Summer of 1993
Chapter 10--Resolving the Past, Dreams Renewed

    Price Roberts was the most important person in my life during my first summer in Yellowstone, and I was an important part of his life.  I gave him an outlet for his most disturbing thoughts.  I could respond to his spiritual quandary and give him food for thought.  As he worked through a new relationship with Lynn McGraw, I could be there to listen and give advice for the struggles he was having in his new relationship.  Many nights he was with her.  On many other nights, he and I sat in our room talking.  Not only was I there for him, but also he was there for me.  My life had its own struggles, its own worries.  Some of those struggles were things which persisted from my past year; others were laments for past dreams gone sour.  He helped me to see the foolishness of my ways and encouraged me on to bold projects.  Without his friendship, I likely would have taken a different course in my life, if only slightly.  Yet, that slight difference would have forever changed the colors of my Yellowstone experience, of my entire life's experience.
    At nineteen, I had never had a girlfriend or even been on so much as a date.  I figured that I was ugly.  Others told me that my personal morals, my interests and hobbies, and my shyness around people probably made it very hard for me to find someone.  Shyness kept me from asking most people out.  My puritanical streak kept me from alcohol and parties.  My interest in philosophy was not usually attractive to anyone.  As for my looks, my significant other tells me that I am very attractive, but I have never quite believed her.  Perhaps, it is that I never worked on my appearance, or perhaps, seemed to purposefully ignore it.  In any event, I had never had a romantic relationship at age 19.  I had not had a date.  I never went to prom or a single high school dance.
    However, I wanted nothing more in my life than commitment and romance.  Before I was 17, I had so much fear in my life that I had never told a girl that I liked her.  When I overcame that, it made no difference.  No one had ever expressed romantic interest in me, and no one I expressed that interest to ever found any interest in me.  Instead, what they found was an obsessive pest who was tired of taking no for an answer.  I would become so obsessed with the object of my romantic eye that I spent months hounding that person trying to figure out my misery.  Like many teenagers, I thought that I was sure when I found myself attracted to a girl that "she was the one for all times."  My heart was broken more than once.  There had been a particularly bitter pill when I thought I was about to enter a long distance relationship with a girl I had known from church camp.  It turned out to be a giant misunderstanding.  Her name was Kim, and I began college thinking about nothing but what a fool I had been to think that she and I were about to be together.  What was worse was that the whole misunderstanding shook her very greatly.  I had hurt her very badly; and although I did not press the issue with her, it hurt me all the same that my fantasies had hurt a girl I loved.  At college, there was not a single person who knew me at all who did not hear me talk about my experience with Kim.
    My experience with Kim had not stopped me from falling for Stacy at college.  Stacy Rossman was a funny, intelligent girl whose personality I found so intriguing at the time that I quickly was attracted to her.  However, soon after I was in too deep, I found out that she had a boyfriend.  This discovery tortured me so much that it took me months before I could admit my feelings for Stacy to her.  In the meantime, she and I became great friends, spent hours together every day, went to meals together, and did many "best friend" sorts of things together.  Her boyfriend became quite jealous of me, and they broke up for many reasons, but I was one of them.  So, just when he was out of her life, I was soon out of Stacy's life as well.  Naturally, I wanted to date her.  She and I talked about it, but she did not want to do so because she did not feel the same way.  Instead, she became interested in this guy named Mike Brown.  This same Mike Brown had deeply hurt a friend of mine just recently, and I despised this guy very much.  I told Stacy about him, but she ignored me.  The fact that she did not trust me about him and the fact that she paid absolutely no attention to what sort of person he was angered me extremely.  Furthermore, she had a tendency not to tell me things.  It began when she waited to tell me she had a boyfriend.  It continued in various ways with Mike Brown around.  I was very hurt by this, my heart was breaking, but I became abnormally angry.  I shut Stacy out of my life and gave her a silent treatment for many months.  Even though she went on only one date with Mike Brown, I was very upset with the way she treated me.  When she began dating a guy named Jonathan, the treatment became more intense.  He was a nice guy, but jealousy is a nasty thing.  I had such wicked thoughts when it came to Stacy, that I consciously committed murder in my heart.  Her attitude, her seeming lack of pain, made me all the angrier.  How could she go on with life so easily when she knew that she was at the root of all my torment?  Once, she came to me, and we talked.  It amounted to nothing.  We said we would talk again, but she was never there to talk, and it seemed like another slap in the face.  The school year ended without change.  Stacy Rossman was still the person who angered me the most.
