For ten years now, Jen has put up with me in all my dorky glory.
It was shortly after midnight on April 1, 1994 in a small girls' dormitory in Hilo that I, in an uncharacteristically awkward, fumbling mumble, asked Jen if we were a couple. Since we were really just admitting that we were a couple several weeks after it had become blatantly obvious to our friends, I guess she figured she could go ahead and say, "Yes." Besides, it was technically April Fool's Day, giving her an easy out.
At this point, I think it's pretty safe to assume she wasn't joking.
It occurs to me that I've never really documented how it was that Jen and I came to be together. A good part of that reason is because there is some debate over the details.
Most facts, fortunately, are not in dispute.
In the summer of 1993, I had fallen hard for a girl who had left home to attend school at UH Hilo. She was my very first girlfriend, and of course I was a gibbering fool about it all.
She was not Jen.
That relationship, however, prompted me to take my first solo trip to the Big Island, and I quickly fell in love with the town: its energy, its pace, and its people. I decided, quite rashly, that I was going to transfer from UH Manoa to UH Hilo right in the middle of the 1993-'94 academic year. My friends at the time, of course, thought I was out of my mind.
The decision had a most unexpected effect on my first relationship as well. A few weeks later, over Thanksgiving break after I had taken the aforementioned first girlfriend and her entire family to "The Phantom of the Opera" at $90 bucks a pop she broke up with me.
Sure, there was much melodrama see the best-forgotten "Top Five Breakups" entry from July 2001 for the awful details. (And yes, Jen is also on that list... at number one!) But then the funniest thing happened. I decided I was transferring to UH Hilo anyway. My friends were all but filing applications to have me committed, but I figured you can't very well say to the world, "So long, suckers!" and then stick around. Right?
So the end of the year found me on my own for the first time, standing by the RA desk in Hale Kehau, wondering aloud, "What the hell have I done?"
To be sure, the first several encounters with the girl who was now my very first ex-girlfriend went about as spectacularly as you might imagine, but ultimately it was a good thing, as they proved pretty conclusively to the world that I wasn't in Hilo to stalk her. I was there... well, for no particular reason, but it was something different, dammit, and that's what I was all about. Or something like that.
Being as out of place that I was, I was lucky to have made friends pretty quickly. Angelica and Xanthe were two women who couldn't be more different but were friendly and fun and kept me from crying into my stale cereal. A boy genius named Jonathan Levy showed me most of the ropes of life on that small, wet campus. And it was he who the week before classes started in January 1994 decided to walk me over to a big table in the Hale Kehau cafeteria and introduce me to everyone there.
That was when I met Jen for the first time. Unfortunately, I don't think I made much of an impression on her. Nor on the five other women sitting with her: Jaimee, Sherry, Heather, Genny, and Heidi. (It was only some months later, after we'd been together a while, that Jen confessed that they all thought I was some grad student in my 30s. I was a 19-year-old sophomore!)
It wasn't long before I was sitting at that table for meals. They all made for interesting conversation, and I was at least useful to them insofar as having a car in a college town with no public transportation within a week I had taken each one of them on at least one shopping expedition. All those late night drives likely earned me a bit of a reputation as a boyslut. And, truth be told, I was quite happy to have such colorful company. Each one of them had a distinct, personality, almost like the group had been cast for some television sitcom. Jaimee was reserved but sharp as a tack. Genny was incredibly warm and perceptive. Sherry was bubbly and quirky. Heidi was sassy, everyone's big sister. Heather was both excitable and yet also dry and cynical.
And then there was Jen.
The first words I used to describe Jen were the words everyone used, and of course Jen hated them all. Cute. Sweet. Gentle.
But it wasn't long before I could tell there was a witty, wicked, sneaky and snarky side to her as well. And this was long before "snarky" was cool. I soon developed a puppy-dog crush. I followed her around more than anyone else. She was perfect.
She was also in love with a middle-aged, balding, potbellied "nontraditional" student who was also living in the dorms. (You might have caught the reference to him in my last entry.)
Fine, no problem, I'm nothing if not helpful. So what if half of our conversations were about how this guy wasn't giving her the time of day, or flirting with everyone else but her. I'm a friend, I cared, so I was there to listen. I even went so far as to give tips on how she could snag this goofy, lumbering dreamboat of hers.
Man, I hated it.
Fortunately, Jen had this big, fluffy body pillow that she'd unconsciously molest as we chatted late into the night. I would frequently zone out as I imagined what life would be like as that lucky, lucky pillow...
Thankfully, after sticking around for a few six-hour until-dawn deep-thought talks, the conversation eventually turned away from unrequited love to life, the universe, and everything. The day I started to recite a quote from "Stuart" by The Dead Milkmen and she finished it was the day I knew it was love.
Everyone else did, too. Of course, Jen and I just played dumb.
Sure, we went on "dates" the first two being to see the uplifting romantic comedies "Schindler's List" and "The Piano" except we didn't call them dates. (Jen also likes to point out that she technically asked me out first, which makes her cool.) Sure, I made her mix tapes and spent hours at my student job typing six-page letters to her. Sure she'd come by my dorm room every other night to say hello, since she was just passing by, even though my room was practically at the other end of the dorm complex. We were just friends! Just like we were friends with everyone else!
Everyone else didn't buy it.
And this is where my recollection and Jen's recollection diverge. We agree that on the evening of March 31, one or more of our friends finally smacked us in exasperation and asked flat out, "Are you guys dating?" Except Jen says the location was Ken's House of Pancakes and the sole witness was Sherry, while I say it was at the Taco Bell at Puainako and Jaimee was there too. I will agree that Ken's House of Pancakes is a bit more romantic than Taco Bell.
I don't know how Jen reacted to the question, but I very nearly choked on my loco moco/burrito. Yes, I was in love with her, and yes, after all, we had been spending a lot of time together. But I never really discussed the relationship with Jen directly. Maybe she just thought I was a nice guy with a car? Answering the question wrong, I knew, could potentially mean pain and ridicule for millions of years.
"Well, um, I would say, I mean, considering," I began, observing how our tormentor(s) was/were enjoying putting us on the spot, "Yeah, I guess, yes, we are, you know... we've been going out."
I looked over at Jen, fearing a trainwreck of epic proportions.
"Yeah, I'd say so," she said, and turned to smile at me.
Under the table, she grabbed my hand. It was electric. Pretty much everything else after that is a hazy blur of heart-pounding euphoria.
We drove back to campus, finally, finally holding hands. (Jen would soon afterward protest that she'd been trying to get me to hold her hand whenever we drove in the car for weeks, but I was clearly avoiding any awkward physical contact.) We said goodnight to one or more of our dinner companions, and we went to Jen's dorm room to finally verify directly what had been extracted out of us by a third party.
The rest, as they say, is history.
I should mention that from that very night forward, Jen and I effectively lived together, whether it was in her dorm room, my dorm room, the apartment we later rented in Hilo, and the apartment we got in Waikiki. Except when separated by geography or one notable bout of insanity, we've been as close as just about any couple could be.
Amazingly, we're not sick of each other yet.
So I guess I'm game for another ten years.
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© 1997-2008 Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org · Created: 13 November 1997 · Last Modified: 14 January 2008