I'll be returning to the mother ship.
The first time I went to the AWP conference I was a first-year in my grad program. The conference was held in Chicago that year, and a bunch of us hopped into a caravan and drove off to our hotel, loaded down with the necessities: dozens of cookies, bottles of vodka, a case of Red Bull, and high-heeled boots.
Here's what I can tell you about AWP that year: I was drunk for most of it.
I was drunk at lunch. I was drunk at dinner. I was drunk at midnight. I went to bed drunk and giggling.
I ran across the city like a girl possessed. I wanted to see everything I could in the few days I was in Chicago. I wanted to eat a deep dish pizza whose crust was made with two sticks of butter. I wanted to walk the Miracle Mile and press my nose against all the windows keeping me from all the fabulous things I couldn't afford. I wanted to stand on the edge of the lake and look East. I wanted to wander through the aquarium, wide-eyed and blinking at all the glowing tentacles. I wanted to listen to writers talk about writing--especially my ultimate author crush. I wanted to read my own writing and have people listen. I wanted to be drunk.
I did all of those things. I did the last one--the getting drunk--for a pretty good reason. There was this boy, and I'd had a momentary crush on him when I first got to Minnesota. He found out about the crush and somehow thought I would wilt, I would wither, I would become a lumpy pool of girl on the floor after I realized he didn't like me back. So what did he do? He called me up, asked me to meet him for a drink, and then he told me--out loud, to my face, sitting mere inches from me--that he was sorry but he would never like me like that. He told me he liked someone else, he was going to pursue this other thing, and he really hoped we could continue to be friends. "Listen," he said, kindly, near the end of the already horrific conversation, "I'm sorry if I maybe gave you the wrong idea about things. And I'm sorry you made the decision to come to Minnesota because you thought something was going to happen between us."
At this point in the conversation my head almost fell off my neck. This boy had been an ambassador for the college when I rolled into town after getting my acceptance. I was there to look around, see what there was to see--which turned out to be, uhm, soybeans--and to find an apartment. I'd promised myself to the school. I'd promised myself as a teaching assistant. All of this made me nervous, and this boy was around to take some of that nervousness away. He did a good job. He also did a good job of being cute and charming and sweet. His was the first set of Midwestern blue eyes I ever encountered, and looking at them made me think, Sign me up.
But to think I'd come to Minnesota because of him was ridiculous. I'd already sent in my paperwork and started planning my schedule. I'd already spent precious hours meditating on my first day's outfit--and that day wouldn't happen for months. I was settled. I was devoted to Minnesota. Say what you will about me, but I've never been the kind of girl who stays or goes depending on a boy. You can say I'm frivolous, boy-crazy, and silly, but you can't say I don't have a good head on my shoulders.
So in the moment this boy revealed he was just so concerned about me, a little girl from Buffalo who had packed up all her things and driven West because he was just so irresistible, I wanted to vomit up all the vodka-cranberries I'd mainlined in time I'd been at the bar.
I sat up straight. I tried to look strong. "I did not," I said, "come to Minnesota because of you."
And he smiled at me and patted my hand, like, Whatever you need to tell yourself to make it through the day.
I wanted to run out the front door, screaming all the way down to the river, where I would promptly throw myself in and drown out of embarrassment.
Anyway, the embarrassment didn't last for long. I got over it pretty quick, in fact. I had lots of things to occupy me from that point on, and one of those things was the Wily Republican. He and I had taken up together a few months before AWP, so I didn't really care what that first boy thought anymore. I knew what I was thinking, and I was thinking, Thank God for the military and the way it develops boys with great abs. That first semester we ran around together, the WR still had his military-built body, and when he took his shirt off it was really a thing of beauty.
But when we got to AWP, suddenly I was face to face with the embarrassment once again. After all, there was that first boy with his girl--the one he'd been referring to when he took me out for a drink--and they were sitting on each other's laps, cooing into each other's ears, gazing into each other's eyes. And they were doing it right in front of me.
I knew the boy had told his girlfriend about what happened with me, and that made me feel so foolish--mostly because this girl was achingly beautiful, more beautiful than I could ever hope to be. I felt that whenever she looked at me, she did so with pitying eyes, eyes you use when looking at a beauty pageant contestant who has everything going for her--body, poise, brains--but a jacked-up face. It's a look that says, Oh, you were so close to being pretty, and then this whole face thing happened.
The girl probably wasn't thinking that, but I felt she was. I'd already suffered through the embarrassment brought about by her boyfriend, and I didn't want to suffer through any more. And so I drank a lot. And I ate a lot of cookies. And whenever I felt like I was going to vomit from the embarrassment of everyone knowing what happened, I would think about the Wily and his big bed and his good shoulders and eyes and arms and legs and everything. And that made me feel a little bit better. A lot better. So did the drinking.
But now I don't have any of those issues hanging over my head. Now I am a different girl. I am gainfully employed, boyfriended, stable. Which makes me wonder what this little trip is going to be like. Who will I see, what will I remember, how will I feel when I get to spend time with the people who picked me out, shaped me up, and set me singing?
I'm ready, ready, ready.