Once Upon a Cotton Ball, Part 5

He said …

I was forced, in my years as an observant male, to notice that women have strange habits. Men, for the most part, do not and cannot understand these habits either. We don’t understand how women can have so many pairs of shoes. We don’t understand how your hair ties and bobby pins always end up everywhere but your hair. And we certainly can’t understand how you can convince yourselves that a piece-of-crap guy may actually be good for you.

I paced back and forth in Brock 317, glancing out the window of my third-story dorm room. No sign of Sid. He had agreed to meet me in my room to talk, which I considered to be a very daring move in his part. I steadied myself against my bookshelf—confrontation may have been a strong suit of mine, but it almost always made me dizzy.

After Jess’ and my walk to the park, I had plopped down at my computer, logged onto Facebook, and sent the following message to Sid:

Hey Sid,

Watch this video. It’s an hour and thirteen minutes long, so you’ll need to set aside some time to watch it, but I know you’ll find the time this weekend, preferably tonight or tomorrow morning. If you have to wake up an hour earlier to watch it, do it. We will be talking either tomorrow morning/afternoon or Sunday afternoon. I don’t care how busy you are, you’re going to watch the whole thing before we talk, and we are going to talk this weekend.

I included a link to the video Marriage and Men, a phenomenal Mark Driscoll sermon that essentially summarized all the things I wanted to scream at Sid at that moment. I clicked send and wished I could be in his room when he opened the message. I don’t know what mechanism spurred my anger toward him the most: my defensiveness of my friends, my protective nature toward Jess in particular, or my defensiveness against the frequent stupidity of my gender in their interactions with females.

I knew it would be good for me to have twenty-four hours to cool down, but it was roughly thirty-six hours later when I was pacing back and forth in my dorm room waiting for Sid, and I my face was still just as flushed. Then, the handle on the door turned, and it slowly opened.

Sid’s head appeared, face nearly as flushed as mine, but he refused to make eye contact. I gestured to the couch for him to sit, and I positioned myself in a chair on the opposite side of the room. I thought it best to be out of arms reach. So we could have a rational discussion, I asked him first about the Driscoll sermon. This gave me a chance to cool down a bit before moving onto more personal matters.

“Sid, you should probably understand,” I said leaning forward, “that you’ve put yourself into a terrible situation. Maybe you’ve gotten away with these sorts of things in the past, but this time, you see, you’ve messed with one of my friends.” I sat back in my chair and watched him sink further into my leather couch. Several long seconds of silence passed before he opened his mouth to try to break the silence. Before he could speak, I continued. “Now, I’m in charge. If you have a problem with this, well, you probably should have thought of that before you pushed Jess so hard last weekend. Now, let’s talk about your friendship with Jess. I say friendship, because the two of you certainly aren’t dating anymore, if that’s what you were doing before. We’re slowing things way down.”

I whipped out a pen and paper. “Let’s talk logistics.” I’m very contractual. For the next half an hour, Sid and I came up with a list of things he was and wasn’t going to do toward Jess. At the conclusion, I said, “This is a list of actions, thoughts, and boundaries, Sid. However, you’re also not going to even be with Jess without my knowledge, do you understand? If you want to go to Chuck’s with her, I expect a text first. And you do understand that I have eyes and ears everywhere on this campus. If you try to pull anything behind my back, I will find out.” I shot him a stern glare with little effect, since he was still looking at his shoes.

We concluded our three and a half hour conversation and Sid thanked me for looking out for him and Jess. “I’d do the same for any of my friends,” I said. “But you did happen to cross one of my closest.”

We shook hands and he hastily walked out the door. He went to pull the door closed, and I reached out and grabbed his wrist. Finally, he looked me in the eye. “Sid, I appreciate you being man enough to meet with me. And I’m sure you understand that if you ever even try to touch Jess again …” [I would record here my threat to him, but we’re trying to keep the story PG … PG-13 at the worst.] He held my stare for a few seconds, then nodded. I loosened my grip on his wrist and closed the door behind him as he left.

I fell onto the couch in complete exhaustion. Though I had been through many interventions in my days, I wasn’t used to being as forceful as I had been with Sid. I didn’t know if it was that I really didn’t trust him, or if I was just unusually protective of Jess. Either way, I had been a lot stronger than I had meant to be with Sid. But that didn’t mean I regretted any of it.

She said …

I listened in frustration and confusion as the phone I held to my ear rang and rang, finally ending in Sid’s voicemail. I hung up without leaving a message. I hadn’t heard from him since the afternoon before. Sighing, I tossed my phone in my bag and, slinging my backpack over my shoulder, headed out the door to the Bible Building. Perhaps I could put my frustration with the Sid situation to good use and actually get some studying done.

