When I was growing up, no one ever taught me anything about girls or dating or relationships or anything like that. My parents had been married since before I was born, but they were not visibly affectionate with each other, and my dad spent all his time working, so I never had a healthy relationship to watch and emulate. And since I did not know how to tell a girl that I liked her, the way to act in a relationship or marriage was a moot point for me.
When I got to the age where I started paying attention to girls, my parents would sometimes notice and point out my behavior in a teasing and humiliating way. At age thirteen, my friend Paul Dickinson noticed that I had been paying attention to a girl at school named Rachelle Benedetti, and he asked me if I liked her. There was no teasing or judgment in Paul’s question, unlike what I had experienced from my parents, so I admitted that, yes, I did like Rachelle. Shortly after that, it felt like the whole school knew, and that was inherently embarrassing to me even if I was not actively being teased for it. Because of that, whenever I liked a girl, I kept my feelings a closely guarded secret. I had learned by now that a girl was not going to walk up to me out of the blue and ask to be my girlfriend, so now I was twenty years old, I had never had a girlfriend, and I did not know how to change that.
I had known Haley Channing for almost a year now. I met her one night after Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, when I was upset and had a lot on my mind. Two guys, Eddie Baker and Xander Mackey, asked me what was wrong, and they ended up inviting me to hang out with them and their friends. Haley was there that night. She had pretty blue eyes, a cute smile, and a kind heart. We had gotten to be friends since then, but I just did not know how to tell her that I wanted to be more than friends.
A couple weeks ago, I thought I had a chance. I was mingling with people after JCF, and for a brief moment, I saw Haley sitting not too far away and not talking to anyone. I walked up to her and said hi.
“Hey, Greg,” Haley replied. “How are you?”
“Pretty good. How are you?”
“I’m doing okay,” she said in a tone that suggested that everything was not exactly okay. Haley had lost her mother to cancer recently, and Thanksgiving was next week. My go-to small talk that time of year was to ask people their plans for Thanksgiving, but I figured that it might be best to avoid that topic with Haley this year. “What are you up to?” she continued.
“Just looking for something to do,” I said. JCF met on Fridays, and people often hung out afterward, playing games, eating, or watching movies in room 199 of Stone Hall, a large lecture hall that was converted into a second-run theater on weekends. I became unusually brave and floated an idea, saying, “Mission: Impossible is playing at 199 Stone tonight. I was hoping people might be going.”
“I haven’t seen that! I want to!”
“You want to go?”
“I would, but I have to get up early in the morning,” Haley said. “Maybe another time?”
“I understand,” I said. I did not end up seeing that movie until months later, on a rented VHS tape, and I ended up just going home that night.
A while later, a few days after I got back from having Thanksgiving with my family, I was walking through the Memorial Union looking for a place to sit and study in between classes. It was cold outside, so the indoor tables were crowded. I saw Haley sitting with Kristina Kasparian talking to Janet McAllen from JCF staff. A fourth seat at their table was open.
“Hey,” I said, walking toward the open seat. “Mind if I sit here?”
“Actually, we’re working on Kairos group planning,” Janet explained. “Sorry!”
“Oh. That’s okay. I guess I’ll see you guys later.”
“I’ll see you Friday?” Haley said.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Actually, no. Friday is our concert for chorus, so I won’t be at JCF.”
“Oh, that’s right! Have fun! I’ll be at church on Sunday, I’ll probably see you then.”
“Yeah. Have a good one!”
I walked across the Memorial Union, unable to find a table, and ended up sitting cross-legged against a wall. The Kairos group clique strikes again. The Kairos ministry within JCF involved small groups designed to prepare students for leadership in ministry. The students from each year’s Kairos group would lead a group the following year, handpicking the students in their group. From my outsider perspective, the main purpose of these groups seemed to be the establishment and perpetuation of cliques. I thought it sent the wrong message, especially since many of the friends who were part of my best University of Jeromeville memories so far were in the cliques and I was not. And I could not help but wonder if these cliques were the reason things were not working out with Haley.
