Even though I just started this blog this year, I thought it would be fun to participate in this link-up and share my first couple posts about how Lee and I met because I love reminiscing.
How the Coolest Kids Met (A Love Story, Part 1)
As promised (and I’m sure I’ll return to my regular procrastinating ways and not blog for several days after this), here’s the story of how we met.
Once upon a time, this girl met this boy.
It was 1993 when we first met. We were both cool enough to be going to a Governor’s School for Math and Science. All the new Governor’s School students went on a trip to Wallop’s Island before school started to do science-y stuff and meet each other. I remember noticing that guy, who clearly didn’t like anyone there and didn’t really hide it (something he still does very well). I don’t remember us actually speaking on this trip, but it was when I became aware of his existence.
Fast forward a few months and again, because we were so cool in high school, we both advanced to the state science fair with our science projects. He was clearly more into it than I was because he had fancy cheese shaped science fair display boards for his project that was something about mice and circadian rhythms. But what we both did at the science fair was spend the whole day in the bleachers really talking to each other for the first time, and perhaps missing some of the judges who would have liked to talk to us about our projects. Neither of us won the science fair. But I don’t believe we cared.
As a side note, Lee was for some reason allowed by his mother to go on this trip outside of the chaperoned group that I was in. Don’t worry though – his 13-year-old brother Marcus was his chaperone. I’m not sure what Marcus did at a hotel alone all day, but I bet he was well-behaved. He was certainly interesting when I met him for the first time at Fuddruckers.
We returned from this trip and returned to not really talking to each other at school.
We had a couple other exciting experiences that school year. We were invited to the Virginia Junior Academy of Science (I think that’s what VJAS stood for) to present our projects. I have a few fun memories from this trip.
- Watching MTV in some dorm common room with Lee. I distinctly remember some Aerosmith videos. I may have been jealous that he seemed to be hanging out with another girl there, so I stuck around. Or maybe I wasn’t.
- Going to a dance for a few minutes where Bump ‘n Grind came on, and Lee made some sort of dance move because he was so excited when the song came on.
- On the bus ride back, we sat in a seat together and read Stephen King’s The Stand. Or as much of it as we could read on that bus ride. I never finished the book.
We also both attended the prom at his home high school, which he has already documented here.
The way I remember it, we both definitely recognized there were some feelings at that point, but Lee already knew he was going to graduate and move at the end of the school year. So we resigned ourselves to never seeing each other again.
But that’s obviously not what happened, is it?
Lee responded with a post on his blog:
Love Story, Part 1.5
I want to say first of all that Love Story makes me think of the Taylor Swift song (pop remix, duh), and it makes Katie think of that movie from the ‘70s that she hasn’t even seen. So I win.
It’s really cute how Katie says that there were some feelings between us after the VJAS trip, which was April or March of 1994. I humbly suggest that this might have been an understatement. Of course, she was, at the time, still pretending like she didn’t have any feelings about anything except Disney movies. I was doing no such thing. I got home after that trip, after Katie and I sat together not really reading—or breathing, or moving—for the entire bus ride from JMU to Pulaski, and I broke down in my kitchen. My mother said something dismissive that she may have intended to be fortifying—maternal strike 70 or so, at that point—but it took me a while to pull myself together enough to talk to anyone. It was ridiculous, and I was very aware of that, but I couldn’t stop crying anyway. This wasn’t fair. This was too much, finally, somehow, too much cut short and too much lost. My Dad was gone, dead less than six months. My Mom was gone, too, twisted by grief and desperation into a lost little girl trying to hide or, failing that, run. When she ran, she took me, my brothers and my sister with her, because she was technically the head of our family—nice one, Dad. A month after he died, Mom promised us that we would never lose our home, that she wouldn’t take that from us after what we’d already lost, no matter what. A month after she said that she decided to move to Virginia Beach to be closer to her family. She told me I could go to a new high school for my senior year, or I could stay with a friend’s family and finish high school in Pulaski. I said hell no to option #1, and I didn’t believe Mom would follow through on option #2, so I came up with a third option: finish my junior year in the fall, get all my remaining senior year credits in the spring, and graduate from high school in three years. It was a plan that I could execute myself and it wouldn’t stop Mom from running away from grief and responsibility, so it won her enthusiastic approval. But I had to move quickly, to line up the credits I needed to graduate, to apply to colleges, to decide where to enroll in the fall; no time to hesitate, to think, to regret. So goodbye Pulaski, goodbye 620 Prospect Ave., goodbye senior year, all in the name of speed and fear. It sucked, but I was handling it. By the time I met Katie the plan was in motion and it was working: I would graduate in June, we would move to Virginia Beach two weeks later, and I would be a freshman at Chapel Hill in August. So why was I sitting on the floor of my kitchen sobbing over some girl I barely knew? I’d lost both my parents, the house I grew up in, my childhood and all my opportunities for self-contained senior-year stupidity, not to mention all my goddamn Star Wars toys—why did thishurt so much? I didn’t understand. I don’t really know this girl, I thought. Why is it killing me that I never will?
