At least once upon your time at Princeton, you’ll get dumped, hard.
You’ll get dumped, hard, and you’ll spend the next hour or so lying motionless on your cold bed in your dark room, shades drawn, lights off. You’ll wallow. Then, suddenly, you’ll sit up, stand up, throw on a jacket and leave the building. Get your life back in motion.
You’ll pick yourself up, dust yourself off and head to your neighborhood Wawa for your usual post-breakup submarine sandwich. You’ll find comfort in this Wawa — it smells just like your Wawa back home: warm and bready. You’ll find comfort in your usual post-breakup submarine sandwich: Italian meats, provolone cheese, onions, lettuce, oil and vinegar. And — why not? — you’ll even top it off with some grated Parmesan. At times like these, more than ever, you’re worth it. Pickles on the side.
But as you wander the store, waiting for your order to come up at the counter, you’ll know that you’re just lying to yourself. There is no such thing as your usual post-breakup submarine sandwich. There can’t be, because this is, in fact, your first breakup, which followed, necessarily, your first relationship — the kind of relationship that had promised to teach you so many lessons about Hope and Life and Love, Et Cetera.
Of course, you’ll suspect even then that there are plenty of lessons to be learned from breakups as well. As you walk around the Wawa, you’ll think up a few hoped-for possibilities: Everything happens for a reason. Focus on the good times. Some things are no one’s fault, and when that’s the case there’s nothing to feel bad about.
But you will feel bad, awful, worse than maybe you’ve ever felt before. Here’s the real lesson: people leave.
“How depressing,” you’ll think. “How unbearable.”
You’ve always believed in a vague way that the Universe provides — that in times of need it sends something, or someone, your way. Not always, but often enough to sustain a vague belief.
This night, your someone will take the form of a nonagenarian mathematician. A Nobel Prize winner, to boot. Also a husband, a lover, a father (of people and of game theory) and a friend. Sometimes the Universe allows such a man to exist and sets that man on a path that will walk him through the door of a Princeton convenience store right when you’re about to have a total meltdown in the candies and snacks aisle.
John Nash GS ’50 will walk in, look around and then turn to you — you, of all the people in the whole Wawa. Four eyes will meet: your pair, red and teary, and his, confused but kind. You will recognize John Nash immediately. Your bruised heart will start to pound.
John Nash will be wearing an oversized tweed jacket. He will ask:
“Do you know where the English muffins are?”
And what he will mean is:
“Everything’s going to be okay.”
You will respond:
“I’m not sure. Maybe over there, by the Tastykakes?”
And what you will mean is: