There’s something about getting married that makes you reexamine your past relationships with fresh eyes, whether you intend to or not.
I was sitting in my office this afternoon, making address labels and generally minding my own business. Absolutely nothing was going through my head except the satiny-rough sounds of Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy streaming through my headphones. “Corduroy” came on, a song which I must have listened to roughly eleventy-bazillion times in the past five years, and — out of nowhere — there I was. And there he was.
It was a sudden, intensely strong flashback to January 2002. My heart started beating fiercely in my chest and I got the same sick, panicky feeling in my stomach that I always got on the dwindling occasions that I would see him towards the end of our relationship. I hadn’t thought of him at all in years, except to periodically throw out a snide reference to him in passing, like the punchline to a bad joke: “Oh, yeah? Well, I dated my college professor.”
I can pinpoint with the kind of accuracy reserved for assassinations and armistices the exact beginning of our ultimately doomed relationship, right down to what I was wearing that afternoon, what I’d had for lunch, what the floors looked like, what the hallway smelled like: every minor, unimportant detail of that day crystallized by a year of bad decisions.
He held the door open for me as I ran into his classroom that day, late. I was never late to classes, except for that one lousy class on that one afternoon. “Nice of you to join us,” he half-sneered at me as I walked past him. His eyes lingered on me uncomfortably as I rushed to grab a seat next to my friend Rachel. She noted this with a Cheshire Cat grin as I sat down, flustered. He continued to stare at me, openly and greedily, as I struggled to avoid eye contact. Who in the fuck did he think he was? I’d never been looked at like that, like I was prey. And I don’t think that I have been since.
It was intoxicating.
So, who was he? His name is probably best left untold, since he still works at my university and the last thing I want is for anyone to recognize him in all of this. But I realize that can’t keep calling him “him,” so I’ll refer to him as “Christian” for simplicity’s sake. Christian was an untenured, young professor in the geosciences department which — at the time — encompassed geology, geography, hydrology, sedimentology, archaeology, GIS and petrochemical geology (a.k.a. “finding oil”). The departments have been somewhat splintered since then, but when I was there, the department was small, closely-knit, hugely male-dominated and composed primarily of future Boots & Coots roughnecks and wildcatters whose appetite for adventure often exceeded their interest in studying. Our student lounge was a closely-guarded room that wasn’t much larger than a storage closet, called The Mohol. It was decorated with decades of detritus from field work on oil rigs and in sedimentary trenches: huge planks of wood torn from mine shaft entrances, steel-toed boots nailed to the walls, pickaxes and sledgehammers hung from giant hooks, several destroyed computers, a large sampling of fossils and geodes, a dirty old couch and at least three mountain bikes hanging from the wall at any given time. Geosciences majors weren’t afraid to get dirty and proudly displayed the spoils of their expeditions on the Mohol walls. They were a bunch of testosterone-driven, wannabe Indiana Jones and Glenn McCarthys. And Christian was their boy king.
Christian was exceedingly intelligent and had advanced quickly in his profession for being so young. But he was also, as you may have guessed, an insufferable, pompous asshole as a result of this. He was, by turns, charming and witty but was capable of incredible, inhuman ugliness. To make a long description short, he was a classic manipulative sociopath. And being the young idiot that I was, I was totally smitten with him.
The previous semester, I had gotten out of a year-and-a-half long relationship that was also a tad on the unhealthy side. But I was regaining my self-confidence and enjoying my classes. I was making excellent grades and reconnecting with friends that I’d let slip away in the throes of a stupid, adolescent romance. Christian caught me at the perfect time — I was confident enough to be cooly bemused by his advances, but not yet confident enough to spurn them.
Only a few weeks into our class, he’d already been buzzing around me incessantly with apparent disregard for any stares or rumors that his actions drew. He found increasingly lame reasons to keep me after class, “accidentally” bumped into me every time I went to the gym or stayed late at the Mohol to study, sent little e-mails with blunt, blatant flattery: “You looked delicious today. -C” or “I adore you in a skirt. -C” I’d never been pursued like that, so shamelessly. I had absolutely no idea what to do with him or his advances, so I kept my baffled distance from him as best I could.
A month into the class, he invited me to dinner. Just like that. “I want you to come to dinner with me,” simply-stated and direct. “Tonight.” I just stared back at him and made an excuse to leave the classroom, the invitation left dangling and unanswered. Later that afternoon, he sent me an e-mail with the dinner details and time that he expected me to be there. Dinner was at his house; I stupidly went.
