While Kristoffer was my first big crush, Sean was my first big heartbreak. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
After my first summer home from college, returning to school in the fall felt more like coming home than home did. I was having a rough time rediscovering what “family” was now that it was severed my parents’ divorce. In college, I got to choose my family; in stark contrast to the blood family that had failed me, or at least it felt like they had. Being away from that part of my life afforded me the chance to really figure out who I was. Fall semester sophomore year, my family would consist of Dorothy, Hannah, Caroline, Sean, and Evan. Hannah was one of my best friends from freshman year from living in the same dorm. I met Evan through Hannah. I met Sean and Caroline through Dorothy.
I met Dorothy during freshman year, second semester, 8AM Philosophy class. I was the sort of student where I would show up to class before anyone else because I liked to have my choice of seats, an essential factor when one is left-handed and there is a possibility of only one or two left-handed desks in any given classroom. This need was even greater for my philosophy class because there were no desks; we sat all around one big table together. Taking handwritten notes was a horrible experience when constantly bumping elbows with one’s neighbor. Even though I am not a morning person, I arrived early to this class anyway. Dorothy was always in the room long before I was. It could have only meant she was one of those odd morning people that I was so unfamiliar with. Occasionally, there would be things such as flying toasters or a milkshake with legs drawn on the whiteboard with zero explanation. Clearly, Dorothy was the source of such drawings and watching our professor’s reaction every morning they appeared proved to be the best part of that class.
Dorothy was weird and as such, we became fast friends. This eventually led to a (thus far) decade-long love affair over two continents.
At the beginning of sophomore year, Dorothy and I had more classes together and ended up spending a lot more time together, which led me to meeting her group of friends. Luke, Sean, Caroline, and Dorothy all went to the same high school together, though Luke wasn’t a part of our little “family” (and I was still getting over him at the time). Sean and I had met briefly and spent a little bit of time together in September, but it wasn’t until we three had volunteered for one of those neighborhood clean-up days that I noticed him. I probably wouldn’t have signed up if it weren’t for the encouragement of my RA, Keri, and the fact that Dorothy was going too. We had been assigned and carted off to an office building where we helped paint the interior. Sean and I spent that Saturday morning side by side with paint rollers and talked about all sorts of things. Cue movie montage music. Our volunteer group finished earlier than expected and on the car ride back to campus, Keri and I made plans to go to the beach for the afternoon and she invited Sean to join us. I was surprised when he said “yes” as he had told me earlier that he had a lot of work to do that weekend. And so we spent the whole afternoon together lounging on the sand.
It’s hard to describe in full detail, but I got this vibe from him that he was interested, which is significant considering my deep-rooted insecurities and my habit of constantly second-guessing whether or not anybody even enjoys spending time with me. Or maybe I just get nervous whenever someone of the opposite sex expresses any kind of interest, friendly or romantic. I think what clued me in was the accepted invitation to the beach. The weirdest part for me was that I was in the middle of still being in love with Luke that I was a little shocked by the thought of there being another guy. Though I suppose my attraction to Sean started in part because of Luke. They were roommates. All those times when I would visit Luke’s dorm room and he wasn’t around, but Sean was, I would end up chatting with him instead.
As I spent more time with Dorothy, which usually meant Sean too, I started to like him more and more. He had short brown hair, lovely golden-brown eyes, and lots of freckles. He was a couple inches taller than me and very skinny, though I’m certain he ate at least three times as much food as I did. He was an art major (emphasis in photography) and had that quintessential lackadaisy cool artist thing going on. Based on that phrase alone, it’s clearly is something I don’t have. I learned a lot through his photos just by observing. Color, composition, his ability to capture the fire of person’s heart and soul in a photo. His artistry sparked my imagination with my own camera.
I think I first admitted to myself that I liked Sean when I was having lunch with him and a few other people. We were sitting across from each other in the cafeteria when he commented on my eyes.
“They’re turquoise – just like your shirt. They were blue yesterday.”
“They do that,” I replied. “They range from blue to green depending on what colors I’m wearing. Just like how water reflects the sky.”
“That’s really cool.”
“Your eyes have green and gold flecks with the brown.”
That little exchange gave me butterflies. It made me feel special and I couldn’t deny that I felt something for him. I would forget entirely about Luke within the next couple of weeks.
