Back when I was feeling nostalgic about my first apartment with Ms. B., I mentioned that the story of how D and I fell in love probably deserved its own blog post. Valentine’s Day seems like as good a day as any to share that story, although I realize now it’s a longer story than I can tell over my lunch hour. This is just a start, and I’ll have to continue it later.
The short version of the story is that D and I met in college as architecture undergrads. The architecture program at KU is relatively small, and by the end of our first year we had been in several classes together, although we didn’t really know it. Near as I can tell, D first saw me, although he didn’t know me at the time, 8 1/2 months pregnant, being yelled at by Professor Newton at the front of our Intro to Architecture lecture hall to “Just give birth, already!” (Pregnant with Ms. B., I had gone to Professor Newton before class started to turn in my midterm paper three weeks early. I was worried that I would go in to labor and miss the deadline. Professor Newton refused to take my paper, called me insane, and told me to go away and have my baby. This was all very consistent with Professor Newton. I think all he was trying to say was ‘Don’t worry about it.” But Professor Newton couldn’t tell you anything without a minimum level of raised voices and mild insults. He did it all with an English accent. I loved him).
To say the least, I had a lot going on at the time. I was completely oblivious to D’s existence, even though he was in some of my classes, including my spring Studio (the most important class, where Architecture students spend the majority of their time). Distracted by my baby and thinking about how I was going to escape a disastrous relationship with Ms. B’s dad, I would get into Studio during the time I was required to be there, put some headphones on, do my work and go home. Ms. B’s dad also had some pretty out of control jealousy issues that were causing lots of problems at home, so I avoided any guys like they were carrying the plague. I talked to three girls in my class: Amy, Raquel, and a girl named Shelby who, much to everyone’s relief, changed her major the next semester. As for the other 20-30 people in my class, at the time I would have struggled to tell you their names or pick their faces out of a crowd.
One day, midway through that spring semester, I was in Studio, doing my head down, headphones on thing. I was working on a drawing, but was mentally back at my apartment packing suitcases, when I became aware that someone was standing by my desk. I looked up and that was the first time I saw D. Actually, I didn’t see D. I saw blue. Blue, blue, turquoise blue eyes. Those blue eyes were smiling down at me, and I was vaguely aware that the mouth below those eyes was complimenting me on my work. My head was buzzing. I hope I remembered to close my mouth, but probably not. I just mumbled ‘thanks,’ and he wandered away. I remember thinking, “Shit. Shit. Shit. Those blue eyes are most definitely not a problem I need right now.” I shook it off and firmly pushed the encounter away.
A few weeks later, our professor divided us into small groups for a project. D was in my group (as was Chris, who you Girls will know as one half of “Chris and Maggie”). I know D and I talked about the project. I know I learned D’s name, and that he seemed like a nice, intelligent guy. But from my memory, that’s about it.
For his part, D will tell you that after we worked on that group project one evening, the entire group went over to Chris’ residence hall where we all ate dinner together. We then all watched the movie “Wonder Boys,” where D and I sat next to each other and had a delightful and flirty conversation. D will tell you that’s when he first really started to notice me and think I was cute.
Girls, that story is a complete fabrication. I never went to Chris’ for dinner that spring. I never sat next to D. I never had delightful flirty conversations while watching the movie “Wonder Boys.” It never happened. If, when he’s old and senile, D starts to tell you that this is where he first started to have a crush on your mother, just nod your head. Indulge him, but know that he’s completely made that whole story up. I would love to know who he talked to that night. She’s probably kicking herself over the lost opportunity with ol’ blue eyes. She’s probably just as nostalgic about the movie “Wonder Boys” as D is.
By the end of that spring semester, I had split from Ms. B’s dad and moved back home with my parents. I didn’t talk to anyone from school about what was going on with me, not even Amy (I don’t think), and just disappeared for the summer. At the end of summer, I moved into Apartment G7 and, a few weeks after that, fall classes started. D was in several of my classes, including my Studio again, this time his desk right behind mine.
I didn’t like how isolated I had been in previous semesters, so that fall I was trying to spend more time working in Studio outside of just my regular class hours. I wanted to meet more of my classmates and hopefully make some friends, and that included D. In a detached way, I could acknowledge that D was cute. But at that time the possibility of dating anyone was so far off my radar it was nonexistent. It was some ancient fairy tale that hadn’t been told for centuries. I felt I had a better chance of spotting the Loch Ness Monster or Sasquatch than going on an actual date.
I was in the market for friends. D was a nice guy, he made me laugh, he seemed like as good a candidate as any. We would joke around, or debate music, or have late night studio dance parties, always in a group with other members of our class. Eventually D started joining Amy and me for the occasional breakfast at Perkins, or our bi-weekly lunch-n-naps at my apartment. Before too long, D and I were doing things together without Amy, just the two of us. It felt organic.
It was around this time that D started to think we were actually dating. He was just taking it slow and being respectful because of the whole ‘single-mom’ thing. I was a little oblivious. I was just thinking, “Wow, this D guy is turning out to be a pretty good friend!”
Actually, looking back on it, I was more than a little oblivious.
One of the things D and I used to do together in those early days was to walk across campus and, on nice days, we would lay on the grass in that grove of trees between the Spencer Museum of Art and the Campanile. I think it’s actually called Marvin Grove. But one afternoon, as we were laying on our backs and looking up at the trees, D randomly asked, “Do you ever imagine there are monkeys swinging around up in those trees?” I laughed, and said, “Or maybe just a fat guy in a monkey suit?” The level of sleep deprivation faced by architecture undergrads does pretty catastrophic things to your sense of humor. We thought this was the height of hilarity, and have called that part of campus the Monkey Grove ever since.
On one of those early visits to the Monkey Grove, D ran his fingers through my hair and said, “I love the way the sun looks in your hair. It’s such a pretty color.” Writing that sentence now, I want to smack my palm on my forehead because all I thought at the time was, “Gee, that was a friendly thing for my friend to say.” In my defense, the two to three years of my life leading up to that sentence had been pretty surreal in a way that could lead to some confusion about what is and is not normal ‘friend’ behavior. But Girls, I’m telling you, if a boy ever runs his fingers through your hair and uses any variation of the word ‘pretty,’ he does not think he is being a friendly friend.
A few weeks after that, on a weekend Ms. B. was visiting her dad, I was working late at night in Studio with several of my classmates, including D. One by one, our classmates packed up and went home for the evening, until it was just D and I left. It was something like 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., and rather than go home and get some sleep like normal, sane people, D and I decided we would go to Perkins for breakfast. We sat across from each other over pancakes and coffee and just talked. D would make references to the movie “Wonder Boys” that I didn’t understand (’cause, you know, I never SAW that movie). Eventually the topic of conversation turned to dating.
“I look at it this way,” I explained. “I’m a mess. I get that. I’m a single mom with a toddler. What college guy in his right mind would want to get involved with this level of chaos? I accept the fact that I’m probably going to be single at least until we graduate.”
At that, D reached across the table, pried my hand off my coffee mug, and held it tight. We silently stared at each other for a few moments, our hands stretched across the table. I thought D was looking at me with pity. Like he was thinking, “My poor friend who’s going to be single forever.” He was probably thinking, “You poor, blind idiot.”
“Stop it,” I said eventually, twisting my hand away. “I’m okay. It just is what it is.”
“I don’t think that’s ‘just the way it is’ at all,” he said.