Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

Red solo cups dotted the white tablecloths. Except for my table. My table of seniors featured multiple travel coffee mugs, a few soda bottles, and my own Starbucks cup. My friend Cassie and I had just made a run back to my house to refill all of our alcoholic beverages. Living conveniently five minutes from the venue for our ballroom end of semester party was convenient for maintaining my buzz through the endless executive board campaign speeches and the lecture from the outgoing President.

The senior slideshow had us all laughing as Joey, Whitney, and Josh talked about all of the seniors in turn. Joey and Whitney said surprisingly nice things about me, and I was still sharing a smile with CJ, who was across the table from me, when Alison's slide appeared.

"Alison is amazing!" Joey practically shouted, "Everything I just said about CJ goes double for her, except she's NOT A DICK!"

The entire room erupted in laughed, none of it even as close to as loud as mine. Alex and Cassie were on either side of me, and the three of us, as CJ's best friends, were absolutely loosing it. I caught Joey's eye, and he gave me a nod that clearly said 'that one was for you.' If I wasn't wearing glitter eyeliner, I would have probably cried with some combination of laughing too hard and gratitude for Joey just calling out CJ for being an asshole in front of the entire ballroom team.

And with the final slide, the tables were pushed back and took the floor for the famous last rumba. The last rumba is supposed to be an emotional thing, many tears have been shed, but when Joey through in the new move we learned in our lesson earlier that day, I said "we should try that again," and it felt like we could be at practice.

"We would end up using our last rumba to actually practice," Joey said with a smile as the song ended and we hugged.

Another rumba started, and I was barely out of Joey's arms when someone else took my hand.

"I get your second dance?" I asked as I settled into hold with CJ.

"Best friend privileges," CJ smiled just a bit. We spent the entire next few minutes looking each other right in the eyes, as was the nature of the rumba, but many unspoken things passed between us. When the song sounded like it was going to end, CJ dipped me and then pulled me in close, "I'm so proud of you. You've gotten so much better this year, and I'm glad I got to be apart of it," CJ whispered as he hugged me, "And I'm so sorry, about everything. There aren't words to tell you how bad I feel, you are the last person to deserve what I did to you. You are my best friend, you've become this amazing dancer, and every time I think about you I just feel so awful, and I miss the hell out of you."

"I miss my best friend more than anything," my whisper quivered, "I wish it didn't have to be like this."

"Me neither," CJ said, and we hugged for a second more.

"See you at Alex and Joey's after this?" I asked.

"Yeah," CJ nodded and I turned around to go back to my table.

If my life was a movie, this would the moment where we literally kissed and made up: where the boy would grab my hand as I turned around and kiss me and it would all be ok. Everyone would smile and applaud and know that all was right with the world if CJ and Kaitlyn were on good terms again.

But my life isn't a movie and in real life, you don't get a second chance for the same mistake.

I felt the strangest sense of deja vu: at the ballroom welcome week party at the start of the semester, CJ and I found ourselves in the corner of the ballroom house sharing a cup of straight vodka. It was the night where CJ nearly cried when I brought up why he didn't talk to me all summer.

Four months later, we were in another corner of the ballroom house. I had a cup of rum and root beer in my hand, and CJ had tears in his eyes, "And I'm supposed to go see her at MIT this weekend and I just can't see any way it's going to end good."

"Why are you going then? You've only got two more weekends here with all of us," I gestured around the party.

"I don't know ok, I'm just trying to get back to where I was before I got depressed," CJ insisted, not looking me in the eye.

"Don't keep people in your life who bring you down, and I've not heard you say one good thing about Sarah this entire semester. Just keeping it real," I shrugged, taking a sip of my drink.

