A few days into the Adventist Academy Adventure, my life was on a whole new road. I was at a place where everyone loved Jesus and only wanted to worship him. Their faith was the central tenant of their life and all they wanted to do was glorify God. I mean I’d been to church in Odessa and realized that not all the kids there weren’t quite as focused (obsessed) with their belief system as I was. But surely, here in this Mecca where people paid not just to go to school but to live would be different.
Nope. We were just kids and I quickly realized that even there I was just a bit more ocd about my faith. But nonetheless, my freshmen year of high school is where I made some of the best friends that life would ever give me. There was Ellen, a sharp girl with sharper wit who was confidently insecure or was it insecurely confident? She would go on to be the maid of honor at our wedding and someone who I still trust inherently. There was Alycia, a charming chatty girl whose warm heart belied a little mischievousness. Which of those attributes was covering for the other one is always a tossup. She’s someone who I still seem to manage to get together with once a year or so. There was Josie, an ebony goddess, a tall black princess who several inches above you easily intimidated. She was a girl whose no nonsense strength was hidden by a smile that could light up the moon. She has helped me with parenting advice with her own daughter a little older than mine. Yes, all the friends from my freshmen year were girls. None that I would ever be romantically linked or even interested in but , like my mother, all strong women.
Alycia clearly wanted to do more than Adventism allowed but was being polite. Ellen noticeably had some questions underneath but like me not letting them rise to the surface. Josie accepted faith with an innocence that few children ever achieve. But they were human and faithful, attempting to echo their parents’ faith. There were other classmates, of course, but I think I was drawn to those three above all because they were intelligent, ambitious, curious, and capable and were involved in faith. There were others in the class that were great too but they all seemed to think about faith too simply or not about them at all.
But in the end almost all my school mates worried me. I could not understand why they couldn’t just to the faith thing with full conviction. It’s like now, I manage money well and I don’t understand why people can’t just spend less than they make. It was so simple to me. And I worried that their souls would be lost, that they would be the virgins who let their candles burn out before the bridegroom arrived.
I wasn’t without my awkwardness then as now. I dressed horribly and Christine Gibson, a good friend to this day made fun of the way I dressed and it all but made me cry. I now dress pretty darn well and I credit it to that moment. Also to the fact that all my clothes now aren’t handme downs but I digress.
I got put on the yearbook staff my freshman year, the only freshman on there. I worked hard and was in charge of the copy, finding people to write articles about it. When I couldn’t find anyone I wrote them myself but that was very rare. So even then the propensity to write down thoughts had begun.
My father a few years later would describe me as being in love with being in love. He may well have been right. Some people get a runner’s high, I got it from falling for girls. And my freshmen year was when it all really began.
The first one at VGA was Francesca, a gorgeous senior who was Native American. She was my friend and I think it was obvious to everyone I was interested in her and she was kind enough to tolerate it. You can imagine how earth shattering it was when she actually did start dating a freshman. But she ended up having some family crisis and leaving midyear. So it was time to move on.
I had a crush on a girl then, Nicole. She was very cute and very shy. The closest I ever got to telling her how I felt was sending her a secret singing valentine. I was so confident that I’d gotten it right, that this was the one (Francesca was also the one originally), that I actually sent her Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you.” Not being incredibly in tune with pop culture or you know the lyrics, I didn’t realize it was a break up song. Surprisingly, we never ended up together.
Then came Jennifer, Jennifer Frances Corona. It was a girl that hung out with our circle. Her and Ellen were roommates in the dorm and she was friends with Alycia. She was a class officer. She was brilliant and very cute. She and I were friends but both were strong opinionated children who argued with each other about what I can’t really remember. She started dating one of the juniors. His name was Jesse, a village student (as opposed to us boarding students) he owned a mustang and used it to peel out of the parking lot. He seemed to always be wearing fashionable clothes, had dyed his hair blonde and generally seemed to embody the definition of someone trying very hard to be hip…and achieving it only in his mind. They broke up and I don’t know why but somehow towards the end of the year, knowing Jennifer would not be returning the following year, we started flirting.
