Month: February 2019

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 5

The list was mocking me.

Smoothing the creases out of the paper, I stared at the names written there. And they stared back.

There were five names. I had dated others over the years, but these five were the ones I remembered the best. These were the ones who had the biggest impact on my personality – on my life – and the ones I needed some level of clarity from.

Should I start at the beginning with Chris, my first love? Or should I start at the end and reach out to Joey from college first?

I was still in social media contact with Chris. We were an item off and on through high school, staying close friends into college. I couldn’t help grinning whenever I thought about him. There was an old saying about how you never forgot your first love. That certainly held true for me. Chris would always fill a special place in my heart.

We were barely teenagers when we first became friends. To be honest, middle school – and genetics – hadn’t been kind to me. But there came a point when I was 14 that I decided to make a change.

I had been the quiet, nerdy girl with wild hair and glasses, afraid of her own shadow, ignored in the back of the room. But after a particularly harsh rejection from a boy I had liked, I made a conscious decision to be different. I started participating in class, only raising my hand if no one else would – I mean, boys didn’t like smart girls, after all. I made jokes under my breath that only the people close by heard, but I made them laugh. I talked to the people I was most intimidated by and pretty soon I didn’t have to work so hard.

While Chris was my first love, he wasn’t my first boyfriend. That was Jerry.

Jerry was two years older than I was, cute in a rough kind of way. I saw Jerry at a basketball game and we spent most of the night sharing surreptitious flirty smiles. Until Kelly had had enough. She simply marched over to Jerry, grabbed his elbow, and dragged him over to introduce us. She didn’t know him, she just was tired of my bullshit.

I loved that woman.

Jerry was shy and sweet. He was pretty decent at small talk and was always a gentleman. He’d walk me to class and walk me home after school. He called me every night and gave me daily compliments. Not bad for a first boyfriend! Jerry was not, on the other hand, a very good kisser. He was my first kiss, too, but even I could tell something wasn’t quite right.

Nice guy, Jerry. But it didn’t take long for me to realize there was nothing substantial in our conversations. I was 15! I had read Wuthering Heights, Emma, and Somewhere in Time more than once – I wanted romance. I wanted to be swept off my feet by a boy who could get my heart racing with his personality. Jerry was not that boy. So, I broke up with him after about six weeks.

There’s very little that will boost a teen girl’s confidence like having – and breaking up with – an older boyfriend. From this new self-assurance, I found myself talking to Chris.

He sat behind me in our history class. He was funny and adorable, crushed on by many, but with zero ego about it. He played football and basketball – good at both, but not a star in either. Chris got good grades, he was well-liked by everyone, and didn’t seem to get pulled into high school popularity politics. Chris lived on a farm and belonged to 4-H. He was respectful, got up to some harmless shenanigans with a handful of good friends, and loved his mom.

One day in history class, I turned around and just started talking to him – I must have been feeling a little flirty and full of myself. I don’t remember that first conversation being anything earth-shattering, but I know I turned around the next day, and the next. Then he started tapping my shoulder to get me to turn around. I do have a vague recollection of painting his fingernails one day in class. Why I had nail polish with me, I don’t know. But that adorable, blond, curly-haired boy sat there, listening to me ramble on about what I can only imagine was drivel, and let me paint his nails a fetching shade of pink.

The weeks we spent getting to know each other was exactly what I had always dreamed of. It was so effortless to talk to Chris. I never felt self-conscious around him. We talked about everything and anything. He was smart and funny, challenging me when I needed it but supporting me always. My mom would have to threaten me to make me get off the phone when he and I got going.

He quickly became my favorite person. We sat next to each other on the shuttle bus, finding little ways to touch each other: on the shoulder, or the arm, sitting close enough for our legs to touch. It was obvious to everyone around us what was going on, but neither of us had the gumption to pull the trigger. Until a girl from our class forced his hand.

She turned around in her seat on the bus, sitting up on her knees, watching Chris and me goof around.

“Chris!”

We both looked up and she waved me off.

“Not you, Alexis! Just Chris!”

I rolled my eyes and covered my ears. She pulled a fake whisper – we were on a bus full of high schoolers, she couldn’t have whispered to the person in the seat next to her, much less to Chris five seats back.

“You two are so cute together. Why don’t you ask her out?”

Even years later, that memory made my cheeks burn and my heart race. But that darling young man didn’t miss a beat. He turned to me with a smile.

“How about it? Want to be my girlfriend?”

It was a little blunt – he had been put on the spot – but it had worked on me. I smiled for days. And the girl made sure to take credit for getting us together.

