Summer of 1993
Chapter 10--Resolving the Past,
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
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
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
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,"
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
"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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