Get to know Jim and Brianna’s unique love story in the My Life as I Knew It time travel series through this excerpt from Life, As Is.
I met Jim when I was eighteen years old and living with my family in Orange County, California. I had heard about Jim through mutual friends from my church and most of what I heard wasn’t all that great. He and his mother were members of the church we attended but their attendance was very sporadic (especially Jim) so of course this gave the gossips something to talk about. His father wasn’t a member and wanted nothing to do with the church which somehow led to talk about their marriage being a rocky one. Since Jim looked like a combination of Patrick Swayze and Kurt Russell at their peak, he got a lot of attention from women of all ages. Bear in mind, Dirty Dancing had come out not long before all of this and everyone was still in love with Patrick Swayze. Need I say more? The talk surrounding Jim wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for your average nineteen-year old male possessing the looks of a God; he had his share of girlfriends. But when you belong to a church where dating is strictly forbidden unless you intend to marry that person, flirting around and dating was a sin of which you should have no part! Casual dating was completely forbidden.
When I first met him he was sitting in the row in front of me, towards the left. I noticed him looking over at me a few times but thought nothing of it. I’ve always been one of those girls who constantly underestimated herself. Regardless of being told that I’m very pretty, I never thought that about myself. In fact, when I was younger I always assumed people stared at me because they thought I was ugly. It didn’t occur to me that Jim kept glancing in my direction because he was attracted to me. After the church service he came up to me and asked if I lived near some mutual friends of ours.
“No, why?” was my less-than-pleasant response.
“Well, I’ve seen you driving around that area so…I…thought you might live around there.”
“Oh, my cousin Marie lives on the next street over.”
He nodded as if to say “ok” but said nothing else.
Before things got anymore awkward than they already were I asked, “So do you live around there? What made you ask me that?”
“No.” he said. Before I could say “ok, I gotta go” he added, “I work with Craig ____ and I’ve seen you drive by a few times.” Craig was a building contractor who ran his business out of his home. Jim had just started working for him while going to Saddleback College. I didn’t make a habit of visiting my cousin on a regular basis so I was a little intrigued that he noticed me the few times I drove around that area.
A week later, out of the blue, Craig’s wife Roseanne invited me to their house for Sunday dinner. I thought it a little odd as I didn’t know them very well and had never been to their house before, but I accepted. When I arrived to their home I noticed Jim had been invited as well; that was when it occurred to me why the rest of my family hadn’t been included in the invitation. Craig and Roseanne seemed to think that Jim and I would be a good match but as he and his family were not held in high regard by the rest of the church, including my family, they knew my parents would most likely get in the way of their matchmaking. I know what you’re thinking: I was eighteen, an adult who was perfectly capable of making her own decisions. Things didn’t work that way in my family, though.
Since my car was in the shop — as it usually was — I had to bribe Caleum to drop me off before he drove out to wherever it was he was going to afterward. Several other people were in attendance at the dinner so I made a point of talking with them while sneaking furtive glances at Jim. I’ll be a geek and admit that I got butterflies in my stomach when I noticed that he was doing the same.
Needless to say, when it was time to leave, Roseanne suggested that Jim drive me home seeing that I didn’t have my car with me. While driving, he turned on the radio and we discovered we had the same taste in music, which he was hesitant to tell my about. That year Motley Crüe came out with their Dr. Feelgood album and — as much as it kills me to admit this — we were both fans. Jim’s initial reluctance to tell me had nothing to do with his taste but had everything to do with our church and its views on that type of music. Artists such as Motley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, etc. were thought by most religious groups to be possessed and ours was no exception. As kids, my brother and I would have our friends from school make cassette copies of those albums that we weren’t allowed to own and hide them in cases marked Prince, Madonna or other artists that weren’t considered evil. For some reason, a song about a girl named Nikki masturbating with a magazine was less offensive than Black Sabbath singing about Iron Man. Jim and I immediately bonded over our love of “the forbidden” heavy metal music and blasted Kickstart My Heart during the drive. I threw him for a loop when I started head banging. (Don’t judge. We were teens during the 1980’s) Not only was I attracted to him but I was beginning to feel a friendship forming between us.
We pulled into my apartment complex and, of course, the “will he kiss me” tension popped up. My girlfriend Susan and I were flying out to New York the next day and I had yet to pack. (In my defense, I bought the nonrefundable tickets to New York before my car ended up in the shop!) During those awkward couple of minutes before I got out of the car we participated in a mundane discussion of how I procrastinate with tasks such as packing.
“Well, have a good trip and…and be safe.” He said and then, to my dismay, held out his hand for me to shake.
“Thanks, I will. Oh and thanks for the ride home.” I shook his hand and couldn’t have felt like more of a lame ass than I did at that moment.
Instead of packing for my flight the next morning I procrastinated some more by turning on the radio and mulling over the events of the night — especially the car ride home. A handshake? Really? What was I supposed to make of that? Maybe I read him wrong at dinner. Maybe he was only looking over at me because he noticed I was looking at him and it weirded him out. I guess I had fallen asleep because when I reached over to answer my ringing bedroom phone I looked at the clock and discovered that two hours had gone by since I got home. I made sure the grogginess was gone from my voice before answering.