A few days later, back at the Memorial Union, I saw Eddie Baker eating lunch by himself outside on a picnic bench. I did not particularly want to eat outside, it was sunny but not very warm, but I was also in the mood to socialize. Also, Eddie was a Kairos group leader, and I had not talked to him as much this year. “Mind if I sit here?” I asked Eddie.
“Go ahead,” he replied. “How are you? Getting ready for finals?”
“I’m getting there. We also have the concert for chorus tomorrow night. This is my first one, I don’t really know what to expect, but I think I know the music by now.”
“That’ll be fun! Scott and Amelia are in that too, right?”
“Yeah. And Jason Costello too.”
“Well, good luck with that!”
“How have you been?”
“Just busy with school and JCF. You’re going to Urbana, right? Are you excited?”
“Yes! I can’t wait to see what it’s like. I don’t know that I’m ready to pack up and go serve God in another country, but I know a lot of you guys do stuff like that, and I want to find out more about what’s out there, so I know how to support people who do mission trips.”
“That’s a good way to think about it,” Eddie said. “There’s gonna be so many people there. Twenty thousand students all worshiping God. We might not even see each other.”
“I know,” I said. The thought of being thousands of miles away and not seeing my friends who were also there was a little disappointing, but maybe it wouldn’t be like that after all.
“How’s life other than that?” Eddie asked.
“Well…” I said. I debated how much to tell him, and eventually decided to say everything except her name. “There’s this girl I would really like to get to know better. But I just don’t know how. I’ve never been good with girls and dating and stuff like that. I’m starting to think that maybe I need to just tell her how I feel, and let her reject me, so I can just move on.”
“I think we all know how that feels,” Eddie replied. “Is it someone from JCF?”
“Yeah, it is.”
“I have an idea who it is. Do you mind if I ask?” Eddie asked.
I did not expect this question. I trusted Eddie, and I did not think he was going to make fun of me, but I still was not used to sharing these secrets with others. “I guess you can say it,” I said, “but I don’t know if I want to admit whether or not you’re right.”
“That’s fair,” Eddie replied. “I think it’s Haley.”
Apparently subtlety was not one of my strong points, I thought. I wondered how many other people knew. But if Eddie had figured it out, there was no point in hiding this from him. “Yes, it’s Haley,” I said. “Please don’t tell anyone. How did you know?”
“I’ve just noticed the way you act around her sometimes,” Eddie explained. “And remember that night at JCF, right after her mother passed?”
“I noticed the way you kept trying to talk to her. That was kind of unusual.”
“I just saw someone I cared about upset, and I wanted to make sure she knew that I was there for her if she needed to talk.” I did not understand what was so weird about that, although I do remember some of the others who were there that night acting like I was intruding on something. I had assumed it was because I was not in their clique.
“I’m gonna be honest with you,” Eddie said. “I really liked Haley too, freshman year. We hung out a few times. I told her how I felt, and she didn’t feel the same way back.”
“Aww,” I said. It felt weird knowing that Eddie used to like Haley too. Maybe every guy at JCF liked Haley. I would had no chance with all of that competition.
“But talking about it, being honest with her, that was good. I feel like we grew closer as friends after that.”
“Interesting,” I said.
“If you do tell her how you feel, I know she’ll appreciate the honesty.”
“That’s good to know.”
The next night was the concert for chorus, and I spent most of Saturday studying for finals. Sunday morning at church I went to 20/20, the college Sunday school class, before the service, and I had a hard time concentrating because Haley was there. I could not stop thinking about her all weekend. I had to know if I had a chance with her. Ever since she turned down my offer to see the movie, with the ambiguous caveat of “maybe another time” which never happened, I felt like I could not continue not knowing. With JCF done for the quarter, and finals and winter break coming up, this may be the last time I saw her for a month. I knew that if she was here at church today, that would most likely be my last chance. All morning, I had been playing in my mind how I would approach her and what I would say, which made the teaching of Dan Keenan, the college pastor, difficult to follow this morning.
