Girl From the North Country

March 25, 2018 Massachusetts, USA

The author confesses his feelings to a friend, only to meet heartbreak in a relationship that never begins...
Illustration by Eva Straver

The summer before senior year, I began listening to Bob Dylan for the first time. One song in particular caught my attention: Girl from the North Country.

If you’re traveling in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to the one who lives there
For she once was a true love of mine.

During my first year of college, I became good friends with a girl. She was a sweet and kind person, always bringing a sense of warmth wherever she went. She told cringy jokes, swayed her feet when she listened to music, and puffed her cheeks up when thinking of a response. Whenever my phone rang, I would hastily reach for it, hoping it was another one of her random messages. I looked forward to every time we could eat together, every time we could talk, every time I could see her face. After awhile, I considered telling her how I felt. But a part of me “knew” that she saw me as a friendnothing more.  And so I harbored my feelings over the following years.

One night junior year, while I was lamenting finals and stressing about grades, she came into the common room where I was working. She said hi, walked towards the table on the other side of the room, and proceeded to do her worknothing more. When I saw her walk in, a sense of peace came over me: I wasn’t worried about my upcoming exams or my homework that was two weeks late. I was happyhappy to just see her and have her in my life. I knew at that moment that she wasn’t some crush that I never confronted, but something more.

And if you go where the snowflakes storm
When the river freezes and summer ends
Please see she’s wearing a coat so warm
To keep her from the howling winds.

I opened up to a few friends about my feelings for her. They encouraged me to tell her how I felt; even if she didn’t see me the same way, at least I would have gotten those feelings off my chest. I agreed. At the beginning of senior year, I asked her if she’d give me the honor of coming to fall formal with me. Much to my surprise, she said yes!

At the formal, we met up with friends and began to dance. The music wasn’t great, but she still danced like no one was watching, her joy and smile filling up the room. When the formal ended, she asked me if I wanted to walk around campus for a bit. We strolled through the night, past college buildings and through the local town before heading back to our dorm. I knew I had to tell her my feelings before the night ended. We stopped by the common room to sit and talk, and as she stood up to leave, I stopped her.

“Hey, before you go, can I talk to you about something?” My heart started beating a little faster.

“Yeah, what's up?” she said, tilting her head ever so slightly as she sat down again.

I took a deep breath. “I have strong feelings for you. I've had them since freshman year, but I never told you because I felt like it was pointless.”

Her inquisitive face slowly transformed. She started to smile, but it was a smile you make when you’re trying to reassure someone that all is well, when in fact everything is falling apart.

“With it being our senior year, I just wanted to get it off my chest,” I said, “I know you probably see me as just a friend, and that's fine. I’m happy being able to spend time with you like this, just as friends, but I wanted to let you know.”

When I finished, she was looking at the floor, as if she didn’t want to see me. She slowly lifted her head, that smile still present. “Remember when we were talking before, where I said if things were different, I would have liked being with a certain person?” Earlier in the week, a mutual friend has asked her if she had liked anyone on campus. “That certain person is you.”

My heart stoppedfor a good reasonbut my joy quickly turned to despair. Because of our backgrounds, she didn’t want us to pursue a relationship. She also didn't want us to remain as close we had been. She said it would be best if we only saw each other when our friends got togethernothing more.

At first, I was relatively calm. Of course there’s something in the way, I thought to myself, you knew something like this would happen. I responded to everything she said with “of course, you’re right”. But as we continued to talk, and as she told me that we could no longer be close friends, my heart sputtered, and my responses became progressively more incoherent as I tried my best to hold back tears.
You’re right.
You’re right.
You’re right.
I didn't believe she was right. At least, I didn't want to.  

When I finally got back to my room, I opened my laptop, and the song I was hearing on loop earlier in the day began to play: Girl from the North Country. I started crying all over again.

Please see, for me, if her hair’s hanging long
If it rolls and flows all down her breast
Please see, for me, if her hair’s hanging long
For that's the way I remember her best.

Our friendship grew more volatile as the semester wore on: one week, we were good friends, another we were casual friends, and yet another, close friends. Eventually, it seemed as though we weren’t friends at all, just acquaintancesnothing more. I didn’t want to burden her, so I let her be.

The semester ended, and winter break came and went. By this point, I began wondering whether any of it was real. Maybe she told you what you wanted to hear, maybe she only ever saw you as a friend, I brooded. How could someone like her have feelings for a guy like you?

But when we returned to school, she started to spend time with our friend group again. I saw her more and more, and we started talking again. Spring break came along, and we saw each other almost every day. She told me she wanted to learn to play the guitar.  I helped guide her that week, showing her how I had just learned to play Girl from the North Country and teaching her to play a song she loved. We would meet during the day, and she would play while I sat and listened; listened as her fingers clumsily made beautiful sounds, as her voice sang songs I wish I could still hear her sing. I told her I was writing a song, and that I needed lyrics, so we spent parts of our day brainstorming. We only ever got the first versenothing more.

By the end of the week, we had grown too close. We were in a friend’s room, just the two of us, waiting for the others to join us for a film. She was drawing, and I was sitting close by, reading some article for an assignment.

“Have you seen the new Logan film? I saw it with a friend today, it was amazing!” She exclaimed, her eyes still focused on her paper, scribbling little characters all across the sheet.

“I heard it was good! I’ve been wanting to see it.” I responded, craning my neck to catch a glimpse of what she was drawing.

“Lets see if our friends are free before school starts again, and we can all see it together.”

I hesitated a moment. “We could do that. But I was wondering if you wanted to go just with me?”

She stopped drawing. Her body dropped, ever so slightly, but enough for me to notice. She turned towards me, that smile from months before on her face. “I’ll think about it”

Before I could reply, our friends entered the room. But I couldn’t stop worrying about what she meant.

I sent her a message afterwards expressing my concern about her reaction, and once again we talked about our feelings. We spoke about what happened last semester, what we wanted out of our time together, and what we were afraid of. In the middle of our talk, I suddenly felt the urge to ask the question that had been gnawing at me for so long: Why do you like me? What do you like about me?

She surprised me again, and began to list everything she liked about me, things I thought people hadn't noticed before or cared about.  But despite these feelings, she knew we wouldn’t last. She knew that feelings just aren’t enough in the end; sometimes distance, time, religion, racial differences, and future plans simply get in the way.

For the rest of the year, we remained “friends”; we saw each other in group settings, but rarely spent time alone. There weren’t any feelings of bitterness or hostility; rather, we knew our time together was coming to an end, and to her, it seemed easier to remain somewhat distant. Graduation eventually came. We said our goodbyes, and I left while she remained in the North Country.

I’m wondering if she remembers me at all
Many times I often pray
In the darkness of my night,
In the brightness of my day

It’s been almost a year since graduation. Most of the pain has faded since then, and I no longer spend hours agonizing about what I could have done differently. But she’s still very much present in my mind. I see her in the things I see, the things I feel, the things I do. A cold breeze reminds me of how freezing she kept her room sophomore year, a giggle reminds me of her sweet laugh, and even a sack of potatoes reminds me of all the times she called herself a potato. I am constantly reminded of how fortunate I was to have her in my life, and call her my friend.

Whenever I hear Girl from the North Country, I can't help but think of her and our time together. I hope she’s enjoying life in the North Country, perhaps her hair flowing in the wind as she frolics in the snow. If you see her, won't you tell her I said hi?

So if you’re traveling in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to the one who lives there
For she once was a true love of mine.

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