Friday, February 18, 2011

Awkward College Romance -THE FINALE!

I fear that the key to your hearts, Gentle Readers, will lie in the fact that I am finally done with this story.

My friendship with Jeff largely returned to its pre-disclosure condition, albeit with a bit more intensity. We were spending so much of our free time together --- and again, only with each other and never with other people --- until my roommates started asking who this new guy was that I’d been hanging out with so much.

Jeff and I did not discuss any of the issues that had come up between us earlier. It was killing me, but as I explained earlier, I had already disclosed my feelings and I considered the ball to be in his court.

As the end of the year approached and finals loomed, we started spending late nights together, hanging out, drinking beer, smoking pot and ignoring our hormones.

Several times things got a little weird --- as in, we were just one drink away from one of us making a move, a move that neither of us dared make. I distinctly remember him sitting in my room one day, sitting in the same chair where he had first confessed his sometimes-feelings-for-guys. I was prattling on about some nonsense or other, when Jeff just stopped.

“Tom, where is this conversation going?”

Where is this conversation going? Well, where do you want it to go, you maddening little tease?

At least that’s what I felt like saying.

Instead, unfortunately, I made some lame joke and changed the subject.

And then, a few weeks later, came the night I most regret. The night I really could have made something happen if I had wanted.

We had gone over to Carleton for the day to study, just to have a change of scenery. Jeff had ridden his bike and I hitched a ride with another student since I had a stack of books to carry and only one working arm. We chose different parts of the library to study in so as not to distract each other, but met up regularly for meals, snacks and any other diversion we could dream up to avoid studying. (Well, maybe not every possible diversion….)

Mid-evening we decided to call it quits for the night and head back to campus. Luckily I ran into a friend with a car who offered to drive me and my books back to our campus. I had the brilliant idea to offer to carry Jeff’s rather heavy book bag for him, so that he wouldn't have to lug it up the hill to St. Olaf.

When I got back to my room with Jeff’s bag in tow, I called him.

“Hey Jeff, I’m back in my room so you can come pick up your books whenever you want.”

“Thanks Tom --- what are you doing?”

“I don’t know Jeff. Hey, I’ve got some beers in my fridge. If you’re in the mood, you can meet me out on the hill behind the Old Main. I love hanging out there. Unless you just want to go to sleep.”

“No Tom, I want to meet you. Very much.”

My heart skipped a beat.

I remember my roommates looking at me strangely as I loaded up my book bag with a six pack from our mini fridge. “Where are you going with beers at this hour, Tom?”

“Oh, Jeff and I are just going to hang outside. See you guys later.” I tried as hard as I could to talk to them as little as possible those days because I didn’t want them suspecting anything.

When I arrived at the Old Main, Jeff was waiting for me and it was all I could do not to wrap my arms around him completely. We went out behind the old building and settled down on the grassy hill, bathed in soft moonlight. As we lounged on the grass drinking beer and enjoying the night air, we both stretched out and laid down side by side, propped up on our elbows, about six inches away from each other. We barely talked at all.

I totally could have reached over and kissed him.

But I could not bring myself to do it. And neither could Jeff, apparently.

After about an hour under the moonlight, we finished our beers and retreated back to our respective rooms.

As the days of the school year drew to a close, Jeff and I started finding every excuse we could to be together. One day in the middle of the afternoon we decided, for some reason, to duck into a little stairway outside the college chapel. Again, just inches from each other with no one else around, even if it was in broad daylight.

“Wow Jeff, so I guess we won’t be seeing each other for a while.” Summer break was upon us. I was going home to my parents’ house in Chicago, while Jeff was headed back to work a job in his home state. Worse yet, I would not be at St. Olaf the following semester because I was planning to study abroad in the USSR.

“I know,” Jeff replied. “I’m going to miss you.” He said it so quietly it sounded like he might cry.

The last time I saw Jeff during those magical days, I was in my dorm room packing up my belongings to go home for the summer. I had seriously pissed off my mom and my aunt who had driven to campus, prepared to load up the car and take me home. I hadn’t even begun to pack because I had been so distracted with my school work and pathetic non-love life. Not to mention a gimped arm which made every task take three times longer than normal.

Jeff came into my room and was immediately made to feel uncomfortable by my relatives because they were so irritated with me. So Jeff and I just said our goodbyes quietly at my door, and that was that.

Jeff and I never had another meaningful conversation again. We corresponded over the summer, but the magic disappeared and Jeff lost whatever feelings he had seemed to develop for me --- probably because I had written something rather mean and sarcastic in one of my letters.

I saw him sporadically on campus when I returned from Russia for my final semester at St. Olaf, but Jeff no longer seemed to have any interest in being my friend, and we barely saw or spoke to each other at all, despite my attempts here and there.