After graduation, Chris’s life took a different path than mine. While we were flirting through emails in college, he and his girlfriend – still in high school – had gotten pregnant and they got married right after she graduated.  They weren’t together anymore, but from what I heard, he was a devoted and loving father and never had a bad word to say about his ex.

I traced my fingers over the letters of his name and frowned.

As Kelly and I were leaving the park the other day, she asked a question that had been scratching at the back of my mind ever since.

“Is there maybe another reason you want to talk to these guys?”

Brushing the dirt and grass off my pants I frowned at her.

“What do you mean? What other reason?”

She shoved her hands in her pockets and started walking. It took her almost a block before she answered me.

“You say you want to talk to them to make sure you don’t screw up your relationship with Jamie. But…” Kelly peeked at me from the corner of her eye. “But could it be that you’re scared you still have unresolved feelings for the names on that list? You’re afraid that you missed something with one of them and you want to just…” She waved a hand in the air. “Check?”

“No!”

My denial was loud and immediate. I had no doubt that I loved Jamie. I could see myself with him for the rest of our lives, raising a family, growing old.

Happy.

But ever since she brought it up, the idea had been burrowing deeper into my brain. Was that my ulterior motive? I mean, my recent behavior was crazy enough as it was. But to think that I was looking to rekindle something with one of these guys from my past instead of being ecstatic to marry Jamie…?

I laid my head on the table, groaning.

What the hell was I doing?

romance, romantic, Valentine's Day

Sappy Stuff for Valentine’s Day

I have had a love-hate relationship with Valentine’s Day for most of my life. It never seemed to live up to the earth-shattering romantic reputation I was sold as a young girl.

Instead, I lived vicariously through the books and movies I cherished so much –  until I found my very own true love.

To this day, I don’t put much emphasis on the holiday. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate romance. In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are some movies, books, and television moments that really mean Love to me.

  • Somewhere In Time

    This movie was released in 1980 – I was nine – and I was immediately swept away by it. The music, the clothing, the charm and beauty of the whole thing still makes my heart swell. I particularly adore the scene where Richard and Elise share their first kiss, full of anticipation and longing and…well, you can watch it for yourselves here.

  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

    This is, most definitely, NOT what love should be. Heathcliff is wicked and cruel, Catherine is haughty and vain. Together, they are the epitome of a toxic relationship and everyone around them suffers for it. When I saw the 1939 movie, it drew me in and has kept this tragic story in my heart. The romance of this book might be summed up in this quote: “…so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”

  • Love Actually

    Anyone who knows me at all knows this is one of my most cherished movies. It is rife with romantic gestures. While I see many people citing the “To me, you are perfect” scene as the most romantic, I think it’s a bit creepy. Instead, my favorite is the Portuguese restaurant scene in which Jamie butchers the language he has struggled to learn just to profess his love for Aurelia. It is an awkward scene – but also incredibly heartfelt. “…but it’s Christmas so I just wanted to…check.”

  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

    I enjoy the television portrayal of this story, but I LOVE the book. Why does a historical novel that is more than 600 pages rank so high on my list of romance? James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Diana Gabaldon has written, in my opinion, the best fictional male character ever. And it’s not just Jamie that speaks to the nature of true love, but the relationship between him and Claire. Their love slowly builds from necessity, through mutual respect, into implicit trust. They support and challenge each other throughout the story and they are, to me, the embodiment of real love.

  • New Girl: “Pilot”

    Yes, the very first episode. This show is one of my favorites and, having been perusing clips for this post, I will now binge the whole series from the beginning. Again. This scene sets the tone for the entire show and is probably one of the sweetest things ever on television. It is bumbling and embarrassing and hilarious. And I hope everyone, everywhere, gets to feel this special at least once in their lives.

  • Notting Hill

    I don’t know that this movie would have worked as well without this particular cast. The chemistry is phenomenal. There are many adorable, tender moments: the “surreal but nice” scene; the “stay forever” scene; and this one where Anna bears her heart and soul. I will watch this anytime, anywhere.

There are, undoubtedly, many other romantic songs, books, movies, and television moments that should have made this list, but these are near and dear to me. Remember that you don’t need a holiday to fall in love or to tell people how you feel. If you tell them – and show them – every day, then every day will feel like Valentine’s Day.

What are some of your go-to romantic moments? Do you agree with my choices or think there are better examples? Comment below!

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 4

Lying on our backs in the grass, my best friend and I contemplated the clouds, letting the sun and the breeze bathe us in warmth.

“Tell me the plan again?”

I rolled onto my side and propped my head on my hand. “Kelly, it’s really not that complicated. I need to talk to the other men I was in love with –“

“Boys.”

“What?”

