Friday, April 8, 2011

The Ascent

Fast forward to January 2008. I (Kim) was planning to be in India for an internship to finish up my MSW (Masters in Social Work). Due to my struggle with depression in the Fall of 2007 and poor health, I made the tough decision to stay in Boston where my doctors were for my final semester/internship of grad school. But besides the free health care, delaying my work in India had another upside…

Ben had been commuting to Boston from San Francisco many times for work as he was managing a team in his company’s office* over there. Outside of work, however, he didn’t really have a social life since his co-workers all had to get home to families. A mutual friend, the lovely Lisa Norlander, suggested that Ben give me a call the next time he was out there (She was aware that I was in need of a night out! And she figured it’d be nice for Ben to know someone around his age in the area). Sure enough, Ben called a few days later to let me know he’d be on the East Coast (“I don’t know if you remember me, but…”).

We agreed to meet up for a chill evening. I was to plan it. In my mind, this meant pizza and a video at my place, just to get re-acquainted. But before I even got around to suggesting that, Ben amazed me when he called the day before to let me know that he’d gotten us tickets to the hilarious Monty Python show “Spam-a-lot” and made reservations at what turned out to be the fanciest meal I had ever had at that point! I was floored. THIS was a casual, laid back evening?? Woah. (Note from Ben: Anything that requires just a day of planning is pretty casual in my book!)

It was surprising how easy conversation came to us, and we ended up closing down the restaurant (we’d watched the show first). This was NOT a date, mind you. Trust me. If it had been, I would not be here typing this story today-that first evening, Ben let me talk all about everything one should NEVER talk about on a first date: mental health, past love scars, etc. You know, happy stuff.

Luckily for me, neither of us thought of this as a date, AND little did I know until years later that Ben had been trying an experiment with me (ha, ha, that sounds horrible!): before coming, knowing a little about my struggles, he had made a conscious decision that he was going to show someone he barely knew love. Not the romantic kind, but just the kind a hurting person might need.

During that visit, he invited me to attend his company’s Boston office holiday party the following night. He was taken aback that I was willing to sit through an evening with a bunch of strangers making small talk while I was thinking, as a broke graduate student, “Sweet! Free dinner AND a chance to dress up! I am so in!”

What struck me most about our second evening together was how comfortable I felt with Ben right away. Like we were old (well, old and CLOSE) friends. After the dinner (more on that later), we ended up hanging out and talking until 6 AM the following morning. This time, it was HIS turn to share all the stuff you don’t share on a date, but since we still weren’t on a date, it was ok! He talked all the way up until he had to leave for the airport to catch his flight back to San Francisco. We texted until the moment his plane took off. And then I went to sleep.

Before wrapping up this story, there was one more very important detail about the holiday party that needs to be mentioned. During dinner, I had been talking to a co-worker of his, who happened to be from Scotland, about what life was like here in the U.S. and how he and his wife kept their cultural traditions alive for their kids. His wife pointed out that they celebrate “Robert Burns’ (a famous Scottish poet) Day” every year with a party, where they serve their friends traditional Scottish food and teach them Scottish folk dances. Ben’s co-worker even wears his formal kilt. Alas, being from the San Francisco office, they would have to postpone their party that year because the San Francisco office was having its holiday party on “Robert Burns’ Day,” which happened to be the following Friday.

I suggested that he should wear his kilt to the office party, and his wife agreed and then suggested that I come to see it for myself. I laughed this off, reminding her that while I was from the Bay Area, I lived in Boston. Ben had joined the conversation at this point and flippantly said, “Yeah, why DON’T you come?” Again, I laughed it off as a mere joke.

But by then, the joke was gaining momentum. Another of Ben's co-workers joined in the banter and decided that if Ben could get me to come to the party in San Francisco that next Friday, ALL of the company executives would wear kilts. This became the on-going joke throughout the rest of that holiday party. At least, I thought it was a joke until after the party when Ben simply quipped, without any of his colleagues around, "So, are you coming to San Francisco next week, or what?"

To be continued…

*A fun tidbit: one of the three previous times we had hung out before January of 2008 was while I was in Boston checking out Boston College and considering applying. Ben happened to be there that weekend to identify a location for his company’s future Boston office. A group of us had gone to dinner in the North End, Boston’s “Little Italy.”

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