A sleepless searcher discovers what she’s really looking for while late-night cyberstalking her past loves.
It was early morning in the dark of my room, and I laid in bed, restless. My cat scratched incessantly at my door, ever confident that if he was loud enough, I would feed him four hours earlier than I did every other morning. Between my roommate and me, he knew I was the pushover — that I was his only chance at early breakfast.
I was exhausted, but awake and bored—the perfect conditions for my tried-and-true guilty pleasure: catching up on my exs’ social media accounts. With all-too-eager hands, I picked up my phone from the nightstand and began to dig. During the day, I had all of their accounts muted—I could boast that small amount of self-control. But in the dry heat of a sleepless 3 a.m., I typed in their usernames with keen eyes, licking up the delicious details of their lives, one savory post after another. The backpacker had gotten back together with the girl he was broken up with when we met in Ireland. The filmmaker who smoked two packs a day went on a hike with friends. The hasty fling from two months back began reading self-help books. Each post held with it the excitement of an unexpected piece of mail, the envelope heavy with new details.
It was like this—in the quiet of my room, face illuminated by my screen, cat wailing from the hallway—that I discovered my first boyfriend was engaged. I was surprised. I hadn’t realized they were so serious, not that I would have known–we hadn’t spoken in years.
David gave me daisies on our first date, baked lasagna from his mother’s recipe. That entire spring, we held hands in the library, and I couldn’t stop staring at our intertwined fingers. It was the first relationship either of us had been in, and there was a certain magic to finally wanting someone who wanted you back.
I wondered, now, scrolling through pictures of them together, his fiancé’s ringed finger stretched proudly in front of them, if he’d done any of these same things with her. Did he give her daisies? Or maybe roses—more mature. What did she think of his mother’s lasagna? Was she lactose intolerant? With panic, I wondered if they’d listened to Sondheim together.
There was a time when he and I sat close, closer than we’d ever sat with another person, and watched Company, a Sondheim musical about the annoyances and endearments that come along with commitment. In the final song of the show, all the qualities of a relationship that seemed so intrusive to the protagonist before—someone to hold you too close, hurt you too deep, sit in your chair, ruin your sleep—change in the light of love, or the possibility of it. Irritation bows to the beauty of sharing a life with someone. Even then, as I leaned up against this boy with the softest face and kindest eyes, I knew that as much as I liked him, he didn’t make me feel alive.
My cat and I eventually compromised on breakfast at 6:30 a.m. I dragged myself out of bed and laughed as he bounded down the hall in front of me toward the kitchen, this ridiculously fluffy creature, my sole companion in the early hours of the morning. Somewhere, cities away, David and the girl he loved were being alive together, closer than he and I ever managed. As I pried open a can of chicken pate, tiny paws dancing desperate circles around my feet, I realized that as different as our mornings looked, I was happy for us both.
Sondheim was right about the beauty of a shared life. David found it in one person, in a singular commitment. But I found it too—in stolen glances across a foreign pub, chess with an aspiring director, poetry over coffee and even hopeful daisies on a first date. It’s not only love that makes us alive, but also the euphoric possibility of it. These shared moments are what matter and last, regardless of who it is that ruins your sleep.
Kristy Kiefer is a writer based in Southern California. She previously worked in film and digital media, but left those fields in favor of actually enjoying her life. You can find her knitting socks, watching rom-coms or scouring Etsy for literary-scented candles. This is her first published piece.
Feature image by Aaron Burden