And it Will Feel Like Truth — Day Eight

Well hello. Are you new here? I'm currently sharing pieces of my memoir every day. You can go here to read from day one.  

At the end of the year, I decide to transfer to Oklahoma Baptist. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t all because of the boy, but there was a small percentage of truth in the fact that I just hadn’t found my tribe yet. I wouldn’t find them for another year, my hold on the boy and his friends a viselike grip in a reality I was constructing. I was determined to fit into his world. I would be irreplaceable.

So while my reality was slowly crumbling around me, Russ and I stayed in contact through AOL Instant Messenger. While my boyfriend told me he wanted space, Russ told me he had found someone and was fairly certain there were wedding bells in the future. I covered my ass and told him, “oh yeah. Me too. Doesn’t it feel great?”

He agreed.

Six months later, we were both single, but we didn’t start talking until junior year of college.

It starts in November. The ex just yelled at me over the phone, calling me all sorts of names because I had the audacity to believe that sleeping with someone else was, you know, a deal breaker. I sit in front of my computer one night and see Russ log on. It’s been months since we’ve talked, so I decide to say hi.

We talk that night for hours. Back and forth, back and forth, we play 20 questions until we can’t stay awake anymore. We do this almost every night until the end of the semester, and then he mentions something about coming down to visit over the break.

“Sure,” I say, noncommittal. I hope he follows through with the plan. But then the old roommate and I go to the lake with some of our friends from high school instead, so he stays on campus. I’m chatting with him one night at home and he asks for my number.

“Would that break some time barrier?” He asks, and I chuckle at how adorable he is

— how unpretentious. I call him a nerd, but end up giving him my number. When I do, something happens inside my gut. A movement.

“Stop by on your way through town,” he says. “Call when you’re on your way so I know when to take a break.”

It’s a good plan. He knows I have to drive through town on my way back to school, and for a few days, I tell him I will. But then I get in the car and press on the gas and my stomach starts rolling around and I can’t stop. I can’t pull over. My breath catches and I drive even faster, the college town and where he lives a blur as I pass them. Normally, it takes about nine hours to get to school.

I’m so scared about what’s happening — so terrified about intimacy and relationships and the way my insides move when ever his name pops into my mind — that it only take me six hours before I’m pulling into my dorm.

 

.::.

 

I can’t run from him forever. Over the next month, our conversations become more frequent. Our friendship deepens. We were close when I was at school with him, but there were always people in the way — his girlfriend, my boyfriend, our mutual friends — we never had time where it was just us. But these conversations are our secret moments. Kind of. At the time I’m an RA for a freshman hallway and the girls give me a run for my money. They want me to tuck them in. They want me to turn their lights out at night. They want me to go with them to search for houses. They want me to read their papers. They want me to mother them.

And for the first time, I welcome the challenge.

Every night, like clockwork, Russ messages me and I can’t hide my apprehension and excitement. Every night, like clockwork, at least one of the girls props up on my bed or leans against my desk talking with me. They know what’s happening. They also know what I’d gone through just a few months prior. Between their surveillance of our conversation and the not-so-clandestine copy and paste I partake in with my Precious Happy Baby Girls living downstairs, I know there is an entire group of women who have my six.

One night, I talk with Heather Diane about it.

“I’m just…intrigued.” I say. “I don’t know if I can put it into words.”

She straightens and points at me.

“Then it’s decided. I’m coming home with you after J-term and we’re going to hang out with Russ. I want to meet this guy.”

I raise an eyebrow.

“You’re serious.”

“As serious as Juliette Lewis in The Other Sister.”

“What about Paul Walker in Joyride?”

She closes her eyes for a brief moment of bliss.

“Yeah. That too.”

The decision is final. We pack our bags and I tell my parents I’m coming down for the weekend. We have everything we need: Big Gulps, tons of chocolate and junk food, and Justin Timberlake. We belt Cry Me a River until we can’t anymore and then we put in Christina Aguilera’s Dirrty and pretend to flash truck drivers on their way past us. We have t-shirts under our hoodies, and most of them don’t even look our way, but it’s the wildness of it. The windows rolled down and the winter wind biting our cheeks while we giggle until we cry — it’s the perfect distraction while we drive down I-35, and I know Heather does it on purpose.