After 20/20 ended, as people were standing around the room and gradually trickling out headed toward the main building for the regular service, the opportunity presented itself. Haley stood by herself about ten feet away from me, and I knew that I had to go for it now, or else I would hate myself through my entire winter break for not having said anything.
“Haley?” I asked as I approached her. “Can I talk to you?”
“Sure,” she replied. “What’s going on?”
“Can we step outside, away from everyone?”
“Yeah.” Haley walked outside a few feet away from the entrance, and I followed her. “What’s going on? Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yeah. I…” I trailed off, trying to remember the conversation I had rehearsed many times. “I’m really glad I met you last year. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you, and I’d really like to get to know you… as more than just a friend.”
Haley thought for a few seconds, apparently processing what I said. She probably was not expecting to hear this. “Greg,” she said. “You’re a really nice guy. But I just don’t see you that way. Please don’t be upset.”
“I’m not,” I said. “I had a feeling you didn’t feel the same way. I just felt like I needed to know for sure. Like, if I never said anything, I’d never know.”
“It’s okay. I’m glad you said something. And I hope you meet the right person soon.”
You’re the right person, I thought. And you’re standing right in front of me. If you really meant that, you would give me a chance. But then I realized that maybe Haley was not the right person after all. If she was, then we would both feel the same way. “Thank you,” I said. “And I meant what I said before: I know you’re going through a rough time right now, and I’m always here if you need to talk. Even if we are just friends.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it.”
The next morning, Haley’s rejection felt like a dark cloud hanging over me as I got out of bed, showered, and dressed. The t-shirt I ordered with the logo for the upcoming Urbana ’96 convention had arrived in the mail on Saturday, and I wore it for the first time that day. I went to campus and took my final for Advanced Calculus, and even with the rejection still on my mind, I felt like I did well on the exam.
After the exam, I left Wellington Hall and crossed the street to the Memorial Union, looking for a table where I could study. I saw Eddie sitting at a table talking to Raphael Stevens, his roommate. Todd Chevallier and Ajeet Tripathi, two sophomores from JCF, were also there. I walked over as I heard Ajeet say, “Man, I need more coffee. I was up way too late last night.”
“Yeah,” Eddie replied. “Maybe last night was a bad idea.”
“Hey, guys,” I said.
“Hey, Greg,” Eddie said.
“How are finals going?” Raphael asked.
“Good. I just got out of Advanced Calculus; I think I did well.”
“Advanced Calculus,” Eddie repeated. “Just saying those words stresses me out..”
“I think I’ll be ok. I’ve been studying.”
“Studying!” Todd said. “That’s what we were supposed to be doing last night.”
“What happened last night?” I asked.
“We invited Ajeet and Todd and their house to our house for a study break,” Eddie explained. “We ended up watching movies until around two in the morning.”
“Wow,” I said.
“I’d invite you to sit down,” Eddie explained, “but there isn’t really room at our table. You could pull up a chair, if you could find one.”
“That’s okay,” I replied. “I should probably go study anyway. I’ll see you guys around.”
“Yeah. Good luck with your final.”
“Bye, Greg,” Todd said.
Apparently I had been left out of something else now. I would have come over to Eddie and Raphael’s study break if I had known about it. I scanned the room, still looking for an empty seat; I found one at a table next to a tall guy with brown wavy hair who looked familiar. I had seen this guy somewhere before, but I could not remember where. A large girl with long, straight brown hair sat with him. I walked to them and asked, “You guys mind if I sit here?”
“Go ahead,” the guy said. “I don’t remember your name, but you go to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, right?”
“Yes,” I said. Apparently this guy had seen me around before too. “I’m Greg.”
“I’m Ben,” he said. “And this is my friend Alaina. We go to U-Life, but I also go to JCF occasionally.” University Life was another large Christian student group on campus.
“Okay. I knew I had seen you somewhere before.”
“How’s your finals week going?” Alaina asked.
“Pretty good. I just got out of Math 127A, and I have Math 128A tomorrow.”
“Those sound hard. What’s your major?”
“That makes sense,” Ben said.
“Are you going to Urbana?” Alaina asked, noticing my shirt.
