Thursday, February 9, 2012

5 Loves: The High School Sweetheart

I was born a lover. Something about me falls easily for other people. I love to love. As a tribute to the holiday of romance (coming up next week!) I am writing about the five great loves of my life--for better or for worse--after all what's romance without the heart break?

I met Mark in Journalism class in the eighth grade. I found myself looking forward to attending that class every day because he was in it. He was really clever and geniusly funny. He had an unending smile and I wondered if he grinned in his sleep too.
I didn't know much about Mark because he wasn't one of the popular boys. At that point in my life popularity was paramount. I was a cheerleader and my focus was shamefully shallow--how did I look in my cheer skirt and which cool boys liked me? Mark did play on the football team, as center, making good use of his tall, thick body. Sometimes his sweet mother would come to games and feed us cookies in between cheers.
There started to be whisperings that Mark liked me. I was flattered but not flustered. One day after school my friends and I--laced with boredom and stupidity--decided to call boys and ask them to go steady as a joke. Someone dared me to call Mark, and I took them up on it, I called him and asked him to be my boyfriend. After he excitedly accepted, a surge of embarrassment took over me and I yelled, "JUST KIDDING" and slammed the phone down.
The next day Mark didn't pay attention to me during Journalism class.
In fact, we didn't have a relationship again until our junior year in high school when suddenly Mark emerged as the surprise hit of the year. Girls wanted to date him, boys wanted to be his buddy, teachers adored him and he was everywhere. And of course, me in my affected state took notice.
Mark showed up at my best friend Wendy's house and in casual conversation he asked about me,
"Courtney dating anyone?"
This encouraged me. I made plans to ask him to the Christmas dance knowing I'd have to act fast as he was usually one of the first boys asked (and by more than one girl too). I think it was during the Christmas dance I fell for Mark. He was the perfect entertainer--funny, animated and loyally kind to everyone. Plus, his blue eyes made us all poster-hanging fans. On his doorstep, with our exhales swirling around in the winter air, he kissed me.
This kiss changed me. Suddenly the game I had intensely played for all the years of my social life was reversed. I was now the seeker--hoping, wishing, waiting for reciprocation. I didn't see this coming, Mark had arrived on the scene, completely well done. He was a tribute to all late bloomers.
In the spring one day Wendy picked me up in her car,
"We're going on a scavenger hunt," she told me.
I hoped this meant I was being asked to the prom. No small invitation was accepted. In my high school the asking required more planning and preparation than the actual date. 
We went all over town to familiar spots--parks, restaurants, hang outs of ours--picking up directives. When we arrived downtown Provo to discover the last clue in the hunt, we left the car on Center Street. A couple moments later we returned to see the red and blue flashes of a police car and an officer talking into his radio for back up. Up against Wendy's car was Mark with a couple of his friends. When he saw me, Mark bravely escaped the police officer's reign and came running towards me. The officer yelled for him to come back.
"Courtney," Mark said getting on his knee humorously like hopeful engagement,
"Will you go to the prom with me?"
And in that moment he allowed himself to be as romantic as possible, so genuinely focused on me--even though I could tell he was entirely annoyed with whatever was going on behind him.
After I accepted (thrilled!) Mark stood up and rolled his eyes.
"Now, I have some explaining to do," he said.
With his arm around me we walked back to the officer. In the spotlight of those blaring lights Mark made clear the idea: he was getting into the trunk of the car to make me believe he had been there the entire time. When Wendy admitted to giving him a set of keys so he could get into the trunk while we were gone, the officer realized it wasn't just a auto break-in he had busted, it was a plot for the prom.
On prom night Mark was crowned royalty and he dutifully wore his white sash as we made our way through conversation circles. When it was time for the traditional promenade--an escorted walk in the spotlight together--Mark picked me up and carried me instead. The crowd went wild.
After that we were a pair.
We spent our afternoons together with friends at my house hanging out on the trampoline in the backyard. My family loved Mark and enjoyed his visits, he'd make everyone laugh, especially my little sister Lucy whose crush rivaled my own. The thing about Mark was that he was fantastically likable.