Drunk CJ didn't bother trying to defy gravity, and it felt natural when we seemed to spend the entire party together. And by spend the entire party together, that meant I yelled at him for being an idiot and he couldn't tell me that I wasn't right. But something about our physical proximity felt good. It was like I didn't have to try and be someone I wasn't, and that person was still friends with CJ Anslow. We might not be as close as we once were, and there was no way we were going back to being more-than-friends, but there is something about chemistry that can't be denied. And despite all of the deliberate attempts to alter that chemistry, destroy it completely even, it just couldn't go away.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Saturday, April 11th, 2015

I wove expertly around the line of silver dancers that snaked around the gym floor. While everyone was wearing their ballroom best, I was wearing my grey Michigan Ballroom tank with a pair of cream sequined shorts and flip flops. I truly felt like an upper level dancer: I wasn't dancing any syllabus smooth, which was the first event of the day. I only needed to be ready for gold standard, which meant I woke up at 7:30 to start getting ready, and at just past 10, I arrived at the Michigan Ballroom Dance Competition. I spotted Joey behind the judges table, and blazed a path through the crowds of dancers to reach him-


I was intercepted by none other than James Hammond.

"Good morning!" I said with a beaming smile as he picked me up and hugged me. James was helping out as deck captain.

"You ready for today?" James asked when he set me down.

"As ready as I'll ever be," I smiled, "It's my last competition, can't hold anything back now."

I hugged Joey good morning next, and once our coach, Steve, announced the next round he stood up and kissed me on the cheek in greeting.

I woke CJ up with a phone call a few minutes later, telling him to get to the competition to see gold standard. When I was in my signature red standard dress a while later, CJ arrived showed up just in time. Even though we weren't friends and CJ wasn't dancing until the open events at 8pm, he insisted I call him to make sure he wakes up in time to see me dance gold standard.

Even though we weren't friends, CJ was by my side in a second when we saw that we didn't make the final. This was the first competition all semester we hadn't made this final, and I felt hollow inside. CJ and I had made a deal that if we placed high enough in gold, and were getting beat by couples also competing novice, we would hop in and dance novice standard later that evening.

"No novice," CJ pouted.

"No novice," I confirmed, my voice hollow.

CJ put his arms around me, holding me for only a moment, "We'll watch the videos and figure out what happened."

Even though we weren't friends, we were still a team.

I basically had to slap Joey out of being a sore loser to make sure he had his mojo back for gold rhythm. And by slap Joey out of being a sore loser, I mean give him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a pep talk.

We won first in gold rhythm.

A few hours later, we would win gold latin too. It made up for not making the standard final.

As soon as I switched into my dress for novice smooth, a cloud of compliments seemed to follow me. This was the first time anyone would see me in a stoned dress, and I felt like a princess. The dress didn't exactly fit me, one of the girls on the team had found it in the basement of the ballroom house and was letting me borrow it. But for this one competition, it would do, and I was sparkling. Standing in line for novice smooth was absolutely surreal, I was about to take the floor with dancers I looked up to. I was honored to be there, and even though we didn't make the final, the experience meant the world to me. Two and a half years ago, Joey and I joined the ballroom team and foolishly said that we wanted to dance novice before we graduated. There was a point where we said we would settle for gold, but we reached our goal.

I wore my friend Natalie's old dress from middle school for novice rhythm, and luckily it had a small enough amount of fabric that I didn't look like I was a middle schooler. Taking the floor for rhythm, I felt a surge of energy even after all of the hours dancing: this was going to be our last three dances ever. Each step I took, each move of my arm, each facial expression was treasured. When the music ended, I didn't have a single regret.

Seven numbers went up on the callback board a few minutes later. As horribly cheesy as it sounds, my eyes filled with tears when I saw ours. I had three more dances, and I was so grateful. To final in a novice event made me so happy, and when I walked back onto the floor for one final time I could swear I was shinning more than my dress. We were on the floor with so many of my friends. CJ and Alison, Bryan and Cassie, Marissa and Philip, Carolyn and Ross, Dan and Nicole, and new friends Javier and Ilana. It was just pure fun.

We got fifth, not even seventh! I had a novice ribbon to add to my collection. We had done it: after all of the hours we had put in, we we could call ourselves open dancers. To do this in two years was unprecedented.

I mason jar of gin and tonic was sweating beneath my false nails as I held court in Joey and Alex's kitchen at our unofficial Michcomp after party. I smiled at the irony of who surrounded me as a bunch of us stood in a circle: immediately to my right was James, two people to my left was CJ,  and directly across from me was Philip Prete. Michcomp itself was the historic event that would bring all three guys I've ever slept with together in the same room. The after party forced them all into a more concentrated space, and it felt slightly surreal. A few drinks later, I found myself in a shockingly familiar position: in a corner of the party with CJ.