Katie was not unappreciated amongst the gentlemen of the magnet school we both attended for math and science. My friend Brian was talking to me one day after the VJAS trip about how Katie was the hottest girl there but she wouldn’t go out with anyone, that no one could have her, and he didn’t know what it would take to get her. I didn’t think of her that way. I couldn’t deal with what I did think, but it wasn’t that. I understood Championship, of course, and that’s what Brian was talking about. I’m not sure why I said something, but I did. “She would go out with me,” I said. “How do you know?” he asked. I didn’t say anything else immediately, and I didn’t want to have said what I said already, but that’s not a boast you just leave alone when your buddy makes it. It wasn’t a boast at all, but Brian didn’t know that. “So why don’t you ask her out?” he pressed. “Because I can’t,” I said. I didn’t go for some inflection in my voice to shut down that conversation, to make it clear he and I weren’t talking about the same thing. But I wasn’t boasting, that would’ve been obvious. I was hurting. We didn’t talk about that again, although to be fair, the conversation had been an aberration from the beginning. Usually we stuck to Beavis and Butt-head impressions and Doggystyle lyrics.
I was a coward. I thought I was being noble, denying myself the chance to fall in love because I had to hold my family together, but that was garbage. It was a false choice, framed the way my mother taught me to frame decisions. If I couldn’t have unambiguous happiness handed to me on a plate, I wouldn’t have it at all. I would run. I might have regretted that cowardice forever, but it turned out to be just a few weeks after we moved that I got a letter from two of my friends and this other girl I still didn’t really know. It was a slim chance, but Katie and I never needed any more than that, and this time I didn’t let it pass. The longer-term twist was that not only did Katie help me to be stronger for my younger siblings and my mother than I could’ve been without her, but she almost certainly did more for them herself over the years than I did. No one among her four children did more to help my mother, especially near the end of her life, than Katie did.
Our own children will have this to use against us one day. “But I love Braydon!” Jenny will announce. “I have to be with him! It’s just like you and Mom!” A little teenage moral leverage is a small price to pay, though. Besides, I still have “You won’t do that because I’m your father I said you won’t.” And don’t think for a moment I won’t use it.
And I wrapped up the story (at least the beginning of our story) on my blog:
Love Story, Part 2
At the end of my junior year of high school/Lee’s senior year, he moved away to Virginia Beach with his family. We never expected to see each other again.
That July, I went to the summer Governor’s School for Humanities on the campus of University of Richmond. My two best friends when I was there were from Lee’s hometown and they were longtime friends of his. One day the three of us decided to write him a letter, full of lots of silly stuff, I’m sure. Much to my surprise, we each got letters back individually.
I loved my letter so much. I won’t write it all out here, but I can tell you the first line that will be in my memory forever. “You are the person to whom I have the most to say but know the least how to say it.” I kept this letter with me all the time, in my pocket, under my pillow. It looks a little rough these days, but I still have it, stored in a box with hundreds of other letters. (Incidentally, I still enjoy remembering another letter that came to all three of us, where he mentioned a new musician he liked – Cool 10. At least we thought it said Cool 10. It was Coolio.)
After that first letter, we wrote each other regularly. And once I was back home, we started having weekly phone calls, too. I loved our long weekly phone calls because I loved talking to him, and because they usually came during our Sunday after-church weekly cleaning time (sorry, Mom). We made plans to finally see each other again over the Christmas break. During the last couple weeks leading up to Christmas, I received daily postcards from Lee, and wondered if there was any significance to the LOVE stamps he used (I think there may have been).
He came to my house for a visit shortly after Christmas, and that was that. He went from staying with one of his friends to staying at our house so he could spend more time with me. I met his mom and Justin (mini-Lee) for the first time. I remember my mom telling me after he left that she assumed we’d be together forever unless I told her otherwise. That was 16 ½ years ago.