Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Beginning of Us

B Daddy swears he met me my freshman year at the University of Georgia. I have no memory of that encounter, but I certainly knew who he was that year from all the stories his girlfriend told me. B Daddy was high school senior in the year 2001 and his older, high school sweetheart and I were fast friends who had met through Bible study at the Wesley Foundation on campus. The entire year we gathered together on Tuesday nights for cell group and she would tell me their stories. About the Hawaiian shirt he insisted on wearing to their senior prom, about the time he made the hours-long round trip drive to campus to take her out in the completely illogical manner of smitten 18 year olds worldwide.

B Daddy followed her to UGA the next year, which is when I remember meeting him for the first time. They came over to my apartment one afternoon to hang out and as she walked out the front steps of my apartment I grabbed her arm and pulled her back to me for a squeeze and a grin that said, "Oh my gosh he really is super cute and way nice!" 

Later that year when I started dating a fellow Wesley-goer, we all got along easily. We went to the same parties and on occasion we double-dated. When their break-up happened my boyfriend got even closer to B Daddy while my sweet friend and I drifted into different circles. It was ugly and sad, in the manner of most break-ups where formerly smitten 20 year olds are involved. I was sad for them. They had been the perfect couple in my outsider's eyes.

Another year went by and in the summer of '03 my Boyfriend invited me to a wedding in Chattanooga. Unbeknownst to me, he decided to turn the obligation into a more masculine endeavor by inviting a Third Wheel (you know him as B Daddy) along for some man-style adventures once the nuptials ended. Before dawn on a midsummer Saturday morning we drove up - my Boyfriend and I in one vehicle, the Third Wheel behind us towing several bikes, a few kayaks and a motley assortment of camping gear. 

We arrived at a little stone church mid-morning and the weekend's events unfolded much like the paper map we used to find our way to Chattanooga. My Boyfriend left us to go congratulate the groom as soon as we arrived, so the Third Wheel and I made awkward small talk in the last row of stiff wooden pews. Post-ceremony I positioned myself well and came up with the bride's bouquet after a minor tussle with a few bridesmaids. (Over the course of my career as a single lady I easily snagged half a dozen bouquets.) And when the cake and punch ran out the three of us went in search of some real sustenance. We stopped at the first Subway we came to and sometime between unwrapping the crisp folds of paper that held my sandwich and backing out of the parking lot, my Boyfriend and I decided we would be better off as friends.

It really was that simple. I couldn't tell you exactly how it went down, but I remember looking past the unopened Baked Lays on the dashboard to the pasture beyond the cracked pavement thinking, well that was cordial

My new ex, B Daddy (still driving separately), and I left Subway and ended up at the Chattanooga Aquarium for the afternoon. Not quite knowing how to bring up the fact that we were now just friends and therefore the Third Wheel wasn't so much of a third wheel anymore, the three of us spent the afternoon wandering through exhibits without our usual comfortable banter.

Driving east along the rural route of US-64 later that day, we ended up searching in the dark for a place to eat near the Ocoee River. With B Daddy still none the wiser as to the recent change in our relationship status, we stopped in desperation at a gas station and foraged for anything resembling a balanced meal.  Loaded up with Combos and Cool Ranch Doritos (with the promise of Honey Buns for breakfast) we arrived at the river and found a makeshift spot to pitch our tent late in the evening. While the ex and I struggled to thread the unwieldy aluminum tent poles through their nylon sheaths, I noticed B Daddy grab my hard-won bouquet from the truck and nestle it firmly between two rocks at the edge of the river.  He saw me watching and shrugged his shoulders as if embarrassed to be caught in the act, "you don't want them to die, right?"

Our little spot didn't allow campfires, so after laying out three sleeping bags and ribbing one another for a few minutes about our lack of planning skills, we were bored. It was too early to go to bed and too late to do much of anything else, but around ten o'clock we found ourselves driving to a rapid known as Hell Hole to watch B Daddy run it in his kayak. This was possible (though frowned upon) thanks to the presence of 24hr emergency lighting at a power station next to that section of river. According to American Whitewater, Hell Hole is, "perhaps the Ocoee's most famous rapid, as it was the site of the 1993 World Rodeo Championships." In hindsight, this was not the wisest choice of twilight entertainment, but being 21 does strange things to your judgment.

We returned to camp after half an hour, played out from the adrenaline brought on by illegal kayaking in the dark. I hunkered down in the tent, trading my wedding guest attire for sweatpants and an old t-shirt. As B Daddy crawled through the semi-circular tent opening, my Ex snaked his hand in, grabbed his sleeping bag and announced he was going to sleep underneath the stars. A bewildered B Daddy and I huddled down in our sleeping bags, as far away from one another as the small tent would allow. It was the first time we'd ever been alone together. 

The next morning we rose at first light and headed for the water. B Daddy was meeting his cousin to run the length of the river and my Ex and I traipsed along the first few sections visible from the road until boredom got the best of us. We decided to head into town to grab lunch while we waited for B Daddy to reemerge downstream.

We ended up at only vegan restaurant in a hundred mile radius, possibly in an attempt to cleanse the Combos and Honey Buns from our system. It was the kind of bumbling meal you'd imagine two kids who've just broken up would have. But I'll never forget the moment when my Ex turned to me and asked, "would you ever date B Daddy?"

"Gosh no!" was my instant (and clearly the only appropriate) response. Internally a different monologue played:  "Date that hot cute kayaking guy? The one who sat through the friend of a friend's wedding with me? The thoughtful one who found a spot in the stream to keep my recently caught bouquet fresh? That would be totally weird and completely awkward. Date the sweet guy who didn't break up with me in a parking lot and then make me share a tent with someone I barely knew out in the cold dark woods? Well huh. I never really thought about that before."

We finished up lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon kayak-watching at the river and biking on old forest service roads. Towards early-evening it was time to head home. My Ex lived a good ways north of the river, and Atlanta was pretty much due south. Without prior discussion, he piped up, "Well I guess it makes the most sense if B Daddy drives you home." My slack-jawed face said it best: Seriously!? You already abandoned me to sleep in a tent alone with this guy and now you're forcing us together in the car for 3 hours?! Yes he's very attractive. But seriously! I hardly know him! What's wrong with you?

All I could manage to get out audibly was, "uh, okay," (Communication was a bit of an issue for us.)

I pulled myself up into the cab of B Daddy's truck and braced for three hours of boredom and floundering conversation on the ride home. This guy may have been sweet, but I knew him well enough to know he wasn't much of a conversationalist.

As the signs along I-75S started directing us toward Atlanta's city limits I realized we hadn't stopped talking or even hit an awkward pause yet.

This hot kayak guy was starting to look like a very interesting prospect...

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