We’ve told Russ we’re coming, and we’re actually stopping this time, and he says that we can meet him at the hardware store where he’s working. We pull into town and my throat slowly closes. We turn right onto the street and my hands start to shake. By the time we park, I’m a mess of nerves. I stare at the front of the store for about three minutes before I even open the car door.

“I can do this, right?” I look at Heather and she walks in front of me.

“Well, you’re gonna have to because I’m walking in right now.” She smiles and turns away from me and I grimace. I kind of lovehate her in this moment. I feel frozen. I’m breathing heavy. I probably look like a hot mess.

I’ve been talking with him every single night for the past month, but I have no idea what to expect inside those doors. I put one foot in front of the other and as soon as I walk cross the threshold, I see him. We catch eyes. My heart stops.

And then I hide.

Quite literally. He’s with a customer, so I know I have some time. I pretend to be absolutely fascinated with PVC. I pick up wires as if that’s what I’ve been looking for — why I came into the store. I refuse to look up and see if he’s coming my way. I’m two seconds away from grabbing Heather’s wrist and pulling her back to the car. I can step on the gas and drive straight through, pretend we never made the stop. I’ve done it before.

I open my mouth to whisper that I think I’ve made a mistake, that I don’t want to be here, that it’s stupid and why don’t we just leave, and then I see him walking toward me.

He gets closer.

His smile gets bigger.

I turn into a statue, unable to function.

And then he wraps his arms around me and I know. I know immediately.

I know because I can breathe. I feel like I’m flying. I feel weightless. And yet, I feel centered. I feel….right.

“Hey,” he whispers into my ear. I mumble something against his chest.

It’s the end of January, and the sky is winter-grey outside.

But inside? Inside it feels like every single vein is flowing with sunlight. I can’t run anymore. I’m not the skittish colt. I am rooted, and I feel the air around us crackle. Everything before this moment doesn’t even matter — it disappears. Just vanishes. We pull away from each other and he catches my eye again and I remember the moment in the lower level lobby two years earlier. It’s the same look, and now I know what it means.

I’ve found my home.

Posted on October 8, 2017 and filed under The Memoirs.

And it Will Feel Like Truth — Day Seven

Well hello. Are you new here? I'm currently sharing pieces of my memoir every day. You can go here to read from day one.  

Russ starts showing up in class again. We’re in Psychology. He sits right behind me and the entire hour I am intensely aware of his presence. We start eating lunch together. I know he’s dating someone, someone from his hometown, but I’ve only seen her with him once or twice.

He comes into the library when I’m working the circulation desk and checks out Baptist History books. He stands there for a little while and we chat. We never run out of things to say but every single thought is alert and at attention. I’m cautious. He feels dangerous. Dangerous in the but you already have a boyfriend sense. Dangerous in why do I get goosebumps when he hugs me sense.

The entire time I’m buzzing.

One day, he stops by our dorm with what looks like a bong. I happen to be in the lower lobby when he bursts into the room. I raise an eyebrow at the plastic contraption in his hands.

“Is that….”

He laughs, his eyes full of mirth.

“…a cola bong.” He anticipates my question. “Do you want RC or Surge?”

“Do I want….what?”

“We’re so doing this, Elora. Come on.”

I glance around me. I’m not one to give into peer pressure, but this is seriously harmless. Baptist-grade fun. It doesn’t surprise me Russ is currently serving as a youth pastor, because this is reminiscent of lock-in games like dip a donut in chocolate syrup and dangle it above your friend who is and lying beneath you wide-mouthed and waiting.

But still. It’s Russ. And being around him makes the room feel charged with something I’m not able to articulate.

“I don’t know….”

He shakes his head, denying my hesitancy.

“Nope. Not an answer. RC or Surge?”

I smile slightly, and he knows he’s won. His face breaks into a huge grin and he does a quick fist pump, his eyes full of glee.

I choose RC.

He hands me two dollars, since he doesn’t have access to the vending machine around the corner, and I purchase one RC and one Surge. My roommate bumps into me in the hall and asks what I’m doing.

“Russ has a cola bong?”

I say it just like that — like it’s a question and not a fact. I’m still unsure what’s even going to happen here. I keep telling myself nothing. She squints then and raises her chin a little bit.