“Yes!” I said. “It’s going to be overwhelming, but I’m excited.”
“A couple of our other friends are going. I’ve heard good things about it.”
“Yeah. I’ve never been to Illinois. I’ve never even been that far away from home at all. It’ll also be my first time on an airplane, at least as far as I remember.”
“Wow,” Ben said.
“My mom says I was on a plane once as a baby, but I don’t remember it,” I explained.
“Sounds like you’ll have a great trip,” Alaina said.
I did not do my best at concentrating on my studies that day. I was still thinking a lot about Haley’s rejection, and about everything that my friends were leaving me out of. I also talked to Ben and Alaina a bit, who I noticed were definitely not a couple. They seemed like nice people; maybe they could be a new group of friends for me. I wondered if University Life had the same problem with cliques that JCF did.
I stayed in Jeromeville for a few days after finals ended. I had three weeks off, and taking a few days off in my apartment, reading, going for bike rides in the Greenbelts, and staying up late talking to girls on Internet Relay Chat was worth having a little less time with my family. Although I did fine on finals, I felt like the quarter ended on a bad note, considering the conversation with Haley and all of the times I was left out. I now knew that Haley definitely did not feel the same way about me that I felt about her. In theory, now that I knew, I would be able to move on, but it did not always feel so easy in practice. I still felt like I had failed.
As for the cliques, I was probably not being intentionally singled out every time. Eddie and Raphael’s study break, for example, was a last-minute unplanned thing, and those two households just happened to be right around the corner from each other. The most likely reason I was not invited was because I lived on the other side of town. But I also felt left out in that they did not invite me to be roommates with them in the first place. I thought that living with Brian and Shawn this year would help, since they were not only part of the in crowd but older. It did help in some ways, like when they invited me to toilet-paper Lorraine. But Brian spent a lot of his spare time applying for medical school, and Shawn was busy with student teaching, so they were less social than in previous years.
Looking back on these days as an adult has given me a bit of a different perspective on what was going on. The Haley situation was not at all a failure on my part. Sometimes one can do everything right and still lose. Sometimes someone is just not interested in someone else like that. Over the course of my life, I have been on both sides of those conversations many times. Being rejected is just a part of life, not necessarily a sign of failure.
I was still bothered by the cliques within JCF. But, ultimately, I was not involved in JCF to be one of the cool kids; I was there to learn about God and serve him. I had the trip to the Christian student convention in Urbana to look forward to; hopefully I would learn more about how God wanted me to serve him, and stronger relationships with peers could come out of that.
It took me years to realize this, but when I look back, I have to remember that we were all just kids back then. Being rejected, being left out of groups, those are common to most young people, no matter where they are or which God they claim to worship. As a newly practicing Christian, I saw many of my Christian friends as very mature spiritually, because they had grown up more involved in church than I had been, or because they spent their summers doing service projects in other countries. But true maturity often comes with age and cannot be forced. Eddie and many of the other key individuals in leading me to Christ were the same age as me in school, twenty or twenty-one years old. Brian and Shawn had each just turned twenty-three. On the JCF staff, Cheryl was twenty-five, and Janet and Dave, the oldest of my spiritual mentors, were twenty-eight and thirty respectively. As an adult, I know plenty of people that age whom I would not consider mature. Many of my JCF friends were more mature than average, of course, but being between twenty and thirty years old, they still had a lot to learn themselves, just as I did. And over the next several months, as my third year at UJ continued, I would learn much about myself, and life, and God, and much of that learning would come from unexpected sources.
Author’s note: This is the mid-season finale for year 3, so I’ll be taking a break for a month or so. I will probably make an interlude post or two, maybe revise the Dramatis Personae page or organize the site, maybe do some supplemental projects, but there won’t be another episode of the main story for a while.
What do you think about the events of Year 3 so far? Does anyone have any predictions about what will happen to character-Greg, or any of the other characters, in the rest of Year 3? As always, if you’re new here, you can start with the first episode here and read all 111 episodes in order, or you can read the summary and abridgement for Year 1 and Year 2., then start from the beginning of Year 3.