Heartbreak 101

Heartbreak 101

From Chicken Soup for the College Soul

Heartbreak 101

I like to think of myself as a real risk taker. Just yesterday, I crossed the street when the Don’t Walk sign had already begun flashing. The day before that, I ate dessert before dinner. You might say I live on the edge.

Well, actually, you probably wouldn’t say that.

My mom tells me I started walking when I was eleven months old—and then changed my mind and decided to go back to crawling for a few more months. Too many chances of falling when you’re on two legs, I guess. In high school, my friend Jill (a girl who pierced her belly button before anyone else) tried to teach me to smoke behind the football field. I took one puff and threw up. True, it was gross, but mostly I think I puked because I felt guilty and scared of getting caught.

See, I’m chicken. And until I got to college, I’d always maintained that being chicken worked in my favor. I was in control. By playing it safe, nothing really bad ever happened to me.

But by the time my parents left me in my dorm room at the University of Wisconsin, I was ready to say goodbye to them and to the old me. It was time to start living fear free. This was the first time I’d ever really left home. I decided that when opportunities arose, instead of crawling under my covers, I’d be wide awake for them. I was going to loosen the white-knuckle grip I had on my life and start taking risks.

Starring in my new role as The Girl Who Takes Chances, I decided I would have to get used to making the first move. So I approached the funky girl in the zoology lab with purple hair and glitter eyeliner and asked to be her partner. Soon thereafter, she became my best friend. Instead of studying together, Liz and I held late-night séances to contact the spirit of our zoology professor. He wasn’t dead, of course; we just thought maybe his unconscious would give us the test answers. On Saturday afternoons, we would take a bus to a town we’d never been to and wander around, exploring thrift shops and discussing what we had in common. We each had a brother named Steve; we both hated coconut.

My friendship with Liz gave me confidence that—in my previous life—would have made me squirm. I joined the campus hiking club, which may not seem particularly daring, but I’d never done anything like it before. It wasn’t tightrope walking, I told myself, but it did pose a few dangers: unexpected thunderstorms, getting lost in the woods, mosquitoes. It was something new and a little bit scary (like having to wear ankle-high hiking boots in case I stepped on a snake), but I was brave.

However, it wasn’t until I walked right up to a cute guy and introduced myself that I realized I had practically become a different person. Well, not exactly. I was just doing my homework. On the first day of Psych 101, the professor told us to do something we’d never done before. So I went to a local coffee shop and asked the finest guy there if I could join him.

“It’s an assignment,” I said, smiling, as I slipped my insanely clammy hands into my pockets.

He looked at me like I was crazy, and then he laughed and pulled out the chair next to him. David turned out to be smart and funny—a philosophy major who also watched Party of Five. We ended up talking until the coffee shop closed.

If that were the end of the story, then the moral would be simple: Take risks, seek new experiences, meet awesome friends and a hot guy, be happy, the end. Except, as I learned in my freshman creative-writing class, a good story never ends where you think it will.

The day after we met at the coffee shop, David called and invited me to do laundry with him. At first, I couldn’t decide if this was cool and quirky or just a pathetic excuse for a date. (And yes, the idea of debuting my underwear totally freaked me out.) But somewhere around the spin cycle, I got hooked. Here was a guy who knew his knits from his delicates and wasn’t afraid to admit it.

After that, the Laundromat was a regular event. He and Liz got along great, too. I’d introduced them in October, and by Thanksgiving, the three of us were hanging out together regularly—pulling all-nighters at the Denny’s near my dorm, even making plans to get our heads shaved together. (David was the only one who actually did it.)

One night in early winter when I had too much studying to do, David and Liz went to an Ani DiFranco concert. A few days later, David couldn’t stop talking about how cool Liz was. “We had the best time!” he raved.

“Should I start worrying about leaving you two alone?” I asked.

“That’s sick, Lauren,” he answered quickly. “You’re a real sicko.”

But two days after Christmas, David dumped me. By New Year’s Eve, he and Liz were an item, ringing in their romance at a Thai restaurant near campus that David and I had discovered. I was immobilized on my parents’ sofa back in Milwaukee with Dick Clark, a bowl of popcorn and a king-size box of tissues to keep me company. I was even wearing David’s University of Chicago sweatshirt because it still smelled like him.

I’d become daring, and suddenly life hurt worse than I could believe.

I was miserable. It was my fault, I thought, for getting close to new people so quickly. For my best efforts, as I saw it, I’d been betrayed, rejected and doubly dumped. These were not things that happened to me in high school. These were not things that happened to mature college students who were in control of their lives.

I seriously thought about transferring. And then, after several weeks of moping in my dorm and many, many Hostess cupcakes, I thought about something else: Brave people don’t limp off to another school after they’ve been wounded in battle. They grab their swords (and their cupcakes) and move on.

So I took a deep breath and went to the next hiking-clubmeeting. I started on some newstories formy creative-writing class: tragic tales about girls whose hearts were torn out of their chests and squashed like bugs or— depending on my mood—who wreaked gory revenge on people who’d betrayed them (but still, they were stories all the same). And, eventually, I gathered up my courage and told David and Liz how they had temporarily destroyed me. It was ugly. But I did it.

Okay, so I don’t rush out to sign up for skydiving classes, and I can’t bring myself to even read about death-defying climbs up Mount Everest. But the fact is, unexpected things happen to you no matter how safe (or boring) you try to be. Dealing with them on your own and persevering is what college—and life—is about. Now I realize that learning to bounce back from a bad experience was more valuable than any A I’ve ever earned.

Lauren Fox

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