AOL instant messaging (IM) was the up and coming big "thing" when I was in college. Cell phones were uncommon and so IM was like texting before there ever was texting. One could communicate at all hours of the day with multiple people at a time and it felt more casual and safer than calling them directly.
At some point during my first year at SPU, Graham managed to acquire my IM screen name. He'd pop into my life every now and again via sporadic late-night comments and conversations online. He was random, light-hearted and funny and these interactions really excited my roommate Jackie. Beyond her burning desire to have a double date partner, I think she knew Graham would be a good match for me. She tried on multiple occasions to talk him up to me but I always shrugged her off. He was just a new friend I was getting to know.
Graham was also friends with my sister. When I arrived on campus, they were both beginning their sophomore years. I was technically a sophomore credit-wise too but no one knew that until literally the day we graduated. I entered with 55 college credits to my name, thanks to a program called Running Start that had allowed me to take community college classes and earn credits during high school. On my SPU graduation day, all the seniors who thought they were a year ahead of me saw me in a cap and gown and asked "What are you doing all dressed up?"
"Graduating," I told them. It felt sort of anti-climactic.
But that's jumping ahead. Let's get back to my first year at SPU. Spring time arrived and with it, our dorm's annual formal dance, Hill Hall Ball. The Ball was basically like prom but college-style. A space was rented, a theme chosen and then the asking would begin. Girls waited in great anticipation, yet a 3:1 female to male ratio, mathematically, we knew we wouldn't all land dates.
I held high hopes that one of the pretty boys on campus would suddenly pay me attention and ask me to the Ball but, as the evening of the dance drew near, I resolved to the fact that I was one of the 66% who would be driving to Denny's with all the other date-less girls in pursuit of ice cream sundaes to soothe our wounded souls. So I was taken by complete surprise when a guy I hardly knew asked me to be his date. Unfortunately he wasn't what one would call a popular pretty boy. In fact, he was far, far from it. He was a computer science major and one of those types who didn't emerge from his room very often, passing his spare hours playing video games in his man cave. We'd spoken only a couple of times and the way he looked at me made me feel uncomfortable, not in a creepy way but more in a I-Can-Tell-You-Really-Like-Me-And-I-Don't-Feel-The-Same-At-All sort of way.
He'd come sprinting up behind me, yelling my name as I walked back to my dorm from class. It felt weird and somehow too personal for him to call me "Kelsie." The entire conversation lasted all of 90 seconds; he stumbled over his words awkwardly as he asked me to accompany him to Hill Hall Ball. I was so caught off guard that the word "Sure!" fell out of my mouth before I could stop it. I didn't want to go with him but I was too nice to say no.
I'd only ever turned a guy down once in my life and it hadn't gone so well. From my end, we were really good friends but the almost-weekly love letters and phone calls coming my direction told me he felt otherwise. I was able to maintain our friendship status by always hanging out in groups until eventually he went out on a limb and asked me to his junior prom. An evening of dressing up, dinner and dancing sounded an awful lot like a date to me and I just didn't want to lead him on. I left him hanging through all of youth group that evening before, with a giant knot in my stomach, I worked up the guts to turn him down. Then I proceeded to run into the Dairy Queen restroom to throw up. I felt like such a horrible person for saying no.
Fast forward a few years and here I was again faced with an undesired date invitation. I didn't know what to do so I ran like lightning down to my sister's dorm room, a floor below mine, to tell her what had happened. In a panic, I burst into her room before I realized that she and her roommate already had company. There on one of the beds sat Graham. Whatever conversation that had been taking place stopped and they all looked at me expectantly. I paused only momentarily before deciding to proceed. I was too frazzled to care much about having a male presence there, listening to my story.
The details poured out, uncensored. I told them how this guy had asked me and that it was terrible and that I didn't want to go, concluding with the most horrifying fact of all: that I'd sort of accidentally said yes!!
My audience listened attentively and then gave me their input. I remember Lani's roommate taking the path of optimism, suggesting that maybe I would be pleasantly surprised by the guy and that it might be fun. No, no actually it wouldn't, I insisted. The thought of spending an entire evening trying to make conversation with a practical stranger and then slow dancing with him made me feel ill. I just couldn't. But what was I to do?
