It begins with a girl named Heather. A fair-skinned redhead that was a year behind me in middle school. We had never said a word to each other but I would see her in church, watch her as she approached communion and returned with her family. Attractive, sweet. A good girl.
We didn't hang out with the same crowds, so our paths rarely crossed. But in high school, we somehow ended up together. I don't remember how that happened, but it didn't last long. About two weeks. It was standard high school dating--hold hands a few times, make out and move on. She broke it off and I was bummed out and back to watching her take communion.
The end of it.
A few years later, we hooked up again. I was 19, she was 18. She had just broke up with her boyfriend and put the word out. She told her sister, who told my buddy, who told me that she was interested. I told him to tell her to tell her sister, I was too.
That's how it all started.
|The very first date.|
The next three years were bumpy as we navigated a relationship. They were the best of times with a lot of crying. We broke up, got back together, broke up, she moved to Florida, I went to college, she traveled Australia, I wrote letters, she sent pictures. It was reality TV. Without the TV.
My senior year in college is where this particular story begins.
At this point, she returned to the Midwest. She attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, which happened to be where I was. This was no coincidence. We both expected to get back together and then it didn't happen. It was more me than her. I wasn't feeling it, one of the many reasons we were hitting all those bumps.
She was upset that I was cool with not getting back together. It took some time, but eventually she adjusted and got her grove back. She was living in an apartment on the other side of town with roommates, parties, and the college experience. And, for the most part, without me.
It was the fall of 1989. Having declared a major late, I stayed an extra semester to finish undergrad. I ended up living at 511 for a third year--a shithole house ravaged by three years of parties. I was 22 years old and done with the college experience. It was time to grow up, become an adult, get a job, pay some bills and live happily ever after.
So far, it wasn't working out.
Heather and I were talking again but still seeing other people. She was getting on just fine. I was mostly isolating. Most of my longtime roommates had moved out because they graduated on time, so I spent Saturday nights in front of the television eating Ramen noodles. I'd call her on the weekends, sometimes hear the party in the background. Sometimes she'd come over and spend the night.
October, 1989, we took a rode trip to Eastern Illinois University to spend the weekend with her sister and my buddy--the same couple that hooked us up almost four years earlier. We were lying in a pile of blankets that Sunday morning, lazy and content. Things seemed to be good, we were heading in the right direction. It could work this time.
And then it happened.
It was later that week, in the middle of the night. I was sleeping in the back room of the 511 shithole on a makeshift bed of blankets. It was the middle of the week, classes were the next morning when my bedroom door swung open. The doorknob hit the wall. I shot up. It was dark back there. The pale light of an alarm clock illuminated someone. In the span of two seconds--from waking to seeing--the figure lunged.
She was crying hysterically--a sweaty, tear-soaked, snotty mess. I couldn't make out a word. All I could do was hold her. It was 3:00 am. She had come all the way across town and crashed through our house. A word-smear of panic gushed from her, one syllable smashed into the next. Nothing made sense. Someone had died or got run over or blown up. And then a word rose out of the puddle and it all made sense.
However, this wasn't what had her so upset.