If you’ve missed part of the story, you can read Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3. Thanks so much for all the sweet and funny comments! You make writing this even more fun! Here’s the next installment…
In a Flash
This is the closest thing to crazy I have ever been, feeling twenty-two and acting seventeen, now I know that there’s a link between the two, being close to craziness and being close to you.
- Katie Melua
When I was little, the woman who took care of me, Mrs. Oh (my adopted Korean grandmother) would tell my mother, “Agee on the outside, ajumma on the inside” which roughly translates to “Baby on the outside, grown woman on the inside.” I think it’s important to clarify that, at this point, I was a 17-year-old in college. Perpetually the baby and always trying to be the grown-up. Everyone was older than me and being old for your age doesn’t prepare you for everything. I was a kid in some pretty adult situations, trying so hard to be an adult, too. Not always succeeding. I think about that now and I think about how I could try to help my own daughter navigate being 17. I can’t imagine how.
Here’s where things start to feel more like snapshots than clear narrative. I can’t honestly remember which flirty moment happened first but they were there, these little moments between us. They come back like flashes…
The day the director finally demands that Kyle get his haircut (which he does…in a backstage corner). It’s before a dress rehearsal and my hair is in these plastic blue curlers. Someone says I look like a little blue alien. Kyle says I look pretty.
Kyle squeezes my arm as we stand near one another in the dressing room. Every time I look at him, my face feels hot and I can’t think of anything to say.
I stare at his sneakers during warm-ups. They’re black Chuck Taylor’s with permanent marker scrawled all over them.
And then there was the cast party.
I guess, at this point, I need to talk a little bit more about Sir Cuckoo Pants, aka the chapter of my romantic history I find most embarrassing. I won’t dwell here longer than necessary because, honestly, it all makes my skin crawl and it’ll probably make yours crawl, too.
SCP, as we’ll dub him, was older. 21 or 22 maybe. I’ve tried to forget as much as I can about him. I think most of us have people like that in our pasts. Or maybe I’m just hoping I’m not the only 17 year-old girl who let an older boy manipulate and use her most unjustly. At this point, SCP had been leading me on for a good while with a line that sounded like, “Well…MAYBE I might like it if you were my girlfriend…it’s just…I’ve had my heart broken so badly and I don’t know if it can ever be put back together. But maybe if you’re patient…I’ll decide we can really be together, officially.” (Go ahead. Roll your eyes. Sometimes I fantasize about inventing the time machine I will use to go back and slap myself silly. You can come, too, if you want. It’s a two-seater.)
But even really dumb 17-year-olds can eventually spot the difference between a good guy and a bad guy. Especially when someone like Kyle shows up and is completely sincere and gentlemanly without thought of personal gain. In fact, the more time I spent around Kyle, the more I felt that horrible, sick feeling in my stomach when SCP called. I was weary of him, even dreading the sound of his voice. SCP made me feel stupid and small and powerless.
But it was the cast party that was the clincher. There was a snowstorm that night, late even for a spring in Colorado, and Kyle and his roommate Richard had followed my car to the party. I remember climbing out of the mini-van I was driving at the time, into inches of freezing, wet powder, regretting my pink ballet flats and thin corduroy jacket. That jacket, a pale green color with puffed sleeves, had been purchased specifically for the party. The guys stood awkwardly in the road, waiting for me. There was a second of silence and daring myself to be brave, I looped an arm through Kyle’s and we started towards the house. We didn’t say anything. And once I’d done it, it felt like I had been holding on to Kyle’s arm always, like maybe I’d done it earlier that day or the day before or the year before or every day since I knew I had arms. I distinctly remember the sound of snow under our feet, under his old gray sneakers, under my pink ballet flats, flimsy and slippery now. There was a steady crunch-crunch-crunch as we went up the walk and into the house. As if we always did that. Walked up to houses together and rang doorbells and stamped the snow from our feet together.
The house was humming with people, actors and stage crew laughing and talking. Someone had started a fire in the living room and Kyle and I sat on the couch next to another cast member, a friend of Kyle’s, a guy who would later attend our wedding, G. Another actor, J, had worn an enormous gold dollar sign around his neck and now Kyle was trying it on and J was laughing at him. I remember sitting there, watching him, wanting to know about him. Someone got me a glass of water. And then something really, really embarrassing happened.
I still don’t remember why he said it, what prompted it, but Kyle was tending the fire with a long poker and he suddenly says, “Yeah, I was actually born with the disease that the Elephant Man had.”
Do not ask me why I found this so completely and suddenly hilarious but I proceeded to spit the water. that I was drinking. all over his face. And all over G. And the couch. It was like the most epic Looney Tunes style spit-take of all time. Kyle sat there, his face dripping with my spit-water, a little shocked. And G was laughing. And I was mortified. Mortified and still choking and hacking up the water that had entered my lungs. I prayed for the earth to open up and swallow me whole.
And, as if God had given Kyle the personal mission of proving how good a guy he was and how terrible a guy SCP was, he just laughed and took the hand towel someone offered him. He didn’t make me feel bad. In fact, he seemed hell-bent on making sure I stopped feeling embarrassed as quickly as possible. “Hey, I needed a shower, anyway,” he said. Questions raced through my mind. Deep, thought-provoking questions like, Where has this guy come from and why were his eyes so green and what had I ever seen in SCP and was the Elephant Man story true and what would it be like to kiss him right now, in the middle of the party, by the fireplace? And then my phone buzzed.
It was Sir Cuckoo Pants. I looked at Kyle and then back at my phone. A short private phone call later, I was back next to Kyle.
“Was that your boyfriend?” he asked.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” I said. “He’s a jerk.”
The rest of the party was spent exchanging shy glances, the ends of our fingers almost touching on the sofa, and round after round of karaoke with the rest of the cast. Kyle gave me his hoodie to wear over my impractically thin clothes and at the end of the night, he traded shoes with me so that my feet wouldn’t be cold walking through the snow. He wore my pink ballet flats all the way to the car where he left me with a smile and a hug like the gentleman he was. On the way home, the sweatshirt still wrapped around me, my small thumbs fitting through the holes along the sleeve edges, I buried my nose in the soft gray fabric and wondered why it had taken me so long to tell the difference between a good guy and a bad guy. At home, I dug my hand into the pocket of the jacket and texted one final message before drifting off to sleep:
SCP, I don’t think this is working out. I’ve met someone else who treats me well and I’d like to see where it goes. I’d just like to be friends, if that’s okay.
Oh, if only it were that simple.
To Be Continued.