Chapter 1: The Nerd

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I slowly drifted into consciousness, sleepily content burrowed under my down comforter and wearing my fuzzy Mickey Mouse pajamas that were hideous but comfortable. Opening my eyes, I peeked out through a hole in my window blind and was startled to see solid white outside. Excited, I sat up and pulled the blind open. It was snowing! A solid blanket of white covered everything outside. A drift was beginning to form against the house and frosty snow framed my window. It was absolutely beautiful. I sighed happily. This day was going to be perfect.

Snow was a new wonder for me, since I had been born and raised in California until moving to Missouri when I was 16. The move had been hard, but we had family in Missouri and after two years I made plenty of friends. I was content. Even in Missouri, it was rare to get a genuine blizzard. This was going to be the perfect day.

Today was my birthday, the big 18. I didn’t have to work today, I was snowed in, and my family all had to stay home due to the weather conditions. Nothing could’ve made me happier. I felt as snug as a bug in a rug and every time I looked outside, snowy white loveliness met my eyes. I felt a deep sense of excitement. Somehow I sensed that today was going to be the beginning of something big. Something life changing. I felt on the brink of a metamorphosis.

A scent wafted to me, turning my head and distracting me from the beautiful snowy wonder outside. Something scrumptious was cooking in the kitchen. Two things excite me: Food and relationships. And in the morning, food comes first. I threw on a soft, comfy robe and slipped on my fur slippers before bursting from my room like a hungry bear.

My mom was just taking a cookie sheet of freshly baked scones out of the oven. I grinned from ear to ear. Snowed in, home with my mom, and with freshly baked goodies. It’s the simple things in life, I thought.

“Happy birthday!” My mom beamed and took off her oven mitts to give me a hug. I basked in the comfort of her hug, inwardly thanking God for the day and everything He had gifted me with. I felt safe, cozy, loved, and there was good food to be consumed. I couldn’t have been happier.

I sat down with my mom to enjoy a breakfast of scones, eggs, and hot tea. I felt so cozy and at peace.“So Lotte,” my mom roused me from my reverie. “I was talking to your Dad, and we have decided to let you get on that online dating site. We will pay for a subscription for your birthday.”

I nearly fell out of my chair. I had been begging my parents to let me get on a dating site for months but my dad had been very hesitant. He felt that it wasn’t safe and that I should just meet guys the normal way. Problem was that the “normal way” involved me being out and interacting with lots of guys on a regular basis and since the only activities I did were grocery shop and go to church, the whole meeting guys in person thing hadn’t been working real well for me. I squealed with excitement and jumped out of my chair. “Really?! THANK YOU! I am soooo excited!” I did a happy dance and my mom laughed.

“Let’s go set it up! I want to see how this thing works.” Mom said as she followed me into my room and I booted my laptop up.

My heart pounded as I waited for my computer to load. Finally, after 18 years of waiting, I would get an opportunity to interact with some cute guys my age.

I was the product of homeschooling and ultra conservative values. I had been protected from harmful things like drugs, peer pressure, premarital sex, and government indoctrination into their agendas, but in the process, I had never learned to interact with the opposite sex. I was as green and inexperienced as they come. My childhood had consisted of an excellent education at home tailored for my needs and executed with precision by my parents. I played with the neighbor kids or mostly my cousins. I had one girlfriend growing up who I was best friends with. As a child, I spent the majority of my time playing with my brother or sequestered in a comfy corner with my books. My childhood was a peaceful one but lonely at times. I had been painfully shy and self-conscious, and what little contact I had with older girls hurt me deeply. Raised in church, the groups of young people I had known were closed off into unfriendly cliques who got their amusement from picking on the kids outside their clique.

The prospect of being thrown into an unrestricted, normal environment where I could meet anyone and had no idea what I would encounter thrilled me. I felt like a bird who had been caged all its life suddenly getting the cage door thrown open for me to fly free. I longed to talk to men, to find out what they thought of me. It was one thing for my family to tell me what I was like, it was another thing entirely for an objective man to tell me.

I picked a Christian dating site with a good rating and reviews and signed myself up. It was called Christian Café. My mom and I were like two schoolgirls laughing and checking it all out. Within minutes, I received winks and messages from multiple guys and I was engrossed in surfing the pages and pages of profiles at my disposal. I felt like my life was just beginning.

