infatuation is different from love: infatuation fades with distance, while love only grows stronger. And, indeed, Holly was infatuated. There was not enough time for bold ideas such as love.[ii]
A point in the night was reached, after James had expressed explicitly he didn’t know if he should try to continue flirting with Jo, and Jo’s response did not clear up his confusion, that the trio all grew quite cold. James offered his jacket to Jo, but she placed it on Holly instead. When they decided to venture back down, Holly handed James back his jacket, and Jo led the way down to perhaps grab some food, or just do something to warm themselves up. Soon, they reached the same drunken voices that had called for their attention as they were climbing up earlier. Except now the drunken boys were standing, and approached the trio, eager to make new friends.
“Don’t tell me your names because I won’t remember them, but can you tell me any advice for Cal?” the tallest drunk boy asked.
“Oh wait! I know this song!” Jo exclaimed to the one holding the music. And Jo ended up doing most of the talking, giving her own two cents on what to tell the drunken boys, which were all newly incoming freshmen. Holly asked if the tallest one was going to join a fraternity, and he said he was considering it. Holly told him he reminded her of someone in a frat. Yet, Jo shut this suggestion down. “Nah, I don’t think so.” So, Holly kept quiet, mostly, after that, and was amused at another drunken boy in red who was circling the group. Holly let her mind drift and circle like the boy in red, and was once again transported into happy memories of the past, memories that she surely would cling to for a long time to come, memories she couldn’t seem to shake herself out of, even in her dreams, where she had no control over what happened. Jo’s advice to the tallest boy seemed fruitful. They were lost in conversation about Berkeley’s culture, when Holly noticed James was keeping very quiet, not offering his jokes like he so readily did until the interaction with the inebriated college freshmen.
“Where did the guy in the red go?” Holly interjected, her mind touching back to reality for a moment.
“Oh, he’s fine,” was the only answer Holly got. And soon it was decided they should walk down altogether, so Jo continue talking to the group of boys, and Holly walked in silence. And so did James.
But the boy in red wasn’t fine. Not three minutes into their descent, they found him on his back, in a borderline state of consciousness.
“He’s super crossed,” was his friend’s only explanation.
But the boy in red couldn’t remember where he was. Where he was from. Where he was living now. And the tallest boy helped the boy in red down the steep hill, which took time and convincing, and chasing, and Holly couldn’t help but laugh at what happened, as inappropriate as that may have been. Of course, she was quite concerned – at some point, when the tallest boy himself was struggling, Holly put her arm around the boy in red, asked him his name, which he remembered, and what he planned to study – Political Science ( Holly laughed)- and then Holly told him, “Welcome to Cal!” Quite a first week.
When they all finally reached the bottom of the hill, the Jo allowed the drunk boys to take care of the boy in red, and they said their goodbyes. Holly shouted out, “you should check online for signs of a concussion!” but they probably never did. James had ventured far ahead at this point, and when the drunk boys were out of sight, Jo and Holly walked around to find him. He was sitting on a log at the bottom of a different hiking trail.
“Hills are so great,” Holly remembered he told her one night “you can walk up just the slightest bit and then the view is just so amazing.” Holly remembered she kissed him after this profound observation. She wished she could kiss him now, or at least show him her view. Indeed, she could send him the photo she took that evening, but she decided against it.
After sitting on the log for many minutes, Jo told the others that she had splinters from putting her hands down, stood up, and told the group she was going to get some tater tots. Most food places were closed, but Jo still managed to find her fill of greasy food. When Holly didn’t ask for any, Jo tried to justify her purchase, but no justification was needed – Holly knew Jo well enough to know that she indulged in greasy food, even though she was always claiming she was pre-diabetic, or pre-pre-diabetic, or something of the sort. They went to the roof of Holly’s home and sat and talked until their eyes begged them for sleep. And after talk of politics, philosophy, and the future (but not the past), Holly ended the night. It was 3:00am when her head hit her pillow.[iii]
[i] Just a thought. I am constantly forgetting that in fact, I am not even close to the most important, or notable, or interesting person in a room. Everybody I will ever meet has read books I haven’t, has had experiences I haven’t, has knowledge I don’t. It may do me an absolute world of good to spend more energy focusing on that, listening to others, instead of feeling anxious looking for the perfect opportunity to interject what I have to say about things. Just a thought.
[ii] Last night I dreamt of him again, vividly. Always in my dreams we are planning for his leave, and always, I try to squeeze out every second I can from him. In the dream, I had an essay due I hardly worked on, and a water polo game he came to watch. And in my dream I remember kissing him as he sat on the bleachers to watch me, and planning out the rest of the evening from there. But soon my dream ended, and I did not turn in that essay on time, and he, of course, left (if not from my dream game, then from the whole dream itself, as consciousness took over.)
[iii] “Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged,
Missing me one place, search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you” – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass