I loved those fall days and nights. They gave me purpose beyond just academics and tied me emotionally to her, campus, and the time I spent there. Even in just those formative days as I fell more and more deeply and madly in love with her I was creating a catalogue of special memories and associations that I would later on get to cherish and treasure for years to come. As I think back on those days in college I can create a map of places and special spots, physical landmarks on a roadmap to our love. There is the mall as I mentioned, where we would have mall Chinese when we needed a pick me up, and on Fridays when Panera would serve our absolute favorite: New England clam chowder. I would revisit this place over and over again. There is also the special hidden place in the park that I would take her at night, often after bowling. It would be at least 2am, pitch dark in the middle of the park, safely ensconced by the trees to block out any ambient light from the houses or streets or highways nearby. I loved taking her to the park at night because it was quiet and private and empty and it felt like everything belonged to us. Maybe it was selfish of me, this young boy secretly in love with this young girl, to desperately want to steal away as much time with her as I could before returning her home. We would leave the car outside the park and then walk inside. The spot was right by the lake, and sometimes we could hear the ducks in the water. It was a simple but large paved circular area with a low stone wall around one half. We would lie on our back in the middle of the circle and the wall was just high enough to block us from view whenever the random park guard might actually do rounds. We’d watch out for shooting stars, or admire the bright moon, and in those early morning hours, make wishes and share secrets. Sometimes we’d walk around the lake and if we ever heard any random noises, she’d get a little scared and move ever closer to me, gently holding onto my arm for safety and security. On campus we moved around a lot, as private areas, let alone private moments, were hard to come by. Still we managed to carve a few niches here and there. One of our favorite spots was under a tree in the quad. It was a large and old oak tree and we would spend plenty of afternoons and evenings underneath it. We would lean back to back against each other, propping each other up and talking, reading, or doing homework resting on the other person. At night when it got too dark or too cold or if the weather was bad we would go to the rarely ever used Commuter Lounge. It was a big empty room with chairs and sofas and tables. We’d play card games (keeping track of winners for those precious points of course) or just chat or even sometimes fall asleep together there. Shamelessly stealing naps during the day was one of our favorite past times. It was crazy how we had run of the place. No one ever used that space. We could play cards and then rearrange the sofas and chairs to comfortably be able to relax and no one ever came by. We’d spend hours there completely engrossed in each other’s company. To be honest, and I later admitted this to her after we started dating, I was so intently focused on her and absolutely against wanting to ever leave that I would ignore exhaustion and early morning classes to stay on campus until I knew for sure that the campus security would ticket my car for ‘overnight’ parking. Then and only then would I walk her to her dorm and then take the shuttle bus by myself to the parking garage to drive home, wiping the fatigue from my eyes.
It was those little things I most enjoyed doing with and for her in the beginning. Little things that just barely flirted with crossing the line between friend and something more. I didn’t want to give up the game just yet, let her know how I felt, I just wanted to keep playing with that blurry line. I was a big card player in high school, and that habit followed me into college. I always kept a deck of cards in my backpack and I was never one to turn down a game with anyone, but really I kept it because I knew she loved to play and loved the company. I never told her how tired I was, or how sometimes my bladder was practically ready to burst, because I always wanted to be the last one she saw during the day. I never wanted to leave her, and enjoyed making her think maybe, just maybe, she was the real and only reason why I stayed on campus so late each day. I readily and enthusiastically made myself available to her at all times. Guess I never got that memo on playing hard to get. Would have been too difficult to try and resist anyways. Sometimes I would be the tech geek she needed, calling on the few practical skills I learned in high school (a technical school where I specialized in computer science). I would try my best to figure out what was going on with her computer and if I couldn’t figure it out, Google was my best friend so that I could become hers. There was a time her CD drive was stuck and she had to recover something inside. I remembered an old trick someone showed me and, with a paper clip she gave me, was able to find this little pin point pressure switch and finagled my way into pressing it and opening it up. Other times I was a smooth bastard, drawing up some unknown level of confidence and smoothness I have yet to successfully recreate. Sometimes when she was upset and crying, whether over family stress or school struggles or some personal strife, I would sit close to her, offer her my handkerchief (a habit I picked up from my father, of which I should really thank him for), and say in such a silly stupid way, ‘if you keep crying like that, people are going to think I’m a jerk’. It usually did a good enough job getting enough of a chuckle to get her to smile, and then talk to me, and then maybe her tears would go away and I would see the sun and the moon and the stars in her eyes and in her smile once more. Another time I remember she was in the library, looking particularly glum, slouched in her chair and head down on the table. ‘Penny for your thoughts?’ I asked her, as I slid a penny across the table to her.
I think one of my favorite memories of that fall semester was around Halloween. She was deathly afraid of all scary movies and I am a big horror junkie. I told her how every October I would bombard myself with as many scary movies each night as possible and invited her to join in. Of course she didn’t want to. But I compromised, and suggested my favorite zombie comedy, Shaun of the Dead. This would be the very first in a long string of movies we shared together. I wanted her to enjoy and have fun and look forward to this, as I knew she was doing something way out of her comfort zone for me and I appreciated it. So on a day I didn’t actually have any classes or any reason to be on campus, I left early in the afternoon to go to a Japanese supermarket near my home. I bought all her favorite snacks. Strawberry gummies, chocolate covered pretzel sticks, eel rice balls, and these hard rock candies she shared with me one time. Loaded with goodies and treats I went all the way back to school and called her up. We went to one of the student lounges on one of the floors in her dorm building. I took out my laptop and loaded the movie, and was so happy to surprise her with the unreasonable amount of junk food and snacks I had been able to squeeze into my messenger bag. The room was cold and dirty (some student party the night before I assume). The chair was old and scratchy and smelled musty. But when the scary parts came, she sat close to me. Still one of my all-time favorite movie watching experiences ever. After that time, bringing in movies in my bag and watching together somewhere on campus became a regular treat for us, before and during our time dating. Mostly her favorite films. Anastasia. Mulan. Her favorite Disney classics. I have seen a disproportionate amount of Tinkerbell and Tinkerbell-related animated films. Sometimes I’d sneak in a few of my own picks. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Better Off Dead. I loved that she was into films and encouraged that she enjoyed my picks.
Looking back, I can see why after Beautiful, I began to get much more picky in the women I would date. ‘Shamelessly enjoys day naps’ would become a major feature on my various dating profiles. Eternal Sunshine and Better Off Dead became mandatory required viewing pretty early on in the dating process. Someone who was really into Japanese food would always be a major plus for me as well. For better or for worse, I would always be chasing after Beautiful’s shadow.
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