I proceeded to spend hours upon hours drinking in the attention I was getting and searching for that “perfect guy.” I was obsessed. Internet dating sites were the most fascinating thing I had ever stumbled upon. Picture after picture available to click on and peruse. Pages and pages of profiles to read and contemplate. I was in heaven. I was like the delicate hothouse rose that had budded but not bloomed, carefully sheltered away from the outside elements. I had finally been set outside to drink in the sun and receive the attention and admiration I had craved and needed for so long. For the first time, with the attention I craved, my little petals could begin to bloom.

My computer dinged and I grinned. Another message! I eagerly clicked on my inbox and scanned the message. The guy was okay looking. Not the most handsome, actually. He looked a little nerdy. I tilted my head, debating. What have I got to lose?! I decided to write him back.

~©~©~©~©~

For the next several weeks, my days were occupied with reading and responding to messages on Christian Café. I worked part time as a medical transcriptionist, and once my work was done, I would dive happily into my online cyber world, perfectly content. It was heaven! To have gone 18 years with zero attention from guys due to lack of exposure and then plunging headfirst into a huge pool of available guys was a delightful shock.

Things were heating up with my nerdy guy. He complimented me and flattered me and we seemed to share lots of things in common. I backed off from talking to anyone else and we both confessed we were interested in each other and wanted to meet. He was constantly talking to me. Any time I would log into my Facebook, he was there. He was a chatty Kathy for sure, but I liked the attention and he seemed nice.

I decided it was time for a phone conversation. I gave Kevin my phone number and he called me that night. When the phone rang, my heart jumped with excitement. As soon as he spoke, I got butterflies. He had a wonderful voice, masculine and pleasant. Plus he sounded exactly like a guy I knew in my church. If I closed my eyes and pretended it was the guy from my church, my nerves went away.

We talked for over an hour. We shared similar interests in movies, music, and vocabulary. He was the first guy I talked to who appreciated my large vocabulary. Due to my extensive reading as a child, I was used to having to dumb down my speech so people would understand me. Kevin loved my big words. We hit it off. I wasn’t crazy about him, but I thought there might be something there.

A few weeks passed. We talked a couple times a week. After about our 15th conversation, my interest started to wane. I felt bad. Was I expecting him to entertain me? I didn’t think so. Maybe it was normal. People run out of things to talk about. I decided we should meet and settle the question once and for all.

“So I’ve been thinking,” I told him on the phone one afternoon, “I really would like to meet you and hangout. See if we have some attraction in person. Would you like to meet?”

I could practically feel the eagerness in his emphatic, “Yes! When is a good time to come?”

I looked at my calendar and worked out a good weekend for him to come. Then came the matter of accommodations. Kevin planned to stay the weekend. “Are you going to get a hotel?” I asked.

“Oh well, um, I could camp out in your front yard?” He joked.

My laugh was a bit forced. That’s kind of dumb. Does he not have the money for a hotel? He’s 25 years old! Geez, now I’m in a bind. I lived with my parents and younger brother in a 1,400 square foot house. It was small but comfortable for us. Having company stay was another matter. I told Kevin I would talk to my parents and let him know if they were ok with him staying the weekend. I had never had a guy who was interested in me stay at our house. This could be super awkward. I thought.

My parents gave their consent, and we arranged for Kevin to come that weekend. I was tentatively excited. I didn’t have a lot of chemistry on the phone with him, but we seemed fairly compatible and conversation was interesting enough. His Facebook had been off putting though. I snooped through all his pictures and statuses. Facebook was my background check. People are who they REALLY are on Facebook. Some of his statuses were questionable. He posted some videos with F words in it. Other than that, not too bad. His pictures gave me pause. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but he didn’t seem very…masculine. He didn’t seem effeminate per se, but somehow through the pictures he seemed a little dweeby. I shrugged it off and decided to give the guy a chance.

The week passed quickly and soon the weekend was upon us. Kevin claimed he was a foodie (food lover) like me. He told me his favorite foods and desserts, and I shopped and prepared what he had told me. He was set to arrive on Friday afternoon. I made an apple pie from scratch, and helped Mom prepare a scrumptious roast dinner with all the trimmings. Smelling it all day was mouthwatering. Not to brag, but both Mom and I were excellent cooks. If he didn’t like the food then he was nuts.

I hot rolled my hair, carefully put on some makeup, and sat down to wait until he arrived. He was driving from Texas. The makeup took a while. I had never worn makeup until I turned 18. Mom never bought me any and I never really felt the need. Now I was addicted to it. It took very little makeup to enhance my features noticeably. Mascara, foundation, and a little blush and I was happy.