We decided to run for student body officers together our senior year. He was voted Boys President and I was voted Girls President. This meant we were supposed to plan preferences, boys/girls week and generally elevate our gender in all aspects. There was so much to do as officers and we were kept busy attending school-sponsored events. One night, during a powder puff football game I kept waiting and waiting for Mark to show up. I was on the field playing, watching out of the corner of my eye, counting his friends and becoming worried when he wasn't with them. It wasn't until later that weekend I heard the rumors, Mark had been up the canyon making out with someone else.
A cheerleader, to boot.
This news was hit me like a pool of poison in my stomach. The next day a twelve page written letter of apology showed up on my doorstep. I read each page and tried to forgive him but my heart wasn't in it. We broke up and spent the rest of our senior year in bitter dispute.
After graduation Mark went away to collage and I stayed in Provo. Occasionally I'd hear how he was doing, but I tried not to care. I focused on getting good grades in college and meeting new people. I never wanted to marry a Provo boy anyway, I told myself.
Then at Christmas break Mark showed up at my door--to my total surprise. He was handsome with his happy blue eyes and buzzed head. Some time during the semester he had taken up running, which had led to a penchant for triathlons and muscles. Though his confidence had always been secure, he was more self-assured and quickly started to reconsider our past. We spent the entire two weeks of Christmas break together and before he went back to school we kissed again.
I went to visit him at school a couple times with my friends.We always returned home with hilarious stories about Mark. I loved this time in my life and wished for time to freeze. But in the spring Mark made the decision to go on an two-year (Mormon) mission (as most boys did) and he was called to serve in Hawaii. He moved back home a couple months before he left, and we spent as much time together as possible.
On the day he left for Hawaii we all showed up at the airport to see him off--a crowd of Mark fans. He hugged everyone good bye, giving me extended attention. There was an unsaid expectation that he would kiss me good bye, but because he was a missionary it was against the rules. When his flight started to board, he strapped on his back pack, turned to his adoring following, and waved with his hand extended high in the air. We all waved back crying, like our reason for living was leaving us.
His first letter home to me read, "I wish I would've kissed you anyway."
This made me incredibly embarrassed, but it became the joke of each letter home.
"If only I had kissed you good bye..."
For my birthday he sent me a grass skirt and coconut shell bra with a note saying "I hope you'll wear this when I get home." By the next year, when he called me (against the rules!) to wish me Merry Christmas I broke the news to him, I was going to go on a mission as well. This meant I wouldn't see him again for three years. He congratulated me, but his voice sounded disappointed.
After those three years were up, my family came to pick me up in Canada. (For everyone of Mark's warm breezy days in Hawaii, I had an icy, frozen day in Canada.) The closer the day came to going home the more Mark seemed to slip into my head.Time had made letter-writing tedious and our correspondence had waned. But my sisters said just before they left for Canada Mark showed up at our house making them promise they'd bring me home safely.
With my parents and sisters, we toured Quebec together with the idea to dip down into the east coast of the US to peak at the apex of autumn. One night, while we were in our hotel room in Quebec City, my mother called home. It was then we heard the news from my worried sister-in-law Megan, Mark had been in a terrible car crash and didn't survive.
We were twenty two years old and only days away from seeing each other again after three eventful years. I was devastated.
In the hotel room we talked about life after death, the very subject I had taught interested investigators for the past eighteen months. I remember looking over at my dad who sat on the bed with a long, sullen look on his face. But it was Lucy who cried the hardest, I think she had imagined a Jo and Amy March situation, where Amy eventually scored the affable Laurie.
No thanks to Manhattan traffic, we missed our flight home and the funeral as well
Back in Provo everyone treated me lightly, hoping I was getting over the shock of it all. I spent time with Mark's family and friends talking about him and alternatively laughing and crying. Alone, I thought about him a lot, all of the jokes and the dates and the adventures. There was so much material to review and remember. And I didn't regret any of it.

Except, of course, that missed kiss good bye.