    Yellowstone was away from the petty teenage dramas, a place to reflect about life.  Price was there to listen to me relate my pain over this experience and my lack of romantic experience.  I had begun to realize that there was no excuse for how I treated Stacy Rossman, a person who simply acted differently than what I would have had her do.  I had absolutely no moral ground to stand on, and I had been very wrong in my dealings with Stacy.  Yes, she probably should have treated me with more respect.  Yes, I probably had a few legitimate complaints about her.  But, no, it did not justify how I shut her out, how I would not forgive, how I would not LOVE.  It was in dealing with Price that I came to deal with myself, and it was his ear and thoughts that helped put light on it.
    You see, Price struggled with what he called "evil thoughts."  He thought that he was a uniquely wicked person because he had not only entertained what he considered evil but had actually practiced it.  He had used drugs; he had committed crimes without getting caught.  He had been selfish and bad to his mother.  I tried to show him that he already had some religious sense because he recognized a difference between evil and good, that he was not a man without beliefs.  I tried to show him he was not alone.  Had he committed "murder" in his heart?  Had we wanted someone dead like I had sincerely wanted at one time?  Did he have so much anger that he actually used complete silence and wicked stares to try to inflict an emotional injury upon another person the way I had?  To me, Price had a better heart than I.  Sure, he did things that society considered wrong.  They were wrong.  However, they were no more wrong than what I had done.  One sin is as bad as another.  God only judges us by the evil in our hearts, not by the evil we have actually done.  In other words, I was no better than he.  I might be worse.  Yet, I was secure in my relationship with God because I believed that Jesus paid the price for my sins.
    However, in Stacy's case, I was insolent enough to keep sinning.
    As I poured my romantic evils, mishaps, and misfortunes to Price, I asked him what I should do.  He told me that I should make things right with Stacy, to tell her that I was wrong.  I knew that the time had come.  If I was to prove that I was as confident in my fate as I claimed to be, I had to act.  If I wanted to make the difference in Price's life that I dearly wanted to do, I had to forgive Stacy and ask her to forgive me.  If I wanted to be successful at love, I had to begin to love.  To grasp the beauty of Yellowstone was also to share that beauty as it touched my life.
    So, I wrote to Stacy, apologized, and moved on with my life.  She wrote back encouragingly, telling me that what hurt her most in what I did was in what I did to myself.  I called her soon after.  We have been on friendly terms from then on.
    In doing that, I seemed to throw the romantic monkey off my back.  For the first time in years, I was not pining after someone.  I not only was not after someone specific or worried about someone specific, but I was happy with my life as it was.  It seemed to me that Yellowstone could be the love of my life, and as long as I could explore her mysteries, I did not need another.  Only Yellowstone could ever be quite that powerful in taming the beast in me that desired romance.  Even Yellowstone could not always tame it.
    Price mostly listened as I had drawn out my failings in romance.  He was an ear as I worked through my thoughts.  Ironically, I hope that my failings helped minister to him.  In Yellowstone, he was not alone.  In the universe, he was not alone.  His evil was not unique.  His desire to be a better man was not unique.  All he had to do was see me.  Even though I am sure he tended to see my problems as less than his, I think it began to have an effect upon him.  He decided that Christianity was worth exploring and that he wished to know more about it.  It was not simply about overpious hypocrites, but about evil people like himself who had found a way to cope with nature, thrive in it, and strive for perfection in love in spite of it and sometimes ironically with its help.  At least, that is what Christians are at their best.
    Price had helped me to resolve my past mostly in being quiet and listening to me, but he openly pushed me to revive an old dream.  With his nodding, The Young Romantics dreamed again under the starry, starry, night.