That night, he grilled salmon and introduced me to his dog, an enormous black lab that later ate one of my shoes. I sat stiffly on his couch as he tended to the grill on his patio. He laughed at me the whole time I was there, chortling at how “uncomfortable” I seemed to be. I caustically responded with the obvious: “You’re my professor, and I’m a student, and I’m at your house, alone, and you clearly want something unsavory from me.” He stood in silence, smirking at me, and finally chuckled, “Only you would use the word ‘unsavory’,” before going back to his grilling.
One afternoon, he had driven me up to some property in Whitney where he was building a second home. As we stood there, looking out over the lake, he mused, “Promise me that in ten years, you’ll still be exactly the same person as you are right now.” I peered at him curiously and finally answered, “What makes you think I’ll still be hanging around with your old ass in ten years?” He just gazed back at me, not saying anything for the longest time (a hallmark of his I came to hate). Finally, “Just promise me.”
“No.” Petulantly but honestly.
And that was what he liked about me. My truculence, my refusal to give into his smooth little games and cons. I can see now that all I was to him was prey; the moment that I let down my defenses and allowed him to win me over was the moment that I lost him. But I was too far gone at that point to realize it. His aggressive pursuit of me and subsequent cold shoulder had driven me absolutely mad, the likes of which I’ve never felt to this day and never hope to again.
He didn’t want to be viewed as anyone’s peer, as anyone’s equal. He viewed himself as a wunderkind, above all of our mortal pettiness and concerns. And he certainly didn’t want a woman to view him as her equal. Those were my two sins in the relationship, in his eyes: I no longer wanted to play his games and I no longer viewed myself as the mouse.
During that summer, I did field work on an archaeological excavation of a wooly mammoth site. I should have enjoyed myself and enjoyed that time, but Christian was too far under my skin to even get a decent night’s sleep. We were working on the excavation together and, almost overnight, he had begun to act like I didn’t exist. He took it to childish extremes, asking someone across a trench for a tool that I was standing right next to or making it a point of not asking me how my data was coming along as he went through the site, checking other students’ work. He stopped calling, stopped e-mailing, stopped coming by my apartment, stopped looking at me, stopped everything. Cold turkey. I was even more nonplussed than I had been when it all started.
I couldn’t get him to talk to me, so I drove to his house one night. He came to the door looking groggy. He acted as if I were an Aamco salesperson; it was so bizarre as to make me think I was dreaming. “Can I help you?” he asked suspiciously. The conversation went downhill from there. He refused to allow me in the house and kept repeating, “You’re acting crazy; there’s nothing wrong between us; I’m just busy lately; I’ll call you tomorrow.” And of course, he didn’t.
At the close of the summer, I’d called it quits as far as Christian was concerned. I stopped making any kind of effort whatsoever towards him. And just as quickly as it began the first time, he was back. He couldn’t get enough of me. Sent rapturous e-mails, left rambling messages on my answering machine, and gave me lingering, sweat-inducing stares in the halls and classrooms around our building.
It went on like this — back and forth, back and forth — and always secretly, until I graduated. No one except for my aforementioned friend Rachel knew, concretely, that we were dating. There were rumors, sure, but no one knew for sure. It was our sad, twisted, self-destructive secret.
The night before I graduated from college, Christian met my parents for the first time. We all had dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant and I marvelled at how well it was going. Christian was in one of his upswings — being attentive, loving, charming — and had been talking recently of marriage. Yes, marriage. I realize now how incredibly stupid that sounds, but…it was what it was. My parents probably didn’t like him, given his age and reputation for sending me on hideous crying jags, but they’re always good at masking their displeasure until later. But I thought that we were finally golden.
The next day, he didn’t show up for my graduation party. He never called — took his phone off the hook, actually — and I didn’t see him once before I left Waco for good. I have never seen him again. That night at dinner, those golden hours spent eating lasagna and drinking cheap table wine, was the last time I ever saw him.
I finally got ahold of him once I’d moved back to Houston. I was so far past anger at that point that I was an autopilot during our conversation. But I still remember the last thing he said to me: “You’re not the kind of girl that a man wants to date. You never will be. You’re the kind of girl that a man wants to marry. And that’s never going to be me.” I hung up as he said the last word, and I’ve never spoken to him since. Never spoken to him, never seen him, never communicated with him in any way since.
Yet I still feel a weird sort of closure about the whole thing.
I suppose it’s because — as fucked up as he was and as shittily as we ended our year together — the last thing he ever said to me was honest. And he was right. It may have taken me some time to realize it, but I am the kind of girl that a man wants to marry; I’m a good person. And that’s never going to be him.