Joey once described CJ and I as two people who gravitate toward each other. It wasn't until this competition that I realized why laws of nature are considered laws: they aren't meant to be broken. It was almost work to fight the gravity between CJ and I, I had to make a conscious effort not to talk to him. Now that CJ was getting more intoxicated by the sip, he made it perfectly clear that I didn't need to fight gravity anymore. We were in a corner of Alex's room, right behind the door, and every time it would open, he would pull me in close to him so I didn't get hit. Some yelling happened: I registered my unhappiness for our non-friendship for the 100th time, and CJ admitted that things were (once again) not going well with Sarah and they were having a talk the next day and he didn't know if it was going to make it past tomorrow. But we talked like friends, real friends, for the first time all day.

I spent the rest of the party holding court in Alex's room, sitting on Philip's lap for part of it, talking with our MSU friends, doing shots with Carolyn, and when a wave of people left the room and left the door open, I went to close it to keep out those who weren't members of the inner circle. Someone caught my eye from across the hallway: James looked... lost. In the split second before I closed the door, I realized what I was witnessing: James was realizing that he had officially been dethroned. I smiled to myself, and felt the weight of my invisible crown return to my head. Two years ago I joined the ballroom team and fell right into the rush of the glittery, boozy lifestyle. It took two years, I made the glamorous world into a world of my own. I had become the queen of this team, on and off the dance floor.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

I was at Starbucks and had zero desire for coffee. I had survived my day thus far on the one cup I had chugged on my way to work, and frankly I knew caffeine would only heighten my emotions while I knew CJ's entire point at meeting me in public, on neutral ground, was so I didn't explode. I knew his caution meant the conversation that was going to follow couldn't have a positive outcome. 

A reading was open on my laptop but my eyes were glazed over as I stared at it, not reading a word. After this weekend of CJ's serious distantness, and witnessing him ditch Easter for a six hour phone conversation with Sarah, I was forcing him to tell me what was going on. 

It was a few minutes past our 5:15 time to meet, and I casually turned around from where I was sitting at the bar that faced the window, where the people passing by outside were a constant source of interest. I turned to see CJ fixing his coffee and snapped my head back around. I didn't want it to look like I was looking for him, I hoped I didn't turn around too fast so I caught his attention, then my cool-girl cover would be broken...

It was a minute or so until a cup of coffee was set down next to me. Just long enough to confirm that CJ had to look around the coffee shop for me. 

"Hey," CJ avoided my eye, "What's up?"

"Hey," I yanked out my earbuds and snapped my laptop closed, "What's going on?" I said coldly.

"So Sarah and I are probably getting back together, we're talking about it."

"Ok." I said blankly, "Go on."

"We don't think I was in the right mindset when we broke up, and we're trying to work it out. But in this process, Sarah's not cool with you and I hanging out, and I think she's right and I don't feel comfortable asking her to be cool with it. We can be friends in a ballroom setting with other people around, but we can't hang out one on one." CJ looked at me through the corners of his eye.

I looked him right in the eye, "You need to take whatever feelings you have for me and crush them like a bug." I spat, "If you have any intention of making this work."

"That's what I'm trying to do, and if I'm even going to try, I can't hang out with you. Are you ok with that?" CJ asked. 

"Why in the world would I be ok with that?" I snapped, "I'll deal with it because I obviously have no choice in the matter, but I just lost my best friend. Again. Because at the end of the day, I thought we were still friends, no matter what happened."

"If you ever need something, you can still reach out to me. I just can't guarantee anything."

"Besides Sarah, how's everything?" I asked. I don't know why I asked, I don't know if I cared, but maybe it was force of habit to care, but maybe I just didn't want to talk about this anymore. 

"This weekend has been awful," CJ admitted, "I'm just so overwhelmed, I'm debating asking them for medication when I go back to my second appointment. I really don't want to, but I had the worst breakdown of my life on Sunday. I was in the shower, and it just all hit me and it was so bad and I didn't know what to do. I think I've just got to finish my work stuff, and get through school, and then I'm going home for the summer and I just need to do absolutely nothing and get my shit together and then take on the job thing."

