23 January 2013

In Remembrance of...What?

On the way home from my great aunt's house, I sat in the backseat of the family van, thinking and drinking in the dark silhouettes of houses flitting by. All of a sudden, tears stung my eyes as a face from my not-too-distant past flashed in front of my mind's eye. I remember him well; we met in my first political science class in the spring of 2012 - my last semester of high school. I was ecstatic because it was my first honors module at MC, and I was eager to absorb every bit of knowledge my professor had to offer.

I remember him from the first day - he actually irritated me slightly because he was so well traveled - he went to school in South Korea and had served in the U.S. Air Force - and knew a lot more than I did. He had an answer, comment or insight for nearly every question the professor posed to the class; at first, I only knew him as the guy who constantly had his hand in the air, waiting to be called on. Though we were both in the honors module, I pretty much ignored him for the first month of the semester unless it was absolutely necessary that we speak to each other.

One day in February, however, my perception of him changed. Several of my classmates and I arrived about 15 minutes early for class that morning. One of the guys there, a politician in the making, started a disagreement about transferring to certain colleges, and an argument ensued. I stayed silent, but I watched Mr. Smartypants closely. His tone, at least, was calm. When I heard his short laugh and observed him run his fingers through his onyx locks as the conversation intensified, I knew that he was irritated, if only in the slightest. Still, I was impressed. Many other guys would have lost it. Inside, I smiled. And as the professor entered the room and quelled the disagreement, I found myself more interested in getting to know this classmate of mine.

As the next few class sessions passed, I noted that unlike 98.9% of the student population, I never once heard him utter a single curse word - highly unusual. Over the next few weeks, we got to know each other better. Our professor often spoke with us directly after class to discuss additional requisites that we had to meet. Usually, he or I would turn an assignment discussion into a question about events we'd been researching or had heard about, and the three of us would stand outside the classroom, talking intently about what happened where and when, and its ramifications on other parts of the globe. And it seemed the more we talked, the more I liked him. Our class schedules didn't coincide, so we couldn't both meet with the professor to discuss our research papers, but we occasionally talked about them with each other outside of class. Only one thing nagged at me still: was he a Christian? He dropped little hints here and there like I've noticed believers tend to do when feeling around for others. But I wanted to be more certain. Oddly enough, his name came up in conversation while talking to one of my best friends one day, and I found out that his family attended her church. I felt like I was on cloud 9 - it was like I had confirmation from God that I could like him.

This was not an infatuation-driven crush. This was true like, I was convinced. He was intelligent and had a great sense of humor. I enjoyed being able to talk about a wide range of subjects with him. I loved how awkwardly cute he was around me, because it made me feel better about being nervous around him. My knees quavered whenever that raven head of hair turned in my direction. His eyes lit up when he saw me. He was mature but still had a sweet boyishness about him. He seemed caring, polite and respectful. I felt comfortable around him; he never once said or did anything indecent. And though we never once brought it up in conversation, I believe that we shared the same faith in the same God, something of vital importance to me. It was like that part of the Hallmark movie where the guy and the girl get to know each other, and everything seems perfect. It certainly felt that way. But the cruise soon came to an end.

As the semester progressed, there was one topic of conversation that he continually brought up that made me feel uncomfortable: transfer schools. I was embarrassed to tell him my list; he had applied to Ivies, whereas I, feeling intimidated by the brand name colleges, aimed lower in my applications. He looked at me funny when the deadline question came about; transfer applications are due by 1 March; freshman applications a month or two prior, and even more for priority admittance into honors programs. There was another issue connected to this question of where I'd end up after MC: age. I knew, by piecing bits of conversation together, that he was at least 21; 24 years old at the most. Unbeknownst to him, I was 17 for most of the semester. But I never mentioned my age or my birthday, or that I was still in high school at the time. And for good reason. Every other time the aforementioned subject had come up with other classmates, they stopped talking to me. I didn't like telling people that I was younger than them; it made things awkward. So whenever he mentioned transferring, I'd go along with it - and technically, I was a transfer student. The credits I'd taken would transfer in to any 4 year university.And with as many as I had, I could technically be considered a sophomore at some institutions. So that is how I justified it. Perhaps that is where I went wrong.

We soon talked after nearly every class. I looked forward to it each week. But then came a dreadful day. I knew it would come up sooner or later, but I didn't want to think about it. It arrived, nonetheless. During the last few weeks before final exams, he asked me where I was transferring after the spring as we walked along the hallway on our way out of the humanities building. My warm smile froze. I died on the inside. Earlier that year, I was 100% positive that UMBC was the place for me. I received a scholarship and all. But after praying about it, I just didn't feel ready to go. Everybody wanted me to go away to school, and yet, I felt that there was a nagging little tug from God to stay put. I didn't want to stay home; ever since I was 12, I'd dreamed of going far away from home for university. But I couldn't just up and disobey God, either. So, I broke the news to my parents and closest friends. They were all angry, upset, confused, wanted an explanation - why wouldn't I want to go away for college? What was wrong with me? Didn't I want the true "college experience"? But I stayed solid. I refused the offer at UMBC and chose to accept the offer of admission from the Scholars program at MC. I was happy with my choice, and felt completely positive that it was what God wanted me to do. 

But how would I explain that to him? He didn't know me that well. Would he understand? Fear filled my heart as he waited for my answer, watching me intently, holding his breath. 

