Primo dropped me off at the door for the reunion dinner and then left to park the car. I walked in alone. Picked up my name tag and tried to figure out where to attach it. Gave up when I saw Nancy and Aarthi and trotted over to them instead.
We were not good friends in college, but the magic of Facebook has allowed me to be a part of peoples' lives and become friends with people I wish I had been friends with all along. All these wonderful people who surrounded me in the past and now I get a second chance. I love Facebook.
We were chatting when a tallish, handsome man came up to us.
I looked at his name tag.
It was - let's call him Liam - it was Liam.
Whom I had not seen in over 30 years.
And to whom I was mean, even though he did not deserve it.
It all came back to me in a second.
My freshman year of college, as I was leaving class one day, it was raining, which of course is not unusual for Houston. I, being me, had an umbrella with me. I also had a sweatshirt and socks because even though it was hot outdoors in Houston, the air conditioning in the classrooms at Rice was crazy cold. I would walk into the physics lab and start getting dressed.
I walked out into the rain, protected by my umbrella.
I saw a guy walking in the rain.
This would have been the perfect Meet Cute.
I asked him if he wanted to share my umbrella. I wasn't hitting on him because I was only 17 or barely 18 and I sure didn't roll like that. I didn't know how. I would have loved to know how, but I did not. I. Was. Clueless.
I asked him to share only because I felt sorry for him.
We walked to his dorm and I thought that was it.
But then he asked me out on an actual date.
Let me position this better:
I attended a college of misfits. We were the smart kids who had been at the bottom of the social ladder in high school. We were the kids who had never been invited to or had not invited anyone to a high school dance. We were used to being the odd ducks.
And then we got to college - and we were all that was there. There were no cheerleaders, no star athletes, no cool kids. There were smart kids and there were smarter kids and there were smart kids who did cool things like paint or play baseball or sing or act or write or become the White House spokesman. The base currency was smart and what made you cool was what other people - the people in high school - had thought was weird about you and IT WAS FABULOUS.
It was a school full of people who had not dated much. And who didn't know how to date. Who might not even have ever kissed a boy. Or a girl. Or a boy. Whatever.
Liam asked me out on a date. He didn't ask if I was going to the movie at the Chemistry Lecture Hall on Friday and then get a seat near me. He didn't ask me if I was going to the party at Sid on Saturday and then bump into me. He didn't ask if I was going to the football game and suggest he might sit on the same bench with me.
He asked if he could take me out on a date. He took a risk.
I was impressed.
And he was cute!
He had a car so we could actually go off campus. We went to Gilly's, which was super popular because of the movie Urban Cowboy. It was about half an hour from campus. We got there and it was smoky and crowded and neither of us knew how to dance. We left.
At the time, Gilly's was in the middle of nowhere.
There were no cellphones, at least not for civilians. My best friend's dad had to carry The Brick sometimes, but he was the base commander.
Liam's car broke down. It was an old clunker - the kind of car a kid who makes money delivering papers buys for himself before he goes to college. It was not the car of a rich kid. It was the car of a hardworking kid.
It died in the middle of nowhere.
We started walking - finally found a phone booth - IT WAS DARK! IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE! THERE COULD BE AX MURDERERS! - and called information to get the number for a taxi - and the taxi refused to come for us because we did not know where we were and could not give an address.
He called his roommate, who showed up almost an hour later and was cranky about having to come get us.
He dropped me off at my room.
I never talked to him again.
He called and left messages.
I didn't return the calls.
He may even have left a message on the little message board hanging on my dorm room door.
I ignored him.
The calls stopped.
Two years later, I walked into my 19th century American fiction class taught by Professor Gillman and he was sitting in the front row. I veered past him, looking at the back wall, and sat in the back.
I WAS A BITCH.
He was a nice kid who had had the guts to ask me out and then had tried to apologize for something that could have happened to anyhow - indeed, my car has broken down more than once - AND I WAS MEAN TO HIM.
It has bothered me ever since. Years ago, when I discovered the google and googlestalking, I looked Liam up online. (Along with every other boy/man I have ever kissed - yes, Liam had kissed me, but it was in the parking lot of Gilly's before the car broke down.)
(Even now, I am googlestalking. Holy smoke. NICE HOUSE! And a wife. But Liam - Liam turned out very, very nicely. Great professional success. Very handsome. Good. I am happy for him.)
I wondered what had happened to him. I wanted to apologize. I found an address and sent a letter, but never heard back from him. I don't know if he even got it.
And then he appeared in front of me, unbidden.
I have been to every five year reunion since I graduated. I had never seen him there before.
He was there.
I saw his name tag and remembered immediately.
I might not have recognized him if I had passed him in the street - he was a little taller, I think, and had matured quite nicely into a very handsome man.
"I was so mean to you!" I blurted out. "I am so sorry! You did not deserve it!"
He smiled and said nothing. I continued to babble nervously and happily. At last - I had a chance to apologize.
As my wonderful not native-English-speaker boss said when I told him this story: "You got to get it out of your chest!"
"Kind of like in Alien," Primo said.
We chatted for a few minutes. I don't even remember what we said. I just kept thinking what a great gift he had given me - a chance to apologize. If our positions had been reversed, I probably would have ignored him. He is the far bigger person of the two of us. I am grateful. Thank you, Liam.