My Short-Lived Life at Being Perfect - Part 3 and The Inspiration for Jim from "My Life as I Knew It"
One character a lot of people ask me about from the My Life as I Knew It series is Jim. In the first book, Brianna runs into Jim for the first time in many years during her first time travel adventure. The two of them briefly dated during their teens then he suddenly disappears from her life with no explanation, breaking her heart. Brianna later finds out the story behind his disappearance which leads her to question many things about her family and the direction she allowed her life to go in after their brief courtship.
In part 3 of my memoir I talk about the person who inspired the character of Jim.
Not long before I began my "career" as a regular pioneer I met Jim. I had heard about him from a few people after I moved into the congregation and much of what I heard was not flattering. Jim's mother attended the JW meetings somewhat regularly but not enough for the fellow members to show her much respect and his father was an unbeliever. Jim rarely ever went to JW meetings and word around the congregation was that he dated non-JW girls which meant he was the last person you ever wanted to associate with...ever!
The first time we briefly met was when he worked at a sporting goods store. The person I was dating at the time, "David," took me to this particular store to buy my first set of ski clothes for my first ski trip. A few days prior, Jim had offered to get him a discount, which for David's sake, was good since I ended up hating skiing and never wore those clothes again. I didn't think much of him other than that he was very cute. (In my books I describe him as looking like a combination of Patrick Swayze and Kurt Russell and I stand by that!) But I was dating David at the time and was consumed with acting as if I was even the slightest bit interested in our upcoming ski trip.
A little less than a year later, after David and I broke up, Jim made a very rare appearance at the Kingdom Hall. He was sitting in the row in front of me but further to the left. I noticed him but didn't say anything. It was the first time I had seen him since the sporting goods store and I assumed he wouldn't recognize me. As it turned out, he did remember me. After the meeting was over he turned around and asked me if I lived near a couple we both knew from the congregation, "Craig and Roseanne."
Craig was a Ministerial Servant who ran a small business out of his house and he took Jim on as a part-time employee. I guess Craig must have "encouraged" him to start attending meetings while they worked together because Jim was sitting with both Craig and his wife, Roseanne.
Anyway, the reason he asked me if I lived near them was because every once in a while he spotted me driving around their neighborhood. Actually, I take that back...my mother was usually driving while I was in the passenger seat. Remember from part one, I was the worst driver in the world and couldn't pass my driving test to save my life? Craig and Roseanne lived in the same community as my aunt and uncle - the ones that my mom was unusually close to - so from time to time, Jim would see us either driving to or from their house while he was working at Craig's. I thought it was a little odd that someone could notice me just driving around like that then pick me out of a crowd the way he did. Then again, I was never the most observant when it came to people. I'm not sure if it has to do with my New York upbringing or what, but I tend not to look directly at people unless I need to speak to them. Something about the person has to really catch my eye in order for me to get a good look at them. If said person is walking a dog they might as well not exist; I'll sure remember what their dog looks like, though!
At the next meeting Jim was in attendance with Craig and Roseanne, again. This time he came up to me and said that he'd heard a lot of nice things about me. What he said after that is a blur. I felt my face turn red and the Kingdom Hall felt as if it was now a thousand degrees. Apparently, he asked Craig and Roseanne about me and I received some good reviews. Remember, I was constantly putting on a good front until the time was right to strike out on my own and not have to attend meetings anymore.
About a week later, Roseanne invited me to their home for dinner one Sunday night, without my parents which was unusual. Jim was at their house along with some others. I was a nervous wreck. I started to like him at this point and even though all signs pointed to him liking me, I was so insecure that I couldn't truly believe it. He was a teaser, too. He would poke fun at me for little things and a couple of times looked over at me then looked away letting out a little laugh. (Remember, we were in our teens at the time and given our background, we were sheltered teens as well.) In hindsight, these were pretty obvious signs of a boy liking a girl but at the time I assumed he was laughing at me and thought I was a geek. I guess in a way I was, wasnt I?
It wasn't until after another visit to Craig and Roseanne's house that I was convinced that Jim was interested. Roseanne invited us over to prepare for the upcoming Watchtower study. Afterward, Jim offered to give me a ride home to which everyone was fine with which is unusual since according to the JW's, unmarried people of the opposite sex should not be alone together. I guessed that Craig and Roseanne trusted that I wouldn't allow anything to happen. Of course, nothing did happen...actually less than nothing happened. When Jim dropped me off his goodbye to me was a handshake. I'm not going to lie, I was hoping he would try to kiss me. In true teenage girl fashion I sat in my room and played over an over in my head what I did wrong to make him not want to kiss me.
About an hour after he dropped me off, the phone rang. The next day I was going to fly out to New York with a girlfriend of mine; it would be the first visit back after having moved to California. I'm the biggest procrastinator when it comes to packing and unpacking, so when Jim and I saw each other earlier that evening he was teasing me for not having packed yet. The first thing I heard when I answered the phone was "are you packed yet?" and I knew who it was. I still hadn't packed and we ended up talking for about two hours.
During our call he admitted to me about how stupid he felt shaking my hand earlier. We laughed about this then shared how we were starting to feel about each other. We also shared how we felt about some of the restrictions the JW religion placed on us. We didn't go into too much detail because, at the end of the day, you really didn't know who you could trust in this organization. There were too many cases of one person confiding in another about committing a sin and the "friend" they confided in ended up, for whatever reason, going to the elders and sharing this information. I didn't yet want to share with him everything I felt about the organization. Even though I knew he wasn't a fan of this religion, I wasn't completely sure how much I could trust him and I'm sure he felt the same about me.
Prior to that phone call, I was seriously looking forward to my long-awaited trip back home to Brooklyn. Now I couldn't wait for it to be over before it even started. I didn't want to have to wait a week to talk to Jim again. This was the late eighties so there was no texting, instant messaging or FaceTime. I was anxious to see him again and I was sure that in time we would be able to open up about everything.
(c) 2016 Brenda Thornlow
Brenda Thornlow was voted one of the 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading for 2015. She is the author of the new fiction series My Life as I Knew It; the short story, The Revolving Door and A Godless Love. Available at Amazon. (Link below)