    The Young Romantics was one of those visions that mysteriously hit some of us during unexpected moments.  To me, the way that such revelations come seem to speak as evidence of God.  However, those who know me know that that sort of teleological evidence would never impress upon me that there was such a thing as God.  What I mean is that knowledge of God cannot simply come from the evidence of revelation because that revelation in some manner already presumes that there is a God who exists.  I am tempted to dismiss it at as a complex philosophical point, but this is not a time to put to rest philosophy simply because it is hard to understand, sometimes.  This is a point worth pressing because it illumines how I look at life and interpret it.  To know God is not to know God because of revelation, although sometimes we might be wiser in God because of it.  I believe that God is the most evident thing in the universe that can be known.  If you know anything else, it is because you are aware that there is Something that can be known.  This most obvious of things is what I have always called by the name of God.  So, in my worldview, it makes little sense to say that my vision of the Young Romantics is evidence of God in the sense that I know God because of the revelation.  It only makes sense to say that the vision is evidence of God in that I mean that understanding God the way I do, this vision in my life is consistent with my understanding of God.  It is evidence that it is a work of God and not of some other force in the universe.  It is to say that my vision was not my own.
    The Young Romantics came to me while I was taking a bath during my junior year of high school.  It not only changed my life but changed other lives as well.  Although this is a story about my life in Yellowstone, understanding this part of my life in Yellowstone involves understanding this past aspect of my life as well.  Yellowstone was not even conceived in my imagination.  Yet, my past became Yellowstone as well.  You will understand how before this summer is over.  For now, trust me as I indulge some more into my life that became Yellowstone after the fact.
    I had lived seventeen years of my life having never shared my deepest feelings.  For me, the deepest feelings I kept hidden from everyone were my feelings for girls that I had crushes on.  I not only did not tell the girl, but also I told no one else, either.  The reasons why were complex.  When I was five, I had told my parents that I would never like girls.  They laughed and told me that I would like them by the time I was 12.  However, I insisted that I would not and took this oath far too seriously.  Although I am sure they do not even remember the conversation, I took it so much to heart that when I found myself liking girls at about the age of 9, I had to keep this fact completely to myself.  I think to the killings of children by children in Arkansas and Pearl, Mississippi (where Price now lives), and I can understand very easily how these things happen.  We take too lightly the feelings of children and their complexity, their intensity.  I know that I feel far less intensely now than I did as a child.  I know that I am far less serious about many things.  Children are often abnormally serious, and I was abnormally serious about an oath I made at five-years-old!
    At age 11, I had a crush on a girl named Jamie.  She was a redhead girl who was intelligent and who for whatever reason gave me an extremely intense yearning.  I really wanted to "go out with" Jamie, but it wasn't that easy for me.  Not only did I remember my oath, but also I feared getting picked on by the cruelty of my classmates.  For almost three years, I kept this crush to myself and rarely did it subside.  It was tortuous at times to go to school, and I sometimes broke down in tears for no apparent reason in class.  Classmates asked me what was wrong and were genuinely worried about me, but I could not let my secrets go.
    Crushes came and went over the next six years, but I could not open up.  I could write a scathing paper about my religious beliefs or about how wrong I thought the Persian Gulf War was, and share my thoughts on any controversial subject under the sun (most of which my views were in a tiny minority), but I could not open my heart in this particular matter.
    When I was 17 and my Spanish class was given a special project assignment, my life would never be the same.  A group of five of us decided to film a movie in Spanish.  Our group had three guys and two girls.  We spent entire days together producing a work that proved much more involving than it was thought it would be.  I became attracted to a girl in my group named Susanna Fairchild during the seventy hours that week we worked on the movie.  We all had so much fun together, all had worked so hard, and all had grown closer.  The intensity of the experience made the intensity of my feelings all the stronger.
    This depressed me.  I knew the routine.  I knew that now that I had a crush on Susanna I would freeze up and never speak to her or anyone else about her.  I knew that the end would be a misery of watching my energy drain away hoping beyond hope that she would somehow like me and that she could tell me first.  My depression became deep and almost suicidal.  I knew that if I did not do something that it would find a way of killing me.  I could not go on moping in my room for hours, going to school scared of someone I enjoyed, and keeping everything inside bottled up even from people who were beginning to consider me close friends.