Finally, it was time to meet Kevin. Mom and I drove downtown to meet him at Sonic, since finding our house out in the sticks was a near impossibility for someone out of town. We drove up to Sonic and waited from him to pull up.

A few minutes passed. My nervousness grew. I began to sweat. There he was! I watched him pull up. He was hunched over his steering wheel awkwardly, and he peered up and over his steering wheel like a turtle sticking his head out of his shell. I contained a giggle. He looked utterly ridiculous. Mom and I looked at each other and raised our eyebrows. You know when you meet a guy for the first time and you feel this immediate sinking feeling? Like you know as soon as you lay eyes on the poor guy that there’s not a chance you’re going to like him in a romantic way and you feel bad? That is exactly how I felt when I saw Kevin.

I slid out of the car shyly and we introduced ourselves. He drank in the sight of me. I felt like he was a dry sponge soaking up the water of my presence. I could almost hear the sucking sound of it. I reluctantly hugged him, not wanting to be unfriendly or hurt his feelings. He had driven a long way to see me. I tried to shake off my lack of attraction.

Looking at him, he was taller than me, about 5’11”. That was good. He was skinny and scrawny with huge Coke bottle glasses. That was bad. He was dressed in baggy jeans, a slightly worn Polo shirt, and grubby tennis. His eyes were light blue, framed by long curly eyelashes that were almost feminine. I looked deep into his eyes, waiting to see what I sensed.

Something weird about me: When I meet people for the first time and when I look into people’s eyes in general, I see things. Usually, words will pop into my head. Words that describe the glimpse into their mind and heart. I see this mirrored in their eyes.

Looking into his blue eyes with long eyelashes, words began to run through my head. Decent, boyish, good hearted, sensitive, eager. Thoughtfully, I eyed him again as we moved towards his car to guide him to our house. He carried himself in an odd way, with his posture slightly hunched over and his shoulders up by his ears. I finally put my finger on it as we drove home making small talk. He acts like a 16 year old, not a 25 year old. Almost as if his development and maturity was stunted at 16. A pang of sympathy shot through me. In one of our phone conversations, I learned his mother died when he was 16. He was just two years younger than me when his mom died. How devastating. My heart warmed to him, despite my lack of attraction. I was determined to give him a chance.

Conversation flowed easily between us and soon we reached my house. He told me how beautiful I was and how much more beautiful I was in person than my pictures. I drank in the compliments. After 18 years of no one but my friends and family complimenting me, it was heaven to hear a guy tell me I was pretty. At 5’2,” my figure had never been skinny, but I had nice curves, good skin, dark hair, and greenish hazel eyes. I had been told I looked like a cross between Snow White and Megan Fox. They said I had the cuteness of Snow White in my round face and bright smile, and the sultry sexiness of Megan Fox in my eyes, lips, and dark eyebrows.

Dinner awaited us at the house. The place smelled of freshly baked apple pie and a roast dinner. I was starving. We sat down with my family and dug into the feast.

To my surprise, Kevin – for all his claims of being a foodie – ate next to nothing. He piled his plate high and then didn’t eat hardly any of it. I watched with mild distress as he threw half a plate of food into the garbage. I hated it when people wasted food. When I went to serve the apple pie, I was careful to ask if he wanted a small piece and he insisted I serve him a big piece. Again, to my irritation, I watched him throw half of it away. Evidently, he had no concept for how much work went into home cooked meals from scratch.

Full of delicious food, my good humor was restored as we all sat down to watch one of my favorite movies, King Solomon’s Mines, starring Patrick Swayze. I was happily engrossed in my movie and was only disturbed from time to time by the awkward feel of Kevin’s Coke bottle rimmed eyes boring into me. Geez, does he have to stare at me alllll the time? I wondered. I was glad to go to bed and escape the feel of someone drooling on me.

Saturday was a looooong day. Long day. Did I mention long day? He took me out to lunch, which was ok, but I was struggling with my feelings of disinterest. I felt bad for not liking him, but I just wasn’t feeling it. The afternoon dragged into evening and we headed home.

It was fall, and the air was crisp and cool with bright blue skies. We decided to go for a walk.

“Hey Mom!” I called out. “We are going to go for a short walk.”

“Okay! Let me get my coat!”

I avoided looking at Kevin, hoping I wouldn’t have to explain. I can’t believe she’s actually going to walk with us. This is soooo embarrassing. My parents had read a ton of Christian material on courtship and dating and they believed it was necessary for accountability and safety purposes that young people should have a chaperone on dates. It was to avoid “temptation.” Of course, it made no sense in this instance, what with Kevin’s car being in our driveway. Where would we go? It’s not like he was going to push me in the bushes and rape me. I sighed.

