I was so sure.
I had met the girl of my dreams and everything was perfect.
I remember saying these words (or something along these lines- I don’t have phonographic memory!) to a mentor back home just a few weeks into the relationship: “I’m just so glad that I don’t have to worry about any of that junk now: dating, going to parties, figuring out who I’m going to marry. I’m already there! I’ve already met her!”
Face to palm.
I wonder what was going through my mentor’s mind as I rattled on and on: “Should I tell him? Should I break the news that things may not be this simple? Should I let him keep dreaming or bring him back to reality?”
I never imagined the truth.
All through high school, I had something like a mantra (though I never would have called it that): Dating is pointless in high school. I had seen couples form and break up and reform and break up. Friendships had been split apart and glued together and smashed to bits, beyond repair. I had seen close friends go from girl to girl to girl– and each time say, “She’s the one.” Poppycock. (That’s right, I just said poppycock.)
I decided that wasn’t for me. Too much drama. Too much immaturity. I was going to wait– for what, I’m not exactly sure… College? Graduation? My 20s? Because of course by then I would be completely mature and grown up and have it all figured out. But dating in high school? Pointless.
I met her at camp one summer. We were both Junior Counselors and worked with other counselors to lead a group of campers through a fun filled week of activities, friendships and growing closer to God. And you know what really stood out to me about her? The fact that her first priority was serving the campers and serving Christ. In fact, because of the busy schedules and the fact that boy cabins and girl cabins often had different activities, it took us a while to really talk. I didn’t make it to camp training that summer and my first week was with a wonderful Senior Counselor who had no camp experience– which kept me real busy.
Eventually we found ourselves on the balcony of the meeting hall, taking a break with some Sonic drinks (prizes for Honor JC, which we both won). She laughed and smiled and complimented me on the way I worked so hard. I replied with kind words, flustered, unable to say what I wanted to say.
Throughout the summer, we focused on camp. Camp was first priority. God was first priority. I knew that even if I had feelings for her, this wasn’t the time or place for me to explore them. It was very mature of me. (And how I wish I’d been a bit more foolish.)
And camp ended for the summer. I entered my senior year. We saw each other at a camp reunion a couple months later, but by then time had gone by. Perhaps the feelings of the summer were just that– feelings of the summer. Despite the fact that many of my dear camp friends lived within an hour or two’s driving radius, each year I mentally put those relationships in the back seat as I tried to juggle relationships in school, at church, with family. (Didn’t help that I didn’t start driving towards the end of my senior year.) Other than a few messages back and forth and a party for a mutual friend, we didn’t see each other until the following summer.
I had graduated high school. Said goodbye to many friends. Was ready to head to Baylor University. I was looking at the future… and there she was. Back for another summer of camp. And suddenly all those feelings were reignited.
But of course, we were mature counselors– so we did nothing. When rumors of a romance drifted through the air, I tried to squelch them as fast as I could– perhaps for embarrassment, perhaps for fear of rejection, but mainly because I knew that such rumors could be distractions at camp. When we had free time, I enjoyed spending it with her– but didn’t want to assume anything.
But the letters.
I knew she wrote letters to other counselors and friends– but the ones she wrote to me felt me like I was a thousand feet tall. Like I had the wings of an eagle. Like nothing could stop me. She was encouraging and complimentary, including Scripture and jokes and fun little doodles and pictures and smiley faces on those handwritten letters.
The summer raced by with challenging weeks and difficult transitions, but eventually the last week was over. We had our final camp banquet and the following morning everyone was going home. A group of people decided to go into town to see The Simpsons Movie, but a few of us camp aficionados preferred spending one last evening surrounded by friends and the woods and the peace of God’s presence. The cinephiles left and I sat down in the lodge to write my thoughts and experiences down in a journal. I had found little time to do so all summer and I knew that if I didn’t do it then, I would never do it.
I never did it.
Before I could get a chance to write more than three sentences, there she was.
“Do you want to go for a walk?”
In the eternity of a second, my mind flitted from my journal to my friends sitting nearby to the excuses in my mind to the feelings of my heart.
