Twenty-five-and-a-half years ago I was sitting in my Honors English Tutorial class taught by Betty Solomon. I sat in the front because my dad told me to do that so that I could pay attention better. Dad was always right about such things. In February or there abouts, she congratulated another student for making it to the finals in the Men’s Voice Commencement Contest. I looked around. I thought, “Wow. A Freshman? In the finals? WOW! He must be good. What’s his name again?” I saw him in the back there. . . . Rebel.
My path would continue to cross with this “Lewis” person sitting two people down from me in English 102 Lecture. He and I were assigned to the same dinner table — twice! He made some joke at dinner one night, but I don’t remember what it was. I do now recognize the same experimentation in humor in the two little Lewises who now sit across from me at my dinner table every night. It was an attempt to be funny, but it fell flat. It happens. But it irritated me that night. I was getting incensed inside my head, “Grrr. . . . You are so obnoxious! Obnoxious!” And then I calmed myself down, “Knock it off, Camille. What does it matter what he thinks? You’re never going to date him. You’re never going to marry him.”
If we ever do rewind our lives like a giant omniscient Tivo in Heaven, I know that we’ll hear God giggling right then.
We did meander to 5th-hour lunch one Thursday after Tutorial. I remember that too. It was a sunny, but still-cool Spring day, and he walked me back to my dorm. I was beginning to be smitten. Wow. We actually had a conversation. A good one. A really intelligent one.
It was the beginning of millions of conversations.
I had been elected to “Chorister” of Nu Alpha Phi for my sophomore year. That Fall, we were to have our “dating outing.” For the non-BOJ readers, that’s a kind of “event” that a single-sex organization plans in order to invite the opposite sex. It’s supposed to be a big party with fun food and planned activities that encourage chatter and getting-acquainted. Think high school field trip. The big seller is that somewhere in the event, you get to hold hands. Yes, hold hands! OooOOooOOOOooooOOOOo. Before you giggle too much at the 1890s quality in that attempt to govern physical contact, I must admit that even though we all knew it was ridiculous, we longed for it just the same. Lame? Of course. All we had? Just about.
As a society officer, even a low-level one, I was expected to go the outing. So I could nerd-it-up and go “stag,” or I could do the harder thing and ask someone. I freaked. Because the ball was in my court, and I didn’t want to get a “no.” I wanted him to say yes. Whoever that would be.
All summer I thought about who I would ask the next fall. And every time, Grant’s name popped up in my head. Like I was reviewing it so I wouldn’t forget. Grant Lewis. Grant Lewis. Grant Lewis. Don’t forget that — Grant Lewis.
That Fall came, and the society event planning began. The older, more senior officers began nagging, “You have to ask someone soon. Hurry up. Oh! And we need a tenor to sing in the music group. So ask a tenor.”
A tenor? You want me to ask a tenor? Well, I do happen to know one. . . .
But still I wanted to be sure this choice was the best option, so . . . yes, I researched. I sought out other possibilities, and well, one particular tenor got the highest score among all of them. So . . . ask I must.
I wanted his attention. I wanted him to say yes. I wanted him to be impressed. So I went with one skill I had — I wrote him a note in French, laminated it, and stuck it in the middle of a French pastry and had it sent to his room.
I waited for a response note that evening. You old-timers remember the pre-email, pre-smart-phone note system that ran between dorms. I waited for that little envelope to slide under my room in NS333.
That man . . . he responded in a perfectly playful and brainy way. He dot-matrix printed his response in a mirror image, saying yes to the outing and asking me to Vespers the next weekend. I was just a little bit smitten.
I had never nor would I ever attend Vespers with a person who enjoyed the music performed as much as Grant. I always did like the classical piano solos during the offertories, but I’m a pianist. He listened with relish too. And I was even more smitten.
That Vespers was on October 4th. Our outing was on October 31st. He did also invite me to the “Founders’ Day Banquet” on the 30th. We probably ate “Chopped Steak” and that terrible steak sauce. Thinking about that sauce still makes my salivary glands cramp. The better-than-expected rolls with oleo. And some lame cake. Those “special banquets” were all like the next one, and the food was an odd intersection of forgettable and unforgettable. I think that’s called trauma on plate.
Grant had asked me that week what color I was wearing to the banquet. I, ever the genius with social cues, thought this was a hint that he was getting me flowers. People did that for those events back then. And I didn’t want to let his gesture go unreciprocated, so I got him a boutonniere. But he wasn’t getting me flowers, and so he didn’t look for mine in the Johnson lobby, and I felt like a terrible dope. I still sweat thinking about all that. I was sure I had blown it.
The outing was the next day. A beautiful day. Cool and crisp and sunny. We rode a big ugly white bus to Table Rock. The event planners divided us into four teams for games. Games, you see, are the opportunities that ever-desired hand-holding in BOJO Land.
Grant and I were on the Hammers. Yes. The Hammers. There were Saws. And Protractors or something. No, no. There were no Screws.
But we played our stupid hand-holding games and ate our lousy outing food. I don’t remember what it was. I only remember one thing really — Grant. I was even more smitten.
We arrived back on campus at Rodeheaver. I stopped to tell my friends Heather and Autumn in Mary Gaston all about it and walked to Nell Sunday. The sun was setting, the wind was stirring the crispy leaves, and I was walking two feet off the ground.
I got on the third floor of Nell Sunday, and my roommate Heather met me in the hall, giddy and flappy. “Oh my word, oh my word, come in here. You’ve got to see this!!” And as she swooped me into my room to show me something . . .
BAM. The lights went out all over campus. And I mean, ALL OVER CAMPUS. The entire place. A squirrel had gnawed on something and had shorted out the entire surrounds. So I couldn’t see whatever it was she wanted me to see.
But it was from Grant. Flowers. He was trying to make up for the flower gaffe from the night before, and he sent three red roses — three red roses that my entire hall was convinced said, “I love you.”
That was all twenty-five years ago. So this same weekend, we celebrated that first date again. In the same locale, the same event planner (moi!) the same (sort of) pastry from Fresh Market, another note in French, same need for friends to deliver the surprise and smooth out the details, a little bit better dinner, and a little less anxiety. . . . We’ve dated for a quarter-of-a-century, and I never dated anyone else. I love you, my dear. I’m more smitten than ever.