Have you ever been sure you met the one, not because of how you felt about them, but because of the signs? I’m not a big believer in destiny or fate – I never have been. Of course, when I was in high school it was romantic to think about being ‘meant to be’ and there was a naiveté that allowed me to at least humor the concept of destiny. The first time I really gave any credit to fate or destiny involved the boy I was sure I would spend the rest of my life with. Maybe it was easier too, because I was living out my star-crossed love story, even though it was fate (or something) that kept pushing us together. There was Romeo and Juliet, Buffy and Angel and then there was Chris and me.
I can’t figure out exactly what I want to say about Chris and me, so I’ll just start from the beginning. I met Chris when I was in the eighth grade and he was in the sixth (there is a sixteen month difference between our ages, but he was old for his grade, and I was young for mine – he is the only younger guy I have ever fallen for, I guess I learned). We met in the nurse’s office – he was injured and I was there for my daily medication (back then they had me on an anti-seizure med). I don’t know why I was so taken with him, well okay, yes I do, he was a charmer – everyone was taken with him. But I certainly don’t understand why he was so taken with me. Middle school for me was absolute hell. In order to survive our school, you had to bully whoever was different and I was at the top of the list (glue in my hair, stolen items, book checks, physical threats, names, and other verbal teasing were my every day). I guess the why doesn’t matter though, we just were. It was as if we had always known each other and really saw one another beyond the images we wanted others to see. This was how it was from that first instant, even though we had never even seen each other before.
We talked on the phone for hours every day. He was my confidant and for some reason I seemed to fascinate him. We were innocent, or I was innocent and he was a typical teenage male, but nothing physical happened while we were in middle school. He would meet me every morning right outside the nurse’s office and he always knew if it was a morning for laughing or a morning for seriousness. If it was a serious morning, he would ask to see the bruises. If I could show him his eyes would cloud over, but he knew better than to show anger – instead he just said the right thing, whatever I needed to hear to get through the day. We met a few more times throughout the day, usually around lunch and then right before we got out on busses at the end of the school day and then he would always tell me whatever I needed to hear to get through the night.
I didn’t need him to be strong for me, and he wasn’t. I knew I was strong then, just like I know I still am. But he was the first person who ever gave me sincere support. He didn’t feed me lines and he didn’t try to change my situation, he was just there. He was the first person who ever made me think I was special and that probably sounds silly, but when your parents are either beating you or telling you it is your fault for being beaten then you never really feel special. You feel strong, hardened and like you have a perspective no one else could ever understand. And in a way you feel invincible. You know if you can survive them, you can survive anything, but again this isn’t the same as the warm fuzzies that feeling special brings.
For several months everything seemed perfect, but then I went on to high school and he stayed behind. Shortly into the summer, Chris and his family moved and so their phone numbers changed and this was 1998, so the internet/email thing didn’t exist for either of us yet. So, you know what happened. We fell out of touch and I never thought I would see him again…
Fourteen months later, I was swimming with my two younger brothers (the last one had yet to be conceived) at the pool of my dad’s townhome complex when a boy and girl walked in. Even with water in my eyes, the boy took my breath away and something about him sparked something within me. It wasn’t until he was a few feet away that I recognized him. He had changed and while before he was more man than boy (physically anyway) now he had finished growing. He was nearly six feet tall, and completely chiseled, but his mischievous eyes and impish grin hadn’t changed a bit. My voice was stuck in my throat, but he recognized me. From that day on, we were just like we had been before, though this time things were a little different. Before there was an attraction, but now it was much louder and more intense. (We were both full-fledged teenagers at this point after all.) But he was still a gentleman with me. While he was much more touchy-feely, it was playing with my hair, putting his hand on my shoulder, leaning in close – that sort of thing.
And then he up and moved again. This might sound odd, but his mother was constantly being evicted from somewhere, not telling her kids and then they would just be up and gone one day (this continued for years). Once again, there was no way to reach out or connect.
Fast forward nine months later: My friend Melody and I were in the midst of an excited ‘girl talk’ conversation when the school bus was at my stop. Her stop was next, so I raced home and as soon as I got there I quickly dialed her number.
“Hello.” A young man answered.
I suddenly felt flustered, and even before I asked I was sure I had misdialed in my excitement. The only man in Melody’s household was her uncle and this was definitely not him. “Is Melody there, please?”
“No, you have the wrong number.”
“Eh, thanks.” I quickly hung up and felt hot and fluttery and joyful, but extreme anxiety all at once. I knew that voice!
I debated for a minute or two on what to do. Should I call back and ask if Chris was there, positive that I had just talked to him or was I merely projecting because I missed him? Without thinking, I hit redial and saw that when I called Melody I misdialed by a single number. I hit the number 5, when it should have been the number 2.
“Hello?” The voice came again.
I was quiet for what felt like hours and yet was probably no more than two seconds. “H-hi, Chris?”
“Yeah, Michael [he used his nickname for me]?”