“I’m sorry,” Mom apologized to Kevin. “It’s just because we don’t know you that well yet and we’re new to this online meeting kind of thing.”

To my intense relief, Kevin just smiled and shrugged. “That’s perfectly fine and I understand.”

Our walk commenced, with my Mom trailing behind us within eyeshot but out of earshot. I felt beyond awkward and remained mostly quiet. It didn’t matter. Kevin was happy to fill in the gaps in conversation.

As we walked on my long gravel driveway, Kevin increasingly annoyed me. I would walk on the flat part of the road not near the edge, and he would slowly inch his way towards me, closer and closer, invading my space. I kept inching away, and he literally ran me off the road. I would step off the road and circle around to the other side of Kevin, and he would inch his way closer until it happened again and I circled back around him. He didn’t catch the hint, and this continued for the entire walk. And that was my first walk with a guy, Kevin constantly edging his way towards me and crowding me, and my mother trailing behind me. I was thankful when we returned to the house and the torture was over.

To combat my boredom and shake things up, we taught Kevin how to play Rook, a popular Graham tradition. He caught on quickly. Unfortunately, he was my partner, and I was annoyed by the fact that at the slightest good turn in the game, he would hold up his hand excitedly for a high five. After about the 20th high five, it ceased to be fun.

He began to laugh sporadically at things I said. I was startled. His laugh was not a laugh at all. It sounded exactly like someone just starting to heave. It was a guttural pre throwing up sound. I smiled awkwardly and glanced at my brother for his reaction. He shrugged behind Kevin’s back and grinned. I was horrified. Kevin sounded like he was going to throw up when he laughed! Ooook, can this get any more awkward?

The evening wore on. I went to take my shower, eager to escape his constant attentions. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind now. Kevin was not my type. He was a decent guy, but I had zero attraction to him. I dressed in comfortable PJ’s after my shower and went back into the bathroom to straighten my hair for church in the morning. To my dismay, the door creaked open and there stood my shadow. He smiled a toothy grin and asked me what I was doing. It took every ounce of self-restraint I had not to roll my eyes. I’m in the bathroom for crying out loud! Can I get any privacy?!

I forced a smile and said sweetly, “I’m just straightening my hair for church tomorrow.”

He grinned wider. “Can I watch?”

My jaw nearly hit the floor. He wants to watch me straighten my hair? Ohhh, bother. I contained my sigh and said, “Sure.” I didn’t have the heart to disappoint him.

I was eager to get to bed and dreading church the next day. My church was small, and EVERYBODY knew me and had been waiting for me to find a guy. With my belly full of good food, I went right to sleep.

That morning, I dressed to kill. My figure was slim, the thinnest I had ever been, but curvaceous. I had a small waist and curvy hips with a decent upstairs. My makeup was flawless and my hair fell like a glossy dark cascade down my back. My dress was brand new, a black and pink sheath dress that managed to show off my figure but with class. I was proud of how I looked. The feeling was new for me.

Growing up all the way into my late teens, I was painfully self-conscious and frumpy. My parents for years wouldn’t let me wear anything but dresses and in a primarily pants culture, the casual dresses were scarce. What I primarily ended up wearing was one piece dresses from Walmart with grimy tennis or homemade jumper dresses that fit me like a potato sack. I shudder looking back on my wardrobe. It’s no wonder I was insecure and self-conscious. Now it had changed. I as well as my parents had outgrown the teachings of ATI/IBLP (Advanced Training Institute/Institute for Basic Life Principles) and other ultra conservative groups like it, and by 18, I started to develop a sense of fashion.

When I walked into the kitchen to greet Kevin that morning, he gaped at me. I smiled at him, thankful for the appreciation. He pushed his glasses closer to his face and grinned eagerly. “You look absolutely stunning.” He gushed. “Can I take a picture of you?”

I posed for his pictures, feeling uncomfortable. Soon we were off to church. The moment I walked in with Kevin trailing in my wake, I got the looks. Everybody in church noticed him and me together. I wanted to crawl under a rock. Then the questions started. With Kevin barely five paces behind me, half the people in our small church came up to me and asked who he was and if I “liked” him and if it “was a go.” Trying to whisper my emphatic “NO, I don’t like him in that way” without him hearing was a feat. How I managed it, I still don’t know.

