My whole life I’ve been looking for a place to belong. For many years I was running; from boyfriend to boyfriend, country to country. I’d throw myself into relationships thinking they would save me. I hurt a lot of people along the way. The year before I met Dennis I was head over heels in love no less than four times. I’d meet someone, experience an electric connection, convince myself that this was “it”… And then completely forget about the guy the moment something else caught my attention. What I didn’t understand was that I was actually keeping my heart at a distance, never truly opening up to anyone at all.
Then I met Dennis. Or, actually, my dad met Dennis. We walked into a surf shop and the moment I laid eyes on him I felt like I was hit by a brick. I couldn’t talk. Something about his presence made me completely unable to act cool. He said hi and I answered with “heherumpf” and felt my face turn red. He ended up talking to my dad. A lot. At one point my dad turned to me and said “weren’t you looking for a surf instructor Rachel? I’m sure this guy can take you!” Dennis scribbled his number down on a piece of paper and handed it to me. “Sure! Call me if you want to go surfing. I’d love to take you”
“Th-thanks”, I said, feeling mortified. Where was my normal, breezy self? I couldn’t even string two words together! After what felt like an eternity we finally left the store. Dennis smiled at me as I walked out but I couldn’t even look at him. What was happening to me??
“You have the WORST taste in men”, my dad told me as we were crossing the street outside. “Just look at that guy in there! Humble, straight-forward, good looking. You could tell right away; that’s a great guy. And you didn’t even give him the time of day! Instead you date these douchebags all the time. I hope one day you’ll see the value in a guy that has both feet on the ground.”
My dad didn’t know the reason I didn’t talk to him was because I was physically unable to. Every cell in my body was screaming at me to call him. I didn’t. Instead, I crumbled the note up and threw it away.
Whoever this guy was I wasn’t ready for him. Or, that’s what I told myself…
A week passed and every single day I’d wake up thinking about this guy I’d barely even spoke to. My dad had left for Colombia and I was alone with my little sister Emelie for a few days. I finally mustered up the courage to go back to the store. “Hey, let’s go back to that super fun surf shop we went to last week!” I told her. “What? Why? That sounds boring. I don’t want to.” she said, stubbornly. At 9 years old it was hard to get her out of the pool for more than five minutes at a time. “I saw an ice cream shop in that same street! If we go, I’ll get you some ice cream. Ok?” (yes, I was totally bribing her)🙈
An hour later we were in a taxi, heading for downtown. For some reason I felt like I was on the cusp of doing something big, and it terrified me. So I made a wager with the universe. “If there is any reason to why this is not meant to be, give me a sign and I’ll trust that”. I looked up at the sky and felt, yes, if this was not meant to be, the universe would give me a sign. We arrived downtown and found… Everything closed. Absolutely everything. It was Sunday, and I didn’t know it then but on Sundays all of Aruba shuts down. Even the ice cream shop was closed! We turned around and went back to the hotel. “Actually, I don’t think this was a sign”, I told myself in the car. “No. That wasn’t a sign. The island is just closed!! I can try again tomorrow!”
The next day I had to convince my sister to try again. “Why do you want to go to that stupid store so badly?? It’s so BORING!” “If you come with me we’ll get ice cream… AND you can have some candy later” (I’m the worst). A little while later we were in another cab, heading downtown again. “Ok. THIS time I’m serious” I wagered with the universe – again. “If for some reason this isn’t meant to be give me another sign and this time, I’ll take it seriously.”
We got to the store… And Dennis wasn’t there. “Still not a sign!!” I told myself. “He’s just not here. That’s totally radndom!” But, five of his best buddies and co-workers were, and they immediately put me on the spot. “You never called Dennis!” one of them exclaimed. “He really thought you would call but you didn’t. How come? “
I thought I was going to die from embarrassment. They had clearly been talking about me during the week and now here I was, back in the shop with my 9-year old sister, trying to act casual even though I clearly wasn’t. Five surf dudes were staring at me. “He’s not here, by the way. He’s in the office upstairs. If you’re wondering”. “Oh that’s fine, we’re just shopping a little!” I said. So we did. I lingered in the store for as long as I could, looking at things I wasn’t interested in at all, pretending to need all sorts of stuff I didn’t need. Finally Dennis appeared. “Oh, hey” he said. “You came back”. “Yes” I said. “I needed… Ehm, board shorts”. “No you DO NOT!” my sister exclaimed. “You already have board shorts! Like, a ton of them!” I gave her a look that I hoped said “if you don’t shut the hell up you’re not getting any ice cream EVER AGAIN” and thankfully, she did. “Alright, well, I’m here if you need me” Dennis said, and stepped behind the counter.
“That’s it??” I thought. He’s not going to talk to me? Or ask me out? Or say anything else? I have to do the talking? He told me later he felt a little hurt that I hadn’t called him, because he really thought I would (“we had a connection!”), and that it was clear I was used to getting my way too easily. He wanted me to work for it.
I couldn’t believe it. Why was the universe making me work so hard to see this guy? I was on a random Caribbean island that I’d probably never return to – why did it feel like such a huge deal to see this guy? Normally I wouldn’t feel so shy but I was overcome with awkwardness (again!), plus, there were five guys there, just staring at me! I lingered for as long as I could but finally thought, ok, this is too much. I can’t do it. I gave up, paid for our things and left.
As I was walking across the open-air mall, I felt someone looking at me. I turn around and there is Dennis, hanging on to the doorframe of the shop, leaning out into the mall, watching me walk away. I flashed him a huge smile (a pretty obvious one!)… and kept walking. I’d promised my sister we’d get something to eat so we sat down at a restaurant. Suddenly, Dennis appeared. Now he was the one who was nervous.
“Hey! I don’t know if you’re busy… Maybe you are… But I’m off in 20 minutes and was going to go check out the waves. Wanna come?” he asked. “Surf? Me? Yes! Sure! Definitely!” I said, too excited to contain myself. “Unless you’re just sitting down to eat?” he said. “Eat? Us? No, noooo… Not at all. We’re not eating! Let’s go surf” I said – at the exact moment that the waiter handed us a set of menus. “What do you mean we’re not eating? I’m STARVING!!!!” my sister said. “You said we were going to eat here!!” Oh god. Dennis started smiling.
“Emelie” I said, “Just. Be. Quiet. I’ll take you to the hotel – dad should be back by now – and I’ll get you all the ice cream and candy that you want. AND you can watch a movie in the room. AND I’ll owe you. Forever. Come one. Please just be cool!!” I told her under my breath, in Swedish. “OMG wait- you like this guy!!! Now I get it!”.
She was nine, but she wasn’t stupid. “Ok. Fine. But don’t forget about my ice cream”.