|Firehouse, also known as one of the worst bands in the entire history of the world.|
In the middle of town, there is (or was) two one-way streets separated by a huge strip of park in the middle. Kind of like a mini-version of Central Park (in fact...was it called Central Park? I can't remember). Flanking the park was the original high school (Central High School, which you might say was later fittingly turned into a jail, but so many of us who went there had such great affection for those old halls that all we did when we moved to the new state-of-the-art school that opened my junior was moan and complain about how it wasn't as cool as the old high school) and, to my recollection, all of the original churches of Red Wing, of which there were a lot.
To put this in perspective - there were at least three Lutheran ELCA churches, and all three were within a three to four block radius from each other: First Lutheran, United Lutheran, and (my home church), St. Paul's Lutheran.
(There was also a Missouri Synod Lutheran church across the park, but they tried to ban sex education and spoke out against accepting homosexuals when I was in high school, so we're not going talk about them)
And these weren't just quaint little churches, either - now that I've been around the church block a couple of times, I've gotta say...Red Wing Lutheran churches had it going on. The churches were big and beautiful, membership was large and invested, and, during my high school days, they all featured a totally awesome and plugged-in youth ministry program of their own.
This is where a large part of my social life in high school comes in.
(More about this sizzling social life after the jump!)
St. Paul Lutheran had Lisa, who was not only awesome, but was also the pinnacle influence of my life up to that time...United Lutheran had Juj, whom I also liked (but who didn't really like me, if we're being honest), and First Lutheran had a married team, Eric and Sarah, who were also totally super awesome and cool. And these guys all liked each other, so they got together and organized tri-church youth events once a month...games, lock-ins, volunteer projects, etc.
For a girl who was both super into boys and God, these mixers were pretty much the biggest night of the month for me. Because not only were the boys at this mixer somewhat sort-of into youth group, but sometimes...they were even from other schools. A.k.a., untapped gold.
Craig Schwartau happened to be one of those boys.
I first met Craig at one of these tri-youth-group mixers the fall of my sophomore year. I had never seen him before, and so again, being the boy-crazy girl that I was, I pounced on him like a tiger sighting fresh meat. I threw come-hither glances from across the church basement during small group...I laughed vivaciously with my friends so he would think "Wow, that's a girl who knows how to have a great time!"...I smoothly manuevered my way across from him during prayer circle (so when he was finished praying to God, the first thing he would see would be me, of course)...and I tried my best to perform well at all the mixer games like "I've Never" or "If You Have ___ On". (If you would like directions as to how to play these games so that you may delight your guests at your next party, feel free to send me your requests via e-mail.)
However, even with all that, the mixer still ended without my having so much as a conversation with Craig.
Not all was lost, however...even before the days of Google, I was still pretty stealth when it came to collecting intel on the boys I liked. I tapped my sources - asking the trifecta of youth directors innocent questions about him ("So, how long has Craig known Jesus Christ as his personal lord and savior? Do you know if he shares this love of baby Jesus with any girlfriends?"), checking him out in the phone book, casually perusing his family's photo in the church directory, and some other stalkerish-like tactics that I will not reveal here, as they are too dangerous for the amateur stalker to attempt without the proper training or practice.
From my info, I discovered that Craig was from Goodhue; a farmer boy who was considered a nerd in his blink-and-you'll-miss-it-town because, unlike his fellow compadres (that's Spanish for "kids he goes to school with"), he chose to get great grades instead of ditch class to drink beer and chew tobacco in the school parking lot (not that I'm knocking those alternate choices. In fact, you will learn more about these sparkling diamonds that are now a part of my personal boyfriend collection in the next coming weeks). In the crucial-okay-not-really social ladder of youth group, however, he was a Christian who went to church regularly and was well liked by everyone.
Over the next few months, Craig attended a few more mixers that I just happened to be at (after I had harassed his youth director to make sure he would be there), and I actually got up the nerve to start talking to him. The more I talked to Craig, the more I liked him...he had a deep voice, an easy laugh, and a nerdy sense of humor; he wore glasses and a dusty blue baseball cap (to this day, there's still something about that "I'm smart, but I'm also sporty" combo that just gets me), and he thought Garth Brooks was the greatest man who ever lived (next to Jesus and his dad, of course). He also often wore the kind of hooded sweatshirts that made you just want to go up to him and hug him for a really long time. He was like the perfect nerdy country boy - good morals, smart, nice, sweet, funny, and normal.
Craig also passed all of my tests.
