Friday, May 12, 2017

When a Photo Remembers a "Boy Like That"...

It started with a photo. You see I'm not someone who will just add someone as a friend on social media because we had biology together in 1998. I at least want to make sure there is a reason we're cyber-friends and that I actually remember more than what you wrote in my yearbook about my summer plans. Unlike most people who have been on Facebook since 2004 my list of friends is pretty selective. So when I received a notification that I was tagged in a photo yesterday I was intrigued because I hadn't seen that person in almost 15 years. I was tagged by a mutual friend and when I opened the image up I was taken right back to that day: November. 2001. Dress rehearsal. Fuller Hall. West Side Story. My screen was filled with names I hadn't thought about (or even remembered) in a decade and a half. There were names of people who I could never forget. And then there were those names that I said, "who?" when I saw them. It amused me that I had spent dozens of hours- even days- of my life with these people and there were countless faces that I could not remotely remember. But it amazed me to go back to November 2001 and just sit there for a moment (wearing something American Eagle and smelling of Cucumber Melon of course) and think.

In November 2001... 
- I was hoping the big envelope would come from Belmont University so I could move to Nashville
- I had just begun to date my very first boyfriend and was beyond twitterpaited about this reality
- I had pictures of George W. Bush on my wall and in my locker
- My brother and I got along about as well as a cat and a dog
- I wanted to be a district attorney
- My best friend had brown hair, an infectious laugh and lived 2 minutes away
- I drove a 1991 Ford Taurus with a cassette player payed for by a summer job washing dishes
- I had no idea how to process or make sense of what happened two months prior

In November 2001... 
- I had never lived on my own in a city called Nashville sometimes choosing electricity over food
- I had never had my heart broken by any boy or heard the harsh words, "It's over."
- I had no idea the pictures on my wall would be framed photos of me and George W. Bush
- I didn't look up to my brother as a source of guidance or an invaluable friend
- I didn't know I would never go to Law School or even apply to one
- I didn't know my best friend would still have brown hair, that laugh but live 2 time zones away
- I never imagined a monthly car payment on a SUV or how much gas it uses
- I had no idea that I would truly never process nor make sense of what happened 2 months prior

I spent all day and into the night thinking about the impact that this photo had on my mind and heart. Obviously in my own photo albums I will stumble across images I remember because I have seen them so many times before going through boxes and flipping through scrapbooks. But I had never seen this photo. I hadn't seen those "tagged" names in what seemed like a lifetime. I found myself remembering events that I had long since filed away in my memory Rolodex but I fondly remembered the comfort of American Eagle clothing and the sweet smell of Cucumber Melon.

Maybe it's the historian in me that takes my hand and walks me down these winding roads of my past bringing alive the memories of every single detail. Every question left unanswered. Every wish that was never granted. Every dream that never came true... As well as the ones that did.

But one memory stuck out above all the rest. 

He had orange-red hair. He laughed from what seemed like his very core. He had green eyes and a huge smile. He loved to write poetry and read old novels. He was thin, he was funny, he was sweet (and if John Hughes was casting him in a movie-Farmer Ted would have definitely made the cut over Jake Ryan). But in November 2001 with Train's "Drops of Jupiter" playing in my 1991 Ford Taurus he asked me to be his girlfriend on the way home from West Side Story rehearsal. And I said, "Yes."

It was November in Vermont which meant snow was inevitable. I remember saying to him "I think the perfect first kiss would be one in the falling snow when the you have a couple of flakes on your eyelashes." And he said, "I think we could make that happen." And as God as my witness it began to snow when he said those words. And we had our first kiss. (This scene can't be made up. It is so incredibly clich├ęd and Victorian that my now sarcastic and jaded mind could not concoct this type of scenario). And so began what one could only declare the best possible high school sweetheart I could have asked for my senior year. I fell in love but made sure he knew my love came with an eviction notice: August 2002. He was a junior and I was leaving that little town as soon as I could.

When August came I moved to Nashville... and (like a Hallmark movie you want to turn off but you're too lazy to find the remote to do so)... we stayed together. No cell phones. No social media. Just 1200 miles connected by handwritten letters... cards... poems... short stories... phone card dates... and then his decision to follow me to Nashville upon graduation. We were that couple. That one you just wanted to hate because he could make it snow on cue somehow for the perfect first kiss and I had a car that could play handmade mixed CDs filled with country love songs and Train.