The service started and I sank into a chair, intensely grateful they were individual chairs and not a pew or his butt would’ve been sandwiched next to mine. Oh joy.

The service ended and I had to endure the other half of the church all asking about him and how I liked him. I wanted to die. Just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get worse, I rounded the corner with Kevin in tow and a booming voice reached my ears. “Is this the young man that beat me out of my pot roast dinner?” The pastor boomed in his inescapably loud voice. My face flushed 10 shades of red.

We had planned to have the pastor and his family over that weekend, but had canceled our plans so Kevin could come instead. The pastor chuckled and affectionately hugged me as he winked at Kevin. The rest of the time at the church was a blur of embarrassing questions and an inability for me to get any space from Kevin. Luckily, we didn’t stay long.

We drove to the city to eat lunch and I relaxed a little, looking forward to eating at one of my favorite places. Red Robin had the best burgers and fries. I was quiet on the way there, trying to be as polite but distant as possible to Kevin. He didn’t get the hint. He even began asking me about what kind of jewelry I liked. I tried to be as vague as possible.

I was grateful for my family’s presence to limit the conversation between Kevin and I. He never stopped talking. In a way, it was a blessing, since it allowed me to sit and interject as little as possible. My family could tell how I felt and felt sorry for me. Multiple times while sitting in the large booth, he tried to inch his way closer to me and I would slowly inch away. I felt smothered. I tried desperately to hide my growing disinterest bordering on irritation.

We finished lunch and returned to our house with Kevin still hanging on my every word and breath. The day crawled by. I had had enough. I packed him up some cookies “to go” and told him I would guide him back to Sonic so he wouldn’t get lost and my Mom could pick me up.

I was silent most of the drive, contemplating how I would tell him about my feelings. All weekend, I was trapped with a skinny kid in Coke bottle glasses who dry heaved instead of laughed and followed me so closely and felt like I was being buzzed by a hungry mosquito. I had a long fused temper but it was beginning to run short. I dreaded having to tell him I wasn’t interested. I’ve been agonizing over what to say, I can’t bear hurting people. I was tense all over in anticipation, hoping against hope I could pull it off in the kindest way possible.

Kevin began to talk about his next visit and I used my opportunity. As kindly as I could, I delicately said, “I don’t think that would be a good idea…” As concisely and as gently as I could, I informed him that I was not interested in him as more than a friend. I babied what I said. I had all weekend to come up with exactly the right words. More than that, I couldn’t bear to hurt anyone, and I didn’t want to hurt him.

To my dismay, his lip began to quiver and giant tears welled up in his eyes. I felt horrible. I wracked my brain trying to figure out how I could have worded it better and drew a blank.

Awkwardly, I patted his shoulder. “I’m so sorry. I think you’re an awesome guy but just not the right one for me. I like you, just not in that way.”

The rest of the ride to Sonic was in silence. I got out and he quickly came around to the front of the car for a lingering hug mingled with tears. I didn’t know how to handle the tears. Guys weren’t supposed to cry. At least, not very often. Don’t get me wrong, it’s normal and healthy for guys to cry sometimes and I appreciate a guy who isn’t afraid to show tears on occasion, but I wasn’t used to it. The men in my family were, how can I put this, too “manly” to cry. And in Kevin, all I could see was a little boy crying because he couldn’t get his way. Though I was very sorry to have caused him pain, his response disgusted me and further underlined my feelings. Especially given the carefully worded, delicate approach I had agonized over. He wasn’t crying because I hurt him, he was crying because he didn’t get his way. I didn’t want a boy, I wanted a man…with thicker skin.

I gave him some fresh baked cookies so he would have something for the drive home and got into Mom’s van. As soon as the door shut, I sighed an enormous sigh of relief. I looked at mom, and she looked at me, and we both made disappointed faces at each other. “Oh well,” I said sadly. “I tried, but that was a complete no go. Nuh uh, not happening!” We giggled.

“Can’t say that I blame you!” Mom laughed.

I closed my eyes, relishing my recovered space and oxygen levels.

“Well you got a guy from Texas!” Mom said. “49 more states to go!”

“Ahhh, MOM!” I couldn’t help but laugh. “I just want to find someone I like!”

“Don’t settle, just try to be patient.”

“Patience isn’t my strong suit…” I rolled my eyes.

“Then maybe this finding a guy thing is exactly what you need!” Mom winked at me.

How right she was. My roller coaster ride of a romantic life had just begun.

© Laura Schoonover, 2015-present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Laura Schoonover and https://cupidchroniclesblog.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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