I was just about to write, “It all started the year I turned 18.” Which, I think, would’ve been quite a nice first line.
But it started a long time before that. I think it began sometime around 1987, when a 5-year-old me found out there was a country where a Real Live Queen lived with her sons, who were Real Live Princes. Two of my most vivid memories from that time are: 1) sitting on my grandparents’ brown plaid couch, running my tiny hands over a picture of a very young Queen Elizabeth at her coronation, in an Encyclopedia Britannica, and 2) sitting on the wooden stairs in my other grandparents’ house, playing with Princess Diana paper dolls. (At this time, I was unaware there was any tension between the two ladies. But that’s another story.)
Fast-forward twelve years: New Year’s Eve, 1999.
I met Derek* on the eve of the New Millennium. It was a blind date set up by my best friend Staci and her jock boyfriend Josh. We ate greasy chips at Ham’s and then Derek slid his hand across the back of the loveseat and onto my shoulder at some girl named Kristy’s house while everyone watched – *gasp* – American Pie.
Three days later, via a very awkward IM conversation, he asked me to be his girlfriend.
He was the first boy I ever kissed, on the night of my eighteenth birthday party. Even now, I can see his giant lips approaching mine, like one of those clay-mation characters from Wallace and Gromit. He poked me in the face with his tongue, and I very politely threatened to bite it off should he decide to try again.
The next two years are a haze of tears and depression and the occasional trip to a museum. We started college at schools two hours apart. I locked myself in my dorm room during the week, and spent every weekend with him. Before Derek, I was the life of the party. I told a lot of jokes and took it upon myself to make sure everyone was having a good time. With him around, I was a shrinking violet.
My daddy didn’t like him, and told me so, and because I was 18 and a bit melodramatic, I developed a mean Romeo-and-Juliet complex that probably kept me with him for a good year longer than it would have lasted had it gone unopposed.
The truth is, I think I knew all along he wasn’t right for me. I broke up with him two or three times early on in our relationship, but he’d tell me I was thinking too hard about it and I should just relax and have fun. We didn’t have to put a label on it, he said, if it stressed me out.
Our relationship was volatile and unhealthy, and I spent most of the time apologizing to him for being too emotional, or beating myself up for making mistakes that a good Christian girl shouldn’t make.
He broke up with me right after Christmas in 2001 – just a couple of days before our two-year anniversary. He broke up with me. I was broken-hearted, but the fact that, after all my hmm-ing and hawing, he’d been the one to do it – well – it made me mad.
It took nearly a year and 30 tearful phone calls to make it stick. Even after all of it, I still hoped we could get back together – partly because the rejection hurt so bad, and partly because I felt, somehow, that if we could get married, it would earn me some redemption for kissing him too much.
In September, he called to say he’d like to come over and talk.
This is it, I thought. He misses me. He wants me back.
I told my roommate to leave, cooked him breakfast for dinner, and waited expectantly as he talked about his travels over the summer. Then he told me he was dating a friend of mine, and I suggested he never call me again.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “I thought this was supposed to be a love story?”
It is. Trust me. It’s just, the beginning is always the best place to start, right? Julie Andrews said so. And in order for you to get the full effect, I wanted you to have a little background.
So there it is.
Now we can get to the good stuff.
*some names have been changed to protect the innocent the stupid some people