"I'm sorry CJ, I really am. I would say if you need anything just ask," I shrugged, "but you probably just shouldn't." my tone went ice cold, which seemed to mirror the chill that settled in my heart. 

What was friendship if you couldn't hang out together? What was friendship if you couldn't go to the other person when you needed a friend?

We weren't friends. As CJ talked and I gazed out the window at the many people passing by, I felt the return of the grip of loneliness. I could have been sitting alone.

"I hope you can figure things out," I said, "Do what makes you happy."

"I'm trying, I really am. I made the biggest decision of my life while I was in a bad place, mentally, and I'm trying to fix things."

"The biggest decision of your life?" I narrowed my eyes, "Like job things?"

"The breakup."

I wanted nothing more than to pitch myself out of the window. If breaking up with Sarah was the biggest decision of his life, he needed to sort out his priorities. 

"Well, thanks for telling me this time, instead of leaving me totally in the dark," I said indifferently, "Even though I had to beat it out of you a bit."

"I told you I was going to talk to you today!"

"Only after I insisted," I raised my eyebrows.

Our conversation shifted to the upcoming competition, "I'll still be there for gold standard," CJ smiled just a bit as he pulled on his coat.

Was that his way of saying all wasn't lost? Ballroom had been what kept us civil last semester when we weren't talking. CJ seemed to leave suddenly, and I felt hollow sitting at Starbucks. I didn't know whether I wanted to cry or kill someone. I was caught somewhere in the middle and all I knew for sure was that CJ and I were no longer friends. 

Friendship wasn't conditional. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

I emerged from the classroom in Purdue's union belonging to our ballroom team for the day, debuting my red standard dress for the first time this year. My hair was pulled back into three intricate buns, and a smoky eye was paired with bright red lipstick to complete my dancer disguise.

"Wow, you're beautiful."

I let an unexpected smile touch my lips as CJ gave me an obvious once-over, "Thank you," I felt so flattered at this compliment. For someone I had known for less than 24 hours, CJ's words seemed so genuine. I couldn't help but believe them as I strutted out onto the dance floor for newcomer smooth...

That was the first time CJ Anslow said that I was beautiful.

A year and a half from the competition at Purdue that brought us together, CJ would look me in the eye and utter those words again.

"You're beautiful," CJ smiled, smoothing my hair back from my face.

I giggled, "Shut up, CJ," I shoved him lightly.

"I mean it," CJ said, "People don't tell you it enough, but it's true," CJ pulled me closer to him and our lips met.

"Well, thank you," and the smile that spread across my lips wasn't unexpected.

With a white lace bodycon dress topped with a white cardigan and a pearl statement necklace, it was officially spring. I swapped the gold floral heels I had worn to church that morning for flip flops and tied my curls back with a brightly colored scarf for the Easter dinner I was hosting at my house. Shortly after 3pm, my pasta was finished, Joey turned up with soda, Alex arrived bearing a pot pie, CJ (after reportedly hanging out in his car on the phone) came inside with a box of wine, Terrance brought dessert, Cassie came over with a salad and Bryan, who bearing a six pack. My table was set, complete with a centerpiece, my house was clean, and my housewife status was obvious as we all sat down to what became a wonderful Easter dinner. Everyone seemed to have a great time, except for CJ, who spent the entire dinner time texting and then left to take a call before I brought the desserts over to the table.

Four hours later, everyone was watching a movie and sipping on coffee to counteract the wine when I decided it was time to confirm whether CJ was actually alive or not. His car was still parked outside my house, but he was nowhere to be seen. Clutching a white mug of coffee to match my white dress, I paused at the top of my porch steps, and shivered not from the cold, but from the onslaught of a memory:

It was a February night when I stood upon this very spot. It was then that I realized I had been watching CJ fall for since we had rekindled our friendship back in January. That February night, a foot of snow had covered all of Ann Arbor, but it felt like winter was ending- it was as if CJ's true feelings were like the first blades of grass poking through the melting snow. But in the true fashion of never-ending Michigan winter, I couldn't help but wonder if this was the beginnings of spring, or just the thaw before another storm.