See, because I was in high school and therefore stupid, I had these little "tests" that I mentally put a guy through in order to suss out if I really liked him or was just bored. Here are some examples of those tests -
1. If he called me on the phone and my favorite show was on, would I want to talk to him or would I blow him off?
2. If he did the whole "romantic dinner" thing, would I think it was cheesy or romantic?
3. If he publicly humiliated himself in front of me, would I cringe in embarrassment or laugh at how cute he was?
4. Can I picture him in a tuxedo? (because obviously there are many occasions in high school that call for tuxedos)
5. If he went in for the kiss, would I be excited, or would I be nervous in a non-good way?
So yeah, deep stuff. But, this is the kind of stuff you lean on when you're 16 and a loyal reader of Teen and Seventeen magazines (Sassy had already folded by that time, so the girls of my generation were left with those. So feel free to blame all of my shallow high school stumbling on Jane Pratt. I do!). And yet...the tests never failed. If a guy I liked couldn't pass all of my little tests, I kinda knew I was killing time and didn't really like him that much. When they did pass all of them - and any other ones I could make up off the top of my head - I knew I/he was in trouble.
During my months-long infatuation with Craig, I also became better friends with Julie, a junior and a fellow cheerleader. Julie was a girl who was happy! all! the! time!, and she had that kind of cute petiteness that us tall girls envy because we know that guys just love standing next to girls like that because they feel all tall and strong and such (while standing next to us tall girls makes them feel like weak jerks). Julie and I weren't great friends - we had what you might call "different temperaments"- but she was nice and fun, and since that year she had started to become a bigger part of the youth group gang, it gave me a chance to get to know her better.
Tri-youth-group mixers slowly started to progress to weekend nights at Julie's house. Julie's parents had this absolutely beautiful place out in the country, and parties there were our church versions of keggers - instead of beer, pot, and cigs, we had pizza, pop, and Doritios. Instead of drinking games, we played games outside like Sardines or Flashlight Tag (no Kiss Or Kill, though...youth groupers apparently weren't into makeouts slyly disguised as games. I still was, though). Instead of making out, we tried to score seat next to the person we liked while watching movies in Julie's awesome living room.
I know these nights sound like 5-yr-old birthday parties, but seriously, at the time, we thought we were as cool than the kids on 90210 (cooler, even, because we played it straight by saying no to drugs, sex before marriage, and abusive boyfriends who double-teamed as awful musicians). And when Craig showed up...watch out.
One Friday night I was getting ready to go out with my friend Amy when Julie called (editor's note: I will add exclamation points to Julie's comments to further demonstrate her personality).
"Hey Amber! Are you coming over tonight?!"
"No, I don't think so...I'm supposed to hang out with Amy tonight."
"Oh! Well, I think you should come over!"
"Because I just talked to Craig! And he asked if you were going to be here tonight!!"
"I'll be over in half a hour!"
(and yes, I totally ditched out on plans with my friend Amy, who acted like it wasn't a big deal but was totally mad and later that little episode forever cemented the lesson that friends come before crushes, always).
But! That night Craig offered to drive me home, and from there we were going out. I was ecstatic - I had liked Craig for months, and now, finally, we were going out. You could have told me that my whole family had died, and I would have said "Yeah, but I'm going out with Craig Schwartau!!"
For our dates, Craig and I mostly just went to Julie's, or sometimes we double-dated with Julie.
Julie had a boyfriend, Nathan, who was a freshman. Some of us thought it was weird that Julie was going out with a freshman when she was a junior, but then we remembered that her last boyfriend was a creepy stalker who used to come to basketball games and sit in the front row so he could watch Julie bounce up and down while she cheered...so we figured it was a trade up. I liked Nathan, and hanging out with him, Julie, and Craig was always a fun time. The only time it wasn't so fun was when Julie and Nathan would suck face while Craig and I sat there, staring at our shoes or - wait for the magic! - holding hands.
When I started going out with Craig, I still hadn't kissed anyone. I had had chances before, but let's just say that those guys didn't pass all of my tests. I really, really wanted my first kiss to be with Craig. He was the first guy I had seriously liked, and I went to bed at night wondering what it would be like when he kissed me...would it be in a cornfield? In his red Geo Prism? Would it be during a Garth Brooks song ("Whoaah, the red strokes! Passions uncaged!") that happened to be playing at a romantic dinner during which he was wearing a tuxedo? The possibilities were endless.
One night, after Craig and I had been going out for about a month, Julie asked me over for a little two-person slumberparty at her house (this story could take a really radical left turn right here. But, sadly for some of you, it doesn't). We spent most of the night camped out in front of a series of romcoms while we stuffed our faces with Doritos and gossiped about our fellow cheerleaders. After about the second movie, Julie confessed that she had something she wanted to asked me. In one big breath, she told me that prom was coming up, that she really wanted to go, but Nathan's parents wouldn't let him take her because of their age difference, and would it be all right if she asked Craig to prom? Being the nice friend/non-possessive girlfriend I was, I enthusiastically replied that her asking Craig to prom was totally fine with me, and that I hoped he said yes so she wouldn't have to miss out on her prom.
