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"Don't you know who I am?"
I had always sat in the window and watched the world move beyond the glass. There was a discontentment I had carried with me everywhere I went. My growing up was a blur of photographs and promises that failed. Living with single parents and commuting back and forth between their homes after the divorce was hard. But everything was hard.
I was a shell of a girl made from insecurity and doubt. Headphones were always draped around my neck. I liked my sleeves long and my hands in my pockets. There was no place I belonged, or so it felt. My sister was a year and a half younger and I watched her endure high school while I had already graduated. She had the life I had never had. Everything seemed to fall into place for her. This would be a lie if I believed it, but it was almost as if her life was easier. Maybe it was.
When I was seventeen I was hit by a car at sunset. I was attempting to cross the street and a jeep came out of nowhere and hit me. The impact flung me into the air. When I hit the pavement, I went face first. I was unrecognizable. My doctor told me to take a complete year off to get back to “feeling like the old me.” He was a nice guy and helped me learn to walk again. It took me about a week to do it without a walker. So much for ever being normal.
My boyfriend at the time was named Evan and he was everything I could have asked for in a boyfriend. I believed in him more than I believed in myself. That was half the reason why I wanted to be with him. He was an artist. In the quiet hours of the night he would sit in the garage at his parent’s and make me another painting. I have a collection of them hanging on my wall.
He was beside himself as I went through my recovery, post-accident. He held my hand and told me not to worry. He got me balloons and flowers. He sat next to me and read books to me. I wouldn’t change that for the world. I was never close with my parents but somehow the accident brought us all closer together and closer to Evan as well. My dad learned to really like him. My mom already did because she was a gush like that.
My accident was in the fall of my seventeenth year. Evan and I had been together for two years by then. The first spring after my accident, Evan and I started to drift apart. I was in denial. I knew something wasn’t right. But it was the truth. The accident had changed me. I was almost a completely different person. Everyone noticed.
I didn’t want to sit and have fancy, expensive dates with Evan all weekend long. I applied for a ton of jobs and got every single one of them. I started making new friends everywhere I went. I was fearless. I was convicted. I was a believer. Evan wanted to buy me a necklace for our anniversary. I didn’t want it.
How I felt started to seem like a philosophy. When I would speak, it could have sounded like I was dictating my thoughts to others. I hoped not. I felt insecure all over again but different reasons. Could anyone relate to me? Or was I estranged all over again in a completely different way? Evan didn’t even know who I was anymore.
Eventually I realized how I felt was not a philosophy but more like my own style. Less was more. First it started off with stuff. I didn’t need so much clothes. I put what I didn’t wear in a box and took it the apartment complex across town loaded with refugees and befriended the teen girls from Iraq. I bought plastic containers and organized all my stuff. Evan wanted to buy me the new I-Pod but I was content with my I-Pod shuffle. It had thirty songs on it and that was enough for me. “Let me take you to the movies,” he asked.
“Maybe later, I have to work.”
“Again? You always work weekends. Ask your boss for some time off.”
I didn’t want to ask for time off. I loved my job. I worked retail on the main city strip. We were always busy. I was always busy. I loved it. I liked not just being professional with the customers but also showing hospitality. I liked to not rush them but to problem solve with them when what they wanted was not available. And whenever anyone asked how I was, I always said, “I am doing great.”
“Why’s that?” People asked me.
“Because God is amazing.” I knew my eyes lit up whenever I said that. I could feel it.
Evan broke up with me. He drowned me in compliments, affection, and validated every single thing about me. That was good for awhile when I had no faith in anything at all really. I changed. I had faith. I was convicted. “You don’t need to remind me that I have purpose on earth every day, Evan,” I told him. “I appreciate it, but I’m seeing every thing clearer than I have in a long time.” That didn’t help Evan feel any better.
Who he was to me was everything I ever needed because he told me I was okay. That was his place in his life. I knew I was okay and I didn’t need to hear it from him in order for it to be true. That started shaking the ground our relationship was built on. When we got together, we were two naïve, innocent teenagers. He told me as long as long as we loved each other everything would be fine. But that was far from true. I knew I loved him but I didn’t understand it and it wasn’t enough. When we went through our breakup, I could never articulate it. I knew if we split, I would never be the same and I held on to us with everything in me.
“It’s over,” he said to me on the phone on a Saturday night. “It got over a long time ago.” For some reason I wasn’t ready to accept it. I didn’t feel like I felt anything but I knew I felt a lot. So all I could do was say, “I’m really sorry I’m not the girl you fell in love with in high school anymore,” and we hung up and I spent the next three months in a sea of tears.
