Dating Shannon opened a floodgate of emotions in my mind, allowing many things like ghosts that Jennifer had left in me rip open. For some reason throughout the years, I had never been able to quite shake her off. Off all the girls, she was the best looking one, the smartest and had really for better or worse (worse) shaped me for future relationships. Her approach that physicality and emotions set the tone for each other had not been good for me. She’d really helped contribution to my confusion about which was the cart and which was the horse.
Shannon had never kissed anyone before me; I think she’d only ever held someone’s hand. In retrospect, that view that looks so clear after the fact, I wish I could have told you that I had treated that with respect and due diligence, remembering that Jennifer’s approach had not been great for my psyche, I should have been more self conscious but I was not. On the very way back from the beach trip there was a mile long bridge to get off South Padre Island. Students long before my time had devised what was called “The VGA Challenge” which essentially was making out over the course of the bridge. Only an hour or so after I’d asked her to be my girlfriend, we faced and overcame the challenge.
Shannon had all of Jennifer’s best qualities, she was smart (later would graduate valedictorian of her class), capable (went on to be the yearbook editor after Ellen) and had strength of personality (people predicted in my yearbook she would be the first female president while I would be the “First Man” in the white house). She was still growing into her skin though, still shaping to be an incredible woman and I was helping influence that.
I can’t say that I did a good job in all frankness. Unfortunately, I was still way too interested in making out with her as often as I could. I did try to be a good influence on her as well in my own way; starting Bible studies with her every morning. However, shortly afterwards we would complete them and then sneak into the girls bathroom to make out (hard to get caught and put on social there, the boys bathroom would have been worse but yeah eww). Shannon has often joked in our adult life that she had no chance of having a good vision of God when this pastorly kid was praying with her and then taking her into a bathroom to make out. I struggled with the idea of it all and talked to her about it, essentially asking her to stop me but then trying to make out with her moments afterwards.
Dr. Cruz would invite students over to his house on occasion. On at least one occasion, it was just Shannon and I. He had something come up and left us for a while not unlike his Bible class tests. He made a comment about how he trusted us to behave while he was gone. I failed that trust. The struggle I have with these things is that I don’t think that in high school I did anything particularly bad but I kept having to hide things that were relatively normal and feeling guilty and the act of justifying little things you think are bad makes a crack in the conscience, it dulls the tip.
On one particular occasion, as I was walking around on a Friday morning, I noticed that the home economics room was open. I checked it throughout the day and it continued to be open. This was unusual because it had not been used in years so finally at the end of the day I took Shannon there because frankly it was an upgrade from the bathroom. We hadn’t been in there more than a few minutes when the on duty staff, Mr. Huff was checking all the doors and passed by. Muttering something to himself of wondering why this was open, he locked it. I had two instincts, one was to say something, the other to not. I did not.
Now, one may be wondering why this would be such a problem but it was a huge problem because that particular classroom had only a deadbolt so there was no way to get out without a key. The room had not been used in years so there was no phone in there. The classrooms were a hundred yards away from anything else and there was a whole other row of classrooms in between that row and campus so screaming wouldn’t help. The windows were double paned, twelve feet up and did not open. It was Friday afternoon which meant no one would be around until at least Monday morning. Shannon was in a panic and while I was covering it by being in trouble solving mode, so was I. I dug through the drawers to try to see if there was anything I could pick the lock with but they had long been empty.
Finally, I found a board underneath one of the drawers along the wall. On the other side was outdoors and so I started kicking it out of place. It was bolted in but apparently not well because after a couple of dozen kicks, I’d popped it out of place. In that same cabinet was also the water heater, I started pushing it aside to create enough space for Shannon and I to crawl out. We then began to crawl out, Shannon first and after a few moments, she couldn’t squeeze out any further so I pushed the water heater and it was still not enough. Pushed again and the pipe burst and suddenly there was water everywhere. Talk about opening a floodgate. I found what closed the water and Shannon and I both headed back to our dorm. I found the student janitor who had keys to everything and talked him into giving me the key so that I could go back and clean things up as best as possible.
Friday night was when Leandro, Jeremy and I used to meet. What had originally inspired this group was a sermon by Tony Campolo about having accountability partners and groups, people who you can be honest with. So I told them what had happened and almost simultaneously Leandro and Jeremy both stated to me that I needed to own it and essentially confess to faculty.
This was easier said than done. Ron Huff was the staff member on duty that night. This was the military teacher I’d mentioned a couple of times. He walked like he’d been in the military and bluntly was one of the few teachers I’d ever had who intimidated me. He walked like he’d been in the military, still had that stern look and the same haircut. One of the hobbies he had listed in the yearbook was “making fun of Iram.” This was the draw that I’d gotten. I went and told Shannon that we needed to own it much to her chagrin and mortification. I told him the story during which he had an angry look on his face. Afterwards, there was a silence that seemed to just not end and then, Mr. Huff just started laughing and laughing and laughing. After an eternity of his guffaws, he said not to worry about it and that he would get maintenance to fix it.
It was an incredible act of grace and kindness and I received it as such. Something similar like this had happened when I was a freshmen, the vice principal had found Jennifer and I in the computer lab when we shouldn’t have been. Jennifer worked there and had been issued keys so we were utilizing it. Mr. Duncan had sat me in his office (this was the first time I’d ever been in trouble in school) and he didn’t put us on social or have any consequences at all. Rather, he stated “the problem with people today is that when they do something wrong, they are more worried about the punishment than they are about learning something. Think about this and learn something.”
These men had given me an opportunity to process, to think things through and to realize I’d been given an opportunity. The problem was that each one of these men who trusted me didn’t know about each other. Steve, Dr. Cruz, Mr. Duncan, Mr. Huff, each of these guys plus others had trusted me and said hey you failed that trust but you’ll get it next time. In a complete cop out, I wish that they hadn’t trusted me, that they had given me more direction and less trust at that stage in my life. That, of course, is cowardly; they were in their own way doing the right thing. It was cowardly as having asked Shannon to stop me from making out with her. The problem was that with each opportunity that kept coming but the lesson that was prevailing in my head was that I was somehow exempt from the rules, that the consequences were for other people and by virtue of being one of the good kids or the pastorly type that I had more leeway.
So I didn’t learn the right lesson and I likely passed the wrong one on to Shannon. We kept doing church programs that year, helped a pastor move in that year, we helped Mr. Glass dig a foundation for an extension to his house. While we were driving to all of them, more often than not I would be making out with Shannon on the way to or from them. I don’t know if the proponents of so little contact were right or wrong but some level of reasoning or talking about it would have helped. The only conversation anyone ever had with me about this in my entire life was my mom crying and telling me not to get any girl pregnant.
Ironic that I think the fault I had learned from Jennifer I would now replicate with Shannon. There was, of course, affection behind it. Perhaps, this was actually Shannon’s greatest strength. This history of girlfriends had allowed me to cheapen love. I said I love you to girls without thinking about it. Shannon had never said it to anyone and was committed to having it mean something. It was rather unnerving when for several weeks into dating her, I would say I love you and she would not respond other than a smile or thank you. This made me rethink love and affection and it made me love her that much more. When she finally said it back, it was the most meaningful I love you I ever remember hearing.