"Well, um, I'm actually staying here for a couple more semesters," I mumbled rapidly, violently thrusting my empty plastic water bottle into the large blue recycling bin. He stopped and - was that a wince on his face? - looked at me, seeming unsure of what I had said.

"Why would you stay here?" he inquired, looking baffled. I gathered my inner strength, ready to lose the heart of the one I'd grown to admire over the past two months. I fingered a loose thread on my backpack, trying to be momentarily distracted. I looked up, meeting those warm, dark brown eyes of his and knowing that they hungered for the truth.

"Well," I began, "I'm only 18." There's a start, I thought. I looked at him anxiously, trying to read him. He didn't seem bothered by what I'd said. In the least. Shocked, perhaps, by discovering that I was so much younger than his 22 years, but not in a bad way. I was faintly hopeful.

"But still, why would you stay? You have enough credits to transfer, don't you?" He wondered, furrowing his smooth dark brows. I cringed inwardly.

"Well, actually, I'm...um...stillinhighschoolandIdecidedtodothehonorsprogramhere," I mumbled, almost under my breath. The light in his eyes, which I'd grown so accustomed to seeing when he looked at me, dimmed. His face fell.

"Oh. Well, um, where do you want to go after that?" his now flat voice asked, without interest.

Almost in tears, my voice wavered as I said "I'm not completely sure yet; I still have a couple more years to think about it." He nodded, but we both knew what was unsaid. As he said goodbye and walked off, I let the tears stream down my cheeks as I went to my next class. I felt like I had run him off, and all because of something that I didn't say upfront. All due to the fact that my educational status was two years behind his. I was crushed. I knew right then that he'd probably never speak to me again.

Sobbing at home, I texted my best friends, and they all assured me that I was probably just overreacting; surely, he'd talk to me at the next class. But I knew him too well. I still saw him look longingly at me when he walked in during the next session, but he didn't even say hello. The final blow came when he walked over to the professor, and murmured that he'd been accepted into Columbia. She congratulated him, and I smiled to myself; I knew that he'd get accepted there, as well as to all of the other institutions to which he applied for admission. My stomach knotted as he went to his seat and I looked at him pleadingly with my big brown eyes. Not even a smile passed his lips. I felt like crying all over again. Why wouldn't he talk to me? Why wouldn't he let me explain? I cried all the way home that day. I felt like a fraud and a liar. And I was angry.

Only the second to last week of classes gave me a small ray of hope. While our professor was setting up a documentary for us to watch, one of the other guys in the class made some remark about former President Reagan. Instantly, He Who Would Not Talk to Me snapped back with a smart aleck response. In spite of myself, I laughed out loud. I saw him turn to me in my periphery and give the smallest flicker of a smile.

Over the next few days, my best friends all agreed that he was a shallow jerk, and that I didn't owe him anything - including explanations. I wrote him a note to explain things, but I never gave it to him for fear of the unknown. As the months passed, I was first upset, then angry, and then heartbroken at the turn of events. But as I grew and matured even over such a small pass of time, I realised that I could actually see things from his point of view. I later met his other younger sister in a Bible study on campus, and found out that she was my age. That helped me to comprehend his side even more so.

I do realise now that it was likely ridiculous for me to be so forlorn over a guy that I wasn't - and most likely will never - in an exclusive relationship with. At best, we were acquaintances. But somehow, that realisation didn't lessen the hurt. Now, I realise that I was probably the one putting too much stock in our budding friendship. When I fall for someone, it is with my whole heart. It felt like my heart had been dropped, jumped on top of, stomped on, danced on, driven over, steamrolled, bulldozed, buried, dug up again, and kicked for good measure. But then again, I was the one who had given my heart away. God put it back together, but I noticed that there were a few pieces missing that he had taken with him to Amherst - the college he ended up attending.

However painful it was in the moment, I did learn something from him. And I had a model for what a godly guy should look like. Since parting ways, I have compared nearly every other guy I've met to him, and so many come up short. Guys like him aren't "a dime a dozen," to borrow the colloquialism. 

Now, if you've made it this far in my post, 1) I apologize for glazed over eyes; I tend to be long-winded; 2) why does it matter? I wondered this myself. I sat here typing this wondering what was the point? Why did he randomly come to mind? I haven't thought about him in months. Why am I randomly writing some sob story about it? I didn't know until a light bulb went off in my brain, and I ran to check the date in the spiral bound notebook I kept lecture notes in for political science last school year. It's been almost one year to the date that I first laid eyes on him. 24 January 2012 was the beginning of the spring semester for the 2011-2012 academic year. It was the fourth Tuesday of the month. Yesterday (when I originally wrote this) was 22 January 2013 - not the same date, but it was the fourth Tuesday of the month. I was flabbergasted when I saw the dates. 

The human brain is an amazing and complex feature of God's creation. I had not thought about him since the beginning of the fall semester, and that was long gone. Why would he suddenly come to mind, just out of the blue? Well, nobody knows - at least, I don't. I suppose my subconscious was at work and realized that this day was important. I'll probably never know.

No matter the lack of an answer, however, and no matter why he came to my mind in that instant, I'm forever grateful to him for the godly example of manhood he set before me without even realizing it. And whether he'll ever know it or not he will always carry a piece of my heart.

Have you ever gone through emotionally painful circumstances that you later looked back on and realized that you'd learned something from them? Did they make you stronger as a person?

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