On Saturday after showing me how to put air in a tire, Kent came back from returning the pressure guage with Reese’s peanut butter cups and a bag of Sour Patch Kids. Handing me the peanut butter cups:
Kent: I bought this for you. Happy Anniversary.
Me: Thanks! My present to you is those. (Pointing to Sour Patch Kids)
Kent: The candy that I bought for the kids?
Me: Yes. Happy Anniversary.
We actually decided to forgo presents and the reservation Kent had made at a sheeshy French restaurant in part out of exhaustion and in part to be able to increase our budget for the kid’s playset in the back yard. I have eaten at many fancy restaurants in former days, tried all manner of crazy things (snails, grasshoppers, raw lobster….), and been able at one time to tell which country single origin chocolate came from in blind tastings. I hope to do all that again someday minus the lobster, but not this year. Maybe we would have tried harder if I hadn’t messed last year up so badly.
Since I first got married, I had this idea that for my 10 year wedding anniversary, we would fly to London and go to the Men’s Semifinals at Wimbledon and have strawberries and cream. It didn’t have to be the men’s semi’s actually, but this was when I was still planning to be rich and famous, so shoot for the stars, right?
I was looking forward to it all the way up to about four or five months before my anniversary when Kent of his own free will and over my strong objection took a six figure pay cut to work in-house at Lockheed Martin. This when we were planning to build a house with an even bigger mortgage? Seriously? Wimbledon and many if not most of the things that made life enjoyable vanished in an instant. Okay, I promised months ago to dedicate a full and truthful post to the issue of firm/partner track/in-house/money/time, etc. and I still will. This is not that post.
Amid the income-reduction-induced panic attacks and nightmares of falling out of the driver’s seat of a possessed Mack truck which then tried to run me over (I’m awfully proud of the symbolism of that dream. Well put, subconscious.), I told Kent I didn’t want anything for my anniversary other than the new house. I made this explicit. Don’t buy me anything. Kent, either still thinking like a person with disposable income or assuming I was just being coy, sent me a giant bouquet of roses and a very lovely and expensive necklace both of which I promptly returned.
Yes, you can return flowers. They have a whole protocol for it which involves maximum humiliation for the sender. I called to return them and make sure he would get a refund, and they asked the reason. Then they called him to tell him in front of people at work, “She refused your flowers. She says she doesn’t want any flowers.” Lovely.
So as I ate my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, I asked:
Me: Remember when you bought me that necklace and flowers last year?
Me: Can I put that on my blog?
Me: As long as I make it clear I’m the dirtbag?
But I’ve got a better story.
When I was a 17 year-old freshman auditioning for Harvard University Choir, desperate to hide my woeful improficiency at sight-reading so that I could sneak into this paid choir that would cover my work-study, the tenor in my audition quartet was Kent Kemeny.
Later when the Harvard Mormons gathered at the John Harvard statue to head over for ice cream, here was the tenor again, apparently Mormon, too. I remember thinking “He looks like an adult. Like a 30 year old Catholic priest”. This was when 30 was positively geriatric and implied old-people breath or something. It took me under an hour to figure out he was the funniest guy in the group. This was late August or September. By November, he asked me to the Nutcracker and we saw the Boston ballet doubling with Kevin Jones and Rebecca Edwards. By this point, I totally had a crush on Kent, and he knew it. He was 23 which at that time was almost 25% older than me–and not interested. He didn’t take me on another romantic date for 8 years.
The cool thing is that we became best friends. For all my years at Harvard and four years after, I started an enormous number of sentences with “My friend Kent”. We talked all the time, heckled a bunch of movies in the theaters, took a lot of long walks, met each others families, and most importantly, helped each other through various relationships. He once sent me as his wingman to a girl to guage her interest. He in turn gave me advice when I was dating one of his roommates. We dyed each other’s hair for fun once. One of his most serious girlfriends had a real complex about the closeness of our relationship. I think I would have felt the same about a guy whose best friend was another girl. She said several times after they broke up (for the umpteenth time), “He should just marry you!” I’m sure she now feels her paranoia was totally justified.