“Have you talked with your boyfriend lately?”

The question is pointed and I feel the gut punch of guilt. Just recently, she gave me the third degree about a guy I met online, a friend who frequented the same chat rooms and websites. We spoke often on AIM, and he now had our phone number. She didn’t approve. I was too innocent to even know some stranger on the internet could probably also be a stalker (which he turned out to be) and dangerous (which he was most definitely).

My eyes start welling up and I get frustrated. It’s what happens when I get super serious, and like my facial expressions, the tears always rat me out. If I’m crying in a conversation and it’s not a sad one or a happy one, it’s because I’m feeling my words in my core. The thoughts I’m expressing aren’t surface level ones. Something is happening within my molecular structure, and the shift personifies through tears.

“He’s calling me later,” I step around her and then turn, walking backwards. “And no, I haven’t heard from internet boy. We ended that when he got the cease and desist.” I rock the drinks in my hands and smile at her shocked expression. I don’t think she knew I could read into her question.

“You sure you don’t want to come?”

She shakes her head and opens the door to our room. I turn back toward the double doors and see Russ waiting in the hallway in front of the elevators. From his smile, I know he’s in the middle of a belly laugh, the one where tears pop up in his eyes but never fall.

I pause for just a moment, long enough for his eyes to throw a question my way, but I shake off the realization that I’m beginning to know his different smiles and walk through the doors, my own lips curling and reaching toward the sky.

I hand him the drinks and he motions me toward the couch.

“So here’s how we’re going to do this. I’ll pour the RC down this funnel, and you’ll put your mouth at the end. Lean over the trash can in case things get a little messy.” His shoulders start to shake with laughter and I give him a playful glare.

“What do you mean…messy.”

I would just keep your thumb ready to plug the tube if you need to breathe or anything.”

I wait a beat and then frown.“This is such a bad idea.”

He laughs. “This is a very good idea. You’ll see.”

I lean over the trashcan and place my thumb against the cut plastic. My eyes shift from his hands to his face and I suck in my lips.

“Okay. I’m ready.”

He gets a mischievous glint in his eye and it makes the color even deeper, like a rich dark chocolate. I swallow and look away, planting my mouth against the tube and giving him a thumbs up.

Before I know it, there is soda coming toward me and a whole lot of fizz. Like, a lot of fizz. I hear Russ hollering at me in the background but everything is sweet and sticky and the bubbles are tickling my throat and when I look at the tubing all I see is foam and I know it’s going to get worse. I can’t do it anymore. I move my mouth away from the plastic but forget to plug with my thumb and RC is spraying everywhere. It’s on Russ’ shorts, on his legs, on me, on the couch, on the carpet — we’ve made a mess and now we’re laughing so hard both of us are crying.

“I thought we agreed you would use your thumb.”

“We did. I just…It came fast.”

I’m still coughing, still trying to get the tickle out of my throat. We grab some nearby napkins left over from someone’s fast food run and start cleaning as best as we can. The couch is stained, though. I can already tell.

“Sorry you’re sticky now.” I fall against a nearby cushion and motion toward his legs. “Still think this was a good idea?”

He looks at me then, and my stomach jumps into my throat and back down through my ribcage when I see the emotion in his eyes. Before he can answer, my roommate walks in, the phone hanging from her fingers.

“He’s on the phone,” she says. She steps in to hand me the receiver with the look of someone who believes she just interrupted something electric, and she’s not far off. I find myself thankful for her impeccable timing all over again. I jump off the couch with a quick bye to Russ and snatch the phone out of her hand.

“Hi babe,” I croon into the speaker. I only halfway see my roommate roll her eyes. I know I’m not innocent. The eye rolling is probably warranted. There was something in Russ’ look back there that I don’t have time to decipher because my boyfriend is on the other line. The one I love. The one I want to marry.

Keep telling yourself that, a voice echoes at the base of my skull. I ignore it. I walk through the double doors back toward our room and stake my place against the wall in the hallway. I slide down, feeling the stickiness of the RC against my legs next to the carpet.

It was nothing, I say to myself as I listen to the boyfriend rant about his pizza delivery. But I know better. It was most definitely something, I just don’t know how to categorize it.