And once again we were reunited. Unlike before this reunion was only via telephone, but like before it was several times a day for hours on end. Chris was a lot more brazen (perhaps it was the comfortable distance of a telephone) and he often tried to steer our conversations with his hormones. I think he loved that unlike the girls her usually pursued I was determined to keep things ‘appropriate’. I swear there is nothing that gets a ‘bad boy’ going faster than the image of innocence and purity – I don’t know why.
At this stage in our relationship, however, things began to get complicated. Those complications took the form of his sister and his mother. His sister always hated me and was never afraid to show it. I’m not sure if it was what I represented to her or she felt her brother was in over his head, but she always acted threatened. She told me to stop calling, and Chris told me to ignore her, so I did. It didn’t come to a head until she got her mother involved. I have no idea what she told her mother, but after that we were forbidden to have contact with one another and another number change sealed our fate…
…That is until four months later. Chris was now attending my high school. I didn’t know that he was (it wasn’t the high school closest to him, he took the bus) and he must have forgot I went there. He was already the womanizing football god and I had made quite the reputation as a goody-goody upstart with a lot of mouth and the stones to back it up if pushed, social activist with a liberal agenda, writer, brainiac who was sweet until you pissed me off. We didn’t realize our newfound luck (whether good or bad is debatable) until after school that first day. I was on my bus, getting situated (headphones and a book) when a guy caught my eye. My breath caught in my chest and I realized it Chris, in a football uniform, heading towards the field. I felt happy and sad, hopeful and like I wanted to disappear, hot and sick all at once. Sure, things had not gone south with us, but I wasn’t stupid. His hornball ways, problematic family (they were Mormon with rules for everything), confusion and angst associated with him discovering who he was, and high school politics meant there would be no happy ending for us. He saw me and recognition instantly crossed his face. To be honest he looked more stricken than anything else. He wouldn’t tear his eyes away from me, but continued on, walking into a railing and because of his height flipping over it and onto his back. My bus pulled away and he didn’t take his eyes off me, even though he was now on the ground, being crowded by his friends.
High school was hell for ‘us’ even if it wasn’t bad for either of us on our own. Our secret meet-ups, conversations and phone calls quickly began again, but now things were different. Chris couldn’t deal with the truth, who he was, what he wanted… it was easier to play a part, particularly when it came to his family. Another truth was, there was no way he would want to give up his social status and reign as football god/stud with the freshmen girls. We went back and forth as rumors, his family and my friends (who were anti-him for my sake) were always in our ears and affecting how we were together. Chris called it off nearly every other week. We would break up, make up and all the while we as ‘a we’ were a secret and Chris was basically screwing anything that moved. For someone who wanted to be off the grid, however, he was incredibly stupid. He would ask about me, get jealous (visibly so) whenever I talked to another guy and insist on carrying my books for me. How was that supposed to remain a secret? The girls he would bed would get upset and corner me in the hallway, wanting to know what was going on and telling me to stay away from him (gee, I miss high school so much).
After several months neither of us could take it anymore. He did the same song and dance of us being over, and I just knew. I told him, “This is it. I can’t keep going back and forth anymore, and I won’t. If you want us to be over then that’s it. We won’t talk anymore, no more notes or phone calls, don’t ask about me and I won’t ask about you. We can try to figure this out together or you can walk away for the last time, but it will be the last time.” He looked pained and if I could describe his expression in a single word, it would be betrayed. Then he slowly walked away.
Getting over it was hard for both of us. I started dating a college guy that summer and took him to homecoming my senior year of high school. Chris had a date posse (you know seven or eight girls following him around, no I am not joking) but when he saw me with my date he freaked. He went over to the bleachers and gave both of us death glares, and finally stormed out of the auditorium. And the same girls who used to corner me and tell me to stay away were now interrupting me dancing to ask “How could you?” “You’re upsetting Chris, you know?” Seriously? (Again, do I miss high school?) After the dance I broke up with my boyfriend. I hadn’t intended to make Chris jealous, but his reaction reminded me of my own feelings that were still intensely present. When you date someone while you are still trying to get over someone else, it never really works out for anyone.
Chris and I were in love since we were barely teenagers and we didn’t say goodbye for the final time until my senior year of high school, but I will never forget him. He was a great deal of firsts for me and while he isn’t the last guy to make me feel special or who I believe is the guy for the rest of my time on this planet (hello, my husband!) he was the only guy the universe seemed to keep throwing me at. For as many times as we lost touch, we always reconnected in the most bizarre ways (a misdial, the pool, I rest my case). Chris was the guy who taught me that love, no matter how intensely felt, is not enough. Timing, work, commitment and a healthy sense of self (this applies to both people) are necessary for the long haul.
(Of course, this just gave me one more reason to connect to Buffy the Vampire Slayer – since Chris had seriously gone bad and would go out of his way at times to try to hurt me because of what I made him feel and then Riley and my college guy, don’t get me started.)
I don’t know what was up with the universe back then, but I just remember thinking since the very beginning of our relationship we were star-crossed lovers and yet it was the universe that didn’t seem able to let us go. Crazy stars!