All during this time we were forming new friendships and introductions that became the social backbone of my sophomore year. Much of it begins with Hannah. Hannah was supposed to room with Olivia that year (who was my roommate freshmen year), but Olivia dropped out a week before school started. There wasn’t anyone on a waiting list for a room at that point, which meant Hannah got a room to herself. Being the sociable and loveable creature that she is, it meant her room was party central. Insomuch as a private Christian college can have party centrals on campus. Hannah’s suitemates were a little more introverted and would only occasionally pop in to say hi or give hilarious and/or sarcastic commentary on the ruckus we caused, but ninety-percent of the time it was the six of us. It was the magical real-life version of a sitcom, like Friends or How I Met Your Mother, but BETTER. We hung out every single weekend, we ate dinner together, we went on adventures off-campus, we kept a quote book of innuendos and inappropriate comments (which I think I still have), and we watched so, so many movies. The wonderful part about this group – besides the chosen family bit – is that I always felt like an equal amongst them, which I had never quite had with my previous friend-groups, in high school or otherwise. I had always felt like a follower amongst a bunch of eccentrics. We were all just having a glorious amount of fun.
Dorothy got us on a Tim Curry kick. Because Dorothy can’t help but overzealously share her loves and obsessions, we all loved him too. We watched B-movies featuring Tim Curry nearly every weekend. It all culminated in the disastrous brilliance of Congo, an adaptation of the novel of the same name, written by Michael Crichton who also wrote the novel Jurassic Park. Except the budget for Congo wasn’t enough to make the CGI or the assassin gorilla costumes even remotely look good. We tore that movie to shreds like the sarcastic and budding intellectuals we were and even created a Facebook group to enshrine our experience of it. We called the group “Amy Wants to Kill You,” an homage to Amy the Talking Gorilla. The following scene is, of course, the best scene in the movie because Tim Curry is the best thing about this movie:
Oh Laura Linney. You’re a better actress than this.
Since Hannah had a room to herself, the open bed became known as the Upper Bunk. The Upper Bunk was always available to sleep with Hannah, which naturally evolved into it being the sex euphemism for basically everything we ever talked about.
One night, Sean and I ended up sitting in the Upper Bunk together while we were hanging out. I don’t remember the exact circumstances that caused everyone to leave the room, but they did – and then Caroline closed the door on us. I was alone with him, in a bed, behind a closed door, and my heart was pounding.
You see, at normal colleges, this would have been nothing, but there were rules about when men and women were allowed in dorm rooms and if they were, the door had to be open at a forty-five degree angle so someone could always see in. This rule also assumes that all of the students are heterosexual.
Sean and I flirting in bed in a closed dorm room. It was too much for this good church girl to endure. Nerves and anxiety over a willingness to breaking the rules took over. I climbed out of the Upper Bunk and opened the door. I said aloud I was going to find out where the others had gone, too afraid to admit the real reason.
Then everything changed the last week of October.
There was something about the night sky on October 26th that inspired me. As I walked back to my dorm room from the theatre where I had taken a job sewing for the costume shop, I noticed how very beautiful and bright the stars were and had a great desire to go stargazing. I stopped at Hannah’s room to see if she wanted to join me, but she had too much homework to do. I went upstairs to my room and sent Dorothy an AIM (remember that AOL nonsense?) seeing if she wanted to. Same answer. But she suggested I ask Sean. Sean? Hm, should I? What the heck, why not.
I sent him an AIM. He was interested. I sat there staring at my computer, heart in my throat. He actually said yes. I quickly gathered up a couple blankets, pulled on my favorite Disneyland sweatshirt, and grabbed the black beanie hat I crocheted for myself the year before when it was popular to have knitting movie nights in the dorms. I walked the familiar path between my room and his to “pick him up” on the way to the field.
The best spot to star gaze was this open field on the southern-most point of campus. It was primarily used for unofficial campus soccer games and for the slip ‘n’ slide that happened every year during freshmen orientation. The field was also sheltered from the lights of campus by a number of trees that lined the walking path to get there. We found a spot on the grass, laid down our blankets, and stared up at the stars.
We talked about oh-so-many things, most of which I can’t remember. I do remember thinking it significant to discover we both were big Star Wars fans. Not the most unique thing to have in common with another person, but I was not a nerd yet and while my family was familiar with the trilogy, they didn’t exactly think about it a lot. Or quote it line for line the way that Sean and I did that night.
I remember the moment that Orion rose over the eastern horizon. He looked like a giant waking from sleep. I remember following his path that night – slowing turning through the sky. I felt amazed by God’s hand in creation. I enjoyed Sean’s excellent company. I felt happy and peaceful.
