Public Displays of Affection

As the 2019–20 cuffing season came to a close, I found myself in the Saybrook basement contemplating love. This might be an unexpected location to some readers; perhaps you’d prefer to spend the night making love on the pool table in Entryway H, or feeding your paramour quesadillas in the “Squiche.” But the main character in my Saybrook love story is not a person. It’s the Telltale “Love” show that was held in the Underbrook this last Saturday. 

Telltale, Yale’s community storytelling club, hosts several shows per year featuring students who recount experiences related to a universal theme. The Facebook event description for the Feb. 22 “Love” show billed it as “a night of love stories as told by members of the Yale community . . . familial love, romantic love, self-love, friendship—love in the broadest, warmest sense of the word.”

The show was popular: seats quickly filled, with a few audience members even sitting on the floor. Though the show’s set was sparse (one metal barstool under a single bright spotlight), the atmosphere in the Underbrook was warm and full, altering slightly with the spikes and downfalls of each telling. 

The first storyteller, Sonia Gadre, SY ’20, told a classic story of first love: She had acne, he had a bowl-cut, they met at a summer camp where they were studying philosophy. After a whirlwind romance came the inevitable, bittersweet parting. They held hands as they slept side by side in their sleeping bags on the last night of camp before hugging goodbye. 

Years later, Sonia was shocked when she encountered her long-lost lover in the Saybrook dining hall (reenforcing the thesis of this article: it IS possible to find love in Saybrook). He was at Yale to visit a friend. Over her cereal, Sonia realized that all the “I miss you” texts she had sent him in the months following that summer really meant “I love you,” that she had loved him and many others throughout the years without realizing it. 

Nick Jacobson, TC ’23, told us another story of lost love with the steady cadence of an NPR announcer. Over winter break, he caught up with his high-school girlfriend, Hannah, at a coffee shop in his hometown. As they talked, their hands hovered next to each other without touching. He remembered how they’d played checkers at the same coffee shop a year before, when they were still together. Nick asked the audience: “Have you ever missed someone when you are sitting right next to them?”

The next two storytellers discussed unconditional familial love. Nithyashri “Nithy” Baskaran, BF ’22, described coming to terms with her family’s way of expressing affection, which differed from a more explicit, “Western” way of demonstrating love. Nithy realized that her parents show their love for her through subtle efforts to make Nithy’s life more comfortable.

Landon Allen, TD ’21, recounted his mother’s fight with cancer. Both he and the audience choked back tears as he recalled the fear and grief in the moment when he came out to his mom as she lay in her hospital bed. She expressed her unconditional acceptance of him, saying she was proud of his vulnerability.

As I listened, I recalled love stories of my own. I thought about telling my mom about my queer identity, my relief and gratitude when she didn’t respond with anger. I thought about the devastation I felt when my high-school friend died before I could discuss certain things with him. I reflected on my own (failed) nerd camp romance. I reminisced about dancing with Robert—who also sported a bowl cut—at the first Georgia Governor’s Honors Program disco (and seeing him at a friendship-bracelet workshop the next week, holding hands with another girl).  

The last storyteller was James “Jimmy” Hatch, TD ’23. Before entering Yale College, Hatch served as a Navy seal for twenty-two years. Unlike the other performers, Hatch stood as he told his story, moving his body to illustrate his story: He was somewhere far away. He found a little girl on the ground, left behind in the chaos of evacuation. He described his incredulity when she lifted up her arms to him, seeking comfort though he was “dressed like an alien.” Unlike the other stories, the love he described was one between strangers united through empathy. Hatch’s story reflected the audience’s emotional reactions to the storytellers themselves, many of whom we did not know.  

What is a love story, really? Perhaps a love story “in the broadest, warmest sense” extends beyond stories about love. Perhaps the acts of storytelling and listening themselves make a story “loving.” Like the little girl who embraced Jimmy Hatch, trusting his capacity for compassion, disclosing yourself to a room filled with strangers is a radically vulnerable act. Similarly, effectively listening to and learning from a story requires identifying parts of yourself in the storyteller. So, if you’re looking for love before the weather gets warmer, delete your Tinder, start spending more time in Saybrook, and go see a Telltale show.

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