A week later, it was set. Craig and Julie were going to prom together, and Julie gushed endlessly about how happy she was that Craig was going with her and wouldn't they have so much fun because even though she couldn't go with Nathan at least she knew she would get to go to prom and have fun with Craig because they were such good friends and Craig was like the best guy eve and I was like the best friend ever for letting her take my boyfriend to the prom and she was so thankful to have a friend like me!!!! I would just nod and smile, and think about how Craig was going to look in his tux...and if he was going to come over to my house afterward, throw rocks at my window to get me to come down, and kiss me in my backyard, because that was the one thing that would totally make all this prom crap worth it.
The night of prom came. The theme for that year's prom was "Love of a Lifetime" by Firehouse, which should have been my first warning that things were not going to turn out well. I met up with Julie's boyfriend Nathan in the school auditorium, and we sat in the front together so we could get a good view of Craig and Julie for Grand March. Soon enough, they walked down the stage, arm-in-arm, and I remember Nathan saying something about how beautiful Julie looked, but I was too immersed in my fantasy of Craig in a tux at our future wedding. Then they walked off the stage and dipped behind the curtain to enter the dance area portion of the prom, and I remember thinking "They're still arm-in-arm. Huh.", but I brushed it off. After the Grand March was over, Nathan and I briefly chatted about going backstage to say hi to Julie and Craig, but we figured that would be too weird and possessive-like, so we said goodbye and then left to go out with our respective friends.
Craig called me the next day (alas, no kiss in my backyard the night before) and told me about how much fun he had. I listened politely, thinking to myself that I really didn't care. On Monday, Julie gushed the same "We had SO MUCH FUN!!!!" story to me, and I, again, smiled, nodded, and wondered to myself when she would finally stop talking about it.
The funny/sucky thing was, they just kept talking about how much fun they had had together. For, like, two weeks.
Then one night, Craig called. The conversation went something like this...
"Uh, Amber, I have something that I need to talk to you about...I think you're really nice and everything...but I just think we should be friends, you know?...I still like you, it's just that you're a really great friend and I don't want to lose that."
I forced myself to sound happy and cheerful on the phone with him, agreeing that friends would be great, blah blah blah, but as soon as he hung up, I was a sobbing mess.
And here's where the story gets kind of blurry -
In my original recollection of this chain of events, I remember Julie coming up to me at some point - I don't know if it was that next week or months later - and apologizing about Craig and asking me to please don't be mad at her about him liking her. And I remember relenting because she had the decency to not gush again about how much fun she had had with MY boyfriend that one time when she took MY boyfriend to prom because she couldn't take HER OWN boyfriend to prom, and I had the decency to pretend that I was fine, of course we could still be friends (I seemed to be making a lot of these particular agreements at this point in time), hooray for friendship, etc.
But. Not hooray. Not hooray in the least. I remember thinking (in total, blind, white-hot anger) that I had been nice enough to let her take my boyfriend - the first boy I had ever really liked - to prom, and now not only had she gotten to dance with Craig while he was in a tuxedo, but now she was going to get to kiss him (probably in a cornfield, too!), and listen to Garth Brooks songs with him while she rode around with him in his red Geo Prism. If prom didn't get better the next two years, I remember thinking to myself, I was gonna pull a "Carrie." For real.
(You may sense a hint of foreboding in that last statement...)
But the thing I can't remember is the timeline of events. In my personal recollection, Craig had mentioned something to either me or someone else right after he broke up with me about how much fun he and Julie had had at prom, which made him like her and thus made him feel like the only fair thing was to break up with me. And I had somehow put it together in my memory that this all happened immediately - Craig broke up with me and then Julie broke up with Nate, but after talking to Craig about it on Facebook a few weeks ago, I learned that apparently this stuff took place over the course of a few months.
But accurate break-up timeline aside, what I do remember with perfect clarity is that it took me a long time to get over Craig. The whole rest of sophomore year and that entire summer after, in fact. I listened to a lot of country songs (mostly Martina McBride), cried my little 16 year old heart out, and let go of the whole Craig-kissing-me-in-cornfield fantasy. I accepted that just because he was the first guy who passed all my tests, it didn't mean he had to be the last. I even got over him enough to later and with full honesty be able to call him a real friend.
But it still took a while before I could listen to certain Garth Brooks songs without them leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.
Craig and Julie, for their part, continued talking-in-tongues throughout high school and into college. They are now married and have two kids, which seems cool except that it prevents them from watching The Bachelor Pad because according to Julie (I'm friends with Craig and Julie on Facebook now) it's not family-friendly, so it can't be that cool.
When I tell this story to others, most think it's a really fun story and that I should take pride in the fact that I had a small hand in "opening the prom gates" to Craig and Julie's lifetime of romance...and yeah, I guess. At the time it felt like a really shitty thing on all sides...but how many times can you say that a break-up was meant to be because it led to their wife/husband?
I can, actually. I can say that about at least three of my former boyfriends. I now call this phenomenon, "Being the Trainer Bra of Girlfriends".
But at least I don't have to ever say that my first date with someone was to a prom where a Firehouse song was the theme.
And for that, I am eternally grateful.
For more thoughts on how I feel about bands like Firehouse, follow me up on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest if you're crafty.