Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Story of Us (part 1)

A few months ago, I realized that I was writing down all these things about parenthood and my kids, but not really documenting some of the bigger picture things about my story with Steve. 

I have the journals of when we were dating.  Four years of absolutely hilarious commentary on our path.  We can laugh until we can't breathe over what I wrote...how silly we were, trying to figure it all out.  But I wanted more of Our Story.  

This is an horrendously incomplete installment #1 of our story, but one that seems appropriate on our anniversary.  Because when I conjure up how I felt during this time of our early period, I realize how truly and deeply grateful I am that we made it through all that.  The complicated variables of being together...but having our relationship survive all that made all This even better.

So here's what I wrote:

When Steve and I met, we were young. His 18 to my 19. I used to think I would wish that part of us away. Our youth. It made us stupid and bumbling in so many ways. Or that I'd had a starter relationship through my early 20s, and then met Steve when I was older and polished and had my shit together.

But then it wouldn’t be our story. And somewhere along the way, I fell in love with the story that was, not the one that sounded crisper and cleaner and less complicated.

Like the night we tried to talk about Prague. We met at the beginning of my sophomore year of college, and his freshman year. I was moving to Prague the next year, and we both knew it. We started dating for superficial reasons. We liked how the other one looked...and for how much we laughed when we were together. And because when he spoke, he said ideas and thoughts that I'd never heard someone say before. I was intrigued, but not in love.

While being handsome and funny and smart are nice, they are replaceable. This could be a fling, because I would go to Europe and meet funny and handsome and smart European men. I'd seen enough movies to assume the continent was crawling with them.

We never talked about Prague in any meaningful way. More accurately, only once. I told him I was going next school year. He nodded. And then we didn't speak of it again the rest of that school year. Until one night, in his room, right before school ended that year. He said, "So are we going to talk about Prague?"

And if I clear my mind long enough, even 14 years later, I can still feel that sucker-punch of emotion. That we were actually talking about it....someone broke the seal of that topic. I waited for him to say more, he waited for me. And then we sat up most of the night....in the dark...saying nothing. Me on the side of the bed, sitting cold and panicked.

I wasn't ready for this to end. But I wasn't ready to make it last through Prague. Since I wasn't asking us to stay together but I wasn't ready to break up, I had nothing to say. The room was haunted with our youthful terror and inability to make this conversation work.

A complete disaster, really. So much of our early relationship was. So much affection and common ground, but zero knowledge of what we were doing. How to navigate a relationship. Especially one we’d mutually decided would NOT extend into Prague-period.

I walked home that next morning, my head buzzing with failure. Literally buzzing. It was perhaps insomnia causing the buzzing, but I attributed it to our dysfunction. And wondered why I was in a relationship so screwed up that my brain would audibly buzz.

We broke up. Not a real break-up with shouting and grocery bags of returned sweatshirts, just this unspoken understanding that neither of us was continuing this Thing that we'd created.

Our last interaction before Prague was standing on the front porch of my sorority house, the night before leaving home for the summer. He put his hand on my shoulder and said: "It's been really nice knowing you." And he walked away and went home.

When Steve talks of it now, he shakes his head in disgust at Young Steve. "I was so immature. I had no idea what I was doing. I had this idea like I'd have this weighty, eloquent thing about how much it meant to know you. And I just came out sounding like an ass."

I arrived to Prague the next fall, and moved into a tiny apartment dorm surrounded by other Americans enrolled in Charles University. I would size up the guys, wondering with whom I'd stay up until dawn, talking about whatever stream-of-consciousness comes to mind after midnight. I felt hopeful and optimistic about this next stage.

If Steve was that great, how much greater might the next guy be?

There was James, the guy from Georgetown, who looked like a photographic negative of Steve with longer hair. Blonde and blue eyed and Nordic...instead of Steve's Slavic dark. But I didn't really like talking to him the way I did with Steve. And then I would hear him made fun of people behind their backs.

There was the Aussie in the bar with the green shirt and ripped jeans. We sat at the café table, Aussie and his friend and me, until finally his friend went away to talk with the woman wearing the red beret. And we kept talking. And talking. Until I was pretty sure it was time to kiss him, so I excused myself to go to the bathroom and never came back. I walked past the tram stop and all the way home, five miles, disgusted with my inability to not care about Steve.

I was pretty certain I wasn't supposed to not be kissing Aussies in ripped jeans.

Remembering Steve felt like an empty coffee cup from Starbucks when I can't find a trash can in the park. It had been a delicious drink, yes, and I loved every moment of my white chocolate mocha. But I was ready to move on and clean things up a bit. Or just enjoy the liberation of a empty hand and no coffee cup.

Then: The collect call I made from a Czech pay phone, standing in the rain as taxis blared horns, in tears as I told my mom that he'd emailed. And that he missed me. And I didn't want him missing me, and I didn't want me missing him. This too was a disaster.

And my mom said: "Maybe it's not a disaster. Maybe this will be what you need to be together."

There were three years between that moment and when we married. So that pretty much gives away the ending of the story. But I don’t want to forget this part of the story. If I forget it, maybe I won't appreciate everything that came after it.








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