I don’t remember a time where we weren’t trying to be together from that day on through the end of high school, even through hard times, of which there were many.
Many times we would be alone in my room. She would be very silent and very distant. I could tell something was obviously wrong. She usually had just come from spending time with her father. She would clam up and it was impossible to get her to talk. It may have been a poor decision for most, but I wouldn’t let her not talk to me. I feel I have to always express myself. I don’t know how someone could live not doing so, especially given what I would find out she was suffering through.
She would lock up for maybe an hour at a time. Jennie would just lay there crying silently and motionless, looking as if there was something she wished to say, but couldn’t. I finally discovered the trick to unlocking her. I promised I would stop asking her.
“This is the last time I will ask you, and then I promise to leave you alone.”
I don’t know if it was some sense of avoiding abandonment, or the desperation that I put on her that she wouldn’t get another chance, but she opened up, always. She told me about what had gone on between her father and her mother over the last few years. Without going into details, it was a very ugly time. Divorce of parents is a terrible burden to endure when you are young, but a common story among people my age. We all seemed to be raised this way. I was a child of divorce too, only my story ended happily when my father wasn’t part of the picture. Jennie was going through something altogether more terrible. She loved both her parents. Watching them dissolve was a horrific ordeal for her.
It was worse than that actually, as I would come to understand, much later. Jennie’s room was next to the family living room. At night, through a vent in her room, she could hear her parent’s fight nightly. She was in the middle of it all and completely alone. She was the older of two sisters and did what she could to prevent her younger sister from knowing what she could. Their parent’s relationship had grown bitter and their rivalry tore the girls apart. It also explained a great deal of the idiosyncrasies I was growing to know in this girl lying beside me. Every day, she was beaten with the knowledge that her parents were not the people she thought they were. They were less. They were human with human flaws, human weaknesses, human cruelties and human failures. She had lost the naive worship of a child looking at the perfect people who raised her. The worst of it happened in freshman year. Now it made sense that the girl never talked.
I also came at a time when she really needed it. As it turned out, I asked Jennie for her number not a week after her parent’s divorce was final. After four years of heartbreak, I just arrived on the scene.
I didn’t understand the scope of it all. I just listened. I didn’t need anything from her, besides a kiss from time to time. I just wanted to help her, to see her happy. If anything, I think those afternoons talking on my bed were probably the wisest investment of time I have ever made. We built our relationship during those times; not the enjoyable memories you visit on cold winter days, but the foundational emotions that make up the true bedrock of a bond between lovers. She knew that she could trust me with her deepest needs, even if it was difficult for her to express them. I just knew I wasn’t able to idly do nothing. At that time all I could do was listen and try to give her some new perspective, some advice, distractions, silver linings. Jennie told me once that she was apprehensive about opening up to me in the beginning. She was just sure that I would break up with her because she was a crazy person and that she was very thankful that I never did. I couldn’t believe she would think that. I suppose some guys might have, but the thought never crossed my mind.
The truth was that I needed her too. I was lonely and needed someone to need me back. Honestly speaking, I could have ended up in a very bad situation with a lot of girls with far less character than Jennie. I probably would have been the type to fall for any of them. I’ve seen many a lonely individual give in to the temptation of women not worth their attention, but that, however, wasn’t my bad luck. Not this time. I found Jennie. For whatever reason, she was perfect, as least the perfect I needed. She was soft and she was gentle and supportive. She was a steadiness that balances my erratic and irrational randomness. Most girls I probably would have fallen for would have left me devastated, but Jennie was exactly who I needed and who would be able to make me happy. We really did need each other in ways I can’t fathom, even today. I just didn’t realize it then.
We were the perfect couple, though and had many wonderful memories from that first month. One of my favorites from our brief courtship was the first time she cooked for me.
She invited me to her house for dinner. It was the first real time I met her mom and her sister, Katie, officially anyway. I’d met her mom briefly before our first date, but I didn’t actually know her yet. I knew Jennie’s sister from school. She was only fifteen months younger than Jennie so there was the very strange situation that they grew up together almost as twins. Katie gave me the finger once after Jennie and I started dating. I wasn’t fond of her back then. A vile creature Jennie’s sister was back in those days, but that’s a different story. Today though, it was about me eating from Jennie’s plate. Jennie was cooking her chicken enchiladas. I was really nervous because I had never had enchiladas and was terrified that I would hate my girlfriend’s favorite dish. Turns out that wasn’t a problem. Jennie is a master chef, at least in my eyes. More importantly, my stomach was in complete agreement. It was so good. Absolutely delicious. I love my mom and my grandmother, but my poor mother never stood a chance in the kitchen. I don’t know what it was about those days, but all of my mom’s tutelage in kitchen affairs came from a long line of Depression era survivor women who thought “burnt” was the only palatable way to eat food without death by salmonella. But Jennie, her food was marvelous. It was how I might imagine chewing on the wings of baby angels. Just thinking about it is so good you start writing nonsense. I don’t even remember what we had for dessert. Those enchiladas were divine.
I had gorged myself to the point that I had to have something more to drink. I pulled myself away to get something from the fridge. Among the things I noticed was the milk. There were two gallons; one Skim, one 2%.
Now, this may seem a bit odd, to some rather stupid, but I really love milk and it is one of those things which I am very particular about. I don’t like 2% or 1% and certainly not whole. Keep it away, don’t bother me with and yes, I do think less of you if you do partake in such things. I am sorry if this offends some of you, but a person who doesn’t believe in anything is simply not a person. It simply isn’t a negotiation.
As I stood in Jennie’s kitchen, I looked and considered the gravity of the consequences that lay before me. If Jennie drank the wrong milk, to put it simply, we had no future, even considering the enchiladas.
“So… who drinks Skim?”
“I do,” said my beautiful flower.
I smiled and said, “Me too.”
In my mind, I smiled to myself and thought about all the miraculous ways in which we were perfectly compatible in every way that mattered. I laughed inwardly and said to myself in jest that I was going to marry that girl.
It was completely in jest. Completely.
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I Drew a Monkey in a Math Book and Now I'm MarriedNon-Fiction
***Ranked #4 in Non-fiction - "It's a thing of beautiful nonsense to be young." ***Featured original non-fiction for Pivot TV's Secret Lives of Americans. I Drew a Monkey in a Math Book and Now I'm Married is the true story of how I met my wife Jenn...