This is Part 3 of the story of How I Met Superman. To get caught up, you can read the preceding chapters here.
Patrick* and Superman actually traveled in the same circles. They had very little in common – and really, from what I can tell, didn’t like each other – but they shared about five close friends. For this reason, Superman and I were like stars in the same universe – circling each other, sharing orbits, but never actually bumping into one another. We knew all the same people, but never met, never talked. Of course, that didn’t stop me from memorizing all of the colors of his Izod shirts and the way they pressed against the mounds of his biceps.
Meanwhile, I tried to stay focused on simply not making Patrick mad, but I was starting to realize that maybe I wasn’t cut out for it. And maybe I just wasn’t made for the drama of being a couple. I’d only had one steady boyfriend before Patrick, who was outrageously sweet with me, but he and I had started out as friends that grew heatedly closer, and the relationship was really just like friendship with kissing.
But this thing with Patrick was wrought with angst. There were lots of suspicions. Lots of fights. Lots of tears and jealousy and late nights and arguing on the phone.
I guess I thought there was something inherently wrong with me, that I couldn’t seem to make this boy happy: Patrick had all that charm. Adults loved him. He was smart. He was an athlete. Why couldn’t I get along? Staying with him started to seem like a challenge. It was the only conceivable solution to what I saw as the alternative: failure. And I would sit on the brick planter and let Patrick say what he wanted. I tried to keep him from being mad. I tried not to cry. Eventually, though, people started to notice me shrinking into the background.
One of those who noticed my shrinking first was, interestingly, Patrick’s best friend. We’d all be hanging around in the quad at school, and I’d notice Keith* look up sharply at the way Patrick talked to me. Eventually, Keith began pulling me aside.
“You really shouldn’t let him talk to you like that,” he’d whisper.
I would frown – it sometimes just sounded like yet another criticism. “What am I supposed to say?” I’d snap.
“You deserve better,” he would say with finality.
But I didn’t really know how to go about that. I wasn’t equipped. I wasn’t confident enough. And I wanted romance – I didn’t want to fight. I wanted ballpoint-pen hearts drawn across my Pee-Chee folders, photos across my dresser top, dried corsages on my bedroom bulletin board. I kept thinking we’d cross some line, at some point, and the fights would be history. That I would finally do something right, or say the exact-right thing.
One day my closest childhood friend was coming to visit for the weekend from Newport Beach. She was going to meet Patrick for the first time, and I remember being excited to introduce them. Having an outsider’s opinion — someone who didn’t go to our school and have preconceived notions of him — seemed important all of a sudden.
Early on a Saturday morning, she and I walked to the local hoops to meet him, chatting all the way. Patrick met us there. He turned on the charm – big smile, witty jokes. We played basketball, and he let us play against him. It began growing dark, so he walked us home. As soon as I said goodnight to him and closed the door, I turned around and faced my friend in the hallway. I’m sure I had a hopeful expression on my face.
“He’s so mean to you,” was all she said.
My jaw dropped. Mean to me? A whole day of basketball and charm and witty jokes, and that’s all she had to say? What about how cute he was? How funny he was? How –
“He says terrible things to you,” she interrupted my surprise. “You shouldn’t stay with him.”
She walked past me into the kitchen and started chatting with my mom, who was making us pot roast for dinner. I followed, stunned, but had to wait two excruciating hours through dinner until I could drag her up to my room and sit her down on the shag carpeting for ultimate girl talk. I pressed her for details. She calmly walked me back through the day, pointing out the comments he’d made, all the criticisms he’d thrown – things I’d begun to ignore. Much to my horror, I realized she was right. Had I really grown that oblivious? Had I really allowed myself to be treated so badly?
Unfortunately, the answers were yes and yes. It took me a long time to play along, but I finally started to believe what others were saying. I began to listen to Patrick more skeptically. I began to shake my head when he criticized. But it took a football game, and an actual introduction to Superman, to change things. …
Click here for Part 4: The Night that Changed Everything…
*Names changed to protect the Don’t-Want-To-Be-Googled.