Eventually Orion was standing just past the mid-heaven point. It was after midnight when I checked my phone, much longer than I had intended to stay out. I had an 8AM psychology class in the morning. I needed my sleep to survive that. But Sean convinced me to stay longer and I couldn’t resist. Eventually, my sense of duty won out and it was about 1:30AM by the time I made it back and warmed up my toes in my own bed. If I had kept listening to his pleas to stay longer, we probably would have stayed up all night and seen the sunrise. I was nineteen, I was old enough to make that choice for myself if wanted to, but my deep sense of propriety and my duty to my studies prevented me from letting loose a little.
It’s not like it would have mattered anyway. It’s not like I could concentrate in class that morning. I was too sleepy to properly pay attention and all I did was replay our conversations in my head. I was all aflutter. I told him a lot of things I don’t normally talk about with other people. Not only did I confess my soul, I confessed it to a boy. Was this something I actually needed to process? Why was I so afraid of being vulnerable with another person? Why did I feel like there would be terrible consequences by doing so?
By the time this incident occurred, I had already confided to Hannah about my crush, so of course I had to tell her everything the next day. I didn’t yet know Dorothy well enough to tell her – plus the fact that she was friends with him before she was with me made me hesitate.
A couple days later, our group was making plans for the weekend. Hannah, Evan, and Caroline weren’t going to be around on Friday, so Dorothy, Sean, and I joined up with their friend Drew for the best Italian restaurant in the city: Castellio’s. They served delicious family-style portions of pasta, unlimited garlic rolls, self-serve house wine that were not yet old enough to partake in. White butcher paper covered the tables and we entertained ourselves with many drawings with the crayons provided for the children.
This little foursome was quite the foreshadowing. The three of us represented past, present, and future of people who have been in love with Sean. And Sean didn’t want any of us. In fact, as time went on I opened up to our mutual friends that I had liked Sean and I discovered that pretty much every else had also fallen for him at one time or another. How that good-intentioned, sweet, skinny, artsy boy captured so many hearts is beyond me. Entirely Entirely defying conventions. Perhaps it was his disinterest that attracted us.
But back to dinner. Sean and I flirted all through dinner as discreetly as possible. We drew on each other’s pictures and might have occasionally touched legs under the table. I don’t remember how the topic came up, but we discussed our mutual love of the movie Mary Poppins.
We got back to campus and all parted ways. Except Sean and I made secret plans during dinner (secret or “secret” – I’ll never know) to meet at my dorm to watch the movie together. We got close to cuddling on my bed, but not quite. We got close to something happening, but not quite. The tension was there and it was strong.
When the movie was over, he suggested we take a walk and talk. Okay, here it was. The moment. My moment. My moment was here, wasn’t it? My happily ever after was imminent, right?
We walked for a while without speaking. I was being the dutiful good church girl and letting the man make the first move. We found a bench to sit on and then it happened. Sean liked me. He said it. OMG he said it! And I like him! Oh wonderful of wonderfuls! My breath got short and I didn’t know what to do. Wait, what is he saying? He just broke up with his long-time girlfriend this summer and doesn’t want to be in another relationship right now. Okay…okay. I can understand that, that makes sense. But he likes me.
You stupid, stupid girl. He’s just not that into you.
And like the good church girl I was who had heard numerous sermons about how when you reach a tough point in a relationship, you pray about it. I didn’t know what else to do, so I said I though we should pray. So we did.
Why did I think any of that was necessary??
We talked for a while longer, but I was getting cold. We shared a long hug and then parted ways. I was elated beyond elated. He liked me! Granted we weren’t going to date now, but that didn’t mean that we couldn’t flirt right? I wanted to simply wrap my arms around him and never let go. I wondered why he liked me at all. I wanted to spend all my free time with him. I wanted to know him better. I wanted our friendship to grow and be amazing because if it did, he’d want to date me then, right? Right?
In hindsight, I think the talk that Sean and I had – he intended for it to calm the fire, and it only stoked it for me. No one had ever told me they liked me before and the experience was milking my rom-com addled brain for all it was worth. It wasn’t just me liking/loving someone from a distance, I wasn’t isolated in my own heart anymore. I discovered it was truly possible to verbalize feelings towards another person and you didn’t die from embarrassment. #progress.
I was listening to a lot of Norah Jones at the time. I have a few journal entries from around this time where I just wrote the lyrics of a verse or two. “The Painter Song,” “Come Away With Me,” “I’ve Got to See You Again.” I threw myself head first into swimming pool of fervent love without checking first to see if it was empty.
Next post is Part 2, when it all unraveled.