This is a story about the first time I felt like someone was truly proud of me. (Spoiler alert…it was J).
In early September of 2004, J and I planned our first week long vacation together. We’d taken a couple of long weekend trips in the nine months we’d been together, but this trip was a big deal. It was the first time I was going to meet J’s best friend. I was pretty nervous. I really wanted J’s friends to like me. I didn’t want to embarrass him. I didn’t want him to be embarrassed OF me. You know…a basic social anxiety nightmare, but a necessary one.
A little history of me. More than one boy who was interested in me in a ‘more than friends’ way when I was young wanted to be romantic and emotionally and physically intimate and affectionate with me, but they didn’t want to tell anyone they were seeing me. They liked me. That was real. I could feel that. But for some reason, they were ashamed to let their friends know they liked me. They didn’t want to tell people I was their girlfriend. I wasn’t their girlfriend. I was their dirty little secret. The dorky, nerdy, awkward girl they liked but were too embarrassed to show people they liked. I could feel that too.
My memory is pretty sharp, so I was holding onto that history making that trip with J. J didn’t create that problem. But he still had to deal with it. It’s unfortunate how often that happens…that people who love and care for us have to navigate the aftermath of damage someone else did. Jonathan Tropper wrote a book I like, This Is Where I Leave You, with this quote in it, and it’s another one of those quotes that just…NAILS something I think and feel in words in a perfect way:
“It’s true. Somewhere inside us we are all the ages we have ever been. We’re the 3 year old who got bit by the dog. We’re the 6 year old our mother lost track of at the mall. We’re the 10 year old who got tickled till we wet our pants. We’re the 13 year old shy kid with zits. We’re the 16 year old no one asked to the prom, and so on. We walk around in the bodies of adults until someone presses the right button and summons up one of those kids.”
So, ‘I want to take you to <location far away> on a vacation so you can meet my best friend,’ was the right button. I turned right back into that 13 year old…and that 15 year old…and that 17 year old…(yeah, it was actually 4 boys…it was just twice when I was 15) who felt like she wasn’t good enough to meet my boyfriend’s friends. Basically because of my nerdy, dorky, awkwardness that is A PART OF ME, so I can’t just stop being those things. Sigh.
On top of all that social anxiety, this was the trip that Hurricane Frances decided to crash. We had a great couple of days, but then our hotel lost power, so we went to stay with J’s best friend in his home. (AH!) But then THEY lost power. So we grilled out the meat in the refrigerator on their screened in deck and ate steak and played Trivial Pursuit, because that was indoor entertainment that required no power.
J and I were a team, playing against his best friend and his girlfriend, and another couple. We got all six pies before either of the other couples got two. See, like I said, I have this great memory, particularly for words. It’s actually pretty useless most of the time. But I come in pretty handy when you are trying to remember where a movie quote came from or, ‘What’s the song that goes <2 lyrics out of a 5 minute anthem>?’ and I can scarcely be beaten in a contest that involves the retention of a wealth of pointless information, particularly before the ubiquitousness of using internet search engines to look everything up…which is where we were in 2004. It makes me look smart, but really it’s just that I’m gifted with this memory I don’t really exercise or control. But it made J feel good. He’s not a competitive man by nature, but he liked that we won…as a team. I answered most of the questions, but the ones I didn’t know? J knew them. We make a good team, J and me. And I could tell he was proud of me. It was the first time in my life since fifth grade quick recall that anyone cared I was a font of trivial facts, and it was the first time in my life I felt like someone was proud of me for anything.
The next morning, we left early for home in the torrential rain and high winds of what had been downgraded to a tropical storm (but it still really sucked to drive in). We made a stop several hours inland (it was still raining…in fact, I’ve written about this before, but it was still raining so much hours inland that the parking lot of THAT hotel FLOODED in the middle of the night…thank goodness it didn’t affect OUR car). J contacted his friend to let him know we were safe and on the road and had a place to stay and it looked like other than the crummy rain, we wouldn’t have any trouble making it all the way home the next day. And then he asked his best friend, ‘What d’you think of Jen?’
J let me hear the response. I memorized it (I do that).
“She’s great! I used to think you were the smartest person I knew, but now I think maybe Jen is.”
The words were nice there, but that’s not really what brought me joy in that moment. I’ve never been very good at taking compliments or any kind of positive attention (I’m working on it though). The joy came from the look on J’s face as he was hearing those words. That’s what pride looked like. I’d never seen it aimed my way before. It was pretty euphoric, seeing that…feeling that energy coming off of J because of something silly and relatively meaningless that I did. He still looks at me like that. When I publish a new book. When something I wrote gets a big, positive or emotional response from people. Just…randomly sometimes. It’s not a small, inconsequential thing to me, J being proud of me…J looking at me like that. It’s a big deal, not a trivial pursuit.