I stared at my feet as I walked, as had become my custom. For a fleeting moment, I wondered if Sid was done with me. Perhaps he had had his fun and was finished with me and would never call again. I shook my head. No way. He had promised things would be better—that he would be better, and for some reason I believed him. Sid wasn’t perfect, but neither was I. In fact, I was far from it. Deep down, I felt like I deserved a guy like him. Losing him, whatever he was to me, would only mean further humiliation and pain.

Suddenly, I stopped in my tracks. I had glanced up to see Sid through the window, sitting alone on a couch in the Bible Building. I started walking again, through the door of the building and tentatively over to Sid. He was just sort of staring out the window, looking at nothing in the distance

“Sid?” His head whipped around and suddenly he was on his feet.

“Jess! I … uh … was just leaving.” He began gathering up his books and shoving them haphazardly in his bag.

“Excuse me? What are you talking about? Wait just a sec—“ I reached out to grab his arm, but he was moving too quickly.

He paused a brief moment and looked at me nervously before pushing a wrinkled piece of paper in my hands. “I have to go.” And with that, he turned on his heel and walked anxiously away, glancing around as if he was looking for someone or something.

I stood speechless for a long moment, staring after him. Then I remembered the paper he had shoved in my hands and slid to the couch, attempting to smooth it out on my leg. As I read, my eyes grew wide.

He said …

I plopped down in my usual seat for class. I hated this class. It was hard enough to focus in it on a normal day, let alone when I had a million other things on my mind. Not to mention Sid was actually in this class with me, and we hadn’t seen each other since our talk the day before.

I was about fifteen minutes early, so I opened up my laptop and logged onto Facebook. I was promptly greeted with an IM from Jess.

Jess Rathburn: Alex, what the heck do you think you are doing? I gave you permission to talk with Sid, not to end my relationship with him. You had absolutely no right to do that.

My stomach turned. This probably wasn’t going to be the best way to start off class.

Alex Laird: You trusted me enough to allow me to talk to him. If you would like me to better explain my reasons for what I did, we can talk about them in person. But I’m not talking about this on Facebook.
Jess Rathburn: I trusted you, but you took it too far. What made you think you had the right to do that? He won’t even talk to me.
Alex Laird: I’d rather not talk about this on Facebook.
Jess Rathburn: I do not need you to tell me how to live or how to handle my relationships. You’ve lost the right to be involved. Stay out of it.
Alex Laird: I love you, Jess, but it doesn’t bother me how upset you are at me. I’d rather you be furious with me than to know that you are in a dangerous relationship. You deserve more than that. But, really, I’m not talking about this anymore on Facebook.

I closed the lid of my laptop and stood up. My already waning desire to sit through a class had dissolved into intolerance, so I stuffed my computer in my bag and slung it over my shoulder. Maybe I did overstep my bounds, I thought as I pushed the door open, walking out as the rest of my friends arrived for class. The last thing I wanted was to lose Jess. Should I loosen my grip on her relationship with Sid to preserve my friendship with her? Or should I continue to do what I knew to be right (and what others were telling me to do) and continue pressuring the both of them away from their relationship? I valued my friendship with Jess more than almost any other relationship I had. Ultimately, I knew what I was doing was what she needed, whether she was aware of that right then or not.

Not sure where Jess was, I headed in the opposite direction of her dorm. I thought maybe I could hide in the SSC for a while. But as I entered the SSC, a sharp voice came from across the atrium.

“What is your problem, Alex?” It wasn’t Jess’ voice. I looked around until I found the speaker—it was Faith, a girl from Jess’ unit.

“Excuse me?” I asked, confused as to how she could be talking about the situation I had just come from.

“You think you know what’s best for Jess, but you don’t.” She crossed the room in a frenzy to get in my face. “If she wants to date Sid, let her date him. You have no right interfering with her business.”

“One could say the same to you,” I retorted. “She came to me because she trusted me, and she trusted me enough to let me talk to him. She may not understand why I did what I did right now, but someday she’ll thank me.”

“You know, you don’t know everything,” Faith continued, flailing her arms, getting more in my face. She acted as though she wanted to hit me but didn’t quite have the nerve. “You think that you know him, and you think that you know her, but you don’t!”

“I don’t know him very well, you’re right,” I continued, much more calm than she was. “But I know his kind. And I know Jess better than most. And you clearly do not understand the gravity of the situation.” I put my hand up, separating her from me, and headed back for the door I had just come through. I guess my room is the only safe place on campus, I thought, toning out her shouts from behind me as I left the building.

