This post is part of “This Blogger Life”. Each week ChicagoNow bloggers are challenged with a different topic. This week’s topic is “…and that’s the day my life changed.”
Over 20 years ago, half a lifetime away, the end of my freshman year of college was fast approaching. There was one bright spot amid all the stress that accompanies the end of the semester: spring weekend. Held the first weekend of May, the highlight was the all-day outdoor concert on the lawn outside my dorm facing the lake. Music, drinks, abundant sunshine, what’s not to love about that?
A classmate who lived on my floor came from a small rural town close to school. She had the most prized possession among us freshmen: a car. She also had the second most prized possession: an older brother who was 21. Big brother showed up that day, with plenty of beer and a friend named Dave.
I don’t remember the bands that played that day, I don’t remember what I drank that made me so giggly that I rolled down the hill toward the lake but I do remember meeting him. He kept following me around, calling my name. At the end of the day before I stumbled back to my room, he asked me for my number. What the hell, I thought and gave it to him.
The next morning the phone rang. “It’s for you, ” my roommate sleepily mumbled. It was Dave. “I’m off tonight, let’s go out. Just friends.” I agreed, just friends. We went out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant and then to see “Three of Hearts”. He tried to put his arm around me but I shrugged it off. At the end of the night I explained that I was leaving for home 3 hours away for the summer right after finals and I didn’t think it was fair to get involved with anyone. While disappointed, he understood, “We can be the best of friends then.”
He grew on me. I learned he was a machinist by night, volunteer firefighter by day who spent time in the Navy after high school. We went out again the following week before I left for break, same restaurant, different movie, “Indian Summer” this time. Two weeks later in early June I drove out for a visit. Again, he tried to put his arm around me. This time I didn’t shrug it off.
So it began. He visited me, I visited him. We rang up ridiculous long distance bills. He used the L word. I said it back.
Still, by the time Thursday, July 29, 1993 arrived the following month, I could count on my two hands the number of times we had seen each other. He was driving out for the day and the agenda included dinner and a movie double date with a high school friend. At first it seemed like another dinner and another movie.
After the movie, we sat alone in his truck and talked, among other things. Then he reached over to the glove box and pulled out a small square box. There it was, a round cut diamond solitaire set on a gold band.
“Please, will you marry me?”
I just couldn’t. I could have easily said yes. No one ever asked out the smart, nerdy girl so I thought maybe this could be it. While he was genuinely a good person who I could trust, we were so very different. I loved reading and college in general, he didn’t have a single book in his house. He liked country, I liked classic rock. He was an avid hunter, I didn’t eat meat. Also, how much do you really know someone after only two months? All the times we spent together were happy and fun. I had no clue as to how we would react to the bad times that life throws you.
My college prided itself on empowerment and even sent me a t-shirt to that effect when I accepted but that night for the first time I truly felt empowered. In a moment of amazing clarity for an 18-year old, when I said no, I said yes to freedom in choosing my future without having to run every detail by someone. When I said no, I said yes, yes to my internship in New York City, yes to working all night on the newspaper, yes to study abroad in Germany, yes to moving to New York City. As a scholarship student, college was an incredibly precious gift to me and I wasn’t ready to share. Also, I was haunted by the experience of another girl on my floor. Midway through our first semester her boyfriend proposed to her. Unlike me, she said yes. She didn’t come back for second semester.
Looking back, so much was wrong about that night. At the very least, I didn’t want to remember the night I got engaged as the night I went to see “Robin Hood, Men in Tights”.
We dated for a couple of more months but when you tell someone you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with him, that is a tough barrier to get around. By early October I decided to move on.
That night even though I said no, he asked me to try on the ring, so I put it on. It was at least a size too big. For right or wrong I took that as a sign. Unlike that ring, the next ring I tried 11 years later on fit perfectly, in every way. I wear it still, alongside a wedding band and a 10-year anniversary band.
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