Before I get any further, the reader should know that VGA had what are called social rules which forbid any kind of contact from holding hands upwards. The one exception to this was Friday night. Shortly after we received the Sabbath, we had a thing called fountain service where we gathered around the fountain and sang worship songs. It arguably could have looked like we were worshipping the fountain. Anyway, afterwards we were allowed to hug each other and then we all gathered around to hold hands and pray at the end of the day. If the faculty believed that those hugs and placement for the holding hands at the end was all platonic, I have a bridge I would like to sell them. At any other time, if you were caught doing it you were put on something called social where you were forbidden from talking to the person or writing them notes or anything like that for a certain amount of time usually a week or two.
Anyway, one day we were away from the crowd and in the middle of flirting, Jennifer ended up kissing me. I, of course, kissed her back and then we attempted my first effort at making out. Let’s just say that I was so bad that Jennifer stopped me and said, “You don’t do this very often do you?” I don’t know if I got any better at it but we kept doing it over the next few weeks as often as we could. We did get caught holding hands once and got put on social. Jennifer was very physical and it didn’t take much to convince me go along with it. She used to call it “A&P at its best,” even wrote that in my yearbook when she signed it. I felt very guilty but didn’t stop. Biology seemed to be trumping virtue every time. It wasn’t anything beyond what anyone would call heavy petting but in my fourteen year old mind that was something reserved for marriage but I didn’t stop. The times that I didn’t want to do it Jennifer got mad at me and so it was thinking that God was mad at me or Jennifer was. Jennifer usually won.
I started writing her all of these love letters. She thought then while were still friends (as many people do now) that the world be a better place if I kept more of my opinions to myself. As hard as it must be for anyone reading this to believe, I sometimes talk too much. She had given me a journal for Christmas and I’d never written a thing in it but when we started “going out” in March she had this idea that I should keep a journal of our relationship, which I did. The truth is that she wanted to read it every so often so I started writing it for her. It wasn’t my thoughts; it was the thoughts that I wanted her to think I had. The two weren’t two far apart but there was that whole Heisenberg Principle in effect.
I originally worked at the school pool. I just cleaned it and tested the PH levels. It was ironic because I didn’t know how to swim at the time other than doggy paddle. Josie and Alycia would come by while I was doing it and hang out but for some reason they decided I would be better suited in the office so I was working in there. There was a man there, the treasurer Allen Webber, who I also showed these letters and thoughts to. He was a father figure to me, I even stated as much to him and I think he embraced it. He said that the letters made me sound like a desperate guy who had just gotten lucky and made her seem dumb for hanging out with a guy who was clearly beneath her. He sure nailed the level of confidence that I approach romantic relationships with.
Ellen, Alycia and Josie eventually all realized that I should not have been dating Jennifer and generally told me so. If there’s anything I’ve learned about relationships in the last few years, if your friends don’t like your significant other, they are right 99.9 percent of the time. No you are not that .1 percent. But obviously I was, so I kept dating her.
There were all kinds of other great things about my freshmen year. I was in the school band. I was the first chair trombone (oh yeah the only one but for what its worth I was also first chair in junior high where there were eight of us). I loved church and having services twice a day and having a Bible class. I loved the friends I had, looking through my freshmen yearbook signatures and notes or my facebook friends now, it’s clear that I connected with more people than this. It seems that the vast majority of my friends were Seniors or Juniors people like Maria Sanchez who is now a great Christian singer. I’d love to tell you that it was because I was mature but I think its because they had to see me less.
Before academy even as a small child, I’d had more close friends with adults then with kids my own age. My reality was that I was friends with everyone and its true that I knew everyone and everyone knew me but the truth is that when you are as loud and almost charming as I am, people know who you are but they don’t know you.
Anyway, all of those great memories and those great friends in memory fade to the memories of Jennifer. Maybe its because relationships at 14 or perhaps any age are so intense but I stopped hanging out with my friends and pretty much anyone other than her for the last fourth of the year. The problem with people telling you that its puppy love is that to you, the puppy, it’s real.
Jennifer would as an adult convert to being Greek Orthodox and last time I talked to her she was in love with a guy who was studying to be a Catholic Priest. He was considering converting from Catholicism to Greek Orthodox so he could stay with her. Oh, she had also changed her name to Genevive or Julianna after one of the saints. Yep, I knew how to pick them. She was the first among many quality girls that would come through my life.