This past Christmas, I left Tampa at 6 in the morning and drove up to Tallahassee to make my 11 o clock shift at Buca di Beppo. I not only had to work on Christmas Day, but I also had to spend it for the first time in my life away from my family. I worked ten hours that day and at one point, I had to drive twenty minutes to make a delivery, only to arrive at the man’s door and him tell me he didn’t want the food anymore. He wouldn’t even take it. Drove for nothing. Best Christmas ever.
It wasn’t all bad though, and I didn’t spend the holiday completely alone. Besides my coworkers, another friend was also stuck in Tallahassee working. Her name was Stephanie Walker and long before I became the Mat Hooper of Tallahassee, I was the Matt (with two T’s) Hooper of little ole Seffner, Florida and Steph thought it be a good idea to be my friend. A decision I’m sure she regrets way more often than never. We met up when we got off and exchanged small gifts. I gave her an Alice in Wonderland book because I knew she liked reading. She gave me a blank journal because she knew I liked writing and I told her a couple days before at Barnes and Nobles, “Hey. We should totally exchange gifts for Christmas since we’ll both be in Tallahassee. You should also get me a journal.” I pointed out the type I wanted and everything at the bookstore. As always, she delivered.
I was so happy with her gift that I told her that I was going to write her a blog post one day. A month later she not-so-subtly reminded me…
Well, just as the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland was late, I’m a little late too. Four months after Christmas and three months after her reminder, here it is!
Her and Her Squid
Back in high school, a classmate of ours posed Stephanie with one of those classic either/or questions of, “If you and Hooper were the last two people on Earth, would you have sex with him or a giant squid?” Aggressive. No context cause there was none. Completely random. I had known Stephanie for all of two weeks at this point, and we may had shared one conversation, but I was a pretty good-looking dude, a football player, pretty popular. The rest of the class and I leaned in for her answer. I wondered if she was going to say, “Definitely Hooper” or “Definitely Matt.”
Without even looking at me or blinking, she said, “The giant squid.” The whole class started laughing.
Never in my life had I been so humbled… I wasn’t even trying (like truly-trying) to have sex with anyone yet. It was still a mythical holy grail to me, and something I lied about having to make myself seem cool. Yet, here was this random girl, denying me it in a hypothetical scenario, a scenario in which the human race depended on the act. A simple, “Ehhh… I guess if we’re the last two people on earth…” would have done wonders to my confidence. May had allowed me to peak much earlier than junior year of college. But no. She said, “the giant squid” and said it with such conviction that I lost my breath at that moment and postponed my peak for at least a year.
After gathering myself, I said to her, “I don’t think you’re thinking clearly. We’d have to.”
She didn’t even look at me. She just said, “No way.”
No way. At that moment I thought no way could me and her ever be friends. No way did I want anything to do with her. No way did I want such an ego-crushing person in my life. No way. No way. No way.
I never had a choice though. I don’t even know how it happened. Maybe it was our on-screen chemistry on our high school’s afternoon TV show. Maybe it was a never-ending quest for me to prove to her that her giant squid choice was the wrong one. But for whatever reason, we became friends, then close friends, then the best of friends.
You know the ones. Those weird platonic boy-girl bestfriends that everyone asks, “Are they dating?” Steph would get so mad whenever someone would ask her like she was insulted by the assumption. Like I wasn’t the coolest kid in high school. Crazy right?
But we kept it casual. We kept it cool. We saw other people and then went to eachother for advice. We had Pretty Little Liars marathons because that show was cool back then and we had to figure out who A was. Sporting events, high school parties, karaoke at Tres Amigos. We were inseparable and we even participated in those “LMS” Facebook posts of the early 2010’s. The stuff we wrote is high key embarrassing, so here’s a couple of mine to save her the embarrassment.
