Saturday, December 5, 2009
I hurriedly ransacked my closet, searching for just the right combination of blouses, sweaters, and tees for my trip to the windy city, and came across that old Banana Republic sweater set. It was 100% cashmere, and "worth more than any article of clothing I had ever owned (including formal wear from high school dances past)," or so I was told. It is the only article of clothing given to me by a guy that wasn't my boyfriend, but that doesn't make its giving any less significant.
He was my backdoor neighbor. You know, the guy you grow up admiring during your overlapping pre-adolescent social affairs (most of ours included long summer days at the home of the Earles - they had three kids within a 4 year window, twin boys and a girl). He wasn't anyone of significance to me at the time, just the obnoxious friend of my friend's older brothers. They tormented and teased us, and very often ignored our existence.
Fast forward a few years to the beloved days of high school: awkwardness at its best. Marching band was where our paths crossed most often, not counting the countless hours of mutual activities through church. He bounced from girl to girl, not really having a "type" or "class" he preferred. I still remained one of his (and his friends) favorite people to tease.
Jump again to my high school graduation. Shortly after graduation, I hit the dusty trail to Ephraim to begin life as a Snow College Badger. I returned home one weekend during first semester for his missionary farewell. I distinctly remember him delineating his reasons for going, saving the "there's this girl" reason for last. The girl he had been dating was going to be waiting for him. While I felt a twinge of sadness at the thought, I was happy for him. While I didn't love her, he was happy, and in love with her. Later, on another weekend home, my mom had been invited to a bridal shower for his sister. She brought me along, and I managed to procure his address in the mission field. I added him to my collection of about 6 missionary penpals and continued to write him until he arrived home a year and a half later.
I was off school for the summer and was attending my parents' ward again. I attended his homecoming talk and felt those ever-familiar emotions. I had heard through his parents that his girlfriend had gotten married just a few months earlier and they thought he would love to hang out with me. After breaking off my engagement, I was wary of starting something romantic too fast His dad pushed me on more than one occasion (during a mutual ditching of Sunday School hour) to go catch a movie or dinner together. I was reluctant because I was sure he would remember me as the young, obnoxious pre-teen from years before. Though I had been resistant, we hung out a time or two and it seemed we became fast friends.
We started hanging out...a lot. He quickly became my favorite movie buddy (I saw pretty much every movie released that summer with him). When I needed to get my ex's mailing address to threaten legal proceedings, he drove me out to West Jordan in his car so we wouldn't be recognized. When it came time to go back to school in August, he wanted to "take me out" for a nice dinner before I made the mighty trek to Logan to start at Utah State. I should have caught the innuendos that were blanketing me during dinner, but in spite of it all, he didn't try to kiss me at the end of the evening.
Fall break was looming, and he inquired (from Utah County) if I had plans for the recess. He had a trip to California planned with a couple of friends and asked me to tag along - no strings attached. Friends of mine had mentioned to me that he was interested in me, but unable to let a free trip to California pass me by, I feigned ignorance and went along. During the course of the trip, he became frustrated (understatement) with my lack of reciprocation and pawned me off on his friend for the day (we went sailing). When we all hooked back up, he and I went for a walk around the neighborhood where we were staying. Ignorant no more, I heard him spill some of the most flattering compliments anyone has ever told me. He was in love with me, and while I was complimented, I knew I wasn't ready to duplicate his feelings. I walked in silence, listening awkwardly to him gushing. I still remember, "So, I blew it with Stacey #1. Tell me what to do differently when Stacey #2 comes along." I shed many tears that night, wishing that I could allow our friendship to elevate to the next level.
The next day we hopped in the car and began the trek back to Utah. It was the most uncomfortable 10 hours of my life. I pretended to be asleep most of the drive just so I wouldn't have to endure the anger and sadness he exhibited in his eyes. I felt so incredibly guilty. We had to stop in Las Vegas (for a reason I can no longer remember), and as we wandered around the shops at Caesar's Palace, I wondered why we were prolonging the end of a laborious trip. As we walked back to the car, he was toting a Banana Republic bag and I wondered why he went there. I didn't inquire, not wanting to push his buttons even more and we drove the rest of the way home.
When he dropped me off at his house, I was planning on making a beeline for the front door and not looking back. He quietly asked me if I wanted what he had bought me. He pulled the gift box out of the Banana Republic bag and handed it to me, telling me I didn't need to open it yet, but that I could wear it on a date with a new guy. I got inside and pulled out the most beautiful black cashmere sweater set. I had never owned something so soft and classy (being a student, I mostly lived in D.I. tee shirts, jeans and flip flops). Again, a wave of guilt washed over me as I realized that he felt like he needed to buy me something to compensate for his behavior on the trip.
As I arrived home from class the next Monday, there was a tag hanging from my front doorknob. Logan florist gad tried to deliver while I was out, but had left the most beautiful bouquet of white roses at my upstairs neighbor's apartment. I retrieved the card, which read, "Have a good one! From your ex-neighbor" (an inside joke, as though nothing had even happened).
After the flowers died, the memory of that trip lived on vividly for months. I didn't talk to him again for quite some time, but our relationship continued to develop. He set me up with another guy who became fiance number two, and even consoled me when said relationship didn't pan out.
When I got his wedding invitation in the mail a couple years later, I wasn't hugely surprised by the fact he was getting married, but I was surprised by the fact that again I felt that familiar pang of sadness. His chapter in my life was closed, and I wasn't sure I was ready to let it go.