Today is the 10 year anniversary of the day Ben and I stopped being acquaintances and started being engaged. I’m joking, kind of. As he likes to lend his voice from time to time, he feels like telling y’all how it went from his side with a guest post. So, without further adieu…
You all know the story of love week. You’ve read it here, or maybe you’ve heard Erin tell it, or maybe you were there for it. It’s a great story, but not many people know it from my point of view. So, I asked Erin if I could do a guest blog tonight, and tell the same story a little bit differently.
This was me in 2004.
On Buck’s shoulders.
I had a lot of fun my first year and a half of college. I’ve never tasted alcohol and had more fun sober than the drunk college students you’ve seen in movies. I studied and went to class just enough to stay in all of the on-campus clubs and student government committees. I was in love with JCJC and college life and my goal was for everyone to enjoy being on campus as much as I did. I participated in as many clubs as I could. Sometimes I would get on stage at events to get people fired up, sometimes I would motivate the student section at football games, or basketball games, or softball games, or soccer games. I was in the homecoming parade, I ran the haunted house, I gave tours, I did whatever the students at Mississippi’s Junior College needed me to do.
I had absolutely no money which by necessity meant I drove beat up old cars and I wore thrift store clothes before rap songs made it hip. I was up for anything, anytime. I spent a night on Bourbon Street in New Orleans with some of my buddies where we sang karaoke at the Cat’s Meow with a bachelorette party and crossed the Pontchartrain as the sun was coming up and made it back to campus 5 minutes before my 8 am class, I once rode through an automatic car wash on the hood of a truck wearing only gym shorts (with the hot wax option), I took girls from the dance team out on dates but never got serious with anyone, and I lived in an old, run-down (read: condemnable) house on campus.
My mother hated the house, but to my friends and me, it might as well have been Gatsby’s mansion. The day the Dean of Men asked us if we would consider living there, we felt as though we had been handed a golden ticket. You see, at Jones, there was a midnight curfew, you had one room in the dorm that you shared with another guy, there were community washers and driers, there were bathrooms shared by 4 guys, and there were mini-fridges. In the Grey House, we each had our own room, we had a living room, there was a “study” which we hung maps in, there was a kitchen with a full-sized fridge, and there was a laundry room. We were the kings of the campus.
Now, I knew nothing about the yearbook. I knew that my good friend, Matt Bush, was the photographer, and that once a year we had to take club and committee pictures, a big day on my calendar. I knew people who were in yearbook, but I didn’t know anything about yearbook. I knew where it was because it was next to the school paper. Matt would get me to stand in for newspaper story photo shoots a lot, so I was always checking out my pictures in the paper. Other than these details, nothing. I did not know that the yearbook would introduce me to my wife.
Tuesday, December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, started like any day would for me. I woke up and checked my phone for texts and calls. Hopefully, some from girls. I showered in our disgusting bathroom with the peeling flower shaped non-slip stickers in the floor of our rusted cast iron tub. Then, I headed to the humanities building to post up out front. I had grown out a real beard for the first time, before all this no-shave November nonsense. I wore a long-sleeved t-shirt under a faded old blue thrift store t-shirt. I know this, because we don’t forget anything about that week and I was still wearing that shirt later that same night (shown in the first picture up there). I went to class (maybe), handshakes were exchanged, girls were flirted with, hugs were given and received, people were winked at, and then we went to the cafeteria. The cafeteria was the mecca of student life. Living on campus meant that all of your meals in the cafeteria were paid for. I insisted that we always eat in the cafeteria because it was already paid for. No brainer right? You’d be surprised, but I digress.
This infamous anniversary in the history of our nation would live on in my own personal history as the opposite of a tragedy. It was the beginning. A freshman named Candace was about to approach my friends and me and set into motion the rest of my life. Candace was a cute bubbly girl. She was in yearbook, and the yearbook had decided they wanted to do a story about me, of all people. I mean, you all know how humble and shy I am, but I obliged her and said I would go up and talk to the editors after my delicious, pre-paid cafeteria meal.
You see I wasn’t exactly honest about knowing nothing about yearbook. I knew there was this blonde girl in yearbook.
Other artists in her department painted portraits of her.
I didn’t know she was an editor, I didn’t know she played guitar, I didn’t know she was an artist, but I did know that she had short hair that reminded me of Meg Ryan. I knew that she was different. I knew that when I flirted with her, she didn’t giggle and let me keep on like the others did. She would shut me down in a heartbeat. Once I had licked my wounds, and built up my courage again, and got another opportunity, I would try again. I was feeling good, she was in yearbook, and the yearbook wanted me. Opportunity knocks but once friend, and I opened the door.
