Thursday, October 10, 2013

Part III: Eighteen Over Par (or something)

Part One and Part Two brings us here, Part three, in which we make speeches, struggle through mini golf, and discuss the deeper meanings of life. Or something.

Anyways . . .

It's my high school graduation, thank the good Lord, hallelujah, thank you Jesus, huzzah, woot woot, heck yeah, pwned, and all those other exclamations of sheer glee.
Because we had made it. Finally.  It's a joyous occasion, people. JOYOUS.

And there's a part of me that wonders how I tell this bit.  How do you make a story out of a high school graduation, even one like mine where they did EVERYTHING they could to make it interesting. I mean, really--we had slideshows, speeches, prayers, musical performances, and handing out each diploma took about ten minutes because it featured a message from each parent to the student and a "right back attcha" message from the gleeful graduate. It's the kind of thing where parents cry and the freshly-freed teens roll their eyes. We had bright blue robes, yellow tassels, and all antsy to get off that stage and out of those shoes. Heels. God, why? WHHHYYYY HIGH HEELS?!

Oh, and I got to talk. I did. I was aiming for Valedictorian (in a class of fifteen--no that's not a typo, FIFTEEN--people, three of which were named "Sarah," it shouldn't be too hard, right?), I missed out by one thousandth (as in 0.001) of a point.  So, here I am, second place, trying to give a first place style speech.

I don't remember the speech exactly. I remember my opening though . . . or part of it . . . I stood up there, sweating under my robe, hating that hat because it wanted to slide off my head, hating my heels because my toes hurt, but THIS was my moment. I made gazed out into the audience, smiled through my terror and glee, and said, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' C.S. Lewis. [slight dramatic pause for emphasis and GO] When we were kids, all of us knew what we wanted to be when we grew up. Some of us wanted to be firemen, mommies, astronauts. Me? I wanted to be a mermaid, but that hasn't worked out yet."
Cue audience laughter (good, I was hoping for that).
From there, it's all a blur.
I remember one of my notecards got mixed up, but I didn't stumbled. I had practiced in the mirror too much. Anticipating this moment, this hope that I could be my best just this last time.

My friends Tarisha, Allie, and Julie, Chris's sister.
My mom still hasn't forgiven me for ripping that robe off before she could get a picture.
 I break a public speaking rule: I make eye contact, a human connection, with the audience that should terrify me. I need to see their faces, that focused glint in their eyes that tells me they're listening. The confirmation that I am interesting. In the third row, I found the person I had been looking for, sitting next to his grandmother, clutching a tissue and trying to keep back proud tears.  There he was, bright-eyed, staring back, his lips faintly curled.

Chris had spent the last year in Idaho, following his best friend on scholastic adventures in the great Northwest. This was the first time I had seen him since he left.
He had a girl beside him, a pretty little thing in a blonde ponytail. So it had happened. He had found himself a sweetheart at university. Well, let's show him what he's missing, right? Maybe? Was I worth missing? But I stealed myself and I spoke. Then I sang, because I had one of those special music slots.
Don't laugh. I didn't realize how geeky it was then.

Chris has no memory whatsoever of the blonde girl. He doesn't remember what I said in my speech, but he says he liked it better than the valedictorian's . . She did a lovely job, but the mic went out, which would throw ANYONE off . . . and she loved the high school so it was one of those "I love you guys" kind of things popular kids do . . . He thought my voice was wasted on a cheesy song, that it had potential, but the whole thing was . . . cheesy. Chris abhors cheesy.
"But you did a good job," he told me, later. "Were you looking at me? I thought you were looking at me."
"Oh, my gosh! I totally was! I didn't think you cared!"
"Sure, I cared. I really liked you."

Chris with his sisters, Julie and Mel, that night.
The ceremony ends, we throw our hats, we shake hands gives hugs.
At some point, Julie catches up with me, "You're coming, right? Putt-putting?"
"Yeah, yeah, let me change . . .again . . . "
"Chris is driving us."
"Will your parents care? That Chris is taking us?"
"They'd better not."
And they didn't. Well, Dad did because all boys within spitting distance of his daughter were pure evil. Mom was far more lenient. So off I went, out of my pretty graduation outfit and into shorts for mini golf in the hot, humid, smothering Florida night. There were seven of us: the three graduates, three younger friends, and Chris, trapped in a astro van filled with over-hyper teenage girls. We fought over the front seat. For one round, I won.
And I spoke to him. And he talked back. We talked Star Wars. We were trying to find a midnight showing of Episode II, before we knew what a gosh-awful trainwreck of a movie it was ("Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo" and several nerds vomit simultaneously). Luckily, there weren't any showings we could make, so we stuck to putt-putt and Steak 'n' Shake.

Me, Mel, Kelli, and Lydia, trying on sexy faces . . . we all needed lots of practice  . . .
And then we never stopped talking, me hanging slightly back to talk to this dark, handsome fellow who, shockingly, wasn't telling me to shut up.
"So . . . how's Idaho?"
"Really good."
"Yeah . . . um . . . You know . . . I um . . . I took a C.S. Lewis class while I was there."
"REALLY?!?! Oh my gosh, I would love to take a class like that!"

Chris had struck gold, bringing up the man he KNEW was my hero. Years later, he'd tell me that's what he liked about me: I loved Lewis and Tolkien like he did, like his friends did. He hadn't met a girl who loved those things like I did--obsessively, passionately.  And so we talked Lewis.
For the rest of the night.
Until, sitting in Steak 'n' Shake, while we were engrossed in philosophical discussion, everyone else finished eating, and, suddenly, I heard Julie burst out, 'Well we would leave if CHRIS AND SARAH WOULD STOP TALKING!! GOSH!!!" And they were waiting by the door, staring at us. 
I think they might have been suspicious, maybe, but the next day, Kelli imitated Chris saving her golf ball from the asparagus-colored water and proclaimed her love, so I stayed quiet.
For another year. I said nothing to ANYONE about how my heart pounded when Chris came into the room.

