Authors: Kim Ablon Whitney
Table of Contents
Kim Ablon Whitney
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This is a work of fiction. While references may be made to actual places or events, all names, characters, incidents, and locations are from the author’s imagination and do not resemble any actual living or dead persons, businesses, or events. Any similarity is coincidental.
Also by Kim Ablon Whitney
I headed across campus, trudging by the President’s Lawn on my way to the Health Center. It was the week after Thanksgiving and there had been an early snowfall the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the day before classes resumed. What had been a pretty white layer over campus on Sunday had turned to ugly gray by Monday when the temperature thawed and a little frozen rain fell. Nonetheless, a few students were attempting to sled down the slope of the lawn on rectangular cafeteria trays—fulfilling what was a Tufts tradition. I watched apathetically as I walked by them. Three guys and two game, sporty girls—hair poking out adorably from under their cute snow hats complete with pompoms—laughed as they jerked down the lawn. One of the guys pushed another to give him more momentum, but it ended with them both rolling into the snow. They stumbled to standing, jeans soaked, laughing even harder. Like it was one of the funniest things that had ever happened. Like it was the best day they’d ever lived. One of the guys made a snowball and tossed it at one of the girls, who smiled like she was loving every minute of college.
And then there was me. Miserable me. All around me kids seemed to be reveling in college life. They walked in packs to classes, went to the gym to work out, formed study groups, pre-gamed before hitting the frat parties. They hooked up with people they wished they hadn’t the next day and seemed to love their ability to do so. They slept little, ate late at night, and generally were imbibing college life.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t happy at Tufts. There had to be others or else there wouldn’t be a Counseling and Mental Health Center. There wouldn’t be others walking across campus to talk to a psychologist when they could be sliding down a slope of mushy snow on a cafeteria tray. But, surrounded by all the I’m-Finally-Here Kids, I felt dreadfully alone.
The voices of the happy sledders faded as I made my way to the Counseling and Mental Health Center. Chris was probably getting on his third or fourth ride of the day by now. Maybe teaching a lesson. We had texted that morning and he’d said he had a busy day ahead. Of course I was happy for him. But I was also sad for me.
The Health Center was warm, nearly too warm, the air overheated and dry. I checked in and then sat down in the waiting room to wait for Dr. S. She came out to get me after a few minutes and we went into the non-descript office that I’m sure she shared with the other staff psychologists. Dr. S (I’d given up trying to pronounce her incredibly long and consonant-filled last name) was not what I had expected when I’d decided to go to the Health Center. She had beautiful, natural blond hair. The kind that all the people who dye their hair blond wish they had. She didn’t wear much make-up—she was naturally pretty. She looked like she belonged at a country club, not in a student mental health center. But I liked her even more for that—I made up in my mind that she’d had the most perfect upbringing filled with everything she’d ever wanted and still she’d decided to help people. Then she’d gone and married a foreigner with a crazy last name.
“Hi,” I said, after I sat down.
“Hi,” she said.
I always hated this first part of our sessions. It must be protocol for therapists not to ask something like, “How’re you feeling today?” or “How’s it going?” But I always wished she would. Instead, I would have to start things off. Well, our first session ever she had started things off by asking why I had come to see her. That had opened the door for me to recount everything: how until July I’d lived a quiet existence. I’d been a good student, but had few true friends or life experiences. I’d ridden horses but hated my trainer. Then, my father had decided I should go to the seven-week horse show circuit in Vermont and that I should take care of my horse—all by myself. I had learned over the weeks of the circuit to love caring for Logan. I had learned that I was good at it. I had gotten better as a rider but the most important thing I’d gotten out of the experience was seeing myself as capable of taking care of a large, living, breathing, needy animal.
The other important thing that had happened last summer was Chris Kern. Chris and I had fallen in love and while most people on the show circuit couldn’t believe a gorgeous, accomplished, rising-star grand prix rider like Chris would fall for me, he did. We were still together, but we hadn’t seen each other since the circuit had ended.
“Thanksgiving was okay,” I told Dr. S to start us off. “I went to my father’s in California. I guess it was good to see the sun. I got to see my brother, which was great. But the whole time I was thinking of Chris.”
“What did Chris do for Thanksgiving?”
“He was with his family.”
“Do you have plans to see him?”
“We’re working on it but not yet. It’s like nearly every second of every day I’m thinking about him. I know I shouldn’t miss him so much but I think about the summer and how happy I felt. Here, nothing’s right.”
I explained how I had passed the kids sledding on the President’s Lawn, how they seemed to be living the quintessential college life. And that by contrast I felt aimless and disconnected.
