Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Tale of Two Lovers

It was August of 2001. For the better part of the previous year I had attended Pinewood School in Los Altos Hills with, among others, one Kelly Carlsted. Kelly brought Lisa Noon - dear friends that they were and are - to a dance at Pinewood earlier in the year where I made Lisa's acquaintance and even shared a slow-dance with her. On that 13th of August, a Monday, at Especially For Youth (known amongst some of my friends as Mormon Boot Camp), I recognized Lisa - who, parenthetically, is Buddhist. Standing with her there in the Lucie Stern Hall cafeteria at Stanford University was a young woman named Adrienne. (I'm told that Lisa, after meeting me the first time, mentioned to Adrienne her having met "this cute Mormon boy" whom she might like.)

There was something simultaneously intriguing and familiar about Adrienne. We were friends right away. She was relaxed and hilarious and kind. We ran into each other all over campus, spent our time together at the dances and the talent show, and discovered our mutual love of Weezer and third-wave ska and other music that was somehow agreed on by hot chicks like her and tube-sock-wearing dweebs like me.

After EFY, the next time I saw her was at a Weezer concert in San Jose. She was, in fact, with me when I encountered my first celebrity man-crush at said concert: Mike Park of Asian Man Records. We left the concert arm in arm, loudly singing "El Scorcho" and others, mostly unconcerned with what those around us thought of our (sober) carousing. A month or two later came her 16th birthday party at her home in Saratoga. Fifteen minutes by car is a long trip when you can't drive, so I only made it there once in high school. I felt surrounded by people whose on-campus popularity far exceeded mine. Adrienne denies the validity of this impression. We met up at an Aquabats show at Slim's in San Francisco, ran into each other unplanned at another, and my autumn 2002 move to Salt Lake City made that the last of our meetings until just before I left on my mission.

Three years, five months (it was now the summer between my first year of college and my mission), a few sporadic phone calls and several hours' worth of AIM conversations later, a vaguely familiar 408 number came up on my phone. It was my old friend, Adrienne. She was in Salt Lake City, where I was again living. The idea of meeting up with her was interesting to me, but I pictured in my mind only a brief recap of the last four years, a good story or two, a one-and-a-quarter-second hug, and a few nice e-mails before I left for Indiana. I got more than I thought I'd bargained for.

After getting dinner at Beto's and reminiscing some time (to reference a great '90s rap tune), I decided I should sleep. For the entirety of my drive back home from her aunt Jeri's house, I filled my ears and my vocal cords with the anthemic and sentimental strains of Weezer's Pinkerton album. If there's a single album that for me calls to mind a single person and time period, it's Pinkerton and the images it evokes of Adrienne and the year between the summers of 2001 and 2002 (a time we both refer to as our "age of innocence"). Upon my arrival, my foot was nudged by something that slid from under my seat. It was Adrienne's camera. I informed her without delay that I was coming back to return it. Almost coyly, she replied that I "(didn't) have to". I paid no mind.

What followed was a beautiful, bittersweet, ultimately inexplicable night. We exposed our hearts. For the first time, I really began to reciprocate what Adrienne felt for me. The difficult part was that we had both been seeing other people and were soon to be far apart for what seemed like another æon.

The final pangs of my teenage angst (I was nearly 19) were felt as we parted ways - I was soon to be a celibate missionary five states away, and what were we to do about it? We saw each other twice more in the next month, and then I was off to the Missionary Training Center for three weeks before the plane to Indiana. As an aside, a joke perpetuated by missionaries at the MTC is that the one difference between it and prison is permission to visit people who are in prison.

Adrienne and I wrote occasionally throughout my mission service. We were excited to get each other's letters, but we also had our minds on other folks. However - as a missionary in Muncie, Indiana, I wrote what is to this day the most straightforward and sincere love song I've ever written. It was about Adrienne - specifically, the morning we said goodbye at Jeri's after talking until nine or 10 in the morning. It'll be made public someday.

I arrived home in Palo Alto in September of 2007 only to move back to Salt Lake City two weeks later. Miss Barringer and I were seeing each other semiweekly (that's more than once per week) by Halloween. We once again found the capacity and propensity for scouringly personal conversations that tended to last well into the night. Thus began a fairly impassioned - albeit unsteady - partnership that lasted through April. The devil, as some say, is in the details. I often say these days that Adrienne and I learned each other's absolute best and absolute worst before we started the brief dating stint that led to our engagement; these winter months were the setting for that most valuable education. Sometimes within the same day we loved and loathed each other, pushed and pulled each other, held and soothed each other. (That's not a song lyric, but it may soon be copyrighted, so beware.) Looking over the e-mails and messages we exchanged during that time is a telling thing. In addition to being rife with our personal jokes and nicknames and stories, they display our deep concern and love for each other coupled with a frustration that is only born of imbalanced feelings. The crux of our problem, I eventually realized, was my reluctance to take the relationship further. When one's significant other acts on romantic feelings only to back off repeatedly, one is sure to want to tear one's (and one's partner's) hair out.