Kelly flipped onto her side so she could face me. “Boys, Lex. They were all boys. Don’t kid yourself.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Well, they’re men now. I have a list. It’s not long, but it’s significant. Each name on this list was an important part of my love life, of my growth. I only know my side of things. I want to know theirs. The idea is to find each of them and talk about what went wrong, like John Cusak did in Hi Fidelity. But without the massive ego and the obliviousness to other people’s feelings.”

Laughing, Kelly rolled to her back again.

“Am I the Jack Black character in this scenario, or the Joan Cusak one?”

We both laughed and I told her, “Definitely Joan! It is your duty to be my sounding board and to tell me when I’m being an asshole.”

She paused for just a beat. “Alexis?”

“Hmm?”

“You’re being an asshole.”

I swatted at her, but she rolled out of my reach and splayed out on her stomach while we laughed. She was my best friend for exactly that reason. She saw through my bullshit and wasn’t afraid to call me on it.

She had been around for every name on that list. Starting in 6th grade, when we shared a locker and sat by each other in the flute section of the band. Kelly had shared my joy and dried my tears – and I had done the same for her. When her mom died our junior year and she couldn’t stand being in their empty house all alone, she lived with me until her dad moved back to town just to take care of her. While we weren’t at the same college, we stayed in constant contact and no one ever took her place. She was the one who encouraged me to talk to Jamie one night at a karaoke bar and for that, I would be forever in her debt.

“Do you think this is honestly the best way to go about things?”

I started pulling blades of grass out of the ground, one by one.

“Kell, I don’t know. That’s the worst part – I don’t know! I love Jamie. So much. The idea of not being with him is terrifying to me. But the idea of marrying him, of thinking I’ll be with him for the rest of our lives, only to watch things fall apart is eating me alive. I have to do this.”

Kelly didn’t say anything for a minute, her brow wrinkled as she mulled over my words.

“What did Jamie say about all this?”

I shrugged.

“You know. The same amazing Jamie things he always says: he’d be here when I was ready, that he’d give me all the time I needed to be sure. That he didn’t have any doubts about marrying me. God, he made me so mad!”

She sat straight up and turned an annoyed look on me.

“You need to be medicated, you know that? You need drugs and therapy. LOTS of therapy.”

I grinned up at her.

“That’s why I keep you around.”

The First Twenty-Five Years

Twenty-five years.

It sounds ridiculously long when you say it out loud, but it feels like the blink of an eye. So much has happened since 1994 – not just in my life but in the world. Some notable events from that year include:

  • Nancy Kerrigan’s leg clubbing
  • the Northridge earthquake
  • the deaths of Kurt Cobain, Richard Nixon, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
  • the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman (and the subsequent bizarre car chase through LA)
  • the cancellation of the World Series due to a players’ strike
  • the births of Dakota Fanning, Ansel Elgort, and Andrew Benintendi (go Red Sox!)
  • the debut of Barney, Friends, and ER, the 100th episode of the Simpsons, the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation

I also got married that year.

Andrew and I had a few chance encounters before we officially met. I think fate kept throwing him in my path, waiting for me to catch on. After our first date we were inseparable, and within three months I knew I was going to marry him.

Our wedding took place on a Friday afternoon in the Polk County Courthouse. It was only seven minutes long, but was perfect for us, complete with my nervous giggles and the inability to get Andy’s ring on his finger. Our parents threw us a reception a month or so later with everyone we knew in attendance. The things I remember most clearly: I hated our cake and thought *I* could have done a better job decorating it; one relative got drunk and decided to give a speech on the microphone; and we were surrounded by so much love it was overwhelming at times.

Our first child was born that September and we were thrust into parenthood which we – and our children – miraculously survived. Where I am tightly wound and overreact to almost everything, Andy is relaxed and underreacts to most things. Between the two of us, we managed to raise three adventurous, intelligent, hard-working human beings. Their successes are ALL their own doing and we are beyond proud of them.

This past quarter-century hasn’t always been easy. We have faced career changes, financial strain, an epilepsy diagnosis, the deaths of three parents, depression battles, and a variety of other issues. There were many times I thought I just couldn’t make it, but I had a secret weapon.

My husband, Andrew.

He is truly my “better half” and makes me a better person. I tend to be clinical and practical, but he brings art, beauty, and romance into my life. He is my biggest cheerleader when I lose faith in myself. Our children have grown up with the best role model they could have asked for. There is no one else who gets my humor, understands – and puts up with – my mood swings and idiosyncrasies, or loves me more than I could ever think I deserve.

Today, we are celebrating 25 years of marriage! It’s quite a feat in this day and age, and a rare milestone. The time has flown by and has thrown challenges and blessings in our path. It’s been wild, messy, and imperfect.

But totally worth it.

Happy Anniversary, Andrew. I love you.

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