As I walked through the yearbook room doors, Erin Jacqueline Rasberry was walking across the room, passing about a foot in front of me. There were other girls talking to me. I don’t remember them. Erin noticed me.
“Hey Ben,” she said, coolly, as she tried to walk away from me again.
“Well hey there,” I said, or at least I think I said that as I reached out for a hug. She gave me the one arm hug. You know the one, not really an awkward side hug because I was facing her. More like the way you hug your uncle when he comes over for family functions. As she pulled away, I held strong and said three famous words, which men to this day use to get their wives to marry them:
“Two arms, please.”
My friends, the yearbook team, my future wife, and I sat there in the yearbook room talking about what we could do for the photo shoot. We settled on me in a Will Ferrell as Robert Goulet
kind of outfit while standing in the lake on campus with the president’s house behind me. I knew it would require a trip to the thrift store, and I wrote Erin’s cell phone number on a pink note card, which I still carry in my wallet. You know, in case I needed advice on what kind of sweater, or in case we needed to “get together later to talk logistics.”
My buddy Barron Smith, aka Barry-Dido, aka The Sexican, drove me to Hattiesburg so that we could hit up the Salvation Army. A snowflake sweater and a corduroy blazer were purchased for the sum total of $25, and we returned to campus. The whole time I was talking about the girl with the short, blonde hair in yearbook. What’d you think about her? I think she’s hot. She’s not like the girls I normally go for. Upon arriving at the Grey House, I put on my costume for the photo shoot, which included some amber lensed aviators and a pipe, and called Erin to see if she wanted to check out my outfit.
I drove up to her dorm in my wrecked, ’87 Buick LeSabre with the Jolly Roger flag flying from the antenna, aka The Sabre Tooth, and waited for her to come out. While I waited, some girls from the dance team who lived in her dorm hung around, talking. I don’t remember about what. Then I saw her, coming out of the double doors. She wore a tight, black, scoop-neck, long-sleeve shirt with some loose fitting, almost baggy, khaki pants. The pants were a little low-slung. Her short hair, a little bit wild, not bothered with. She was gorgeous. We stood in the parking lot talking for over an hour. I noticed her alarmingly green eyes; I told her about going to school in North Carolina, she grew up here. I told her that I was a big Duke fan and that my dad had attended graduate school there. Her dad was a physical therapist, I didn’t really know what that was at the time, but I acted like I thought it was really cool. I told her that I liked working on cars, she showed me where some lady had backed into her VW and left a basketball-size dent and wondered if I could fix it. Of course I could fix it. I could pop that dent out, buff it, and you’d never know (lies). We flirted casually, and she told me that she needed to head to work. I asked her to eat in the cafeteria with me, but she was in a hurry. At least come and sit with me for a minute, I want to keep talking and all of my friends are in there eating.
She agreed and upon walking into the cafeteria, I felt like I had really done something. I had achieved something that I was proud of. This girl, whom I had been trying to hit on for about 7 months, was sitting with me in the cafeteria. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but I was overjoyed. Some other girl walked up and sat at the table with Erin, my friends and I. She was talking nonstop. I don’t remember about what. She asked me if I knew her name, fully expecting me to. I did not. Erin asked me if I knew her name. And I did. I definitely knew her name now.
She left for work at Bath and Body Works, I went to a party where I dressed as Santa Claus for a minute and at some point acquired skinned up knees by sliding across the floor on them. Later, back at The Grey House I found myself talking about her with Chase and Barron, my roommates. I couldn’t stop bringing her up. Then at about 10:00 by some luck, when she was leaving work, she called me.
SHE CALLED ME.
Her car was making a weird scrubbing noise when she applied her brakes. Oh, I probably should check that out. Come by my house. She couldn’t, she was on her way to see another guy. A guy she worked with. My heart shattered, but I pressed on, “Why? Just come here. Seriously, you need to let me check it out. I mean I’m sure it’s probably just some corrosion on your rotors, but it could be something bad.” As if I knew anything. Alas she would not, she had already made plans.
Little did he know I would sabotage his night with random texts. She couldn’t text me back (she didn’t have texting on her phone—it was 2004, cut her some slack), and I knew that, but I could text her, and it just might keep her distracted. I threw a hail Mary and texted her roommate to ask about her. I wanted to know anything, it didn’t matter what, to feel like we knew each other more than we did. To know if I had a chance with her. Tomorrow, we would spend the afternoon together working on the yearbook story.
It was a long night.