I can hardly believe it's been just over 3 months since Eric has passed away. I took a break from writing because just getting through one day seemed like a monumental feat. The closest analogy to describing what my early-day grief felt like is that I felt like a patient in a burn unit. Each and every morning felt like they were taking off the bandages and going through the agony of debridement. It's a pain I wouldn't wish upon anyone.
We held a really loving memorial for Eric about a month after he passed. I was touched that all of his suite mates from college made it to the gathering.
Since I had transferred
into the Claremont Colleges my junior year, I was not familiar with the reputation Eric had around campus. The two words that came up time and again were brilliant and intimidating. I kinda figured that Eric had to be pretty smart if he was going to Harvey Mudd College. It's elite, expensive as fuck, notoriously rigorous, and difficult to get into. What I didn't know is that he was regarded as one of the smartest smarties amongst the smarties. His brilliance was well known, and back then, I think he was well aware of this and took himself pretty seriously. Don't get me wrong. I took myself pretty darn seriously back then as well. I was the most fit I had ever been, was going to a great college with my best friend, had a killer wardrobe, and came from a wealthy family.
What I learned is that Eric's brilliance made him quite intimidating to others. Intimidating in a very uncomfortable way. I've since heard stories that if Eric thought you said something blatantly obvious or stupid, he would just stare at you. The fucker wouldn't even waste time communicating with you (as if he couldn't be bothered with you). I don't know about you, but that makes me laugh out loud.
20 some odd years later, I understood what his friends were saying. I was coming off a bad migraine so my thinking was a bit fuzzy. I asked him a simple multiplication question and he turned to me, smiling, and said "I refuse to answer that question on principal". He even threw in a nice finger wagging to make sure his point hit home. I admit that I totally laughed because it was pretty ridiculous. I never did get the answer from him.
Because he was intimidating, he kept to a pretty small circle of friends. Knowing what I know now, I don't think he had a ton of offers to just hang out. I also don't think he had many women approach him romantically. It's funny, but I distinctly remember that, after we had been dating awhile, at least 2 women confiding in me that they had always had a huge crush on him. I was not the least surprised, but he sure was when I told him. He rolled his eyes and said "...why did I never know about this stuff?!" I didn't have an answer for him at the time. Now I understand that many people found him unapproachable. Which makes how we met all the more amusing.
I had already seen him around campus and thought he was incredibly, ridiculously good looking. So when I saw that he was about to walk by me at a party, I put my hand on his forearm and said "Come talk with me!" During that conversation we discovered that he not only had heard of the town (Winnetka) I was from outside of Chicago, but that his uncle owned a clothing store there, too. We talked about how I just transferred to Scripps, and got to find out that not all Harvey Mudders held Scripps women (it's a women's college) in high regard. We talked for about 15 minutes and I admit that I thought he was one of the most boring people I had ever met. I told him I was going to get some popcorn and asked if he wanted some as well. Well, I never made it back to him. I got the popcorn and proceeded to flirt with some other guy who made it pretty clear that he was not the least bit interested in me. Obviously, by this time, Eric had left the party. I didn't give it another thought until I saw him a few days later in the cafeteria. He shouted out "Hey Winnetka, where's my popcorn?!" Pretty embarrassing, right. He then walked up to where I was in the line and just said hi and that he had waited for me, but decided to leave when it looked like I wasn't coming back. Color me super impressed that he remembered what we talked about, and to be honest, it was endearing to me that he called me out for ditching him. I thought that maybe I had made too rash a decision, so I was going to try to make it right.
That night I went to the store to buy some popcorn and, since I already knew where he lived, I put my big girl panties on and decided to take it over to him. Thank god he was home! He gave me a huge smile when I walked in the door. I told him I had gotten "side-tracked" and offered him the popcorn. He accepted the popcorn, we ended up talking a bit more, I wrote my phone number on his bunk bed, and we had been together ever since. What I found out is that he was nervous the night I had approached him at the party and he didn't really know what to say.
I also found out that meeting me made for a pretty indelible line between his "before Catherine" and "after Catherine" behavior. It overwhelmed me and touched my heart to hear that, before me, Eric had never really brought women around the suite before. He for certain never, ever expressed public displays of affection with anyone, nor did he ever spend the night at someone else's room on a very regular schedule. I do have a distinct memory thinking he must like me quite a lot when he went to three different vending machines just to bring me my usual diet coke. It's those types of things that his suite mates would never have dreamed he would do for someone. It also didn't occur to me that this behavior was anything out of the ordinary. After all, one of the things that I was so attracted to was how consistent he was with his actions around me. He never treated me as if we didn't know each other when we were around his friends, he never hesitated to hold my hand or kiss me goodbye. His friends said that meeting me made Eric a better person, and I will always, always hold that dear to my heart.
Looking back now, it makes for a pretty memorable "how did you meet" story. I've already talked about how I possibly would not have pursued him if I had known how smart he was. But if I had known the two most dominant words used when describing him were brilliant and intimating....well, let's just say that sometimes ignorance can be bliss.