“Are you packed yet?” Jim asked.
“Nope! I accidentally crashed out when I got home.” I laughed.
“You were asleep? Good thing I called and woke you up. You’re worse than me!”
“I doubt that! So,” I sat up and tried to think of what I should say next and the best I could come up with was, “what’s up?” After about five minutes of mindless chatter, he finally came out with it.
“I felt so stupid shaking your hand!” he said and I couldn’t help but laugh.
“I was wondering about that.” I said.
“I’m just going to put it out there; I wanted to kiss you but I didn’t know if you were ok with that. I’m not good at reading this stuff.”
Learning that someone as attractive as Jim was nervous about the thought of kissing me was surreal. I was completely thrown that someone like him would be interested in me!
“Hmm…I think I would have been ok with that.” I replied teasingly.
We continued to talk for a little while and then he said to me, “I remember meeting you last year.”
“We met last year?”
“You were going out with David and he brought you in to Sport Chalet to buy ski clothes.”
I had completely forgotten about that. My then-boyfriend David was taking me on my first ski trip, which I ended up hating. Jim was working there at the time and was able to get us a discount which worked out well since I never wore the ski clothes again.
“That’s right! That was the worst the trip I ever took. I’ll take water skiing over snow skiing any day.”
“I couldn’t believe it when he brought you in to the store. Why did you go out with him?”
“I liked him!”
“When he came to the store the first time he told me about how a bunch of you were going up to Big Bear and he talked about how his girlfriend was going for the first time. He made sure to say ‘girlfriend’ loud enough to make sure everyone heard that he had one. I wasn’t expecting someone like you, though.”
“What does that mean?” I laughed nervously.
“Well, first off, I was expecting someone older.” David was older than me; he was twenty-five and I was seventeen when we dated. Of course my parents knew nothing about our relationship. Jim continued, “And he’s not the best looking guy. I thought you could do a lot better than him.”
He wasn’t wrong about David not being the best looking guy but I had just moved out from New York and missed everyone I had grown up with and I was fascinated about getting attention from an older man. The relationship barely lasted six months.
Our phone call lasted until 2:00 AM. Jim had his radio on also and Alice Cooper’s Poison came on. Making fun of himself for the whole handshaking incident he changed the lyrics from “I wanna kiss you but I want it too much” to “I wanna kiss you but I’ll shake your hand instead.” I loved the fact that he was able to laugh himself and I suddenly wished that I was no longer flying back East the next day. This was back in the days before texting, email and FaceTime so I had no choice but to wait until I flew back home to see or talk to him unless I wanted to pay a fortune on long distance calls. I finally finished packing ten minutes before leaving for the airport.
It sounds pretty cheesy and cliché, but for the next few weeks I felt as if I were floating on air. (Sadly, that’s the only way I can describe it). I was never one of those typical teenage girls who idealized the thought of having a boyfriend. I never cared for romantic movies even if they were comedies, I never fantasized about what it would be like to have someone kiss me at the prom and never cared about watching the sunset especially since the one time that I did I got impatient and bored. So these feelings were completely unique to me. Almost every night Jim called and we watched TV together while over the phone. In time, I learned all about him and his family, his passion for animals, his love of the outdoors and how he choked up toward the end of Turner & Hooch. He also had an awesome sense of humor. I never met someone whom I could talk to so easily. The time we spent together was mostly at Craig and Roseanne’s house and sometimes at his parents’ where he still lived. My parents were not fans of his, to say the least. They were never rude to him but when he wasn’t around they held nothing back from me. He rarely attended church meetings, his father wasn’t a fellow believer and it was rumored that he had dated girls that weren’t believers as well; what will people think if I got involved with him? Now, ask me if I cared!
“Our family has a very long history with this Church and many people look up to us. How will it look if you get involved with someone like him?” my mother once asked me.
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s anyone’s business.”
“Well, people will make it their business and we have a reputation to protect. You should be more concerned with safeguarding the family name than with your feelings for him. There are plenty of other young men much more suited for you.”
“You mean more suited to your ideas of who you feel I should be with. Do you even care about what I might want? How about what I like?”
“Again, you need to take our family’s reputation into consideration. It’s not always about what you want, Brianna. God, you can be so selfish sometimes!”
That was an example of a typical discussion about Jim.
Meanwhile, his mother loved me! Doreen was one of the warmest and most down to earth people you could ever meet. There was always an open invitation for dinner at his family’s home. I had nothing against his father, personally; I just never found him to be the friendliest person in the world. Whatever opinions I held of him when we initially met went downhill a little bit when he “jokingly” asked me if I made enough money to support Jim.
It was during one of the nights at his parent’s house when I came to believe, without a doubt, that I had something special with Jim. It wasn’t anything he did or said; it went deeper than that. It was a quick smile he gave me while we were in the living room watching the movie Tequila Sunrise. It was a smile that showed love, not just a friendly smile or a smile saying hello. It was a smile that told me, “I’m so happy you’re here with me.” Deep down, something told me he allowed himself to be completely vulnerable in those few seconds. When I suddenly stopped hearing from him and began questioning myself as to what I might have done to push him away, I would think back to that smile and say to myself, “…but that was genuine.”
