It was sophomore year of high school. I was talking to Mike while we were at his locker when Jen Buggica arrived. A few weeks prior while at Mike's lockers, he jokingly whispered to me "check it out, this chick totally wants me," as Jen walked up to her locker conveniently located next to his, equipped with a shy smile and batting eyes. While we were participating in our typical post-period chats a short, skinny framed, white girl started to talk with Jen. With her hair pulled back tight and speaking a million words a second, I was not anywhere close to impressed with her looks or personality. Her name was Karen Burns, and she would be the first female I'd fall in love with.
Being extensions to our best friends' locker awkwardness enabled us to begin our own friendship. Karen intrigued me, she was the completely opposite of myself. From our families to our personalities, we were as drastically different as our appearances. She would become one of the wrestling team's groupies (at least that's what I called them) and we would spend increasing amount of time together. Without realizing it we were becoming good friends. Eventually like a vine to a fence, everything about her grew on me. Her insane drive, her smile, her taste in music, even the way she would argue with me. We'd spend what felt like hours on her front porch just talking the night away until her mom decided it was time for her to come inside. As summer came so did my feelings for her. One day I built up enough nerve to tell her my feelings. After some indecision, I was told that she was too afraid to lose the friendship. Despite the rejection we were able to continue a friendship.
Junior year came along and our friendship was put on the back burner. We were still friends but the bond that we once shared didn't have the same strength. My feelings for her were calmed by the pursuit of other women. Our relationship kept this casualness until a church event at a local youth group. It was called the J&P Rally (John and Paul), and being a regular attendant of the youth group I was planning on attending. By this point I've technically ended my relationship with my ex-girlfriend but we still were having these affectionate moments. My feelings for her were fleeting but rather than face it, I tried to avoid being alone with her. So when she asked me to drive her to the J&P rally I was panicked. Afraid being placed in a situation where we might of had to talk about our relationship I figured that I could bring someone else to negate any such conversation. Lucky, I was able to con Karen to be that barrier. There was no motivation other than selfishness that I invited Karen to accompany us to the rally that night, but she would play the biggest part of that night. So in my sheer brilliance I decided that I would bring my ex home first, despite Karen's house being on the way. I wasn't expecting what followed, I just figured it wouldn't give me an awkward drive home alone with my ex. But after I dropped Karen off, it was like old times again. On her porch, just talking about what was an eventful night. Eventually the conversation turned to a topic to where Karen felt it necessary to say something along the lines, "I missed out on you Elliot." My heart sparked with emotions and confusion, what exactly were you suppose to say to that? Scenes of romantic heroes started to flood my thoughts, I figured this was it.... this was my moment to be that guy. The conversation hit a pause and I laughed to myself. After being ask what I was laughing at I responded that I had a thought, upon further questioning I finally admitted that I thought of what it would be like to kiss her. Karen smiled, claiming she was thinking the same thing. Indecisiveness followed, both of us trying to figure out if it was a good idea. Finally, with a sudden jolt of gusto as she was in mid sentence, I leaned in and kissed her. Insecure if that was I good idea, I looked at her for a reaction. Her face gave me all the answer I would need. Karen always had a pretty tough exterior. Years of self reliance and mind numbing work ethic had made her a pretty tough person, seemingly incapable of vulnerability. But in that moment, with her whole face smiling, from her eyes to her mouth, she was completely disarmed. We sat there smiling at each other, making small talk until I left to go home. I thought that was it, that was our one solitary moment in time to explore anything other than a friendship. That the friend zone had been established and borders would not be cross.
Even though a romantic relationship didn't immediately follow that night's events it did revamp our friendship. During the time we were reconnecting, I could feel my affection for her grow again. I figured it was just foolishness on the part of my emotions, we were already friends and there was nothing that could change that. But this time around things started to feel different. Moments together would linger, our eyes would connect, we'd get close as I told her good night. I was completely consumed with emotions of affection, friendship, romance but most of all confusion. All these emotions kept swirling for weeks until it finally reached it's apex. It was late, watching movies at a friend's house. I figured that it was time for me to head home but before I ventured home I drove past Karen's house to see if I could catch her coming home from work. As I passed by her empty driveway I was disappointed, only to be surprised by her truck turning the corner of her street. When she got out of her car she was still in her McDonald's uniform. She smelt like grease and looked exhausted, I thought she was cute nonetheless. We started talking and I could feel myself shivering, some from the temperate change but mostly because I was nervous. We chatted for a little bit, then I embraced her to begin to say goodnight. During the embrace I asked her, "are we ever going to happen?" She responded with, "yes, because I want it to happen." Suddenly she kissed me. I was completely floored, it felt like my heart exploded. After a couple more minutes of talking and kissing I left, screaming "woohoo" loud enough for it to echo through the neighborhood.