She said …

After blowing up at Alex, I left to go find Sid. His letter had been vague, and I knew very little about the conversation that had taken place between he and Alex, but considering he wouldn’t come near me, it couldn’t have been pretty.

Alex couldn’t possibly understand. My relationship with Sid wasn’t perfect or wrapped in a nice, shiny bow, especially according to Cedarville’s standards. But somehow in the shame of mistakes I had made in the past and the confusion of how I had been treated by guys before, this dysfunctional relationship seemed normal for me. Maybe it didn’t reflect the idealistic image of how a guy should treat a girl, but to me it seemed silly and naïve to expect something different.

And yet, as the next weeks with Sid passed in much the same manner as the previous ones, Alex’s last words continued to haunt me.

I love you, Jess, but it doesn’t bother me how upset you are at me. I’d rather you be furious with me than to know that you are in a dangerous relationship. You deserve more than that.

You deserve more than that …

As the school year began to wane, I felt my self-esteem doing the same. Sid had grown increasingly distant. He made little effort to see or talk to me, and he treated me more like a possession than a person. I seemed to be constantly on the verge of tears, and I was tired of hanging on to someone who only seemed to notice me when it suited him.

But what was I to do? I had walked myself into this and pushed away someone who meant so much to me—the one person I could always go to with anything. I missed Alex terribly, and the more dismal things grew with Sid, the more I was beginning to think that maybe Alex had been right. It didn’t matter now, though; I was too ashamed to face him, and I didn’t deserve a friend like him anyway. Not after the awful things I had said to him.

It was finals week now, and as abysmal as things were with Sid, I did not want to leave for the summer without knowing where we stood. I only had one exam left to take. It was the next morning, but studying seemed impossible. I called Sid and asked to meet him in the Bible Building to study and talk. I was amazed that he even answered, let alone agreed, but I hurriedly grabbed my books and set off, wondering what I would say to him.

We met up and sat down on a couch in a secluded corner. The whole building was packed with students busily studying, and I didn’t want to cause a scene. After a gruff greeting, Sid sat down and pulled out his laptop, saying nothing else. Not knowing what else to do, I pulled out a book and a highlighter and pretended to read. Finally, I could take it no longer. I put down my highlighter.

“Sid, we need to talk.” Sid glanced at me out of the corner of his eye, but continued typing away on his laptop.

“What?” My confidence shook a little at his obvious lack of interest.

“I … well, I need to know what is going on between us. I’m going home tomorrow, but first I want to know where we stand. I want to know what to expect in the future.” There. I had gotten it out.

“The future?” Sid scoffed. “What do you mean, ‘the future’?” He chuckled a little and kept typing.

“I … I mean … the future. Where is this going?” I was so shocked at his initial response that I wasn’t even sure how to continue. What was he saying?

“Look, there’s something you need to understand.” Sid finally stopped typing and turned to face me, his eyes emotionless. “There’s no ‘future’ here. Yeah, I’m attracted to you. But that’s it. It’s just … physical. That’s all it ever has been.”

I stared back at him. It suddenly felt like all the air had been sucked out of my lungs, like I wasn’t sure if I had heard him correctly, or if I was even awake. Out of nowhere, Alex’s words flashed in my mind again.

You deserve more than that … more than that …

And for the first time, I believed it. What on earth was I still doing here? Why was I allowing myself to be treated like this? Without even thinking about what I was doing, I was suddenly on my feet. I began grabbing my things and shoving them into my bag furiously. Everything around me seemed to slow down, as if I were in a dream. I knew Sid was saying something, but he sounded a million miles away. I didn’t care. I never had to listen to him again.

Hot, angry tears stung my eyes. I couldn’t remember ever feeling more enraged, more used, more disgusted in my entire life. My hands were shaking as I zipped my bag and grabbed it. Not caring if I ever saw Sid again in my life, I stormed away from the couch.

As I marched down the hall and into the main lobby of the building, the angry tears streaming down my face, things suddenly began to come back into focus. I could hear Sid calling my name from behind me; I could hear his quick footsteps catching up. I kept going, not even pausing to glance back.

I felt him catch my arm with his hand. That was it. I swung around and shoved him as hard as I could in the chest, enraged that he had the nerve to follow me or to try and stop me.

“Don’t you touch me!” I yelled. I held up a fist and pointed my finger just inches from his face. “Leave. Me. Alone.”

And with that, I turned and left him standing there, completely appalled. As I continued across the very crowded lobby and out the door, my whole body shaking, I noticed everyone around had fallen deadly silent and was staring at me in disbelief. I didn’t care though—I was finished.

So much for not causing a scene.