Thursday, October 25, 2007

Why sometimes breaking up is easy to do

For those of you playing our game, if you guessed option number 3 several posts back, you would be correct. It was fairly obvious, wasn't it? The loud bassy music, the peeling tires, the f-bomb as introduction...I mean, what's not to love? Perhaps we can psychoanalyse my teenage stupidity another time, though. For now, I have a tiny confession to make. I wasn't quite honest with you before when I said that Bachelor #3 was my very first boyfriend. I did go out with a boy for 36 hours when I was 14 years old at church camp. It was the longest 36 hours of my life.

For those of you with the good fortune of never having been to church camp, a little background information may be necessary. Church camp was a week-long hormone-laden frenzy of matching up two by two, Noah's Ark-like. Seven emotionally fraught days of frantic hand-holding and covert kissing while the adults weren't looking. Touching between the opposite sex was strictly forbidden, and boys and girls were technically supposed to maintain a person-wide distance between themselves. Also, girls' shorts were to be no shorter than an inch above the knee. No tank tops. Obviously, these rules were bent to the breaking point as often as possible.

The goal of church camp, along with dedicating your life to the Lord, was to "go out" with someone, or else admit failure as a human being. I attended church camp several years in a row and came away unloved each time, at least by any earthly being. Until one night during the summer of 1994, when we were all hanging out on the big rock, eating M&Ms and drinking Coke before curfew.

"Hey Rachel, have you talked to Chris?" Alex asked. He reclined lazily, eyes half-closed as some girl massaged his shoulders. "Ohhh yeah," he murmured. "That feels sooo good."

His attention thrilled me, and my heart started beating faster. Alex was the long-time object of my secret adolescent affections; he was (and according to his MySpace profile, still is) a musician. The bottom half of his head was shaved; the top portion of his hair was chin-length and blond. He would flip his head to one side and then the other, keeping it tilted at an uncomfortable-looking angle to keep the hair from falling in his eyes. He was 15, and he was so cool. When I was in kindergarten through third grade, he used to send me Valentines that his mom had helped him make, professing his love for me. About the time that I started caring was about the same time that the cards stopped. But it was too late; I was hooked. I spent close to eight years of my adolescent and teen years hopelessly and quietly in love with him.

And now he was talking to me!

"Chris? Um, no, why?" I asked.

"Cause he really likes you," he said.

Likes me! Someone likes me! Who likes me? Chris likes me! Chris, Chris...who's Chris?

"Hey look, here he is now."

Oh. Chris. My heart sank a little. Chris was small and shaggy-haired, with freckles and buck teeth. He was no Alex, certainly. In the interest of beggars not being choosers, however, I agreed to go on a walk with him. There wasn't much time, so we had to get straight to the point. "So, um, Alex says me?" I said.

"Well, yeah, I think you're cool and all, and you look good and stuff..."

Whatever hesitation I had melted away. He thought I looked good! No one had ever said that before! (Attention men : flattery will get you everywhere). Although, a brief break for honesty here; Internet, I did not look good. I have seen the pictures. I was too tall, too skinny, too flat, and hmm, now that I'm thinking about it, I guess not all that much has changed since then. (I'll tell you what's changed; makeup. Thank the gods for makeup). Though his compliment was obviously a bald-faced lie, I decided to accept it. When he asked me the all-important question, though, 'So, do you want to go out?' I did hesitate just a bit. While instinct told me I had no shot with Alex, like, ever, years of watching teeny-bopper movies and reading The Babysitters Club had taught me that the cute, popular boy will eventually fall for the shy, awkward girl, once he gets to know her and finds out what a great personality she has. I wondered if perhaps I should hold out a bit longer. I weighed the options in my head and decided in favor of the one that would allow me to return to school in September and tell everyone all about my boyfriend from the summer. No one would ever have to know what he looked like, anyway.

"Yeah, ok," I said. And not a minute too soon. Just then the announcement came over the loudspeakers: Campers, to your cabins. It's 10:00.

The trouble started the next morning at breakfast. "Hey Rachel, there's your boyfriend. Aren't you going to sit with your boyfriend?"

"What, I have to eat breakfast with him now? Just because we're going out?"

As soon as he was seated next to me, ten other people stood up from the table in unison, in a clatter of trays and silverware, leaving Chris and I alone and somewhat dazed. Great, I thought. What are we supposed to do now? Talk? By that evening, I had had enough of other people giggling and pulling Chris or I aside for whispered conversations, and clamping our limp and sweaty hands together in a forced embrace. They were way more excited about this than I was. The van back to Maryland couldn't leave fast enough.

The day of departure finally arrived. Chris and I exchanged addresses and had a much more complicated conversation than was completely necessary, regarding who would write whom first. But why can't we both write each other at the same time? I wanted to know. No, no, that would never do, he said. I would have to write first. I acquiesced and gleefully threw my arms around him, free! Free at last! and ran into the van before he could attempt anything else. A goodbye has never been so sweet.

Upon arrival at home (home sweet home!), I dutifully took out a piece of stationery and penned a letter, detailing all the impossibilities of our continuing our relationship. Namely that he lived in Ohio and I lived in Maryland, and well, neither of us could drive. But it was fun while it lasted. Sincerely, Rachel. I licked a 29-cent stamp and pasted it on the envelope, and put it in the mail. I never heard back from him.

A few weeks later, I saw Alex in the parking lot after church. "So, have you heard from Chris?" he asked.

"Nah," I said nonchalantly. "I broke up with him. It just...wasn't working out."

"Ah." He nodded understandingly.

I smiled as I walked away, thrilled at our brief conversation. I practiced saying "My ex-boyfriend lives in Ohio..." It had a nice ring to it. I was 14, life was confusing, my skin was a mess and my mood changed more often than the weather, but for a moment, life was good. Yes, for that moment, at least, life was good.


  1. "You look good and stuff?" I could have had a girlfriend in high school for that? Geez, I feel fairly ... incompetent. (Of course, my skin was worser than yours, I had thick glasses, a shaved head, and a level of sophistication approximately on a par with that of your Ohio lover.)

    As for your contemporary looks, you could put a picture on your profile. But make it small, OK? In case, you know, the makeup ain't that good. Kidding, kidding! :>)

  2. I had a similar experience with one of my camps, which to my chagrin, was orchestra-based. And I was terrrrrible at the viola. Plus 7th grade bangs. Oy. But Weasel (popular as a boy could be among orchestra geeks) tried to set me up with the shortest, most awkward of his friends since we were both unattached. I'm fairly certain we never came in physical contact, but when we parted ways at the end of the week, I definitely milked the tears.

  3. I love this post! Great story.

    Ahhh, church camp... I wonder if there are any kid's church camp relationships on the planet that have evolved into something lasting? (Or maybe that should be read existent? lol) I haven't heard of any yet. ;)

  4. Somewhere out there there probably is a couple who met at church camp. They probably have 8 kids, and their names all start with J.