One day I will wake up and realise my memory of her has receded into some dim, poorly-drawn corner of my mind.
I wonder if that will be the best or the worst day of my life.
I met her first at the Yule Ball, though we'd crossed words before then. We were dissimilar - I was skeletal and gaunt, she was healthy and sweet - but our conversation poured.
I asked her if she wanted to dance. I remember her laughing in that dark room, illuminated only by strobe lights and muted lanterns, as she sheepishly admitted she had no idea how to waltz. So I taught her what little I knew, and we danced.
Later, I asked her what she thought about Ray Bradbury. She thought his Illustrated Man was good, and she found something beautiful in good books, and that was enough for me.
We played pool together the day I asked her out, a week after that ball. She wiped the floor with me, then proceeded to accept. I was grinning ear to ear when I returned home.
My first impression of her was shy and quiet, but I was wrong.
She wore a Doctor Who shirt on our second date, when we went to watch a comedy show. There was a South African comedian there who had us splitting our sides with tears. I remember how we clutched each other's hand on the seat rest, bent over double in a shared moment of sheer delight. There was the spark of friendship there, and never a dull moment after.
I discovered she liked to sing, and was an accomplished pianist. She was sillier than I or you could conceive, and had a skill for repartee that had you doffing your hat in admiration. We ate ramen together, or more accurately, she downed it and I picked at it, uncomfortable around new food. She taught me to use chopsticks that day, and I learnt a new food.
I told her I loved her a month in, then immediately recanted in horror at my faux pas. She didn't mind. I thought that was generous of her. Our time together felt illicit - moments stolen from lives we should have been leading - and then one day we couldn't imagine any other life we could have led.
We were planning futures together about an year later. I told my parents I'd met a girl; she, somewhat reluctantly, as her parents were not quite as forward about dating as I was, told hers a few months later. I felt safer, then, knowing it was aboveboard.
I watched Doctor Who for the first time three years after I met her. By then, we were practically living in sin together.
We did our college homework at her place, avoiding the glares of her stentorian, silence-loving roommate. She liked me unshaven; I loved her hair down. We had only ever fought once or twice in that long - I, the romantic, thought it harbored good omens, and she, ever the practical one, thought it spoke to good chemistry.
We had nicknames. I knew all her friends, and she knew all of mine. When they eventually became acquaintances, unable to keep up with the pace of our relationship, we didn't care. She was my plus-one (or rather I was hers) to wedding invitations. I toyed with the idea of making her my emergency contact at my first post-college job. The time for us drawing apart was nearing.
I'd proposed marriage, always half-jokingly, intermittently and she, always half-jokingly, responded each time with a yes. I wanted a boy and a girl, each with three names, to reflect the melting pot of our cultures - she politely declined, and I loved her enough to be dissuaded of it.
She graduated three months earlier than I, but I told her first when the job offer came. We celebrated telepathically, rejoicing over good fortune and my continued ability to stay in this foreign country. So what if we would be on polar ends of the country? She was going to MIT to live in the ivory tower - I was making decent coin as a software engineer in Silicon Valley for a blossoming startup. It was the sort of perfect pairing you'd find in fairy tales - one day, I (or she) would return and we would roar off into the sunset. Rapunzel, Rapunzel, I found myself chanting in the shower, let down your hair.
We met once, twice, and then thrice in those eight long and cruel months, though we spoke often. Every meeting was an exercise in bliss. We had occasion to meet each other's parents and earn their approval. I saw her childhood home. We kissed, overlooking lakes.
I was never in doubt about how this was going to end. It was the nicest gift life had ever given me, that certainty of knowing my princess was not in another castle. We'd see ourselves through forced separation, now that we had a fighting chance. I vowed to fly over every month after I drew a paying salary. We would talk to each other every day, even if I had to arise at the crack of dawn. Work would never be as important.
I was in bed on a Saturday afternoon the first time she proposed we break it off. In retrospect, there was a symmetry to it - our relationship began and ended both one week after the last time we'd met. But that was the least of my concerns.
It is the nature of wounded animals to howl - but I had the curse of being human, and instead I sought answers (which is, in a way, its own form of howling). I remember being chagrined at the way she hemmed and hawed and dawdled about it - I remember both our tears, she struck dumb by the weight of her own emotions. Every minute of that fateful phone call is etched into my memory - I had never known hurt quite like this, never known pain quite like this. I grieved, for what else does one do with loss? Nothing is crueler than disillusionment.
It was comical, the way I analysed her reasons obsessively over the days that followed. We would briefly disagree on the wisdom of separation - for a two-week period, I only watched, unsure of how this drama would unfold, as we settled like colonists islands clumped around an active volcano, trying our best to ignore the prospect of impending doom looming over our heads. She was graceful enough to finally call it off over a Skype call - I respected her for that, but that didn't ease the hurt.
We went from being lovers and best friends to merely being best friends. It should have changed nothing. But it was not quite the same. There was a hole in my heart from Brutus' dagger, and, while I was not quite Caesar, I was not Achilles either.
We still spoke, but at times blood would leak from the brittle wall I patched my soul with. She claimed later she had never known me to be spiteful or vengeful until those times when I spewed every ounce of hurt and upset I could muster (and she was right) - I, meanwhile, did not hide my belief in that this was betrayal. In the middle of phone calls, I would hang up on her as she tried, pleadingly, to explain herself. I listened to her weep as I listed out the story of my hurt, detailing every stroke of the ax that was surely rending us apart, and I did nothing to ebb my flow. In the middle of ordinary conversations, my thoughts would turn dark and I would sigh and mention, in passive-aggressive tones, how different things were now between us.
In a way, it was self-reinforcing: she had left me because propinquity had abandoned us and she was hesitant if commitment was right or even possible given we were both each other's first and only. I hastened her commitment merely by proving her right. There was a time when I would have considered such cruelty the height of horror, and sworn never to be that person - I had not thought possible I could be capable of hurting, least of all hurting the most incredible woman I had ever met in my life. Now, I no longer quite knew myself.
The last time I spoke to her, she no longer pretended hurt at my childish attempts to gauge a response. MIT had gotten to her: she was struggling in her newfound place among the elite, and I was beginning to prove a distraction who offered little and took much. She was nice - forever nice, I fell in love with her because she was so nice - enough to listen to me cry as I explained my inability to find friends in this confusing new city and my pessimism about ever finding love again. She urged me to find a therapist, and stayed with me, offering comfort, until I thanked her for being a good friend and for helping me feel better. She will never know how close I had been to jumping in front of a moving car the night before.
She never picked up any of my calls after that. In a sense, I knew I had it coming.
There are always mitigating factors - our lives intrude on us at our most inopportune moments - but there is a larger truth behind this. We think we are immortal, destined for youth forever - but we are here only for a moment, our lives as seething flames governed by the texture of the wood that feeds us. We think we are unstoppable, that we will never change - and in the course of that delusion, we destroy everything we hold dear by complacency. My lesson was simple: not everything is forgivable among friends.
I still lie awake at night, wondering where things went wrong, wishing to go back in time. There are still pangs of loss, the old stirrings of pain - but they run well-grooved tracks, and every day their squeaking grows a little fainter.
One day, I will get out of this bed and remind myself that it does not do to dwell on dreams. One day, I will begin a new adventure, spy a new sun, fight tooth and nail with Daleks morphed and twisted with time into Demigorgons.
And, one day, long after that, I will wake up and realise my memory of her has receded into some dim, poorly-drawn corner of my mind. I will wish her the best of luck wherever she is, and think fondly of all the times we spent together, and reminisce about the way the future could have been, had things been different.
And I still do not know if that will be the best or the worst day of my life.