That same night, when we walked out to his car so that he could take me home, he began kissing me. I don’t know how long were lying against the side of his car making out, but it was long enough for his family to tease him about it when he got home. Apparently, there was a long silence between the time we walked out the front door and the time they heard the engine of his car start.
We spoke a couple times after that night then two nights in a row went by without hearing from him. On the third night I called him and he wasn’t himself. He uncharacteristically snapped at me a couple of times and when I called him out on it he blamed his mood on not sleeping well the night before. I didn’t see him at church services and then another week went by without hearing from him. I decided to try calling him one more time. He relayed to his mother, who answered the phone, that he’ll call me back in half an hour. We never spoke again.
A little more than a year later I met, Mark the man that I eventually married at the ripe old age of twenty. For various reasons, things were taking a turn for the worst at home and Caelum and I were probably the most miserable kids you could ever meet. Since I wasn’t allowed to move out until I was married, I didn’t hesitate to say yes to Mark when he proposed to me even though I knew he had a nasty temper and drank a lot. He was a little older than me and held a position of esteem at one of the nearby churches so there was no objection from the family.
One of the signs sent to me, relaying the message that in no way, shape or form should I get married to Mark was when I ran into Jim at one of our Church’s yearly conventions. He was walking in one direction and I in another. As we began to pass each other, he did a double-take. The blood drained from my face and I turned in the other direction and kept walking…to where I couldn’t tell you. I remember nothing after that. The second sign was in the bathroom at work when my mind went from excitement about the colors I chose for my bridesmaid’s dresses to the image of Jim blocking the view of those dresses causing me to burst into tears while sitting on the toilet.
A few months before the wedding I attempted to give skiing another try even though the one time I did was a near-disaster. Mark was a huge fan and I was one of those girls that went out of their way to take an interest in what my man liked even if I knew it would cause me misery. After a couple of hours attempting to ski in the wedge position like an idiot and falling every single time I got off the ski lift, I thought it may be prudent to take a much needed break and sit still for a while. As I sat at one of the tables outside the lodge drinking a hot chocolate, I spotted a tall figure walking toward me. I couldn’t make out who it was since the sun was behind them, so this person looked like more of a shadow than anything else. As the figure got closer I felt my stomach clench. It was Jim and he indeed was walking directly towards me.
“I thought you were never going to ski again?” he said, smiling.
Without smiling (or at least I think I was doing my best not to smile), I responded, “Yeah, well…um…,” for the love of God I could not think of one smart comeback!
“Brianna, I’m joking.”
“I know! I…brain fart.” I felt less stupid falling off the ski lift.
“Do you know the Batemans?” he asked out of the blue.
“Um…the Batemans. From Laguna Niguel. I came here with them.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he said this. I sat, looking up at him and wondering why he was telling me this.
“Oh. I don’t think I know them but that’s great!” What else was I supposed to say?
After a moment of silence he asked, “So what have you been up to?”
I suddenly snapped out of my shock and proudly announced, “I got engaged!” If I was wearing my engagement ring I would have ridiculously held up my hand to show the proof but I wasn’t going to take the chance of wearing it on a ski trip.
“Oh, Congratulations!” he replied. I looked closely at his face but couldn’t detect anything out of the ordinary.
“Who is it?” he asked.
“His name’s Mark; he goes to the El Toro congregation.” I expounded on where and when we were getting married, where we were going to live, basically all the mundane details everyone who is newly engaged gets excited over.
“Are you even twenty, yet?” he asked.
“I don’t know why you’re in such a rush.”
“Who said I’m in a rush?”
“Well, I think you could do better than him.”
“You don’t even know him!”
“I saw you with him earlier, Bri. Maybe you didn’t see me but we walked by each other a little while ago. He looked pissed.”
Oh yes! Mark had thought it would be funny to trick me into skiing down one of the hills for which I was clearly not ready. However, I was the bad guy for getting upset with him. It didn’t take long for me to learn that Mark was not a fan of anyone standing up to him and calling him out on his bullshit no matter what he did. One nasty fight we had when we were married was when I got upset with him for pulling a prank on me while he was driving. I was in the passenger seat, bending over to take something out of my purse and he — thinking this would be hilarious — hit the brakes, causing me to smack my head on the glove compartment. In his opinion, I had no sense of humor whatsoever.
“Well, you don’t know him.” was my retort. I was a touch embarrassed that Jim may have witnessed that exchange Mark and I had once we got down the mountain.
Anyone with common sense would have known better than to marry someone like that. But I never claimed to be the most logical person. Hey, if the only appropriate way to move out of the family home was to get married, why not take advantage? How bad could it be?
Less than four years later I was excommunicated for divorcing his abusive ass. Hence, the saying, “you never marry your rebound.”
Years later I found out that, not only did my uncle and father threaten Jim to stay away from me but I also found out that he had written to me to explain why he was MIA. It was the very early nineties, so he snail mailed a letter to me sans his return address as he thought that would prevent my parents from intercepting it. That didn’t stop them, though…
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