it was my seventh-grade year, and it was cold outside. a few weeks prior, my mom had offhandedly--all too casually offhandedly--mentioned that one of the other teachers at her school had a son and that she thought we should talk. at the time i had rolled my eyes, but even in seventh grade, i took relationships seriously. i took everything seriously even though i rarely showed it.
so anyway. that cold day, we were getting various yearbook pictures for groups taken, and the academic team was called to have a picture taken. that was the first time i'd really met him. he and his (goofy) friend were behind me in the picture, and for some reason that picture took an ungodly amount of time to take. or maybe i was just experiencing time dilation. whatever. i attempted to flirt with him, but i couldn't really tell if he was interested.
eventually (toward the end of that year), i snared him. we "went out" for a few months. it was the first relationship that had any sort of physicality beyond hand holding for me (with the exception of a bad tonsil hockey experience that i don't care to remember). it was the first time there was anything beyond just like. it was a confusing, exciting, delicious, tingly feeling, this feeling that i'd never felt before. i decided i really liked caleb, and i really liked necking. (it was really making out, but i like the word 'necking' so much better. it sounds classier. as if seventh-graders needed to be classy).
my junior year in high school, the band went on a cruise to the bahamas. randomly one day before we left, he asked me if i'd be his date for "formal night" on the cruise. of COURSE i said yes. i don't really remember much about formal night, but i do remember being really excited before it, and the dreamlike feeling that surrounded it. the next day we spent the entire day on cocoa key together (him refusing to put on sunscreen and then getting burnt PURPLE) and were inseparable for about a week. then he left for college.
my senior year in high school, i received a letter. it was one of the nicest, most wonderful letters i'd ever gotten. i forgave, and again we were together. that was the first time i'd ever woken up next to anyone, and the feeling was indescribably wonderful. time went on and things were wonderful, then okay for a while, then started to slide downhill. thirteen months later, we fell apart...it was a difficult time for both of us~i was in athens in college and lonely, and he was in carrollton, unsure of what he wanted from life.
january of my sophomore year in college, we took the plunge yet again. (are you sensing a pattern here yet?) that time was the best so far, and he moved to athens in the fall. i spent that first year and a half in a state of bliss--but i failed to see that he was becoming withdrawn, quiet, depressed. he moved back to carrollton, and i was devastated. i struggled to forgive him and not panic, he struggled with not wanting a family but still loving me...three and a half years after that january, he said he didn't want a family. which automatically precluded having me. we couldn't let go, though, and were on and off for about another year. finally, i broke. i couldn't do it anymore. couldn't see him, couldn't be with him, couldn't speak to him. i needed the separation in order to not lose myself. i needed it to be able to let go and move on and figure out what the hell i wanted from my life. i struggled with thinking it had all been for nothing, struggled with letting go. eventually, i was down to breaking down only a couple times a month instead of a couple times a day. finally, i could go through whole days without thinking about it or him. i threw myself into my life--my friends, my work, my fun, and my school. i tried to date again.
then i got a text message that, though i didn't know it at the time, would be life-changing. he wanted to talk. i decided i could probably get through the conversation. i steeled myself, thinking, "i won't take him back." (yeah, i was a little conceited, sure that was what he wanted).
that tuesday night, february 19th, he came over. i was nervous; i kept my distance. he was on one end of the couch, i was on the other. i could see him gathering his will, thinking of how he wanted to start. he began, and talked, and talked and talked. two hours of the talking. this from the man who didn't talk much, didn't share himself, who possessed an impenetrable wall he'd spent years building up. i was stunned. utterly shocked. you see, the things that he said were things that, even after being friends with him and dating off and on for nine years, i'd never known. i could see the wall crumbling down, stone by stone, and the effort it was taking for him to do it. my heart went out to him. i wanted to hug him, wanted to make it easier for him. but i didn't know where he was going with it and so, wary, i stayed on my end of the couch.
the things he said explained a lot, and the background information filled in a lot of gaps and i finally understood, mostly, why he was the way he was. but the change in outlook, the things he now believed were important, the things he wanted out of life...they were things that, had they been choreographed, couldn't have been better suited to make me reconsider my adamant self warning. could i go another round? did i even want to? most of all, could i really believe him if i wanted to? i wasn't sure. i cried on his chest for a while, hugging him tightly. finally, i looked up and asked, "so what now?"
he shrugged. i was all, "well, what did you picture happening?"
he shrugged again, and made motions with his fingers that suggested he thought i'd be like, "okay, that's nice, see you around sometime." like i'd make him leave.
i thought about it. thought hard. wondered if i had it in me to give it a go. wondered if i should give him the benefit of the doubt yet again. considered whether it would be worth it even if we failed. thought that it might be worth it just to know what being a team, with his full participation, would be like. considered the fact that never, ever, had he shared that much of himself with anyone. ANYONE. i think that was what finally convinced me.
i took the plunge, told him we could try. again. and strangely, this time, it felt like i wasn't falling off the cliff alone. finally.
i still can't believe it sometimes, and it's been five months (has it really been five months? this pure bliss, it feels like it's been days, maybe weeks, but months? nah...) i look at him next to me in the car, and i pinch myself. i smile at him across the table, and his answering smile makes my heart thud. i ask a question, and his answer is in-depth, with a tone of voice that suggests no resentment for the question being asked. he doesn't guard his privacy like i'm trying to invade it...i think that was and is the biggest shock. in a good way. things that we do are OUR decisions now--we work as a team instead of at cross-purposes, we plan together. in short, i've got his back. and he has mine. and that is the greatest feeling in the world.
andrew caleb stephens, i love you.