I met Alex the first summer without Evan. He was a singer who lead worship at our church. He had a bright personality even though he was shy and sat next to the cappuccino machine with his guitar. It was wrong, so wrong. It had been nine months since Evan and I broke up. It had been six months since I was okay with it. My life was imperfect. I was a mess and was just trying to get through each day by itself. I wasn’t in school and I didn’t have a car which left me feeling inadequate and less then all the other girls. My best friend Abby knew how I felt about him.
“His personality shines through when he smiles,” I told her as we walked into the church and sat upfront.
She smiled and rolled her eyes. “I don’t see his cuteness but he does seem genuinely nice.”
Alex was doing sound check on the stage and he looked up and met my eyes. It was a split second and I think we communicated something to each other though I have no idea what. It left me feeling brighter.
“Ask him to do something with you sometime,” Abby said.
“He will never like me. I am not good enough for him. Besides there is no room in my life and his life doesn’t need someone like me.” I only created more angst for myself when I talked about myself like that but I couldn’t help it.
Alex came over and sat down next to me right as Abby got up to get a snack in the café’ at the church. I tried to take a deep breath but it didn’t happen as smooth as I hoped. I sat there and closed my eyes. I listened to him taking his own breaths. In the silence, everything seemed imperfectly beautiful. I opened my eyes and looked up at him.
“Do you want to do something on Friday?” He asked, chewing on his guitar pick.
“No, with Chewbacca. Yes, with me.”
I nodded. “That sounds good.”
But it was wrong. It was still wrong.
“Great, I will pick you up at seven thirty.” He smiled and went back on stage to continue rehearsal for worship night. I sat in the sanctuary, the only one in there. I watched him practice somewhat. But mostly I just sat there and counted back from ten. We started dating that Friday.
I knew why I was attracted to him in the first place. It was because of the way he led worship. It was because of the way he shined pretty bright to me every time he smiled. But it was random and it was weird. I had spent a lot of time trying to make friends with him that summer and all he ever did was say “hey” and walk away when I was still saying something to him. It didn’t bother me though. He didn’t have to feel the same way I felt.
“Want to hold my hand?” He asked me as we walked down a country road in the middle of nowhere. It was fall and it was cold and he held one of my hands in both of his hands. “Your hands are so small,” he noticed. Then he pushed my hair back which was a mess from being in the wind. I felt his fingers on my ear and then he asked if he could kiss me.
“We’re still friends though, so would this be taking our friendship to the next level?”
He shook his hair out of his face. “We are on a date, Ava. And I like you. You know that I like you because I told you I do. Unless I’ve been dreaming the whole time. I like you and I want to kiss you.”
I couldn’t comprehend anything. My heart had been through a lot. It had gone through one intense relationship and one intense breakup. It had gone through my parent’s divorce, my accident which put me in a coma and in the ICU, my failures, my successes, my turning points, and my discoveries. I was not ready to let him kiss me if it was purely for the way it felt. Our relationship couldn’t be just about not being alone anymore. He couldn’t pick me because we both liked to sing, because we both liked the country, or because we had similar senses of humor. Those were just external things to me. There were a million girls who liked to sing. And as one of them, I wanted to know why he wanted me – this girl who liked to sing.
What made me different from the rest? I wanted him to get to know me. I wanted him to know what made me, me. Then he could say, “this is who she is and there is no other girl but her.”
On a more deeper level, I wanted him in my life because I contemplated our faith lives colliding. I thought if and when that happened, he could be really good for it. Everything I went through, I asked myself, “what does this mean for my faith life?” And if it seemed like a benefit for my faith life or someone else’s faith life, I got a green light from God. It was a go.
That was how I felt about Alex.
I was not going to kiss him if he wasn’t sure if I was right for him. He could kiss me and we could continue to date nonexclusively, only to have him realize he doesn’t want me after all. It took me awhile before I started sharing my heart on my sleeve with him. Our first few dates were pretty carefree.
It didn’t have to be more serious than it was so I didn’t make it more serious than it was. We went places and did things and talked and gradually the “this is my favorite movie,” conversation evolved into something deeper which I was waiting for the whole time.
Abby asked me if I thought it would work out between us and I told her it was too early to know for sure. I knew that my life was pretty much not how I hoped it would be when I started dating and I knew that I didn’t feel good enough for him.
I knew that I had dreams and ambitions bigger than I was and the only way anything would ever come to pass was if God brought them to pass.