My favorite column in The New York Times is Modern Love. Each week in Modern Love, a guest author shares a “deeply personal (essay) about contemporary relationships, marriage, dating, parenthood … any subject that might reasonably fit under the heading “Modern Love.” In 2008, The New York Times issued a call for college students to share their versions of modern love — thousands of students across the nation submitted pieces that told “the plain truth about what love is like for them.”
Among those students? Me — as a twenty-two year old at CSU Channel Isands. I’ll cut to the chase — I wasn’t the winner. I did, however, share thoughts on a subject I like to steer clear of — my personal feelings on love. I never submitted the essay for publication elsewhere, and therefore retain the rights to it — so today, in honor of #ThrowbackThursday, I’m publishing the unedited version here. Reading it now, I find that my 22-year-old self was perhaps a bit too verbose … but then again, I was an English major, and aren’t all English majors just sesquipedalians at heart?
#TBT 2008: Love in the Library
Often times, as I sit at one of the computers in the library of my small town college, alternating between MS Word and Myspace, I find myself gazing absentmindedly over the monitor; I glance around, subtly taking note of any and all cute boys present. Occasionally, there happens to be one sitting directly across from my computer, and I’ll catch him glancing back as well.
And so the coy game begins; the making of eyes ensues and whatever scholarly effort one was once attempting to make is superseded by the twinkling inkling of possible romance.
Perhaps a pencil is borrowed, perhaps “hello’s” are exchanged; a trip to the printer becomes simply an excuse to sashay by Cute Boy’s workstation. Invariably, however, one party eventually gets up and heads off to class, and the fleeting chance of love is decimated.
High drama: the author, Kristi Kellogg, as an undergraduate at CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) .
When I am the one left behind, idly typing in the aftermath of failed machinations, I mentally lament the current state of male/female relations. Where are the gallant men that, as a little girl, I saw in The Movies? Upon seeing a pretty girl, they would simply walk up to her and tell her she is beautiful, and then confidently ask if they can take her to dinner (walk her to class, buy her a coffee, marry her, sire her children, etc.). Surely they are not here, at my college, because Cute Boy across the way usually just gets up and leaves.
Naturally, I can’t do anything myself, because I am, ahem, “The Girl,” and The Movies have also taught me that I must sit, demure and sweet, and one day my prince will come. And we will live Happily-Ever-After; Disney-induced ideologies such as these are hard to escape, even amidst the politics of the 21st century and gender performativity lectures at my university.
But then it happened: just when I was beginning to lose hope of love in the library, Cupid decided to poke some boy right in the rear. And when it happened, I, of course, was oblivious.
The day was February 13, the day before Valentine’s, a Wednesday. Between my morning Shakespeare class and my afternoon Non-West Authors class, I have an interminable three-hour break. After an overpriced salad in the cafeteria, I usually make my way over to the library, under the auspices of studying. Don’t get me wrong, studying does occur, but it is interrupted by email, Google, Youtube, Facebook, Myspace and the like.
I sit, clad in tight jeans (are there any other kind?) and a black, long-sleeve shirt; it was an ordinary ensemble for an ordinary day. My long hair tumbles over my shoulders, and my makeup is light. I am at a computer next to one of the big windows, and I appear, no doubt, hard at work.
In actuality, I am only checking my email. And then my bank account. Next I switch over to the library website to renew my books (anything to avoid actually working on a paper). Lost in the glare of the glowing screen, I do not notice the young man that sits down next to me, until he taps me on the shoulder, jarring me from my own little world.
I turn, ruffled by this stranger’s foreign finger. I smile sweetly, however, because what else can I do?
“Excuse me, did your computer take a long time to turn on?” the innocuous intruder asks.
I respond with a polite “yes,” and return to my time-wasting pursuits, completely unaware of the crush welling up inside of the student directly to my left. I scroll along my friends’ profiles (Myspace is, after all, “a place for friends”), leaving comments here and there –
He taps me again! He, possessor of the unruly pointer finger, has deigned to enter into my bubble once more. I turn, sweet smile (déjà vu).
“Excuse me,” he interjects, “but, do you know, is tomorrow Valentine’s Day?”
I blink rapidly, as is my habit when I am shocked. Does he really not know it is Valentine’s Day tomorrow? All around campus, the “Associated Students” have posted redpinkwhite flyers with paintheartsglitter proclaiming the advent of V-Day.
Once again, I respond with a perfunctory “yes.” My eyes are no doubt wide, and my expression somewhat daunted, because his own expression belies a little embarrassment. Not wanting the poor chap to feel self-conscious, I sputter out something about him being a boy, and boys never knowing it’s Valentine’s Day. There’s comfort in numbers, right?
