The night before summer began, I didn't pack up my dorm room. I went out. I had plenty of time to pack.
Of course I didn't really. I returned to the room from wherever I was, someplace I don't remember, somewhere I went with Greg. We returned to my room in the middle of the night and I stared at my books and clothes and felt a growing sensation of panic. I was headed to Accra in September; I was never going to live in a dorm again. I would be turning twenty in a month and I already had a heap of stuff I didn't know what to do with. We started packing. At three or four in the morning I fell asleep on the bed, on top of my clothes, overwhelmed and crying.
That was how my parents found me the next morning-- throwing things in boxes like there was no tomorrow. I wasn't sure I'd wanted them to meet Greg yet, but I hadn't had time to put him away, either. I needed his help more than I needed my dignity. So I said, "this is Greg," (I believe I hadn't referred to his existence yet, though we'd been dating for months) and he went back to balling up my socks while I freaked out about fitting everything in the car.
A year later I entered his dorm room the night before he was to move out of senior housing. His bed was still made, cables were everywhere. He and his mother had bought him buckets of shampoo and scotch tape that he hadn't used up in four entire years at Skidmore. I opened up his drawers and packed them up, painstakingly jigsawing together highlighters and staplers. Eventually we passed out on the bed, and woke up and said a dramatic goodbye I don't remember at all. I only remember packing the boxes and forcing him to go to sleep. The next day he drove off in the robin's egg-blue Buick Regal in which he'd driven me all over Saratoga Springs.
He gave the Regal to my sister when he got his first job just a couple of months later. That's about when I knew we were going to spend more than a couple of years together-- giving my seventeen-year-old sister a junker worth $400 with a year left in it was as big a gift any Pistell has gotten from an outsider. But then, he didn't need it; he had a new car with his new job. He'd been accepted into a Leadership Development Program at Travelers Insurance. We sat on the porch of the little house I lived in in Saratoga and I said, "How long is the program?" and he said, "four years." I couldn't believe anyone would commit himself to something so insane. "You'll be twenty-five when you get out," I said. I was scared. He was scared. We were scared of different things, and we disapproved of what each other was afraid of.
We were planted on different sides of the twenties scale of fear. He was afraid of instability; I was afraid of stability. So while I worked in the Skidmore library, he worked at Travelers. I worked in at the University of Petroleum in Dongying, China; he worked at Travelers. I worked at a florist; he worked at Travelers. I worked at Lindblad Expeditions; he worked at Travelers. I worked at Mobile Libris, I worked at Anthropologie, I worked at Dogwalking for Rainforests; he worked at Travelers. I moved to Hartford. I worked at City Steam Brewery, HartBeat Ensemble, Capital Community College, The Hartford Children's Theater, the Connecticut Breast Health Initiative, Hartford Stage, Park Arts, LivingSocial, and the Mark Twain House; Greg worked at Travelers.
He didn't do just one thing. For a while he maintained servers overnight. He took me down there once and kissed me among the humming. Then he worked for Quality Assurance, where his assigned task was "cheer up the depressed nerds." Then Wintel, Web Engineering, Operations, Risk Control; all words that I found meaningless. The only meaning I needed to see was him lying on the floor of our apartment, sighing, as he put a twenty-person conference call on speakerphone on Christmas eve. All twenty people were silent. They had to stay on the call until the problem was fixed. The last job he had at Travelers was in Search. "Searching should be easier than it is," he said.
He turned twenty-five a long time ago. He became the person to which failing projects were assigned, and he'd turn them around. It was depressing work and every time he accepted those conference calls at three-thirty in the morning or on Christmas day, which was nearly every year, I would wonder if he'd ever be able to leave. He applied for other jobs and once last year, he got so close that when he didn't get it I put my arms around him like he'd done for me a hundred times. I was afraid. He was afraid. This time we were afraid of the same thing.
I found the job for him just a couple of months ago, on Twitter. The second I saw it I knew it was his to win: thinking up cartoon and app storylines for superheroes and hobbits and Ninja Turtles and Duplo giraffes. He starts on Monday. At Lego, he's going to be doing digital marketing for superhero toys. He's overjoyed, I'm overjoyed. I went to Travelers to pick him up, to walk with him out the door that last time, to take him to his goodbye party.
When I got there he was standing with two boxes. Nothing was in them. He stood there staring at them. He wasn't twenty-five, he was thirty-one. A picture that he'd had hung in his dorm room was on the wall. There was nowhere to lie down and go to sleep. I packed up his boxes for him, as I always have. I got the four boxes down to two and we carried them down to the lobby, handing over his security clearance.
As he waited for a friend to bring a car around, I looked over at him. He was afraid. I wasn't.
We thought we'd have plenty of time, and we did. When we were twenty I couldn't imagine our life today, even though it is very much as I had hoped. We are both still alive. We have a crappy old piano in our living room. There are sunflowers on our counter and thousands of books in our house. The only thing that is about to change is that we'll both have jobs we love, or at least jobs that are fucking cool. When Greg used to talk about his job he'd apologize halfway through. Now, when he tells friends about the new job, people burst into rhapsodic memories of their childhood, or confess to Lego trains in their closets. Everything day I want to kiss the ground in gratitude. Not because Travelers wasn't great-- in a way it was. I can't condemn any choice we made that got us to this point. We just couldn't have known then that taking a job in 2005 meant that by 2009, companies high and low would say "you're lucky just to have a job" at the same meetings where they'd report record profits, like Travelers did. But Greg has expressed no regret, only hope that someday he might know some other reality. Eventually we both realized that it would have to be built out of unexpected materials, like improvised invisible walls, or yellow plastic bricks. It took ten years to find the right materials. And now that we were there, he didn't look ready. One of the only things we have in common is that when the time comes to walk out the door, we're not packed.
We thought we'd have plenty of time, and we didn't. Standing at Greg's desk, holding his red umbrella, I suddenly felt the time we held between us. I'd opened up a box I'd packed for him a long time ago. That happened to me once-- moving Greg from Simsbury to Manchester-- and I saw that he'd never unpacked what I'd jigsawed together years earlier; it was the scotch tape and shampoo from the dorms.
I looked across the cubicle and I remembered sitting on a porch with him at dusk at 85 Lincoln Avenue, Saratoga Springs, New York, looking over a graveyard. "You'll be twenty-five," I said through the time portal. I wish I could tell myself then how much these ten years didn't matter. Younger Greg looked out at me through older Greg's face and told me how much they did.
He was wonderful, that very, very young man. It stuns me now to think of how much I loved him when he told me how he might take that corporate job I hated. All the ways I knew him then have taken me a decade just to see. I hope we have time to find a whole new layer of things we stored in that graveyard-glancing evening. Then, on the porch, and now, in the cubicle, I put my arm around him and said, "ok. Just tell me when you're ready to leave."