In celebration of Valentine’s Day and my 10 year wedding anniversary, I am sharing a series of posts that I wrote several years ago chronicling our love story. The first post is here and the second is here.
This week’s installment got a little bit delayed as the flu swept our house and I spent all of my time wearing a face mask and taking care of the guy in this story and also spraying my Thieves cleaner on every available surface in our home.
A few months had passed since the phone calls stopped. Since I quit saving him a seat a church. Since I stopped waiting for him to walk me to my car after class.
Things had changed. My best friend and I had moved home and enrolled in the nearby state university. We were studying for the world’s hardest geography test when I saw him cross the campus green. “I’m going to just ask him,” I told her as I stood to follow him to his car, which was not at all creepy of me despite how it reads in this sentence. I reached his door just seconds before him and carefully composed my expression before I asked the question. What was going on? He only replied that he was sorry.
Later that night he called and asked me to dinner. He wanted to explain his distance, to let me know that he valued our friendship and didn’t want me to ever feel like he was leading me on.
A few months later, Tiffani and I were in the middle of the world’s hardest algebra project (geography and alegbra were not kind to us in college.) and were lamenting it at church one night when he overheard and offered to help us out. Tiffani canceled on us at the last minute and I am just this very second realizing that might have totally been intentional. (Am currently texting her some 14 years later to find out.) I sat on his bedroom floor, sketching out graphs and struggling to understand the meaning of numbers and letters and love, when my cell phone rang.
It was a boy I barely knew, asking me to be a counselor for a youth trip the following weekend. Someone had canceled and a mutual friend had given him my number. I agreed to go on a nine-hour road trip with a bunch of strangers, because I make good life decisions.
J called me the night before I left. “I burnt you some CDs,” he said, “come get them before you leave.” I stopped by his house at 7am on my way out of town and he opened the door with no shirt on. I blushed.
I didn’t listen to the CDs.
I kinda crushed on the other boy. The other boy asked me on a date. Then on another date. Then another. Then a few months of dates. Then he told me he loved me.
One Sunday night after church we all ended up back J’s house and I introduced them for the first time while playing with J’s new puppy, who promptly peed on me. J rifled through his closet for a shirt I could change into and I climbed into my boyfriend’s car while wearing it.
Later that night, my phone rang. “I know I haven’t been a good friend, he started, but I need to tell you something.” The other boy? He didn’t think I should date him. “He won’t be good for you,” he insisted. I hesitated. “He loves me, I told him, and I’ll probably marry him.” Jeff was quiet. “I care about you, he said finally, and he isn’t right for you.”
I bit my lip and gathered my courage. “Are you going to be with me?” I asked him.
I put all of the letters J and I had exchanged while I traveled in a box and pushed it to the back of the closet. The photo of the two of us at graduation was replaced by an 8×10 glossy of me dancing with a boy he didn’t want me dating. It wasn’t fair, I had decided, to have my heart divided. If I was going to be in this then I was going to really be in it. Without secretly pining after Jeff as I had been in previous relationships.
And so I cut him out completely.
Over two years passed. This boy was charming and funny and he made me feel beautiful. Two years of a storybook romance and I had thrown myself into the relationship.
I could feel it unraveling. There was an edge to it that hadn’t been there before. My girlfriends ambushed me at coffee one night, “We love you, they said, but if you marry him we won’t stand up with you. This isn’t right for you. It isn’t good for you.” I pushed them away and clung harder, suffocating the both of us in my insecurity.
That’s when I had the second dream.
I saw him with another girl. I drove in miserable confusion until I reached a house on a long, curvy street by the school. The front door opened before I could knock. “I shouldn’t be here, I know, I’m sorry, I didn’t know where to go.” J pushed a hand through my hair. “I know. I was waiting for you to come.”
I woke up in a cold sweat. I pushed the dream away, guilty for having subconscious thoughts about J and terrified at the thought that the first part might be true.
When I found out about the other girl I packed up his things and drove to his house, intent on stomping and yelling and possibly throwing things. But when his face confirmed my suspicions I just crumpled to the floor. “How
could you?” I demanded. I let him hold me while I cried over his betrayal.
I didn’t leave my room for a month. (This feels very dramatic now, in hindsight, but at the time it felt all-encompassing, the universal hallmark of a first broken heart.)
I drove the long way home from class, the way that winded past J’s house. I hesitated as I pulled up to his driveway, remembering my dream. I don’t know how long I sat there, or how long they’d been watching me before he tapped on my window.
It was an older man who I didn’t recognize. “Can I help you? Are you looking for someone?” he asked. I learned that J didn’t even live there anymore. He’d moved away.
He’d moved away and I had no idea where he was or how to get in touch with him.
“Stupid. STUPID, stupid, stupid,” I muttered to myself as I drove home.