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A Milestone In My Life: Reconnecting With Him Ten Years Later

October 9, 2014

So there was this guy.

thI know, I know, for as single as I am (hint: very) I write about boys a disproportional amount. How many crushes and almosts can a girl really talk about before her friends start to worry? But, please, bear with me (at least) one more time because this one means a lot to me. It even has a happy ending! I promise.

I’ve told you already about the river trips my family goes on every summer and what a magical thing they can be, throwing people together who otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to really connect and helping to put our distracted lives into a focused perspective. We float and laugh, cry and hike, hug and play. These camping trips have shaped me into the person I am today, feeding me lesson after lesion that I’ve taken back to the real world and built my life around. It makes sense that this story begins with one.

On the river trip the summer before my senior year of high school I met this guy. To talk about who I was then is difficult; in many ways that 17 year old seems so different than who I am now. But what I internalized on that week long adventure has become a fixed point in my life that I can credit with so much of who I am today. It’s become a milestone for me, a moment in time that completely shifted who I thought I could be and how I’d go about getting there.

I was just about to start my senior year of high school, and while I never lacked for friends or things to do, I lacked what all 17 year olds lack, self-confidence and direction. When I met him it felt like he, Kelsey, was exactly what I never knew I was missing. Nearly 30, he had more confidence and charisma than anyone I’d ever met. His energy was endless and enthusiasm unwavering; he said what he felt and knew who he was.

He was my friend’s cousin, tagging along on our adventure for no reason other than because he’d been invited.  In a way I was just tagging along too, showing up on these trips because my family chose to. He and I became fast friends on the trip, mostly because I like to listen and he liked to talk, but also because we were both at a crossroads in our lives, both trying to figure out which parts of who we were would carry over to who we were going to become. I was a blank canvas, about to apply to colleges and break out on my own, and he was faced with an ultimatum, marry his girlfriend or walk away.

Over the course of the week we became what I can only remember as inseparable, though it’s been almost ten years so it’s likely at least some things have been romanticized. Whenever I found myself alone he’d arrive soon after, asking me my thoughts or showing me something new. In group conversations he’d look to see if I was laughing, or move closer to me so we could better connect. When we played horseshoes I was on his team, when we played badminton I was his biggest threat. When we played Frisbee he always threw to me and when we played touch football he picked me up and spun me around instead of blocking. We were physical and verbal, emotional and crass, young and unafraid.

He saw me, took the time to ask what I thought about things, learn who I was, explore who I wanted to become. We were always the last to bed, staying up long after most people had left the campfire, talking of life or sports or whatever else we could think of. I felt like his go to person. And for that week I was.

On the last night we stayed up talking about life and love and he said some classic line like, I bet those high school boys are lining up for you. I insecurely brushed it off, shaking my head and laughing like that was absurd. I’ll never forget how he looked at me silently for a second and then exploded, standing up and yelling to the star-filled sky that what I’d just done was total bullshit, that it’s a travesty that girls like me ever feel like they aren’t amazing. He kept talking and pacing as he explained that confidence is the most attractive and important thing anyone can have and that being secure and strong and sure of yourself is the only thing that matters. We’re only wasting time worrying whether or not we’re beautiful enough or interesting, he said, just believe you are those things and it becomes true.

After a second he sat down next to me and made sure I looked him in the eyes when he said, you’re beautiful, never question that.

He made me promise to never forget it and while in the years since I have, of course, questioned that, I can always come back to that moment when he told me that beauty is in your actions.

When I came back to my life without him I didn’t know how to explain what had happened. How do you tell your high school friends that because a guy saw you, for the first time you saw yourself?

As I tried to tell them the story fell flat, my friends demanding the rest of the story. Is that all that happened? Are you sure you’re not leaving anything out? You didn’t kiss him!? How old was he? You’re lying! My vulnerable ego wanted, needed them to understand how I’d changed, so I hastily embellished a few details, hoping that saying we’d kissed would help them connect with what had happened.

It was immature and unnecessary and I eventually told my friends the truth of it, but in the years since I’ve thought of that week often, reminding myself of the significance of his words and the lessons I learned in trying to explain them afterward.

n33572This weekend on a trip to Chicago I saw him again. I was nervous, of course, not wanting the man who has become a fixed point in my life to let me down, or worse, to let him down myself. I was about to see how much can change in ten years and find out whether my memory had led me astray. What if I’d imagined our connection, or if he’d forgotten me? What if he’d lost himself over the years, or what if hadn’t actually taken what he’d said to heart? With a deep breath I put on a brave face and walked through the door with confidence, shaking his hand along with all the other people I’d met here and there across my lifetime.

My fake confidence worked and I found myself talking freely and laughing along with the group. I took care to win over his kids and showed interest in what he said, doing my best to figure out if any of what we’d had would resurface.

It wasn’t long before it felt like he and I were alone.

He showed me things around his yard and met my eyes as he placed a fuzzy caterpillar on my hand. He moved closer to me as he scrolled through photos of cool insects on his phone and teased me as we played keep away with a football. All those feelings from before were right where we’d left them, just waiting to resurface.

When I asked him about the chestnut tree that my dad had given him after our river trip he led me through a gate and away from the others. Just the two of us walked around the other side of the house and talked like no time had passed. He joked, I provoked, and we saw each other again. I couldn’t stop smiling, not because I thought anything would happen or even should happen, but it just felt nice to be alone with him. Alone with an awesome man who in so many ways changed my life and was still that same person I had cherished.

He has no idea how much he shaped me with just one week, but it was nice to feel like I’d grown up to represent him well. He even offered up some advice like he did before, telling me that the one thing about kids is that once you have them, your time is no longer your own. Have a plan by 30, he said, because after that there is no time to change things up or figure anything out.

When it was time for us to leave he sought me out for a hug, holding me tightly so I knew we’d done right by each other. It felt good to be in his arms, in the way that everything I’d ever felt with him was valid and reciprocated. I knew he was proud of me, and he knew I was proud of him.

And better yet, as I walked out the door of his house, I realized I was proud of myself.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2014 7:07 pm

    This is beautiful, you’re a terrific writer and sound like an awesome human being
    Much love,

  2. October 10, 2014 8:17 am

    It’s funny which moments end up being so influential, even years later. It sounds like an uplifting experience all around–I’m glad you got to reconnect with him!

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