There is an afternoon of the home-school graduate group that will live in the memories of our close friends…we refer to it as the “croquet game”.
Among other silly memories, such as seeing a 21-year-old chasing down an annoying butterfly with a croquet mallet, this was the afternoon that sealed Justin & me as soulmates in the minds of several friends. And this was still months before we were officially a couple.
You know how in croquet, there’s the rule that if your ball touches another player’s, you can smack the other ball wherever you want? Maybe that’s not quite how the rules go…we were known to twist things…but because I sucked at croquet, I decided that afternoon to only go after other players and not worry about how I was doing in the game. Because his ball was closest to mine (and seriously, that’s the only reason…being flirtatious wasn’t on my mind that afternoon) I went after Justin first.
I smacked his croquet ball as hard as I could, and as it went bouncing along into the weeds at the far end of the yard, Justin went chasing after it. He soon got his revenge, but of course I couldn’t allow him to have the last word. And so it went on.
I think I hit other people’s balls once or twice during that game.
The afternoon ended and I went home laughing hysterically about the tricks I’d played on Justin. At first my mom was a little appalled–she asked me why I’d done that to Justin when he was so “quiet and innocent.”
“Ha!” I said. “That guy is anything but quiet and innocent! He took it okay, Mom, don’t worry.”
Over the summer, Justin started becoming lonely and bored at events if I didn’t come. He couldn’t get me out of his mind and badly wanted to spend more time getting to know me. And finally, he told his parents that he was interested in courting me.
They asked him to wait. That summer, Justin’s mom Tammy was pregnant with their 11th child, a little girl named Isabella who had been diagnosed with Trisomy-18 and spina bifida. They were also going through a lot with their 10th child, a Downs Syndrome girl named Olivia. On September 22nd, Isabella was born, a miracle in and of itself, but three days later she passed away.
There are two things I remember from that funeral–how incredibly wrong it seemed to have such a tiny casket; and feeling such a sharp pang when I saw Justin’s red eyes and slumped shoulders. I didn’t talk much to him that day–I didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t know how to say anything that came to mind.
In the days after, I found it hard to get Justin out of my mind. The more I thought about him, the more I realized that he was a special person to me. I didn’t feel just ‘sorry’ for him, and I didn’t even want to take care of him. I’d had crushes before (one especially bad one) and I had friends who were almost brothers to me. How I felt toward Justin was totally different than either of those feelings, but as of yet, I had no label for it.
So I said nothing, kept my thoughts to myself, and let my brain turn.
Shortly after this, my dad received a phone call.