It suffices to say we didn't see each other for nearly two more years. I'll take the blame for the impetus that led to our silence. We had very sporadic contact via various impersonal wireless media, but it was all very terse and tenuous. When everything blew up, I didn't think a "sorry" would be accepted; when contact resumed, I'd forgotten that I'd forgotten to apologize.

But, nevertheless, regular contact did slowly resume in late 2009. I was always happy to hear from Adrienne (little did she know during that time) and was especially glad that she was warming up to me again. While we were home over the winter break, she conceded to my frequent requests to see each other and we met up at her house in Saratoga just before New Year's Eve. We were very cordial and a little distant, but we had more honest communication and sincere laughs than I'd ever expect at our reunion given the way things had ended the last time. After we got a nice dinner at I Gatti (her old employer - a clever Italian translation of its hometown's name, Los Gatos) with the aforementioned Kelly and her boyfriend that night, we were sitting outside a theater in my car. She called me by name while explaining something. She wasn't looking at me, so she didn't see me trying to hold back the, uh, waterworks. I realized I had really, really missed this woman.

I went back to my parents' apartment with a strange feeling. I had fallen for Adrienne all over again. I wrote out my thoughts about the prospect of ending up with her - the logic, the nostalgia, the pros and cons and everything in between. We met up two days later and spent another NYE ('07-'08 we were in Santa Cruz with Mars and Lisa) together. This included a mountain drive with her brother, Patrick. I once again went home with the vibe that, despite my newly-throbbing heart, she wasn't about to jump back into the past with me. I started to think she was wise in her resistance. Back to Utah we went, I hoping to take her on a date and she seemingly thinking little of our brief reunion. A post showed up on my Facebook wall: "hey dude, wanna tune my guitar?". A glimmer of hope!

Tune Adrienne's guitar I indeed did, immediately after which I commenced in plucking out two love songs that had made me think of her for years. Her poker face remained. I played the songs a few more times at later dates with the same result. Regardless of her nonchalance toward the song-and-strum with which I once wooed her, we started having more and more fun. We shared big entrées at local joints, we verbally harassed each other, we sent funny stories at all hours of the day via text message, we sang uninhibitedly, we read from the scriptures. But - when a passing comment about her "nice legs" slipped between my teeth, she started to get suspicious. Later that night - it was February 3rd of 2010 now - I explained my resurging feelings. Her free spirit, her giving heart, her formidable strength, her smile, her intellect and intuition and singing voice and soft striking beauty and all our common ground and wonderful memories had been haunting me since that night at Jeri's four-and-a-half years ago, and they finally assaulted me.

We talked about it after her (subdued) shock wore off, decided not to ruin our friendship with another dating relationship, and then changed our minds after a couple days. Shortly thereafter, realizing we had witnessed in full every good and bad thing (not only did we shake hands with each of each other's closeted skeletons, but we invited them over for dinner and conversation and pie) about one another, and realizing furthermore that we still loved each other, and my realizing that whatever trepidation I'd had about the relationship in past years was almost completely gone, we started talking about, y'know, the future. Very quickly, I know - but it was an awfully (for a couple of kids in their twenties) long time in the making. The "odds" of us getting married began to be quasi-jokingly verbalized in projections beginning at 60-40, on to 70-30, and so forth. The perusing of pages and pages of rings, dresses, and color combos naturally followed. I enjoyed it too.

I got a ring she liked. I called her folks, whom I'd already met several times and who were very nice in giving their blessing on the whole thing. Then Adrienne and I went on a "picnic" to the Bonneville Salt Flats where no one and no thing can be seen or heard for miles. She got cold and wanted to get back in the car, so I decided after driving back south for a few minutes that I had to pee. Afterward, I announced my bright idea to slow-dance out there on the cold, salty plains. I put Weezer's "Butterfly" (from Pinkerton, of course) on the stereo, again made sure she didn't notice the little box in my coat pocket, and, once the song ended, I did it. She did it. On went the ring.

* * *

So in the end EFY was, as its proprietors and attendees often hope it will be, the setting of a chance meeting which eventually led to a romance. And here we are: two romantics who wake up late -- two exact equals who hate and love the world -- two weird kids who make fake facebook accounts and are content to wear the same thing six days in a row, leave for LA at 3 AM and crash on friends' couches, headbang in the car, exchange clothes, reminisce about our high school days, watch a Scorsese flick, then read inspired words from religious texts. We make salads, we laugh at farts, we pray, we buy cheap nice crap, we grow and teach each other and improve independently and together. We know each other inside and out, in all seasons and levels of maturity, and love each other all the more because of it. We sprang back from having given up on each other - but, proverbially and literally, we never burned each other's letters. We went from mutually-attracted good friends to long-lost friends to lover-best-friends to embittered exes to acquaintances to best friends to lovers to family.

A running joke about two people being "the bomb diggity" individually and, by fate, together, was born in a skit we saw the week we met. To this day we continue referencing it. I'd like to think it finally has proper application.

(Written by the lovely and talented James McOmber -- my husband-to-be with whom I share this real life fairytale. Thanks for taking the time to write this out, dear. I love you.)