Let the record show that she wrote posts on my wall equal in length and corniness. We didn’t care though. By the end of my senior year, she even admitted to choosing me over the giant squid in my year book… :,)
All I ever wanted! Mission accomplished! She was unequivocally my best friend. One I bragged about having. And one I wanted to cherish forever. When I thought about us, I thought, “If we can survive Armwood High, we can survive anything!” But our next chapter would put that to the ultimate test.
My time in Tallahassee had many highlights. I met many great people and formed friendships that I hope to keep for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, whether it was my constant thirst for more friendships or this growing narcissism (that I’m still kind of low key dealing with… it’s not like I’m throwing “Hooper” in all my titles because of my humility), my older friendships suffered, and none worse than that with Stephanie.
Being a year younger, she joined me at Florida State my sophomore year. We were still dressing up in tandem Halloween costumes, traveling to different cities like Dallas, Pasadena, and New York during our college years; but she was able to watch first hand me change from the high school boy who posted sweet-nothings on her Facebook wall into the guy who chose an IM flag football game over her 21st birthday. And if you think that doesn’t sound too bad, then just know that example is one of many many many I could use to show the friendship-neglecting I took part in. I’m not even sure I have the writing skillsset yet to touch the others.
But I want to keep this positive. So no, I don’t only bring this up to say I grew into someone that joins a frat and then neglects their high school friends (that description is cutting me some slack anyways). No, I bring it up to point out the beautiful soul and giving heart that is Stephanie Walker’s. Despite all my faults, my ego, my narcissism, my selfishness, my sins, my recklessness, my carelessness, and everything else that she was able to witness firsthand (and not just through an in-depth analysis of my snapchat stories); she remained patient with me. She forgave me time and again (often following long text messages I sent her asking her to… and by long I mean “this blog post length” long). She was selfless through it all, and that combined with her other traits have been some of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received… that and the journal she gave me.
Speaking of Which
I love the journal Steph gave me. I use it to track my thoughts and practice my visual-writing. It symbolizes my writing dreams and aspirations and her giving it to me symbolizes her belief in them. Fitting, as she’s the one I send many of my blog posts to overlook before I post them. (Didn’t send this one though. Had to write this one with no editor.)
The thing is I’ve met many people in my life. Many come and go, and I hate to come off cold, but I’m very indifferent about many of these coming and goings. However, any small stretch of my life (usually topping around three weeks) without Stephanie usually ends in a massive epiphany of how much I need her. When I make horrible decisions, I run to her to feel like I’m still a good person. When I doubt my writing abilities, I’m uplifted when I get a random text from her saying, “Nice blog post.” And when my ego gets way too big and no one can humble me, she’s the one to tell me that she’d pick a giant squid over me if we were the last two people on earth.
I put a lot on her shoulders, so I’m happy to spend so many words talking about what she means to me. I could go on forever, and she knows it, but I’ll end this in the vain of the old Facebook posts I use to write on her wall, with the thing that sparked this promise of a post in the first place, a journal entry for her…
Steph! I hope you’re still reading this! Hope it hasn’t been too boring! If it has, don’t worry this is the final part! Anywaysss, I said a lot up there, so I’ll use this to wrap things up. First, you made it! You’re graduating! Congrats on that! That’s awesome! Your future is so bright and I just imagine that flowers are just going to grow wherever you go next. Jacksonville? Well that city is getting quite the catch next Fall! Second, we made it! We’ve both survived college! And by the looks of it (as of April 29th), our friendship is still in tact. I can’t say I saw any of this coming in high school, but I couldn’t be happier that we’ve remained so close. At the end of high school I said, “If we can survive Armwood High, we can survive anything!” Well…. I can gladly say now that, “If we can survive FSU, we can survive anything!” So, here’s to us survivors! Here’s to our future! Here’s to us eventually being the last two people on Earth and me pushing you towards the giant squid because to be honest, I could never deserve you! I’m just blessed to be in your life. Love you and can’t wait to see what the future has in store for us! 🙂