    So, I contrived a ridiculously extravagant way of telling her.  It was Christmas break, and I decided to write a movie.  The five of us had decided that we needed to film another movie over the summer, so I used that as a pretense to write a movie stating how I felt for her.  I worked and worked and worked over Christmas break typing everything out (on a semi-manual typewriter!)  It ended up being twenty-eight pages.  The night I finished it, I turned on the television to find our high school playing basketball on the local cable access channel, and there she was in the crowd.  It nearly made me crazy.  I had watched Dead Poets' Society that night starring Robin Williams.  The romanticism of the first half of that movie made a strong impact on me.  I yearned for something like that.  I was also an emotional wreck.
    When school started, I did the hardest thing I have ever done.  Awkwardly, I handed Susanna that movie.  What happened contributed to the torture.  She never read it.  Instead, she gave it to Kevin Ravak, a cohort in the Spanish movie.  This was not supposed to happen!  He was not supposed to know how I felt about Susanna.  I asked for the movie back, but then reconsidered.  I needed to tell someone my feelings, or I was going to die.  I gave him the movie to read, he quickly figured out my feelings for Susanna, and we spent time writing letters and talking about it.  This went on for a month as my depression only subsided a little.  He was the first person in my life that I ever opened up to, and he was good about it.  That was a relief, but I could not do anything around Susanna except avoid her.  He kept telling me that I had to tell her.  What was worse was that she had started dating a foreign exchange student at our school.  Finally, Kevin made Susanna read the relevant material in the movie.  All she said was, "It's not me."  This made it even worse.  Of course it was her!  I sometimes cried in class as I had done years before trying to hide my tears from the teacher.  I began wishing for something to end my agony.  I went home and sat in my room and cried for two hours or more.  Matt Klempner, the only friend I had whom I spent time with regularly, wondered what was wrong with me, but I did not, could not tell him.
    In the end, I wrote Susanna a letter telling her how I felt.  She was very kind.  Her kind letter set me free.  It was not the end of the world.  I had opened up to her, and I was still alive.  In fact, I was free.  Yet, the result was the same.  She was with another guy, and my dreams were dashed again.  My dreams always seemed in some way to fail, and my romantic dream failed over and over again even though I overcame the greatest obstacle of my life--that terrible need to keep secrets about my feelings.
    So, there I was taking a bath.  I was in a horrible mood that evening.  Two months of depression, two months of staring at my walls, crying in public, torturing myself, had torn down the very walls that in some sense defined me before those few days before taking a bath.  I was a new boy in some sense, and a boy in ruins in another.  The bottom line was that my dreams had failed.  Dreams SHOULD NOT fail.
    That was the inspiration.  When my situation was put in the light of "should," I was no longer simply thinking about the past and present but about the universe at large.  I was dreaming again, in other words.  The future was on my mind, and I was looking at alleviating a problematic condition of my past.  So, before the bath was over, the idea of the Young Romantics was born.
    Since dreams should not fail, what would help them succeed?  Obviously, I had learned in the last month that opening one's heart helped produce strong, deep friendships.  If friends who could share absolutely everything honestly about their lives could meet together and trust each other and commit to helping each other out, then dreams could succeed, or at least have a fighting chance.  So, what I dreamed of was a small group where people could share anything whether that be poetry, art, literature, personal letters, or anything that meant something to them.  After sharing honestly and without holding back dreams and fears, the group would accept those things unconditionally, and make those dreams their own.  There would be rules like making people answer any question that was asked of them and other devices meant to insure not only acceptance but also that the people in the group would trust enough to open up.  So, taking from Dead Poets' Society the notion of a small, secret society, I had added the laments and desires of my own experience.  We would meet where we thought it was romantic.  We would be bold.  We would not stoop to the lowest common denominator and only talk about what was noncontroversial.  Rather, we would share what we felt without fretting about what others may think.  We would accept the dreams of others even if they ran contrary to our own beliefs.  I must admit that that last demand of the Young Romantics still gives me the most problems, but it was necessary under the conditions of the group.