But not everything stays on a Hallmark movie. Sometimes you find the remote and you change the channel to something less romantic and more real. Some times all good things end and that's exactly what happened to this sweetheart relationship: 3 years in and he decided we were done. And for the first time since November 2001 I didn't know who I was but I knew I would never trust or love innocently again. We went our separate ways. We didn't stay in touch. We didn't follow each other on social media. We just lived completely separate lives in the city I had wanted to live in my whole life and the one he moved to because he once loved someone there. For once I saw real life. For once I felt what heart break truly felt like. You don't forget that kind of pain and it changes you in every possible way. It will make you stronger (you hope). It will make you more jaded. It will make you less trusting and more hesitant to fall in love again. It will leave a mark on you that somehow, a decade down the road, a photo will bring you right back to. That night. That time. That person.

I went about my life changing careers a few times, finding new hobbies, discovering new passions, meeting new people, writing new chapters and closing a few along the way. I made new friends. I learned valuable life skills (how to survive a Flood). I fell in love. I fell on my face. I moved around the city. I set roots and I held tightly to my wings. But I kept his letters and cards in a box with our pictures. I wondered if he had stayed in Nashville. What he was doing... if he was happy... if he was married... did he remember me? Our breakup was anything but pleasant. I knew he feared my Dad. Had he entered Witness Protection just to be safe?

It was about 6 years ago that I ran into him one night in Nashville. Somehow God woke up that morning and said, "I'm in a really good mood. I'm going to give Kristen the best hair day ever and some random doctor is going to ask her out on a date in the afternoon for dinner." (Have I thanked you lately God?) So with the best hair day of my life and an incredibly good looking doctor (who may or may not have been visually impaired-I still question what happened if not just divine intervention) I went to a bar. When I got there I felt the presence of someone from my past. And when I heard that laugh I turned around and immediately knew who it was. When I said, "Hey, I think I know you" and he looked straight over: November of 2001 was right there in front of me. Over the music we answered generic questions like, "How's your family?" and "What are you doing these days?" (I'm a historian/I'm an English teacher!) He complimented my hair (it was inevitable). And like a perfect scene out of a movie (I swear I can't make these things up) when he asked if I was there alone, over walked the incredibly good looking doctor who gave me the glass of whiskey he had just stood in line for half an hour to get and I said, "No I'm not." He smiled and nodded. I smiled and introduced him to the "One-Date-Only-Perfect-Timing-Miracle-I-Owe-You-One-God-Doctor" and said, "We better be going." We promised each other we would catch up- maybe over coffee or a drink- but we never exchanged numbers. And we both knew it was just a way to be polite. Unless our paths haphazardly crossed again in the next 6 years.... that was our moment. That was our way of the universe checking in to make sure I knew I survived a breakup I never thought I would and although scarred, I was ok after it all. I never saw that doctor again and I never was able to get my hair to have that bounce or perfect shine ever again either. But I had a moment of closure I never thought I would experience. And for that I am grateful because I don't have to question "if" or "does" anymore. I know.

Every now and then those memories will come back. Whether it's the song remembering when as "Drops of Jupiter" plays on the "classic pop" station or it's a photo that brings you back to a moment you had forgotten. I had no way of knowing that the perfect high school sweetheart relationship would end the way that it did. I had no way of knowing that 15 years after my first kiss I would still be single having what could be one of the longest runs of bad luck with guys that really only country songs are written about. I had no way of knowing all the things that I knew then were eventually going to change. Life always has other plans and there are always more questions than answers. So yesterday I spent some time back in the Fall of 2001. Back when I was dating a Jet and Feeling Pretty. I was younger. I was starry-eyed. And I was certain Something Was Coming.


I had no way of knowing that when I took the stage for that final curtain call in November of 2001, I was taking a bow to the innocence of youthful fairy tales and setting the stage for reality. And part of me is glad I didn't know how the show would eventually end because maybe I wouldn't have auditioned in the first place. 

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