When I transferred to UC Berkeley, a part of me expected that the years spent fortifying my relationship would be no match for the tides of change to come — a gnawing inclination that in spite of three solid years together, a change like this would break us. Time together may have made us stronger, but time apart could just as easily weaken our foundations. If I learned anything in grade school science it was that few things are immune to erosive forces.
I am a realist first and a pessimist by nature.
I have been no stranger to tragic tales of seemingly immutable love crumbling under the pressure of much less than a few hundred miles. I figure all love seems immutable in the beginning. But much of the beginning of my relationship suffered the trepidation that resulted from watching the first love I’d ever known unravel at the seams.
The love between my parents.
Gone in the breath it took them to utter the words “we’ve just fallen out of love with each other.” As if love was some kind of unreliable net, liable to turn on a dime, consent be damned. Each unsuspecting victim merely at the mercy of this all-powerful love.
If it could happen to them, it could happen to me, and rather than curse the powers responsible for such a cruel fate, I took up a quiet residence in the impermanence of it all. I constructed walls in fleeting affection, coated the walls in fear and hung a mirror as a self-portrait. I spent most of my life fortifying my fortress, locking my doors and keeping a keen eye on my walls.
But love isn’t very conducive to walls, and how could I have known that I would fall in love with a bulldozer.
As far as industrial tools of deconstruction go, Christina was like the Prius of bulldozers — quiet and efficient. Her process slow and steady. I could pretend I was the wiser, but I truly didn’t know what she was doing. Carefully dismantling my walls, disarming my security systems, placing herself in my self-portrait until there I was, now a we. My early trepidation was no match for her complete lack thereof. From the get-go, Christina loved me like it was the only thing she knew how to do.
But distance is a caustic blade. It cuts and corrodes and burns. It is a brand on an unsuspecting surface that reads, “You’ve never met loneliness like mine.”
Distance meets intimacy like an old and familiar foe, prodding at any weakness it can suss out. Any vulnerability it can claw its way into, mutilating intimacy until it is unrecognizable.
Distance owns intimacy.
And so, quite as expected, my love felt threatened by forces I could not control. And it was nothing new. And it was terrifying. And so I went home.
My first semester, I was home at least once a month, sometimes more than that. I waged a war against distance the only way I knew how. And each time I left home to come back to Berkeley my resolve grew weaker and distance grew stronger. Distance taunted me, dangling an unfamiliar intimacy just out of my reach.
In truth, I didn’t want the taunt of a new and unfamiliar intimacy. An intimacy I could see but not feel. This new intimacy was a bottomless pit. There was no comfort in intimacy marred by distance. Even so, there was no comfort in waging a war I could not win. It was exhausting, and a fool’s errand.
Eventually, I had to concede. Acknowledge that distance was winning, adapt and fight my war in a different way.
I marked the solitude of that idea, my own singular ownership of the struggle against distance. I marked it in red pen and annotated the lines that lead all the way back home, those same lines that read, “You’ve never met loneliness like mine.”
I handed Christina the pen, and she said to distance, “You spelled ‘ours’ wrong.”
What made all the difference was to acknowledge that I did not own the struggle. I shared it. In communication and support, intimacy reintroduced itself, scarred and beautiful. New and fragile, but growing stronger all the time. It is an intimacy as tangible as it isn’t physical, and I’ve learned to be OK with that.
Distance is formidable, wounding, unforgiving and ruthless. But distance is also a coward, a liar. It trembles in the face of opposition, it thrives on isolation, and if it owns intimacy, it is only because you let it. Distance may be a lot of things, but by definition, it is merely the space between two points. Our love is more than enough to fill that gap.