    So, having the dream, I decided to share it.  I was a member of my high school trivia team and decided to share my idea with them in the form of a letter I passed around.  I thought that the idea would be thought of as silly, but the response was very positive.  Only one guy made fun of the idea, and he was shot down by the others.  I had three people sign my list, including Matt Klempner.  I showed the letter to Kevin, my first confidant, but he declined saying that that sort of thing was not him.  However, another person named Greg Paisley decided to join.  He thought my idea was no different than what was meant by "friendship."  I could not but agree with his insight, but I knew that a lot of people did not know how to open up in this way and that I myself had only just a month ago learned how to open my heart.
    The first meeting of the Young Romantics, often shortened to YR, was in Matt's basement.  Only Matt, myself, and Bobby Leonard could make it.  The night was amazing.  Bobby shared stories from his childhood that he had never told before.  They were simply awful and remarkable that he could share them with us.  Matt opened up for the first time in his life that night telling us about some of the girls he had liked over the past.  He was so nervous that he shook.  His words came out like a scared little boy.  They came out as if they were my own.  Here had been a guy going through the same enormous fear that I had.  When it was my turn, I was a seasoned veteran able to share my story of Susanna for the first time with them.  They were surprised by this because they thought it was another girl.  As it turned out, they were right!  I had begun to have a crush on another girl and had not expected to be called on it.  When they did, I was tied by my own rules.  I had to share this new dream of mine.  We made a pact to help each other out both with our dreams but with our fears.  From then on, Matt Klempner and I have been best friends able to tell each other a great many things.  We learned to criticize each other, praise each other, dream with each other, grow with each other, contemplate the nature of things with each other.  As for Bobby, he unfortunately had a mental breakdown and was in a psychiatric home before the year was out.  I wonder how Bobby is doing today.
    As for the Young Romantics, my feelings for this other girl messed YR up.  She, whose name was Noelle, was supposed to be one of us, a young romantic.  When it turned out that Noelle did not have the same feelings for me, I pestered her with letters for over nine months.  As she was still nominally a member of YR for awhile, we did not have any other meetings.  Meanwhile, Matt, Bobby, and I would hang out together at Matt's house as friends.  As for Greg, he and I became excellent friends as well.  Matt was changed forever.  He could never go back into his shell, the shell he came out of that night in his basement.  Bobby forever praised me for my idea.  Yet, in the end, the Young Romantics faded away.  It had left its mark.  We had dreamed under the starry sky of a basement outside of Cambridge, Ohio, but YR never lived up to its potential.
    You, the reader, are on Price's bed listening as he once listened.  This story came to life on those nights where Price and I talked about the universe.  It may have come the same night I told him about Stacy.  So, in a sense, the narrative itself is part of my life in Yellowstone.  Price listened and became infected with the spirit of the Young Romantics.  He had never imagined himself in such a group bearing out his soul to people who were there to care.  He had never imagined himself caring that way for others.  Furthermore, in Yellowstone, the romantic settings for meetings were endless.
    "You should form the Young Romantics in Yellowstone," he suggested.
    I was stunned at the thought.  It seemed impossible.  "It would never work, Price.  I don't know the people well enough here and would never be able to ask them."
    "You could do it, Jim.  I know places we could meet."
    "But, who would join us?  I mean, just us two isn't enough."
    "People would join us.  You need to do this."
    However, I could not agree to follow his shocking suggestion, then.  Could the Young Romantics be revived?  Could we meet behind Tower Fall, perhaps?  Yet, fear won out that night.  I did not have the slightest idea how I would approach the subject.  I knew I could not just simply pass out a stupid letter like I had two and a half years before.  How would this dream become possible?  Who would be right for YR?
    I would soon have the opportunity thanks to some crazy Monday nights and a newcomer, that angel called Reuben.
    Before the Young Romantics, however, much more of the summer had to be lived, and Reuben had to arrive.

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