Neither of us knew what was suppose to happen after that night's event. It certainly wasn't a seamless transition to a romantic relationship. I recommend to anyone to become friends first before they start a relationship, but I will tell you this, there is a period of transitional awkwardness. I remember waiting for her after class and not knowing if I should hold her hand. With the awkwardness growing and other outside influences, it seemed like our relationship wasn't going to make it. Finally one day, I told her that we needed to talk. We were outside on the bed of her truck as I told her that I was in this relationship for the long haul. That we had too good of a thing to give up, and I will see it until it completely ends. The talk appeared to have its effects because we turned into a finely tuned relationship machine. It was different than other relationships that I previously been in. I already knew I cared for Karen, I loved her as my friend which made it easily and quickly able for me to fall in love with her. For a hopeless romantic, such as myself, I was so excited about all the prospects of being in love. Mixed tapes, flowers, waking up early to greet her at work. All the things I wanted to do for someone, I finally got to do. It was pretty incredible.
Me and Karen grew closer, and we started to rely more on the other one. We both became the constant, the security, for the other. Specially during what turned out to be a very drama filled senior year, the moments we weren't together were very few. So few in fact that the thought of being apart for 4 years seemed unbearable. Shockingly early in our relationship, I created what I've since dubbed "The Plan." For a 17 year old kid who experienced love for the first time in his life "The Plan" sounded surprisingly simple and easy to do. I mean, love conquers all.. right? "The Plan" entailed that no matter what school we went to, we'd stay together, get married after graduation, start working, and then I would support her through law school. Yes, the credo of many of high school relationships. During most of my HS career I never considered going anywhere but New England for college. I always wanted to go back to New England since I moved away when I was ten. It was the last place I felt at home. I even e-mailed the wrestling coaches from a couple of Northeastern schools. None that I heard back from.... bastards. I don't remember how it came up, but sometime during our senior year Karen started to look into Duke University. At first it was more as a pipe dream than an actual possibility. She almost didn't even apply until encouraged to do so. Around the same time, I heard of a wrestler that I respected, Jordan Henning, getting signed to Campbell University wrestling team. I started to research the school, the prospect of a small Christian university in the middle of nowhere for some reason seemed alluring. Eventually we both received our acceptance letters and decided we were going to head to NC together.
We were filled with so much optimism about our move to North Carolina. For me, it felt like we were running away together, starting a new life, finally finding that alluding sense of home. I think back on it now and its kind of funny how arrogant we were. Two 18 year old kids, taking off 700 miles from all they knew, in two very different places, thinking they would be able to stay together. One trait of mine that constantly grew until it reached its apex during college was my insecurity. I've always been a pretty insecure guy, doubting if I am good enough, if what I do is good enough, constantly needing reassurance and praise. This combined with a bout of paranoia started to really hamper our relationship. Embarrassingly I would call continuously, sometimes up to 10 times in a row, hoping for her to pick up. I started adding "don't forget about me" to our good night routine. Karen would become distant and just seemed down right annoyed with me most of the time. Not our whole time we were together in college was filled with conflict. I think we made a pretty admirable run. We shared some sweet moments. I was still confident in our relationship, so confident in fact that I even went to look at rings once. Yet the inevitable kept creeping closer. My first years at Campbell I also became quite the legalist. I got pretty caught up in the world of the BSU's and the Campus Crusades. We would fight and argue and I would always feel like I was trying to uphold some kind of righteousness. I did a lot of condemning of her actions, words, etc. She would get offended, argue back to me, just making a mess of the whole situation. Most of our problems we would blame on the situation and our conversation constantly turned back to "Once we are married...." thinking it would be the fix. Heading towards new years our sophomore year, I knew we had serious problems. I was pretty damn determined to stick things out because I was so dedicated to "The Plan" and all the promises I made that those became more important than our relationship and what it turned into.