Now that conversation has begun, he feebly attempts to make small talk, and I nod and smile. He inquires as to whether or not he has to get his mother a present (I advise him yes), and the situation becomes awkward. How could it not become awkward? It’s the library, it’s quiet; he’s a boy, I’m a girl (it’s really just those last two, I suppose, that truly make it awkward).
At an opportune moment, I turn back to my computer, thinking the chat had come to an end. I was wrong, however, I logged onto my ex-boyfriend’s ex-college account to check the job board (what can I say, that’s where I get all my tutoring jobs?). At this point, the unthinkable happens –
He taps me again. He has risen from what Oscar Wilde would have called his “semi-recumbent position” and is now standing by my side. His entire hand, not just his finger, is now outstretched toward me.
“It was nice to meet you. My name is ——” (I don’t think it right to record it here, and I detest the practice of placing an asterisk at the end of a changed name and footnoting it below, so an ambiguous dash is all you will get).
All at the same time, I am stunned by his quite uncommon politeness, as well as perturbed by his tenacious finger.
We shake hands, I give him my name, and he scurries off. I breathe a sigh of relief. Twenty minutes until class.
Eighteen minutes until class.
Sixteen minutes until class.
I turn. He is back, his dauntless palm once again outstretched toward me, only this time with an ominously folded white piece of notebook paper nestled inside. I don’t have to open it to know what it is.
“Thank you,” I say, the look of surprise on my face genuinely genuine. He grins an embarrassed grin, and leaves as quickly as he came. When I am sure that he is gone, I gingerly unfold the note, and, just as I suspected, seven numbers dance upon the page. I shove the note in my hot-pink backpack and prance off towards the Bell Tower. I run into a friend on the way to class and fill her in on the unusual behavior of the library lothario (boys, in case you didn’t know, are just as popular a topic of conversation in one’s final semester of college as they were in the first year of junior high).
“Can you believe that he just did that?” I ask her. She is as perplexed as I am by this gentleman’s … testosterone. She counters my question with an even more pivotal question –
“Well, was he cute?”
“Kind of. But not as cute as Victor.” Victor, incidentally, is a Shakespearean actor who was visiting our campus from London that very week, and I had become very taken with him and his accent (and a foreign, thirty-something, swearing, ostensibly womanizing Brit that oozes charm is always a viable, realistic dating option, of course).
Chatter continues (Victor, Victor, Victor, library boy, Victor, Shakespeare, Victor, Taming of the Shrew, Victor), she leaves, I go to class, thoughts far away from anything to do with the library for the next few hours.
But at the end of the day my mind wanders back. As I climb into my silver VW bug, I pull out the note. I look at it, and smile to myself. Though I have no interest in dating him, I sincerely think what he did was adorable.
It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized that I had gotten precisely what I wished for – it was, after all, a young man’s attempt (though failed) to win my hand in the library. I inwardly laughed at myself when I recognized this. I laughed (and laugh now as I write this) at both the hypocrisy of my attitude and the asininity of my daydreams. The library is a place to study, not to woo.
Occasionally, I run into —— on campus; it is painfully awkward. I feel bad, but not bad enough to date (or call) him. I remind myself that sympathy would be perhaps the worst reason to date someone.
In any event, I’ve given up studying in the library. I go out to the grassy courtyard behind the library now, filled with oak trees and weeds and scarcely any people. Out there, I find that I am much more productive, with open space (rather than Myspace) all around. There are no cute boys, only errant squirrels.
Kristi Kellogg, incidentally, as Cecily Cardew in a 2008 production of The Importance of Being Earnest with longtime friend Chris Beatty.
Boys, it seems, are just trouble, whether they be in the library or anywhere else. They were trouble in the first grade when they chased me around the playground, and they have remained trouble to this day. They are a distraction, a bother, a nuisance, a plague – and at the same time, a novelty, an attraction, a mystery, an intrigue. They are, in short, an endless fascination and frustration.
For now, at least, I will focus on my schoolwork. It is my last semester before graduate school, and studies should be my main priority. Which is why it is infinitely better to study outside, away from the beguiling diversions of the bibliotheca.
Besides … it’s much more likely that a horse-mounted prince will gallop into the verdant piazza out behind the library than inside the library itself. And when he glides in atop his steed, I will be here, a modern-day Cecily Cardew, awaiting his arrival amidst my mountain of books.
Postscript: Still happily waiting (: