Age 17 – Mindy
It starts like this. She goes to the private school and I go the public one. She goes to the South Church – the more aristocratic Mennonite church in our hometown – and I go the North, the more bohemian. Before we truly meet, I see her once. I’m with my mom at the Sioux Empire Mall, buying clothes at American Eagle and so is she, only with her brother. Mindy’s family is very well off, and though mine is not, I feel rich while talking with this girl. She flirts better than anyone I’ve ever met. I think this very thought.
Soon after, my friend Nick, Nick’s sister, and Mindy and I go to an island to camp overnight. When it’s dark, Mindy and I exchange headrubs and even through the campfire, I smell her shampoo. I am so happy to have her near me. She has blonde hair and white teeth and later in life she’ll work as a social planner. For now, she is considered ‘hot’ by those at the private school. I don’t know how, but we begin seeing each other. I get her parent’s number from the phonebook and the first time we talk I’m on my bed. My blanket is blue, with red stitching, and it feels like a strangely magical time right before dark. A dangerous thunderstorm is coming and Mindy giggles about it with me over the phone and with her friend, Kim, who she’s having a sleepover with (15 years later it will seem odd to giggle about such ominous weather, but I know Mindy was raised to believe things would always turn out for the best)
Over the summer we see each other. We go to a water park. We go miniature golfing. We go on a mission trip to Canada and on the bus Mindy sits by me. She rests her head on my shoulder and sleeps. At one point in Canada, which I can now see as the beginning of our end, I think she’s flirting too much with another boy. To retaliate, I hide in a nearby forest and I can remember now, watching from where I hid, as she and a couple of her friends look for me. That she would care enough to do so makes me happy. Though later, as a grown person, it will make me uneasy to think I’m the same person, just older, who would hide from a girl because she is not paying him enough attention.
Our best moment comes soon after we get back from Canada, when we watch Shawshank Redemption in my parent’s basement. After the movie, I kiss Mindy’s bare breasts. A week or so later, right before school starts, around the time I get my braces off, Kim delivers to me a note. I still have it. It’s only a couple paragraphs. You might have a similar one.
Age 19 – Megan
It is near the end of my sophomore year of college and I have met the woman of my dreams. She rides horses – though I don’t know of that being a red flag – she wears a belly-button ring, and she has the most perfect imperfect smile I’ve seen in my life. She has the body of an aerobics instructor, knows about Five Iron Frenzy, and all of a sudden she’s attending the same Campus Crusade for Christ meetings. I am a devout follower of God and so I pray Megan might someday be my wife. Megan is good at flirting, which I note once again (the last time I do) and though I love when she does so with me, I want to crawl back into the forest whenever I see her do it with someone else at our weekly Campus Crusade meetings. We kiss only once, while watching The Matrix, and it is me kissing her, and only on the forehead. Many times Megan will tell me she is “really screwed up” and “not a good person to be in a relationship with.” Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not a movie yet, but I’ll later see it and immediately think of the talks I had with Megan.
It’s at the end of our semester and so it’s time to go back to our respective small towns. But before we leave Megan tells me when we get back in the fall, she might be in a better place for a boyfriend. Over the summer I see her at a Christian music festival in rural Minnesota, though she doesn’t acknowledge me with more than pleasantries. I pray harder. When we get back to school I call, just like she’d told me to, and I ask how she’s been, how her summer went. She answers tersely. Still, I get the nerve to ask her out to a movie and this is when she begins to tell me about what has happened. His name is Vance. He is not a Christian. He is 31 years old. They are in love.
Age 25 – Suzanne
My hope in God is nearly dead, though I’ve met someone who may revive it. She’s from Alabama and she is a thrower. She is the friend of a friend on MySpace and seems like someone I would love, looking like a young Catherine Keener. By God’s will, she replies to my message by asking why I list “shepherding” as one of my “activities.” In reply, I quote part of Good Will Hunting.
Over the next months Suzanne and I talk for hours a day. I change my ringtone for her. Years later, I’ll be able hear its melody in my head. I get drunk for the first time while on the phone with Suzanne, and, with her, I have phone sex. After barely more than two months I go to Alabama and in the first moment I see Suzanne I think this is it, all of life’s decisions pointed me toward this person and so even if things seemed pointless and random before, they now have meaning. We go back to Suzanne’s place holding hands. She smells of herbal soap and earth. We listen to music in her tiny apartment as she straddles me wearing her silk bathrobe. Here is the first time in my life where I am given time to inspect a woman’s body and I know now this is best thing God has ever made. Over the next days I meet Suzanne’s family and go with her to church. I work at her organic family grocery store and see where she does her pottery. On our last night, we talk of finding a place near hers.
When I get back home I have a voicemail, though I can’t understand it, as the reception on her end is bad. In the morning I have a text message referencing a bible verse, one regarding purity. When I call back, Suzanne tells me God has spoken and while this is more or less the same note Mindy gave me, as an older person, and with it coming from God, it seems harder to understand.
Age 30 – Emily
I’ve met someone from a dating website. She is dark haired and an artist, with a patient, good heart. What’s more, she has the kind of curves I dreamed of when I dreamed of my wife. Still, something is missing, whatever ‘that thing’ is, and it’s missing from the start. And though I hope it will arrive, it never does. So, after nearly a half a year of seeing each other, I drive to her place in the middle of a hot summer, on maybe the hottest day of that hot summer, and I break things off as best I can.
I don’t do well, but I get through it and I leave her at the stairs. I see her there wearing a ratty old shirt, no bra, and pajama pants. Her face is flushed red, because her commune house has no air conditioning. I want give her a hug, but I don’t and I just leave. I’ve made it through. Then over the weekend I long for Emily and on Sunday I call her and we go to brunch on a Monday. She’s bought a new iPhone and she takes my picture. She programs me in. For a couple months we pretend and when I finally end it for the second time, I don’t have the courage to do it in person. I send an email, a note.
Age 32 – Claire
Just two weeks ago she messages me with, “You had me at jean shorts” (my main profile picture) and from there we’re off, talking over gchat our first night, video chatting too. Then the next night she comes over, then the night after, and on and on like that. This is one of those happy whirlwinds.
But I’ve forgotten the year since Emily, all the times the universe used to even out my cavalier, childish behavior and so very soon things take a U-turn. Claire comes over to talk after work because she says over text she had a really bad day. We’re in bed and I see a red mark, the size of a penny, on her neck.
It is not from me.