I felt my lower-lip quiver: even for the past month and a half in which Ann Arbor had remained within winter's grasp, it had been spring for CJ and I. But this previous weekend, when I had been running around Columbus, CJ had been at a ballroom competition where Sarah also happened to be. The two of them had had some kind of heart to heart, where Sarah was now keeping tabs on him to make sure CJ's depression-deal didn't keep him from actually living life. Which translated to her constantly calling him to make sure he was doing something. I should have seen the red flag on Wednesday when CJ and I were walking back to his house from the union and Sarah called and he didn't tell her she was with me. "I don't know how she'd take it if I told her I was hanging out with you," CJ had said when he got off the phone. I had rolled my eyes. Friday, I met CJ for his appointment with the counselor at school, and he didn't tell me much about it, saying he had to process it all. In typical CJ fashion, he invited himself over for dinner, but not long after he came over did he step out to take a call from Sarah, that lasted 45 minutes. In not-typical CJ fashion, he left almost immediately after dinner, saying he was expecting another call. My Saturday night was equally as lonely, and when I invited CJ over to hang out he said "maybe," and CJ never says that when it comes to hanging out with me. A bad feeling had been eating at my stomach all weekend, and it wasn't from the ab workouts I was doing for the open rhythm dress I would be wearing for Michcomp. It felt like it was last summer, CJ wasn't talking to me all of a sudden with no explanation.

It took me about two seconds to find CJ, I simply retraced my footsteps of where I normally pace around my block when I was on the phone. When he saw me, he waved me off, not meeting my angry eyes. When I turned back to my house, I realized that as spring had settled over Ann Arbor, it was another blast of winter between CJ and I.

Two hours later, I left for practice. CJ was sitting in his car, still on the phone. He waved me off again when I approached his car, but I threw the sweatshirt he had left in my house in the window of his car and stalked away. Even though I was wearing a dress and flip flops, I could have sworn I was in the middle of another winter blizzard.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Saturday, April 4

"It's over."

The three syllables echoed in my empty house as I whispered them to myself.

The fact that I was alone in my house made them true.

While I had been running around Columbus the past weekend, CJ had been running around a ballroom competition. Sarah had been there too.

I saw exactly one sign, and that's when the bad feeling began to manifest itself in the pit of my stomach:

"I don't know how she'd take it if I told her I was hanging out with you," CJ said on a Thursday afternoon when he ended his phone call with Sarah as we walked from the union back to his house.

"Yeah," I muttered, looking down and flicking away a stray brown leaf with the toe of my navy converse.

Friday morning, I met CJ back at the union, with bagels and cream cheese for the both of us. He had asked me to go with him to his counselor appointment. and after breakfast, we went upstairs and I waited with him until his named was called and waited for him to get back. We went downstairs for fries and frosty's at Wendy's after and CJ said he was still processing everything.

That evening, CJ invited himself over for dinner, but he had only been at my house for about ten minutes when he stepped out to take a call from Sarah. He was gone for 45 minutes, and when he got back we had dinner, and CJ only hung around a few minutes longer. This was extremely unlike CJ to just leave like that, and also extremely unlike CJ to not text me for the rest of the night. That bad feeling that I had felt bite me the day before returned in full force. My stomach was clenched, and it wasn't from the intense ab workouts I had been doing all week in preparation for my novice rhythm dress. Hanging out with my friends that night, I felt the absence of CJ by my side. The empty seat next to me on the couch seemed pronounced: was I loosing my best friend? Was I loosing my best friend again?

Tonight I invited CJ over to hang out. CJ said "maybe" and I found myself all alone. Whenever my phone buzzed, I kept hoping his name was going to show up on the screen, and each time I found myself disappointed.

CJ's silence felt oddly familiar: it felt like the summer. Now that Sarah was back in the picture, I could practically predict how this was going to go: In his current time of emotional vulnerability, CJ would go back to what he was comfortable with, and Sarah would gladly step in. CJ, being the nice guy he thinks he is, wouldn't tell her I was still hanging around, he would make her feel like she was the only girl in the picture to make her feel better. Which would leave me out, again.

I had lost CJ as a friend once, and I thought it was the strength of our friendship that brought us together again. By the knots in my stomach, I knew I was loosing him again.