“Are you able to do your course work? You said you were worried about your expository writing class?”
“I’ve been getting the work done. I guess that’s one of the only things that keeps my mind off Chris for a while. It’s not like I’m killing it in my classes, but I’m probably getting Bs. I used to care more how I did, though. That’s bad, right? That means I’m depressed?”
Dr. S crossed her athletic legs cloaked in their black tights. She had a deep purple skirt on over the tights. “There’s no one thing that means someone’s depressed.”
“Yeah, but I am, right?”
“It’s how you feel.”
I looked at my fingernails. God, I wanted to bite them. It would feel so good to chew them down to the bare, fresh, pink skin underneath. But I hadn’t done that in a long time and I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do it again.
“Do a lot of college students have a hard time first semester? I mean I thought I wouldn’t have homesickness or whatever because, well, first of all I didn’t grow up that far away from here and second of all, living with my mom wasn’t exactly wonderful so I figured I wouldn’t have any of that feeling like I was missing my old life. But now what I’m missing isn’t my life before the summer but my life during those weeks in Vermont.” I smiled, thinking of the horse show, the quiet town of Weathersville, of Chris. “Oh my God, I think of how great it was… it was like my life was finally happening. And now it’s back to… I don’t know… nothing.”
“So you say you think about Chris a lot?”
“All the time. Sometimes it’s good memories. Other times I obsess about his ex-girlfriend.”
“Mary Beth?” Dr. S said.
Sometimes it amazed me that Dr. S could keep track of all the details and names. It wasn’t like she was looking back in her notebook. There had to be countless mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, friends, and exes to remember. I guess you had to have a good memory in order to do this job.
“Mary Beth, yeah. I don’t think they’ve seen each other that much but they
at the same shows together and when the winter circuit starts, they’ll see each other practically every day.”
Dr. S asked me to tell her a little more about the winter circuit. I tried to sum it up quickly, explaining that from January through April, the top riders in the sport on the East Coast went to one of two winter circuits, The Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington or Horse Shows in the Sun in Ocala. WEF, near ritzy Palm Beach, was the biggest circuit—with twelve weeks of competition and the wealthiest competitors. For the jumpers, there was serious prize money and FEI classes. It had become such a premier circuit that even some of the top European riders came for the winter. Chris would be there all circuit, continuing to rebuild his business. He’d lost his sponsor during the summer, but he still had a few good horses, including Logan, and he had picked up several clients too. Chris would be in Wellington, and so would Mary Beth. While I was stuck in Boston in the grayest weather known to man.
“So you’re worried something will happen between them?” Dr. S asked.
I leaned forward in the uncomfortable, low-budget chair that must have been all the university could afford. “What if he realizes she’s better for him than I am?”
Dr. S cocked her head. “Why would she be better for him?”
“Because she’s a grand prix rider too so she fits into his life better.”
“But when you were in Vermont, you two fit together pretty well?”
I blushed. Dr. S certainly hadn’t meant it like that but Chris and I had fit together well indeed.
“Yes, but that was in Vermont and we’re not in Vermont anymore. He’s in Pennsylvania and soon he’s going to be in Florida and I’m stuck up here. Mary Beth was the one who broke up with him. Well, he found her with another guy—or that’s what I heard anyway. So he probably still loved her and if she’s sorry maybe he’ll forgive her.”
“Do you think he could? If she cheated on him?”
“I don’t know. Maybe, or else I wouldn’t be worried about it.”
Dr. S folded her hands on her lap. “But your worry is keeping you from living your life here, it seems.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
We were silent. I looked at the clock, which was positioned so it was kind of hard for me to see and I always felt rude looking at my phone for the time. Our session was halfway over.
“Lots of people at college are in long-distance relationships and still have friends and fun on campus. Maybe you need to let yourself have a life here—worrying isn’t going to change what you and Chris have.”
Every time I went to see Dr. S, I felt a little better because of reasonable, sane statements like these that righted my world a few degrees. But then I’d leave her office and any plans I had to change faded away. A part of me thought maybe if I could just make it through to Christmas break, things would get better. I could go see Chris over break and maybe that would be enough to give me confidence in our relationship. I could spend a week or two with him in Wellington and maybe I’d go back to school in January feeling like Mary Beth wasn’t a concern. Would that make me able to go out to frat parties, or partake in any part of regular college life? I wasn’t sure.
I asked, “Do those long distance relationships work out? I mean in your experience? Or do they fall apart and the people go their separate ways eventually?”
“I don’t think there’s one pattern for long distance relationships.”
“Because it feels like the high school boyfriend-girlfriend who vow to stay together at college don’t make it through freshman year.”