“Yeah, that’d be great.”
So we headed outside and walked. And talked. And walked. And talked. I can’t even remember the paths we took or the words we said, it was all a loverly haze. We reminisced about the summer. Imagined the future of camp. Discussed school. And then we found ourselves down by the canoes.
And she said, “…So… when are we going to talk about this?”
“Yeah, I guess we really should,” I replied.
And then FIREWORKS! RIVERS! WATERFALLS! MOUNTAINTOPS! She said she liked me! I said I liked her too! (It’s amazing how mundane the words that comprise confessions of love can be.) We gushed forth our reasons for liking each other, calling forth memories from the previous summer and important moments from the past few weeks and numerous qualities we saw in the other.
And then we went for a ride in a canoe.
No, really. Nothing figurative there. We saw the canoes lying there, said, “What the hey?” and grabbed some oars and life jackets from the shed. And we went for a ride in a canoe on Lake Grace, as she shimmered with moonlight and beauty and loveliness. And Lake Grace looked nice too.
Minutes turned to hours. Words turned to stories. Romance turned to… reason.
“So what does this mean?”
“What are we?”
“What are we going to do next?”
I was going off to college. She had another year of high school. Mathematically, ignoring the emotional weight of our experiences, we had spent very little time together. What label did we want to put on this? Friend? More than a friend? Crush? Boyfriend/Girlfriend?
And fear wiggled its way into my sole, put a foot on the brakes, and brought the dance to a halt.
We would be “very close friends– with the intention of being even closer.” My logical side got the best of me. I had seen so many relationships from high school and even some from camp that ended in grief and dust. Why bother risking our friendship? We just needed to get to know each other better.
That night marked the beginning of our relationship– but it marked the end as well.
The first semester of college was… rough, to say the least. To be honest, I hated it. Sure, I liked some of the fun experiences. It was interesting to be in a new environment and take some challenging classes. But on the whole… I hated it.
I wanted community. I wanted to be with my family. I wanted to see my old friends. I felt alone, unneeded, out of place. I wrote a Facebook note (back when those were a thing) and talked about how I wished I had a community of friends in Waco. I got tons of comments, texts, and messages ranging from “It’ll get better” to “Do you wanna talk?” to “I understand.” But it felt like nobody understood.
I made a couple of good friends. I knew a few people from high school that were at Baylor. Best of all, my sister was there and she had some friends that welcomed me in– it was the closest thing to family I had that first year. But due to some miscommunication with some of these “friends,” I spent my first birthday in college alone in my dorm room, listening to music and browsing the web.
I traveled home probably too many times. But the ache I felt could often be remedied by a 2.5 hour drive back to Houston. I had to bum rides at first, but eventually drove myself. I visited my high school to relive glory days. I caught up with old friends and tried to keep up those relationships. I crashed the couch at home and watched TV with my folks.
But out of all my trips, I only saw her once.
I didn’t know how to handle a relationship. Still not sure I do. But I knew I goofed up.
We talked on the phone and texted almost every other day. (I finally got a phone that could text that Fall, but before we switched to Unlimited, I wracked up over a hundred dollars of overage fees.) We wrote letters back and forth. (You remember the letters, right?) We wrote long, rambling emails with random links and stories and thoughts. (One of my saddest losses was when my old college email account was deleted, along with 5 years of memories.)
But even as we stayed in touch, I tried to space things out. I didn’t want to reveal too much too soon. I didn’t want to know too much too fast. I kept on saying, “I don’t want to rush this.” I had seen so many relationships rush forward only to come to a screeching halt. I wanted our relationship to grow stronger and sweeter over time. I wanted to know her as a friend before I knew her as my girlfriend. I was so sure that this was the right way to go about things.
When I finally saw her back in town, we got together with a few friends and went to church, met her folks, got lunch, visited a friend at work, talked in the car, and just enjoyed each other’s presence. It was a quick visit, but so much fun.
