*Inspired by my Love&Loss blog post, we were assigned to tie three story lines (a formative friendship, your most important job, and a lie you tell yourself) into one story*
It had been four nights since I had returned home from working at Yellowstone National Park for the summer. I was sitting around the table with my family for a dinner when I got a text from one of my best friends from the summer, Knox, it was some sort of goodbye he had written me. I don’t remember exactly what it said. To be honest if I read it today, I likely wouldn’t have even bat an eye. But there was something about that night, the rawness of the return and the lasting impact, that I suddenly burst into tears.
Quickly, I excused myself from the dinner table and walked off to my room to cry in peace. It wasn’t long until my oldest sister came knocking and I let her in, she held me as I sobbed. Unlike the text message whose content I have now forgotten, the words my sister said to me are something that to this day have never left my mind.
The tears streamed as I attempted to get words out about how I had left behind something I had held so dearly to my heart, she said, “you opened yourself up to love, and with that you opened yourself up to pain and heartbreak”. I immediately jolted up and wiped my tear, I had always hated love, I didn’t open myself up it, what was she talking about?
Being a nearly 21 year old and having never had a boyfriend has never crossed my mind as a concerning thought. That was just the kind of person I figured I was, situationships never progressed, I moved to a new place every three months, or it was the classic tale of unrequited love. It just never really worked out for me, nor was I ever actively seeking to end up in a relationship. I had my own life to live, and when I wasn’t on my own I would’ve rather spent hours with my best friends than with some boy who I likely wouldn’t be with a year later.
I never knew what it was like to be in love. I was weirded out by people who would choose to miss out on memories with their friends to spend more time with their significant others. I consistently would tell my family that I didn’t want to be in a relationship because I didn’t want to “sell my soul”. I loved alone time, if I was in a relationship, I would never get any of that. I had told myself I didn’t know what it was like to be loved by others, and though the thought of being in love scared me, the small lingering thought in the back of my mind of not knowing love also scared me.
Freshman year of college roommates tend to either be your best friend, or your worst enemy. I still remember the day I was sitting at my hometown ice cream shop and Kylie convinced me to direct message the girl who would later become my roommate. Her name was Liv, and she was essentially me, but from Ohio. Before school even began we had met up and become best friends, summer trips, and taking fall semester off together to spend time on the east coast was just the beginning.
We eventually started school, and spent our entire freshman year side by side. It felt like one of those platonic soulmate connections. We even talked to two boys who were best friends. It felt like one of those friendships you see in the movies and talk about wanting to have. When the school year was ending, I had convinced her to move across the country and work at Yellowstone with me, she somehow agreed.
I drove down the wide open roads of the Great Plains with Liv to my right. We made a list of all 50 states, marking off which state’s license plates we saw while Dax Sheppard’s voice echoed through my Volkswagen Golf, listening to as many episodes of Armchair Expert Podcast that we could possibly fit into that 21 hour ride.
1,600 miles, from Highland Park, IL to Alta, WY, the home to Yellowstone’s Lake Lodge. When we pulled into our new home, we had seen 47 out of 50 plates.
The first day after we arrived, all the new employees gathered outside of the large brown cabin overlooking a lake, that housed a front desk, gift shop, and the restaurant where we would be working for the next two months. There was chatter of how we ended up in the middle of nowhere, where we were from, and what our jobs would be. I walked up to a girl that seemed about my age with shoulder length brown hair wearing a name tag that read “JULIANNA CONNECTICUT”. The first thing I ever said to her was “Did you drive here? My friend and I are trying to get all 50 license plates and Connecticut is one of the three we don’t have yet”.
Much to my demise, she had not driven, there was no Connecticut license plate in sight. Yet, much to my surprise, that girl from Connecticut with the shoulder length brown hair would change my life.
I can’t objectively say that working as a line cook at a fast-food burger restaurant in Wyoming was the most important job I’ve ever had in regards to the work I had to do. Flipping burgers, making milkshakes, and manning the fryers could have been done by anyone with a pulse, but the unique situation that came from this experience made it the most life-altering job I have had to date. It is not often that you get the opportunity to live with strangers in the middle of the woods, with no pre-conceived notions, and no cell service.
There is truly nothing to do other than to hike, play games, and talk to one another. You couldn’t look up their Instagram account to see how many followers they had or if they were a part of a Greek organization. Your only judgments you could base them off of was what they brought to the conversation when it was 2:00am and you were all sitting around a fire staring at the stars that were unlike anything you had ever seen in your suburban hometown. And if it hadn’t been for the fryers, burgers, and milkshakes, I would have never gotten the fires, stars, my best friends, and my true self.
I’ve come now to realize that the reason I would tell myself that relationships were selling my soul, or embarrassing, or gross, was truly because I was afraid. The idea of opening myself up to someone and allowing them to know things about me I had never shared, terrified me. Then, if it were to end, there would just be someone out there walking around thinking of me on my birthday, and knowing intimate details of my life or the reason I hate strawberry flavored dairy, even just the thought of this occurring made me feel like I had elephants stepping on my sternum.
My fear of love stemmed from a deep rooted fear of loss. That nothing good could just be good, there always had to be bad to follow, and I told myself that I wasn’t strong enough to handle the bad. I didn’t think it was worth it if in the end I would end up distraught and left to pick up the pieces by myself.
Liv had left our summer out west a few weeks early for a plethora of personal reasons, which left me with only my new friends to connect with, and just like nearly everyone from Yellowstone, Julianna from Connecticut, who I later found out goes by Jules, became a fast friend. Somewhere between the all-nighters to watch the sunrise, lake days, shifts flipping burgers, and a trip to Montana with our other two best guy friends, we became best friends.
To me, it was never that it was Jules or Liv, but Liv thought differently. Our nearly two year long friendship suddenly came to an end one Friday morning when I decided to take a break from school to stay out West working with Jules, and she decided that meant that I had picked Jules over her. I cried and I cried. We had always talked about how we were like sisters, how we were going to live down the street from each other and our kids were going to be best friends, and then one night we were talking about celebrating our 50ths together and the next morning we weren’t speaking.
I spent weeks torn up over it, and if I'm being honest, the tear still lingers. We would only talk if it was an argument, and my worst fear had suddenly come true. It was then that I learned my fear of endings I had wasn’t strictly reserved for romantic relationships.
I've always tried to be a big believer in the fact that everything happens for a reason. If I had never gone to Yellowstone, I likely never would have had such a big friendship-ending falling out. And if that never happened, I likely would never have learned that a friendship breakup can hit arguably even harder than a relationship breakup, because the love can be so strong. So, although I assumed I never knew what love was, love is not strictly reserved for romantic relationships.
And I suppose my sister was right, by moving across the country, meeting new people, having deep and strong friendships, are all ways that I open myself up to love. Which means those are all ways that I open myself up to pain and heartbreak as well. So even if my friends may say that I don’t know much about love because I’ve never had a boyfriend, I think I open myself up to love every day in all different ways.