A few months after we graduated, I wrote Jeff a long letter and told him everything I wish I had told him during our magical time together, when we had seemed inches away from expressing our romantic feelings for one another. I told him I was confused about how he felt for me. That I missed his friendship, and that I wished I could understand what had happened.

Jeff never replied.

Several years later, both Jeff and I were living in the Twin Cities and ran into each other occasionally at parties of mutual friends. Our conversations were polite but distant. At times I detected a seeming thaw in Jeff's attitude toward me, but I was done taking any further chances with him. Been there, done that.

(Or wish I had done that, anyway.)

I recently heard from one of my friends in Minnesota that Jeff is now openly gay, partially bald, partnered with a nice man and raising kids in the Cities. I’m happy that everything seems to have turned out well for him. And who knows --- if I lived there, maybe we would even be friends. But for now, Jeff Henderson lives only in the dark recesses of my memories, alone with me in that private place where we guard the vestiges of our first loves.

And of course, he will now live forever on the pages of Coaster Punchman's World.

Thank you all for listening.


Marni said...


As cliche as it sounds, things happen for a reason.

Loved this story, CP. Thank you for sharing!

Dino aka Katy said...

I'd have to agree with Marni - if anything different had happened no matter how much you'd like it too then you probably wouldn't be where you are at now and to me via blogger you seem pretty happy. I do think its sad that you guys weren't at least able to keep a friendship going. But all in all great story

Flannery Alden said...

Wonderful! I'm sad the story's over. And your tale of unrequited love has inspired the next prompt for FFF.

BeckEye said...

Well, I'm sorry that you were never able to get up on that, but glad this guy was finally able to be honest with himself! I was half expecting you to say you heard that he was married with 5 kids and that would have been tragic.

Coaster Punchman said...

Ha Becks, no kidding on that one.

So Flan----hmmm, unrequited love or Dear John letter? I think you already know where I might go with that one. Choice is easy! ;)

And thanks for sticking with me M&D!

Wendy said...

that's an awesome story. It really captures the way I think a lot of people feel on the inside but don't show others because we are afraid. I also enjoyed the references to places I once knew, and the big sweaters I once wore. It also amazes me that we probably spent quite a bit of time together in that very caf and I had no idea any of this was going on. It makes me sad that things were such that you had to keep such an essential part of yourself hidden. Thanks for telling the story!

Coaster Punchman said...

No kidding Wend-o (and thanks for reading! Also please email me - I don't have a non-work email for you, and now that you've changed jobs I have no way to email you.)

The isolation was not easy, nor was the lying (or at least the truth-omission.) Years spent training yourself at the art of deception (both self deception and deception of others) are not good for character building.

Dale said...

That was a fantastically told tale, really incredible. I've missed your incredible writing. Thanks for sharing it. I could say more but it would probably be along the lines of why didn't you put on "Let's Get It On" and then club him over the head with your cast and get busy but it's just not like me to say something like that! :-)

SkylersDad said...

What a great story, thanks again for sharing it with us.

lulu said...

Wendy! I need your email too! How are you? How are the bebes?

lulu said...

Ok, I had posted something before that which for some reason is not showing up.

I had forgotten how the story ended, so I am glad that you were not ambushed my homophobic Norwegian collage boys, particularly since I am the one who made you out yourself.

Not that it matters now that we are adults and supposedly better at this sort of thing, but pretty much every crush I or anyone I ever knew had in college was just as awkward as this one with Jeff. And yes I know that being gay in the 1980s at a small Lutheran college was not the ideal place to come to terms with your sexuality, and certainly made it much harder, but honestly, I don't think it was a good place for *anyone* to try to sort it all out.

Coaster Punchman said...

I have fantasies of returning to the past to enjoy all the good things that were happening and leave the drama behind. The drama doesn't get us anywhere in the long run (except to provide for good writing fodder in later years.)

I'm gearing up for another fake interview with you. Ah, for the good old days when I had people to read this shit!

lulu said...

Oh I don't know, all of this drama, and those f*cking polyester pants of yours cemented our friendship. That seems good for the long run.

Me said...

This was tough to read because I'm the Jeff in this story. I mean not THE Jeff, but A Jeff. Except I'm already bald and I haven't gotten as far as the real Jeff has.

I'm trying though, man. God knows I'm trying. I swear I am. This fear is deep and it is wide.

But it'll happen. Surely it will.

Coaster Punchman said...

Alan/Me - Remember the famous words of our beloved late Prez FDR: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. It is so much easier to live if we just set aside the unecessary drama and worrying.

Not that I am successful at this. But one can always hope!