I've been reading blogs of some very talented women, and I decided to take a deep breath and throw my words out there, too. This is from Princess Nebraska: Tell a story of a time that 1) something that you were looking forward to turned out to be a disappointment or 2) something that you were dreading turned out to be something fantastic.
He was British. Twinkly blue eyes, studying at Cambridge, a camp counselor from the boy’s side. Did I mention his wonderful accent? We first kissed in the backseat of a friend’s car the night we met. We camped out once a week, on our precious nights off, in the tangled woods by the lake between our camps, rarely leaving the muggy, shaded privacy of our little green tent. We talked about everything and reveled in the differences between our cultures, schools, families, childhoods. He wrote me romantic notes on textured blue stationery with a chisel-point fountain pen, always signed “All my love, Michael.”
We left camp, frantic to spend every moment of the next two weeks together before he went back across the ocean. We tiptoed across the creaky floorboards of my parents’ old farmhouse, late at night, to whisper to each other. He spent two weeks with me as I settled back in to my dorm. Our months apart were filled with anguished longing. We didn’t yet have e-mail, and he didn’t like to talk on the phone, so I checked my mailbox anxiously for those blue envelopes. When they came, they would be stuffed full of 20 or 30 tidy pages of writing, the words as endearing as the elegant script. He sent my roommate money to surprise me red roses delivered with a hand-written card on Valentine’s Day. I mailed him pictures of myself wearing his rowing crew sweatshirt. I cried myself to sleep listening to tapes of Pachelbel’s Canon playing behind Mick’s voice, brokenly and beautifully telling me of his love.
Finally, the school year ended and I was ready to leave for my semester abroad. In preparation, I’d mailed an expensive airmail package, scented with perfume, containing champagne glasses. I bought a new outfit, stuffed my backpack full and triple-checked that I had my Eurail pass. My window seat was next to a father and son who didn’t believe in wearing deodorant. As the long flight neared its end, I shimmied past them, let out my breath, and went to the lavatory to make myself beautiful. I looked down in horror. My over-dyed indigo blue skirt had rubbed off all over me. My arms from the elbows down, my legs from the knees up, all were a dusky shade of navy. No amount of soap would change that. I cried, until I realized that he hasn’t seen me for 10 months and what color I am is probably the last thing he will notice.
I could hardly wait to disembark. I took a deep breath and walked out of the passageway, envisioning a passionate embrace like in the movies, looking anxiously for his spiked hair and blue eyes. I don’t see him. I walk, ever more frantically, between the gate and the luggage claim, pushing through the crowd, panicking because I'm in a foreign country and Mick isn't there. How could he not be here?
Suddenly, I see this short little man, – shorter than I remember, especially now that his hair is shaved and no longer spiked – dart past me, pushing a luggage cart. I whip around and grab his shirt. It’s Mick. He pecks me on the cheek, picks up my bag, and heads for the car, shouting over his shoulder that there are two international terminals and he went to the wrong one because the U.S. flights rarely come into this one. He drives the little car recklessly through winding roads to his mum’s house. I don’t think she likes me, but she tries. Mick chastises me for leaving some cooked carrots on my dinner plate, because it was very insulting to his mother. When we go up to his room, he chides me for not packing the champagne flutes better, because they shattered in transit, so he threw them away. He’d never mentioned their pets, and my allergies are extreme. So after a chaste good-night kiss and a few puffs on my inhaler, I still can’t breathe, so I spend the night sleeping in the hard ceramic bathtub, the only spot in the house not infused with cat dander.
I followed him around Europe for a month, submitting to his every whim, financing all the luxurious extras on which I insisted (like a scoop of gelato or Nutella to spread on our bread). I endured conversations in which he insulted our educational system in general and my abilities in particular, compared to the far superior British institutions. I stood meekly behind him as a Greek hotel owner berated him for stealing the drain plug from the sink. Of course, we also walked along the beaches at sunset, where he wrote “I love Kelly” in 3-foot letters in the sand. We took turns reading from the same novel, and shared a pair of headphones to listen to music. After we returned to England, I rode the bus between Oxford and Cambridge on weekends, foregoing the field trips planned by my instructor in favor of college parties and rowing crews and bike rides along the canal. Three months later we parted, another teary goodbye.
Back at school, peering day after day into an empty mailbox, I spun the combination over and over, hoping somehow I just couldn’t see the envelope for the reflection in the small glass window. Finally something was there, but it wasn’t the crisp blue envelope I expected. Instead, I found a flimsy airmail letter, written not in fountain pen but scribbled in ballpoint. No “all my love, Michael” at the end; instead, it is signed “Mick,” and the only other thing I saw before tears obscured my view was the opening line, “I don’t love you anymore, Kelly.”
He never wrote again.
It took months before I could think of him without crying. It took me years to be able to genuinely say I was grateful that he could see what I couldn’t. I needed a man who respected me, who thought of me as an intellectual equal. It sounded glamorous to move to Europe and marry a British Naval officer after he completed his studies in engineering, but would I have ever fit in among a class of people who would always see me as inferior, coarse – a vulgar American? Would I have been happy with an atheist, even with my immature, barely-formed Christian beliefs? Could I have truly married a man who was shorter than I? Would I have ever been able to become the woman I am today, the woman I have come to like, the woman who walks confidently and trusts in her mind and stands behind her choices and gladly gives and receives friendship and laughter and love?
When, out of the blue, Mick Googled me twenty years later, my heart pounded at the sight of his name in my Inbox. But then I gave thanks. Thanks that I didn’t quash down who I really was anymore in order to be liked by a man. Thanks that people out there believe enough in my brain, my words, and my thoughts to hire me. Thanks that God brought me back home and helped me find the church that helped me truly find Him. Thanks that He had given me the life I now have, with an adoring husband and three interesting, all very different kids. Thanks that I was given the opportunity to remember that part of my life and understand that I truly now had all I could ever want. Thanks that he had seen what I couldn’t. Thanks for this man who, not so graciously but nevertheless truly, saved me from that and allowed me to become me.