8: Heathcliff in Jeans

8: Heathcliff in Jeans

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

Heathcliff in Jeans

My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath — a source of little visible delight, but necessary.

~From Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

When I was a teenager, I was a hopeless romantic. I was a Romeo and Juliet, Heathcliff and Catherine, liebestod (love in death) sort of romantic. Love wasn’t real unless it was a dark passion. After reading Wuthering Heights far too many times, my idea of the perfect love was the ruggedly handsome Heathcliff, banging his head against a tree trunk, begging his love to haunt him for the rest of his days. What could be better than a man who loves even your ghost?

I went to an extremely small international high school in Nairobi, with only twenty-five guys in my senior class. Needless to say, there wasn’t much of a selection, and I graduated without having any romantic experiences. College would be the place where I would realize my romantic destiny.

When I got to freshman orientation, I ended up spending a lot of time with the son of one my dad’s former colleagues. Short and more than a little goofy, I couldn’t imagine him shouting my name into the sunset, his face strained with the intensity of his passion. But he did pay me a fair share of flattering attention, and I decided to give him a shot. When he kissed me a few days later, injecting his tongue into my mouth and letting it sit there like a paralyzed slug, I realized that he was no Heathcliff. Perhaps, love just wasn’t as grand as my favorite authors had convinced me it would be.

The rest of the year didn’t yield any promising entanglements — most of my suitors were frat boys or, in at least one case, an unfortunately creepy guy who wrote poems about me. I would be returning to Kenya for the summer and I didn’t have a single romantic story to spin to my high school friends.

Of course, that was when I met him — the night before leaving for the entire summer. We’ll call him Heathcliff. Tall and dark-haired, Heathcliff had a wounded past, which only made him more intriguing. Though I had only just met him, I wanted to soothe him and help heal his deep wounds. We talked through the night and went on a leisurely midnight drive through the rural roads surrounding our school. And it certainly didn’t hurt my growing infatuation that, upon discovering I had not yet learned to drive, he immediately insisted I get behind the wheel of his car. “Ah, this is it,” I thought. “This is what Emily Brontë was thinking of.” And it was — the thrilling, exuberant, and frightening high I had been waiting for. When he kissed me at the end of the night and told me that he looked forward to spending time with me the next year, I could swear I almost swooned.

And then I had to leave... for the entire summer. When I finally returned to the U.S., I couldn’t wait to reconnect with Heathcliff, who I had only spoken to a few times over the summer. I had grand plans for our reunion — I imagined that our first midnight drive would be repeated countless times. I dialed his number on my cell phone with trembling fingers. No guy had ever made me feel this way before — no one had made me experience this aching sense of anticipation and desire.

When Heathcliff finally answered his phone, though, I could tell something was off. He didn’t seem to be the same cool, witty, sensitive guy who had charmed me so many months past. He claimed that he was now the owner of two businesses that he had formed over the summer. Because of this, he would not be returning to college. He was too busy running his business and cruising around in his brand new Camaro. Not only did Heathcliff not sound like the guy I had been dreaming about for months, he also didn’t sound like a completely sane person. I left our conversation feeling confused and not a little bit stupid. Had I imagined everything? Did I create Heathcliff from thin air?

In spite of this, I wasn’t quite willing to give up. I tried to justify his odd behavior: Maybe the phone call had been a fluke? Maybe he was just joking around and I was too dense to get it? I called and left him a message, pledging to myself that I would give up if I didn’t hear anything back.

One day, my friend, Sarah, called with some juicy gossip. She’d talked to Heathcliff’s old roommate, who said that he had spent the entire summer on drugs — hard ones. Of course, instead of convincing me to stay away from him, this news made me want to help him all the more.

A few weeks later, I got a call, and when I heard the husky voice at the end of the line, I knew immediately who it was. Heathcliff! My heart sped up. He explained that he had spent the past month in the hospital. He had bipolar disorder and his summer had been consumed by a long, manic free-for-all. He had done drugs and spent money he didn’t have (that explained the Camaro). He said he’d turned things around now.

We started dating. I was certain that my love would turn him around. I gave him all I had, telling him my every secret and even arranging to bring him to Kenya for a month over the summer. Though his unstable behavior often made me cry, loving him meant being in pain, and I had convinced myself at the tender age of nineteen that losing him would mean the end of me.

A year later, he broke my heart, not only by rejecting my love, but by starting to do drugs and party again. And though at first I thought I couldn’t live without him, I eventually moved on. I didn’t embrace a life of revenge and anger, I didn’t commit suicide, and I didn’t join a nunnery. Instead, I lived one day at a time, discovering for myself what it was to be an adult and what it was to be a person on my own terms instead of someone else’s. I lost my first passionate love, and I am happier for it.

I learned that Heathcliff is not all he’s cracked up to be.

~Angela Polidoro

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