Posted on October 7, 2017 and filed under The Memoirs.

And it Will Feel Like Truth — Day Six

Well hello. Are you new here? I'm currently sharing pieces of my memoir every day. You can go here to read from day one

Ignoring Russ proves harder than I would imagine. He picks me up like we planned and the entire time roommate and I talk about my boyfriend, who just recently surprised me at the campus for Valentine’s Day. I’m still reeling from it all. I was so thrown by him coming down I completely forgot about a shift I had at the library and almost lost my job.

He also stayed with Russ.

Now, we feel as if we have a connection. A common ground. Something to talk about and fill the air with so I’m not freaking out because I am going to be talking to teenagers about sex or being in this strange boy’s car.

The strange boy that I am so curious about….I blink and shake my head.

“Did you get my note?” I ask, turning toward him for a brief moment before looking back down at the hem of my shirt. I wrote him a thank you note for letting my boyfriend stay with him at such quick notice. My heart skyrockets up to my throat and I try to clear it without being obvious. I’m always choking or coughing with this guy. The words clamor to get out and I am forcing them down, afraid of what I might say if they had the chance to breathe. He’s going to think I have tuberculosis or something.

Russ nods his head.

“I did.” He focuses on the road, not looking at me. “I’m glad he was able to come down. Did you guys have fun?”

I mirror his nod. It’s about the only thing I can think to do.

“I was…I was really surprised.”

He hides a grin and shrugs. “I guess it was successful then?”

My roommate interrupts from the backseat and I breathe a sigh of relief.

“Has Elora told you about the time….”

My roommate is the real MVP that night, keeping the conversation languid and focused. It helps that we’ve known each other since grade school so the stories are so numerous there’s no way we’ll lack anything to talk about on the way there. I’m forever grateful for her filling in the quiet spaces because I’m sitting in the front seat losing my shit.

We get to the church and I give my talk, complete with Jessica Simpson’s song about waiting before she married Nick Lachey. I know. We all know how that turned out, but in the moment, it was sweet and fit within my evangelical mindset. I have the kids write letters to their future spouses, and like any good facilitator, I join them.

I sit down across from my roommate and grab a pen. She looks at me in confusion.

“Are you just writing a letter to your boyfriend?”

We both laugh. We’ve already had that conversation multiple times: I’m pretty sure he’s the one, but I don’t want to jinx anything so I try not to focus on it. But that’s pretty much what I’m thinking about when I put pen to paper — I’m writing to him.

Hey love,

I write. I think nothing of it. I don’t call boyfriend “love”  — I don’t call him anything other than his name. Whatever. He won’t mind.

You could be anywhere in the world right now. You could even be in this room….

Now there’s something.

My hand starts to shake a little bit and I tap the pen against the table before moving forward. I wasn’t expecting that. Maybe it’s just because of the emotion. This past month has moved at break-neck speed and I’m just feeling a little topsy turvy, that’s all. It doesn’t mean doubt. Not at all. I think back to my boyfriend and conjure the moments we had by the lake, at the diner, in his car, and suddenly Jessica Simpson is replaced with Lifehouse and I’m blushing because those moments were not so innocent. My pen starts gliding across the paper again and soon, I’m finished.

My roommate tries to glance at my paper but I hide the words with my hand.

This note has just turned sacred. I fold it multiple times and drop it into my pocket. No one is seeing this one.

I’m quiet on the way home. Russ and my roommate fill the air with conversation and I laugh where I need to and moan appreciatively when Russ buys me a coke at a local gas station. I don’t want to deal with the feelings I’m experiencing, and so I go inward and look out the window at the wheat fields rushing by, my arm curled against my stomach so I avoid any accidental contact with Russ.

I think I throw the note away when I get back to the dorm. I’m not sure what happens to it. I don’t give it to anyone, and four years later when I need it, it’s nowhere to be found. I never forget those first few lines though. To this day I believe it was a mixture of my intuition and the Universe trying to get my attention.

See that boy over there in the corner? The one with the frosted tips? Pay attention to how you feel when you’re around him. It’s a lot like being rooted. And his smile and touch will send you flying through the air.

Posted on October 6, 2017 and filed under The Memoirs.