When I was a junior and an RA at Baylor one of the freshman in my dorm brought me a notepad with this on the cover. She was one of those freshman (among thousands) who had become a bit obsessive about the need for a boyfriend. This was one conversation I was never good at, considering a). I’d never had a boyfriend and, b). I didn’t particularly want one. It wasn’t that I was against the institution of exclusive dating. In fact, in the big scheme of things, it likely would have been an easier route than the one I ended up taking. It was just that what I wanted, what I believed I deserved, well, I hadn’t found him yet.
This little impromptu gift was the result of a conversation that had gone, to my memory, something like this: “Claire, you’re pretty and cool, and everyone likes you. Why don’t you have a boyfriend?” My response went something like, “I’m maybe not quite as cool as you think I am – but thanks – and uh, “the one” –for me– as far as I can tell, he doesn’t exist. Or if he does, he sure as hell doesn’t go to Baylor. Besides, it’s so much easier to keep the potentially good ones at a distance. They always end up disappointing me the minute I find out they aren’t what I’ve created them to be in my mind.”
What I didn’t say was, “Good question. I’ve been thinking and wondering the exact same thing.”
I used to joke that my only standards for a man were that he needed to be older and taller. Older wasn’t as difficult as taller, which effectively ruled out over half the underclassman at Baylor. (And Texas boasts of all things big. Hah.) The real truth was, while I was open to dating almost anyone, I wasn’t about to close that door called “There’s possibly something better than this,” on something that I knew just wasn’t It. In my early 20’s, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, but I knew I had not found it yet. And this didn’t worry me. Marriage, as far as I was concerned, was a long way away.
So when this little notepad found its way into my hands that day, it not only became the ideal title for my first book, but my new battle cry, buzz word, and point-of-reference for reasons things weren’t working out with one guy, or why I was not trying to get things going with another. “Oh yeah, well, he was just an imaginary man anyway,” or “Oh no, I’d never go out with him. He makes a much better imaginary man.”
There were many boys at Baylor who I simply liked to covet from afar. These, I didn’t even want to meet. I knew if I ever actually met one of them I would only end up disappointed. It was far better to just keep their cute faces with their perfect personalities inside my head.
One imaginary man I can remember fairly clearly was the very first boy listed on my freshman “Crush List.” I called him Johnny Angel (for obvious reasons) and I’m fairly certain everyone who had ever spoken to me and also regularly ate a meal in the Penland Dining Hall knew who he was, my pet name for him, and the reasons behind my covetousness from afar. I must have talked about him pretty often because I had random “Johnny Angel” sightings reported to me on a semi-regular and somewhat disturbing basis. I laid eyes on Johnny Angel for the first time on the very first day I was on campus for Welcome Week. I maybe even talked to him (as he was one of the small group leaders assigned to teach freshman everything we needed to know about college life) but I’ve since blocked that conversation out. The two things I remember best about him were his immaculate complexion and hair. He was definitely taller than me. The jury’s still out on whether he actually outweighed me at that time.
Once Welcome Week was over and real life began, I continued to see him around campus (usually in the dining hall) a few days a week. I would often blush if we made eye contact (an epidemic from which I had previously never suffered in my life) and I’m pretty sure I dreamed about him from time to time. I could not actually tell you his name right now. Either I never knew it or I don’t remember it.
Anyway, sometime during my junior year I started meeting my friend Clinton Pickens every Tuesday and Thursday for lunch in the upper classman dorm across campus. Mind you, at this point I’m an RA in the same freshman dorm I always lived in. It was very difficult for me to eat lunch in this mostly “Greek” dining hall, I might add. I was definitely out of my comfort zone. Somehow, Clinton Pickens and our Tuesday/Thursday ritual of leaving lunch to spend the rest of the afternoon playing video games on the futon in his apartment, gave me just the courage I needed to get through the somewhat political social scene and certainly more than my fair share of really annoying beautiful-people-flirtation observances.
We pretty much always sat at the same table and the routine went something like this: come in and drop off book bags. Head into the food area, separate, fill up tray with food. Drop food off at table to navigate drinks with empty hands. Re-muster at table, see what food he had that looked better than mine, trade a few bites or steal a whole plate, eat, get dessert, and walk to his place. So one day, after getting my food but before getting my drinks, I happen to notice Johnny Angel has planted himself at my table. I’m freaking out. I’m immediately second guessing my decision on the BBQ chicken and wishing I hadn’t had some teaching practicum earlier that morning forcing me to dress like an elementary school teacher (or an off duty nun). I’m probably wishing I even owned a single pair of tight pants. So as I’m hyperventilating near the milk machine, planning what in the world I’m going to do and say (and to be sure, waiting until Clinton Pickens sits down so I’m not left alone with Johnny Angel) I’m actually thinking, “This is a dream come true! How in the world did he get him to sit with us?!”
I finally go back to the table. Johnny Angel and Clinton are talking like old friends. He looks up, once and very briefly, when Clinton suddenly remembers, “Oh yeah, hey, you know Claire Paulus don’t you?” To this, Johnny Angel mumbles, “Uh yeah, Welcome Week…” and then proceeds to completely ignore me for the rest of lunch. I’m not thinking, “Welcome Week 3 years ago, buddy. I’m not still a freshman here. And I may not be in a sorority, but I’m more than a little bit cooler and probably quite a profound amount hotter than my once freshman self. You don’t know what you’re missing.” I do remember thinking however, “Your skin is not quite as flawless as it looks with all the clouds and heavenly light beaming on you from a distance…and your voice seems a little higher than it sounds in my dreams…and, God…I think you actually might be skinnier than me.” I hope I resisted the urge to actually touch him, but at this point, it wouldn’t have mattered. It was over. Johnny Angel was suddenly just another ordinary college BOY, who had little more to offer than the rest of the disappointments I’d already experienced.
I cannot be certain, but the conversation must have come up between Clinton and me later that day and this might have been exclaimed within: “Oh my gosh. THAT was Johnny Angel?! I totally forgot. Oh that’s funny. You’ve been peeing your pants for like the last 2 hours haven’t you? I wish I had realized it earlier. That might have been more fun.” Thanks Clinton. I should mention here that Clinton Pickens is not an imaginary man. He was and still is exactly what I always wanted him to be, which is red-headed, funny, and mostly awesome in every way. Ask him why we never dated. (My answer is that he never asked. But I tend to suspect that we both knew it would be far too much humor/obnoxiousness for anyone to handle. It may have resulted in everyone hating both of us, and in turn, us hating each other. Or, perhaps I was for him what most guys were for me. Both of us, in short, were probably keeping our options open.)
It turns out, when I searched for this very Anne Taintor picture, there are many women blogging under this title (so much for originality). Apparently I was not the only one in the world afflicted by the disease. Too bad none of them went to Baylor. I could have created a club for us. As it is, maybe they’ll all buy the book.