Teenage Kelli and Mel are judging me
At Julie's house, while the other girls got ready for bed, Chris and I kept talking.  He wanted us to watch a movie with him (Fifth Element--aaaawwweeesooooome), but, before that, his paternal grandmother had gifts for him and Julie. For Julie, it was a tiny clock shaped like a painted Russian egg.  For Chris, a tiny clock set into a silver set of die. On the inside, there was a tiny picture of his grandmother and grandfather as a young couple. "Oh, wow, Grandma, thank you so much," he said, turning it over in his hand while I watched, standing beside him. "Wow! That's you and Grandpa, huh?"
"Yes, and maybe one day, you can put a picture of you and a young lady there instead," and she smiled, and, I swear, she looked at me.
I remember blushing then disappearing because I felt like I had intruded on something very special.
Maybe she knew. Maybe I imagined it. I don't know.  Within ten minutes, I had pushed it out of my mind, focused on the movie.

"Do you remember that I sat on the floor while you and Julie sat on the bed?"
"Yeah, I do. I thought that was so weird."
"I had always been told that boys and beds were a bad mix. Never ever get anywhere near a boy on a bed."
"Good grief, Sarah."

But we kept talking.

Two days later, I begged my mom to go shopping with Julie, her mom, and her grandmother took her shopping for her graduation and her birthday. Oh, and Chris was going, for some reason. When I found out it was his birthday, I dug through my stationary set, found a birthday card featuring a black and white photo of an orangutang, scribbled a note, and gave it to him with my stomach in knots. I felt like such an idiot, but Chris smiled like I had really done something wonderful. I had also brought a book to lend him, and he gave me one of his--Lewis's The Discarded Image--to read. It seemed like a small action, but, as book people, this was HUGE.
That afternoon, while Julie tried on dress after dress in Anthropology, unsatisfied, Chris and I were making fun of displays, giggling, before we disappeared into a book shop.  That was the first time I discovered that Chris hated any kind of movie spoilers.  I found a newly updated Star Wars encyclopedia, and Chris refused to look at it.
Maybe if he had, he would have avoided viewing the insult that is Lucas's Episode II.
"I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth."
And hundreds of nerds withered away and died in howling agony.

When they dropped me off, I said my goodbyes. I forced myself to say Chris's name, and, to my shock, he looked me in the eyes, and said goodbye right back, smiled even. He had only done that once before, when he was home for Christmas and had tagged along when his mom dropped Julie and I off at a movie. Looked right at me, smiled--really smiled.  Little did I know that Lisa had teasingly asked him if he were interested. He objected with the fierceness only the justly accused possessed, but Lisa let it go.

All these little details, they don't matter to most people. But my brain remembers details. It remembers these tiny things that made my heart skip and my palms sweat and my mind go into a fumbling blank.  I remember, because, back then, they were shreds of hope.
Hope that he saw me like I saw him.
Hope that, one day, just maybe . . .

But I was young and naive and little bit stupid. I knew I was goofy, with limbs too long, no sense of style, and a social awkwardness no one could make out and I couldn't destroy, no matter how hard I tried.

But Chris thought I was sweet.
He thought I was different, interesting, with long red hair that, when wet, made me look like a mermaid. He didn't think about dating me, really--that was preposterous, but he said I didn't leave him alone. He'd see a pretty girl, and, suddenly, my face was there.

I'd see a handsome young man, and I'd think of Chris. How did he compare to my dark-haired musician, my king of the nerds who loved his mother and sisters? Who let me borrow his sunglasses and lent me a book by our favorite author. Why was he still there, in my mind, when I knew this could never happen? Why?

So he flew back to Idaho and, after two months and a ten-day trip to Tokyo with a home-stay recruitment program, I drove off to Mississippi.
That's where it should have ended.

But it didn't.


  1. Love this. All those little details, I know how silly they seem to people on the outside who don't understand the feelings you felt and the separate moments you could play second-by-second in your mind. But I get it.

    I love your story so far. You two have such a sweet love.

  2. I love all those little precious fleeting moments when nothing is certain. Of course, I like certainty too. They both have their place! C.S. Lewis is a good fellow to bond over. :)
    (And I couldn't stand wearing those square hats and robes. I tried to convince the people I was sitting with at graduation to join me in a group rebellion and not wear them, but they said we had to, just in case the college people wouldn't let us graduate if we disobeyed.)

  3. Isn't it funny the details we remember? I really enjoy reading this little series about you and your hubby in the beginning! :)

  4. It really is weird the things that stick out to us as individuals. What I find funny is when Chris remembers the exact same details. It's just weird ;]
    And thank you! I'm having fun writing it!

  5. Oh my goodness! I love that you tried to rebel and the others thought it was a college requirement to graduate in those robes! HA! To be honest, I never thought of rebelling (I was too glad to actually be finished with high school), but I HATED wearing that dreadful hat and that hot, tacky robe. Why is it that we're forced to follow this tradition? What does it even mean??? If it means something, I could overlook it, but if it's just "Um, this weird, unflattering outfit is just something you do" Meh. Forget it.

  6. Thank you so much! I love walks down memory lane ;]

  7. I LOVE little details in anyone's story :] And thank you! I do believe I'll keep him ;]

  8. Wow, even before I got to your comment about remembering the details I was thinking how jealous I am of your ability to remember all those subtle nuances! I so wish I could remember all those little moments of me and Hubsy and live them over and over....*wistful sigh* Can't wait for the rest ;)


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