When I first met Jillian, I had a stormtrooper on my head.
Not a literal stormtrooper. That would just be silly. No, this was back when Islands of Adventure was under construction and anybody on site had to wear a hard-hat. They handed me this plain white thing and my first thought was, “I am totally drawing a stormtrooper on this.” Plenty of other people had decorated their hard hats, why shouldn’t I? So I grabbed a Sharpie and drew a pretty passable representation of the worst shot in the Star Wars universe on it. And one night this girl I’d never met before saw it and said, “TK-421, why aren’t you at your post?”
As if I wasn’t going to talk to her after that.
That was fifteen years and a couple of attempts at a relationship ago. We could just never seem to get the timing right, or get on the same wavelength, so we’d be together for a while, then it would lose steam. She moved out-of-state, then eventually back but way up north in the Panhandle. We did keep in touch, mostly online through occasional Facebook messages. I didn’t have any ill will towards her; I just chalked it up as one of those things that simply didn’t work out, no hard feelings, life goes on.
And my life did go on, right through all the spectacular drama I chronicled here over the last few years. Jillian and I had still maintained contact, but always the innocuous comment on a Facebook post or the silent Like given. Nothing that ever gave me any indication she might still be interested. Or that I might still be.
Until late spring last year when she was coming down for the Expedition Everest race at Walt Disney World, and before I’d even realized what I was doing, I asked if she wanted to meet up for lunch. Which it turns out she did.
I had no expectations. Why should I? This was just two people who’d known each other for a long time but hadn’t seen each other in a while catching up over fried food and beer. Happens all the time, right? But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t this curious little tingle at the back of my mind.
Right away when I saw her I could tell there was something different about her. She looked older, but not in a purely chronological, physical way. It was a bearing, the attitude of having experienced things and become the wiser for it. She still had that girlish enthusiasm that enabled her to lob a Star Wars quote at me with ease, but there was also a down-to-earth side that knew what she wanted to do and was taking steps to do it. And she still looked great, which didn’t hurt either.
But even after that, I still had no idea this might be the beginning — or more like the resumption — of something. Yes, there was an awkward hug as we parted that made me wonder if maybe she’d expected something more, but I paid it no mind. It had been good to see her, and I wasn’t going to sully it by trying to analyze it to death.
After that though, the conversations picked up in frequency. A lot. And it became pretty apparent that something was going on here, and that it was mutual … and I did nothing. I told myself it hadn’t worked out before. I told myself I didn’t want to do the long distance thing. I told myself I was probably misinterpreting enthusiastic friendship for something more. I told myself everything but the most obvious conclusion.
Good thing she was so persistent. She’d made plans to visit Walt Disney World again, and since I had an annual pass, it was suggested we meet up for a day at Star Wars Weekends. And hey, why don’t we try to go on the new Mine Train ride one night? Oh, you’re going to EPCOT on Friday, I can probably meet you after work. What started as maybe a few hours in one park turned into four days at all of them, and all room for misinterpretation was firmly removed.
That was a little over seven months ago. I can’t say it’s always been easy, what with her being 360 miles away. A lot of the things I got used to in my relationships — and maybe even took for granted — are more infrequent, but then also much more appreciated. And it’s made me a lot less selfish about things. She had a life and plans up there before I came back into her life; far be it from me to demand she toss all that just for my sake. Besides, thanks to modern technology, those 360 miles can feel awfully close. She does plan on moving down here, once she’s done with her degree. And of course I can’t wait for that. But I totally can.
So that’s how I spent my summer vacation: getting another chance I never even knew I wanted. And I didn’t have to put a stormtrooper on my head this time to get it.