I left college determined to become more. I'd spent four years in the academic intersection of an ivory tower and a fishbowl. It was time for me to be amazing.
Sure, I'd never thought that amazing would happen in the midwest. Sure, I had to look up Wisconsin on a map before my interview. But I was scrappy. I could make the best of any situation. Even Wisconsin.
I loved it. This was real life. This was it. My studio apartment downtown, my job with the good insurance, my baked-in cohort of friends in my hiring class. The way I saw it, I'd left most of the people I knew in college in the dust. They were unemployed or underemployed, sharing houses in Philly with other Bryn Mawr grads, clinging to the vestiges of their provincial collegiate experience. I got out. I was going to make a name for myself.
I went to a liberal arts college. I can identify hubris from miles away. By which I mean: I should have seen it coming.
But before we get into the bad stuff, there was a lot of really good stuff. There is nothing like Madison in the summer. It's sunny for fifteen hours a day, with these twilights that glow until it's way later than you think it is. The sun rises so early that you never wake up tired. Every day is hot enough that you can be on the lake but not so hot that you have to. It's breezy. There's always shade.
All of Madison is built on a land bridge between two lakes, the isthmus, radiating out from the central square with the capital building on it. Every summer night, every summer weekend, the city lights up with farmer's markets, art fairs, free concerts. During my downtime, I roamed the streets, settling into a routine of chai teas at coffeeshops, grabbing a beer with friends any hour of the day, window shopping, working. It was idyllic for a little while. It really was.
Sure, there were bad parts. An accidental burn that landed me in the emergency department for a night. Breaking a glass dish inside of my oven. Fire alarms. But the bad rolled with the good, and even though I was a stranger in a strange land, I held an exotic hipster mystique solely based on my weird glasses, asymmetric hair, and history of dating girls. My friends came to me with questions about music, edgy t-shirts, mostly-developed feminism. I won't put names here, or details. These are real people, and most of them deserve both better and worse than what they got from me.
I was so stupid. I thought I could reach out and take the whole world and eat it whole.
So I was reckless. I drank more than I knew how to drink, fought any fight I could find, flirted with people I shouldn't have flirted with.
I had no anchor in Madison. Nothing grounding me there. But I loved the city then, really loved it - I have old notebooks with designs of the tattoo I wanted of the city skyline, all along my back. There are outrageous memories. There was, back then, exactly one boy. I worked with him. He had a girlfriend, studying abroad somewhere. I didn't care.
You know when you meet someone, and you just immediately click? Me and him, it was like that. Like talking to a mirror, but a mirror that told me I was beautiful and brilliant and well-read in a voice that wasn't my own. I didn't think I liked boys then, but I liked him.
We were kissing before he broke up with the girlfriend. This had happened, several times, in college - kissing someone who was in a relationship. I was still the sort of person who saw that as romantic, or something. I didn't see a need to worry.
I thought I could fight any fight, and I thought I could...
Well, I thought I could [win][stupid].