Graham, who had been listening quietly, finally piped up with his input. He saw his opportunity and it was now or never.
"Well," he said slowly. "Maybe I could take you instead? Then you could just tell the guy that you already have a date."
He said it so matter-of-factly, a noble gentleman swooping in to save the damsel in distress. How thoughtful of him to give me an out (the sly fox!) I was totally obvious to his motives; his solution seemed like a good one to me, very sympathetic and kind that it was. And so I accepted. Graham was a really nice guy and I'd enjoyed our random IM conversations. I felt comfortable around him and I was grateful for that, even if I wasn't attracted to him romantically. I'm not quite sure how exactly I revoked the first "yes" I'd handed out to the other guy but I did it somehow.
I look back on all this now and I'm impressed that Graham not only worked up the guts to ask me out right then and there without prior forethought but also that he did so in front of my sister! Where I am lacking in courage, this man has plenty to spare.
Graham and I attended the ball with two other couples - Jason and his then girlfriend, and Jackie and Brant. (Jackie finally got her wish to go on a group date with us!!!) I donned my favorite formal dress, the hot pink strapless number with a row of tiny rhinestones across the top that I'd worn for my high school senior prom. It was the girliest princess dress of all dresses and it was only later that I learned that Graham's least favorite color is pink....
(Sidenote: In looking back at these pictures, I LOVE that it was my overalls, the target of so many homeschool jokes between us, that I opted to wear while readying myself for my first date with Graham. So classic.)
On the evening of the ball, the boys picked up the girls, loaded us in a van and proceeded to place blind-folds as they drove all around town, whipping around corners and confusing us as to our whereabouts (in retrospect, maybe we should have been terrified?) I think we were all expecting to dine at a restaurant so we were surprised to realize we were parked in a neighborhood when the blindfolds were finally removed. Little did I know at the time that we were situated in front of the home of my future in-laws!!
Graham had recruited his mom and she prepared a multi-course, salmon dinner for us in the candle-lit living room. I remember laughing a lot that night, squeezed tightly into the seat next to Graham (and into my dress, if we're being honest!!) The formal dance nerves slowly dissipated over dinner with all the fun we were having. Jason jumped and the piano and Graham grabbed a guitar and they performed a couple spontaneous numbers for the rest of us (a tradition that still happens to this day every time these two get together). At one point, Graham even managed to convince me to dust off my aging skills on the keys and we giggled our way through a duet of our own.
Eventually we decided we should probably at least make an appearance at the dance so we bid the Crozier home goodbye and loaded back into the car, this time free from blindfolds. The Ball was held in one of the private event rooms at Quest Field (now Century Link) that year. My nerves bubbled back to the surface as soon as we arrived. I was brought into this world with no rhythm and, to this day, nothing makes me feel more insecure than being out on a dance floor. Graham, on the other hand, is basically Michael Jackson incarnate. With his musical tendencies and natural inclination toward being good at everything he tries, it comes as no surprise that he is an amazing dancer. So of course he drug me out there under the disco ball and tried to get me to at least sway or something. I imagine we were quite the sight! I moved along with him as much as a telephone pole might, stiff as a board and horrendously awkward. I seized every opportunity I could to "go get a drink of water" or to "sit down at our table and take a break."
Eventually the beat of the songs eased and the slow ballads began. I was holding fast to my role as Graham's "just friends" date but he wanted to slow dance and I relented. Nervously, I put my hands on his shoulders. He recalls that my elbows never bent that night, keeping him well at an arm's length and refusing to make eye contact the entire time. Sounds about right!
At the close of the evening, the boys delivered us back to our dorms, exhausted and heads throbbing from too-tightly-styled-and-cemented-in-place hairdos. Jackie and I removed all the bobby pins before we collapsed into our beds and reviewed the events of the evening.
"How was it for you!? Did you like dancing with him?" she asked me enthusiastically.
She was hopeful this evening would mark the starting point of something between Graham and I and my answers were disappointing. I had really enjoyed myself but I held fast to our status as "just friends." She must have sighed deeply that night but she wasn't about to give up.
Nor was Graham, thankfully. As it turned out, Hill Hall Ball was a beginning for us. But I wouldn't recognize it for quite a while longer despite some fairly obvious clues...