Kent and Jon Brinton drove all the way to Minersville to see my farm town and just about died laughing to discover the Technology section of our one-room library contained a couple of books about horses. My mom loved Kent. LOOOVED him. She thought he was hot. Kent’s mom loved me, too. When I went to visit them in San Diego so Kent and I could see Rachmaninoff’s second symphony in concert, she really gave Kent crap about not dating me. (I was, at that point, engaged to someone else–another long story. I remember because I left the ring in his mom’s guest shower.) In fact, over the 8 years of being best buds, plenty of people said, “You both love African elephants, Rachmaninoff, and making fun of people. You laugh all the time and cuddle a disgusting amount (okay, I’m feeling a lot of retrospective empathy for Kent’s paranoid ex). You’re practically dating already.”
But we weren’t. We were truly Just Friends and very happy that way.
Then I moved to the bay area to start Stanford Law School about two months before Kent moved up to start practicing patent law in the area. I helped him find roommates and told him, “I’ve already got our whole friend circle established”. And I did. He fit in perfectly like the missing piece of our puzzle. I wanted him to date my roommate. That went nowhere. Then I wanted him to date my best girl friend, super gorgeous blonde in the Electrical Engineering program who was totally into him. She asked him to take dancing classes with her, and he said no. Whaaa???!
Actually, before I go on, I should do Kent the justice of declaring that women loved Kent when he was single. Probably still do. As an undergrad, he had an entire harem at Wellesley. I’m sure people could produce pictures of him with half a dozen doting Wellesley girls on his arms. In law school, women asked him out all the time. He saw the Lion King like 4 times on the dime of different fans. Women gave him cufflinks from Tiffany and told them they were in love with him on the first date. In addition to being wickedly funny, he was just a deeply decent person whom you could tell would be an awesome father.
So why was he 29 and not married? For Mormen men, that’s like 45. And why was he getting weird about me going on a date first date with another electrical engineer? Why did he talk me out of the engagement to that sculptor a couple of years ago? Why had he taken me to Two Gentlemen of Verona even though his roommate had urged him to use it as a romantic date and not waste it on a buddy? And why was he vociferously encouraging me NOT to accept an invitation to spend Valentine’s Day with the wannabe artist I was on-again-off-again with at Stanford? It’s not like I’m going to trust him again or anything, but it’s Valentine’s Day, and he’s 6’5″, and a great kisser. Poor Kent.
I see all of this in retrospect. But at the time, I really was clueless. Kent and I were such affectionate and flirty friends that all of it was within the realm of normalcy. When Kent took me to that Greek restaurant at the end of February, I thought little of it. We went out all the time, and lots of times I let him cover me since I was the student and he was the lawyer. No big deal. He promised to go to Ukraine with me someday. Also nothing unusual. He told me he really wanted my opinion on his new navy leather couches. Okay, whatever. And then as he was driving me home in his slick Acura, he said, “I think we should start dating.”
Me: HAHAHAHAHA! Good one. No, seriously, what did you want to talk about?
Kent: I think we should start dating.
Me: Really? Um. Can I ask why?
I don’t remember much of the rest of the conversation except that it was surreal and strange. I loved Kent. We told each other we loved each other all the time. But I had buried that freshman crush and the possibility of romance long ago. I never even visited its grave. I was 100% totally in The Friend Zone. Kent had this idea that I should take the whole weekend to think about it before answering. How very Victorian.
Thus ensued endless phone calls to family and chats with friends. They were pretty united in saying, “You MUST date Kent. If it does not work out, you don’t have to marry him or anything, but you absolutely must date him, or you are an utter fool, and don’t bother coming home again.” I remember thinking it was impossible that he really thought of me that way and suspecting it was because he was turning 30 the next month, or that he had seen My Best Friend’s Wedding, and it had freaked him out. I had read The Rules. I knew it was virtually impossible for a guy to suddenly take an interest in a friend.
I remember asking Nikki and Ed, “Can I date a guy with those glasses?” I had a crush on him once before. Could I find it again?
And if I couldn’t, would I lose the best friend I had ever had?
Strange timing, but just a couple of months before that, one of my other longtime friends from Harvard had asked my roommate to ask me whether I felt like we could start dating. He and I had weathered that incident and and remained close friends, but Kent was pretty clear that if I didn’t want to date him, he was moving to Texas and starting over.
Oooooooooooo! I wonder how this turns out!