We kept talking and texting, writing and emailing. We came up with little nicknames for each other. I shared my struggles and she prayed for me. She shared the difficulties of reading the Bible on a regular basis and I admitted that was something I was terrible at as well. We came up with a simple code for making sure we were staying in Scripture. “Did you?” We’d text this to each other mid-morning to see if the other read the Bible. We were so sure it would work, but there was always a reasonable excuse.
School was hard. Life was tough. But I had this wonderful girl in my life and she had me. I shared my joy with my mentor on a trip home, so sure that I had found my soulmate.
“…This isn’t working.”
With three words she shattered my mind. Shattered my sense of stability and comfort. I was… I couldn’t… I didn’t know what to say. So I listened.
As we sat in the courtyard of a shopping center, she told me that she had been feeling this way for a while now. She couldn’t really explain it, but she just knew that it was the right thing to do. She didn’t want to hurt me but she didn’t words words words words words words words ksaoi wpioha ihooi sal-d- –d-f- -a— —- —- —- — —– — —————
It was just a mess of words and feelings and fears and I could barely take it in.
At the time, after she “explained” herself, she asked, “Do you have any questions?”
Uh, yeah, a MILLION, I thought.
But all I said was, “Well, I don’t really understand… but if that’s how you feel… … …” and left it at that.
It was a blur. We were about to head to a camp reunion– and she was my ride. I fell from the summit of excitement– we’re going to have a fun road trip, talk, laugh, maybe make it official?– to a crippling ash pit of confusion. Why are we breaking up? Is this breaking up? Did we actually have something to break up? Why didn’t she tell me before? What reasons does she have? Why did I agree to this? Why in the world did she invite her random guy friend to join us on the trip to camp? How much longer is this ride? How much longer am I stuck in here? What did she mean, ‘This isn’t working’?
The reunion was fine. The trip back was even harder. And then the silence was deafening. At first it was just a couple days, and I kept thinking, “I’ll send her a message tomorrow.” But then I would think about it and wonder, “Should I send her a message?” And I’d put it off again. Again and again. Until, finally, days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. And in the middle of my spring semester, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I called her.
I hadn’t been the man in the relationship, she told me. Or something along those lines. That doesn’t mean she was the man, simply that there was a vacuum in our relationship.
I moved too slowly. All my sense and wisdom in taking things slowly led her to wonder if I was really serious about the relationship, serious about her.
We just weren’t a good fit. She shared some aspirations for her future career– things she had never said before– and explained why she couldn’t imagine our lives going in the same direction.
I almost didn’t say anything. Back to that night by the canoes. She recalled and I remembered.
Right after she opened the gates to our conversation, I admitted to her, “Whoo, I’m so glad you brought it up, because I had been wondering if I should– but I probably would have said nothing.” My fear, my anxiety, my unsurety would have kept me from sharing my heart if she hadn’t taken the first step.
And so, she explained, that was the rhythm of our relationship. You didn’t pursue. I didn’t feel important. I didn’t know where we were going.
And so we went nowhere.
Summer rolled around again. And we were both there again. She had a boyfriend or had one just recently. I didn’t know for sure. After that talk on the phone I thanked her for giving me more of an explanation, but we didn’t really talk much afterwards. A couple messages back and forth. “Are you excited about camp?” General enthusiasm.
And suddenly summer was over again. It was a brutal summer, in all honesty. Friends had been hurt. There were some leaders that caused fractions and factions. Some people left. But we both made it to the end. We were still dedicated to camp, to serving the campers, to serving God. I still love that about her.
We talked a few times that summer. But due to many issues, we both didn’t return the following year.
I’ve seen her a few times since then. The only communication that takes place is perhaps a Like on Facebook, maybe a stray comment on a mutual friend’s post.
But these days she’s in another state. And she’s married. And I’m still me.
Still unsure. Still struggling with school, with relationships, with taking risks. Still wishing I had it all figured out. Wishing that I could go back to camp, to be Counselor Uno again. Wishing I could redo so many of my pale-faced attempts at living. Wishing I could I go back to a time when I still had hope, when I could afford to dream and wait and wonder. Back when I knew that things were going to turn out okay.
Back when I was so sure.