One evening during our winter break, I got violently ill with food poisoning. I remember trying to drive back to Orlando but not even being able to make it 5 miles before I had to pull over and puke my guts out. That night I had to spend the night on my old friend Jose's couch. The next morning, having pass the illness, I met Karen at a Chick-Fil-A. Our conversation turned to where I responded jokingly with something along the lines of "You don't like me anymore." The mood of the situation immediately changed, Karen gotten quiet and then asked why I said that. Sensing that things gotten serious, I told her because thats how I felt. We continued to talk, and eventually it was decided to take a break. As I drove back to Orlando, I fought back tears telling myself it was for the best and we'd get back together. The next few weeks in Florida was a whirlwind of drama which left me emotionally limping back to NC. Back in NC, me and Karen grew more distant every day. In my arrogance, I thought after couple of weeks of my absence, of what I felt was my amazing boyfriending abilities, Karen would come running back to me. Yet things just kept getting worse between us. I made a last ditch effort to get things back together Valentine Day, I surprised her with a visit and a hand written letter. She seemed really happy to see me that day, but that would actually be the last time I would see her for almost a year. I spent most of that night on Caitlin Monjeau's dorm room floor, questioning what I was doing there.
Then came the night everything changed. It felt like a typical night. Despite the break, Karen and I were still talking on the phone, typically telling each other good night. It was late and I was trying to call her to tell her goodnight. After a couple of calls and voicemails that when unanswered, I tried to go to bed. Not able to get to sleep, I went to my computer to waste time on the internet. I found her logged into AIM. When I IM'd her, I asked her what was going on and why she hasn't called. She responded that I was too emotional and that she didn't want to talk to me. My body was shocked with hurt, I was completely crushed. But a new emotion was raging through my body. I was angry. Throughout the whole break process, I was depressed. I was filled with sadness and despair. But once I saw those words across my screen, I was finally angry. Just the sudden cut of communication, I felt like I deserved better than that. That moment I felt that if she didn't want to talk to me, fine then screw her. I had written a letter a week prior, similar to our talk on her truck bed at the start of our relationship, urging us to work through this, that we worked so hard for the relationship we had and we couldn't let that go. I took the letter and ripped it into pieces and flung it into the trash. I went to bed that night in tears of rage and despair, knowing we'd never be the same again.
The weeks went on and in my broken state, I found myself in a new relationship. I actually figured I was doing Karen a favor by getting out of her hair once and for all. I assumed she would be happy that I found someone else. In the state of mind that I was in, I actually was surprised if she even cared at all. The night that I started my new relationship, I received a call from Karen. She was upset and hurt. Back then I didn't understand it at all. All I could think was how I figured this is exactly what she wanted. After we talked that night, I knew with certainty that we were finally over.
It took almost a year until I saw Karen again. The night before I couldn't sleep. Admittedly I was pretty nervous. "What if I go there and all my feelings come back?" I wondered. Karen played meeting up as this casual event, but for me, I had to do it to make sure my feelings were exhausted. During my insomniac state, I started looking at all the old notes she had written me. While looking over the old love letters and drawings, I decided that I couldn't keep those things. There was an old couple book that I brought for one of our anniversaries, where you write down little fun facts about the relationship. I pulled it out and started to fill everything out. Anniversary dates, pet names, a section for old notes. It was therapeutic to me. I felt as if there was no closure between me and Karen but as I finished each page of the book I felt like I was finally finishing our story. After the completion of the book, I decided to give it to Karen the following evening. The meeting went pretty normally. I didn't have an urge to try to win her back, so I figured the night was a success. Until I tried to give her the book. She took it as a gesture of affection to which she started to panic. I tried to explain what the gesture meant, but I don't think I even knew what it meant. Looking back, I think I just wanted her to remember. Karen is one of those individuals that can look forward towards tomorrow without any memory of yesterday. Its just how she always handled things, bulldoze forward, never look back. And to me, it felt like she completely forgotten everything and honestly it hurt me. It meant a lot for me for her to be able to look back fondly on the time we spent together because I did. I figured the book would of reminded her. That event left things between us awkward. But our lives continued to progress and we were able to patch things up.
Me and Karen maintain a pretty good friendship, specially compared to many other ex's standards. Its almost like amnesia. You see the person and there is that hint of familiarity. You can feel that you knew this person once but you can't place it, just sparks from a lighter with no fuel. You hear of the past, but you can't place yourself there. Its told like stories from a book. You don't own those memories anymore. This entry itself has been aided by the endless documentary of my life via blogs.
When I was growing up as this low-esteemed awkward chubby kid, it was impossible for me to fathomed what it was like to love and to be loved. I always figured I was always going to be the kid who would be left wanting, love unrequited. Then the impossible happened. It help me transform into the man I am today. When I think back about my teenage years, I can't help but to think of my time with Karen. I grew up in that relationship, not only chronologically, but emotionally, mentally, spiritually. This relationship help forged me into the man that would be blessed enough to marry Sara. The journey that brought me to a different state, that took me 4 years, that saw me through anniversaries, holidays, graduations, woe and triumphs, was the same journey that led me directly to my future wife, led me to Sara.