Life in a Skinner Box: A Memoir [Chapter 5.6]

Two days later, I met my future husband. I literally bumped into him at the testing center where I took my students’ multiple-choice exams to be graded. Chris was a cute, ripped, brown-haired graduate student in geology. I’d actually met Thim once before at a wine bar with friends and I had commented on his cuteness. My friend had encouraged me to say “hello,” so I did, and we chatted for a few minutes. Chris was soft-spoken, smiled a lot, and had a masculine but docile way about him.

I distinctly remembered returning to my friend after talking to Chris that night and saying, “Why can’t I meet a nice guy like that?”

She looked at me and said, “Um…you just did.”

It seemed a big coincidence to run into him at the testing center. I thought he was flirting with me, but I wondered if he had a girlfriend—not that I was looking for a serious relationship or anything. I was just afraid of looking like an idiot if he did have a girlfriend. So I let the moment pass us by without asking him if he had one or at the very least pursuing his phone number. The next morning I woke up and thought, What the hell? I pulled out a piece of paper from my printer and wrote the following letter:

Dear Chris,

Remember me? It’s Michelle…the girl from the wine bar and the testing center. Well, some friends and I are going to the wine bar again this Friday around five. So, if you’re thinking of going there again, then maybe I’ll see you, and we can talk some more.

Take care, Michelle

I quietly taped the letter on the door outside the geology grad student lab where I knew he worked—then I ran like hell and hoped for the best. But, by 6 p.m. on Friday, I was sitting drunk with my friends at the wine bar, feeling ridiculous, and wishing I’d never written that stupid letter to Chris. I must have freaked him out by putting him on the spot. He probably did already have a girlfriend and now he felt he was going to have to avoid me. I went to get a second bottle of wine and ran into the person Chris was with the first time I’d seen him there.

I put my head down to avoid eye contact as I passed, but the guy loudly said, “Hey, Chris got your note!”

I stopped and turned to respond, but “Shit!” was all that came out of my mouth.

His friend said, “No, he liked it.”

“Yeah right,” I said. “He liked it so much he didn’t show up.”

“Well, he showed me your note and said he was coming. Said he wanted to ‘hit the gym’ first so he’d look all ‘pumped up’ for you.”

Double shit, I thought. I shouldn’t have had so much to drink.

I was buzzing hard. I got the second bottle of wine for us, and when I walked past his friend’s table again, there sat Chris. He waved at me. I motioned for him to follow me and he did. He sat down close next to me and looked questioningly at our empty bottle.

I said, “Yeah. Well, I thought I’d freaked you out with that letter and you weren’t coming.” Clearly, I’m no good at lying, or playing it cool, when I’m drunk.

Chris and I talked for the next hour while my friends chatted with his friends. As we spoke, Chris moved closer and closer to me until I realized I was becoming further intoxicated by the mix of his pheromones and deodorant. Chris’ body heat was unbelievable. He put his hand gently on my knee and it felt like a heating pad soothing a sore muscle.

Chris and his friends walked with me and my friends to a coffee shop. I had to use the bathroom and so did Chris. When we were finished, we collided in the hallway. The next thing I knew, our tongues were down each other’s throats. The kiss was oddly more physically intense than any I’d had, like maybe our pheromones were particularly compatible or something. We ended up making out heavily in my apartment that night. I woke up to Chris gently rubbing my back, which was the most soothing thing I’d ever felt. We spent pretty much every day after that with each other.

I think I fell in love with Chris because of the fact that he didn’t try to fall in love with me. He was simply comforting and I felt physically and psychologically safe with him. I couldn’t find a hidden agenda. He never initiated physical contact, which I appreciated at the time. Chris had a childlike innocence to him; he was really pure of heart and trusting. I never heard him say a disparaging word. He didn’t have strong opinions or issues that fired him up. He didn’t have a need to prove anyone wrong. I’m not sure he even saw the dark side of things. This may have been partly due to the fact that he hadn’t had any serious relationships.

Nothing to jade him against women, I thought.

I learned that Chris’ father had been really hard on him growing up, expecting perfection in school and more so in sports. He’d played soccer and baseball and he swam and boxed. He was a huge fan of Muhammad Ali and had a box full of books and magazines about him, and tapes of his fights. Chris collected NFL paraphernalia and hadn’t missed watching a professional season game that he could remember. He also followed tennis closely, and basketball, mostly the professional league. Almost all of Chris’ childhood experiences involved practicing for, participating in, or watching one sport or another. Chris had been very close with his mother, but she had tragically died of complications from brain cancer a few years before. Chris had never lived on his own and seemed content to let me make all the decisions. I quickly developed an intense desire to nurture him and heal his wounds.

I decided I was going to share EVERYTHING with Chris—good and bad—from my past. I was not going to paint myself in a dishonest light for his acceptance. This level of openness without fear of rejection or judgment was new for me. I felt free to be myself. We existed together without trying to control or change each other. He had the weakest male ego I’d ever seen, next to my dad’s. Chris’ nature was so passive and gentle I was certain Chris would never hurt me. He just didn’t have it in him. I began to have thoughts that perhaps Chris was the masculine-feminine hybrid I’d been searching for. I considered taking our relationship deeper by discussing some kind of commitment, yet something worried me.

A few times, Chris felt too calm, too passive, too neutral, too “okay” letting me make all the decisions. I searched for signs of complexity and passion and tried to find his boundaries. His inner world seemed amorphous to me; I couldn’t get the emotional traction I was seeking. I emoted a lot. He emoted very little, and when he did, it was very subdued, sometimes making me feel a little hysterical by comparison. Sometimes it made me so antsy I felt a compulsion to flee and cut loose.

But I believed these feelings were indicative of my flaws and issues with relationships, so I didn’t take steps to break away. I did decide that I wouldn’t stop enjoying life the way I wanted to, so one night, another famous DJ was coming to the techno club in town and I invited Chris to come with me. I got some more “X” from my friend and explained to Chris that, from what I’d read, there was no evidence that it was neurotoxic in the brain at low levels. He was a little hesitant but came along.

Of course, Chris loved the drug. It’s almost impossible not to. We savored the experience at the club and then returned to my apartment. A lot of emotions came out that night for both of us. We were grateful to each other for the mutual acceptance and we both felt happy and hopeful. Life was beautiful; we bonded on a new level. However, within a few months, our relationship revolved primarily around doing “X,” going to the club, and acquiring and analyzing music together at my apartment. We rarely discussed much else.

There was endless variety and complexity when it came to progressive house and trance music. I’d always been a music lover, and Chris had liked early electronic music from the late eighties. Still, this level of enjoyment in music was new for the both of us. Even sober, we’d become completely engrossed in a new CD, trying to follow the changing bass lines, rhythms, and sampled sounds. We searched for patterns and tried to separate all the elements of a transition from one song to the next.

Chris loved digital sounds and I loved it when a DJ juxtaposed beautiful, ethereal, pleasing sounds with scratchy, distorted, gritty sounds. The tension created from such opposite sounds left me woozy—a bit scrambled up—which was a nice escape for me. I worshipped these DJs and their ability to tap into exactly what my brain craved. They were acoustically mind-fucking me and it was the most intense experience I could imagine. My reward for completing my assignments and studying for my quals became allowing myself to “roll” at the club when a really good DJ came to town, which happened about once a month.

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