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Interview with Ursula Nordstrom, A Character in "Love At Absolute Zero"

After finishing Love At Absolute Zero, I fell in love with Ursula Nordstrom. I wanted to meet her and have a conversation to find out how she really felt during all the twists and turns in the story. Christopher Meeks was kind enough to give me that opportunity. I hope you enjoy learning more about Ursula.



Shannan: Tell us about your memories of Gunnar from school.  Was he a friend?  Did you know him well?  Do you wish you had known him better then?

Ursula: I knew Gunnar from elementary school, sixth grade with Mr. Prahoda. That year the school was experimenting with having sixth graders change teachers-and-classes four times a day, but we were the control group and had Mr. Prahoda all day long. That  was great because Mr. Prahoda was such a funny teacher, always told us stories. I remember one ghost story that made me scream. I don’t know if we learned anything that year, but it was fun.

Gunnar sat right behind me in that class, so I could turn to him and tell him things. I don’t remember doing that much, but you could tell Gunnar a secret and know he wouldn’t tell anyone else. I didn’t pay much attention to him then, though. He was kind of quiet, and his dad always cut his hair short. He didn’t look good in short hair.

Then in seventh grade, we switched to middle school. I don’t remember him much then at all. We had biology together, but he wasn’t my lab partner or anything. Frankly, the seventh grade boys were all dull and dorky. I was taller than most of them, so I had my eyes on a ninth grade boy from my street. He was great—my first kiss. Brad Stockmeyer. But then Brad started going with an eighth-grade girl, and he was just a shit.

One thing I remember from seventh grade biology. Our teacher was explaining reproduction, the part where the semen meets the egg, and once the first semen hits pay dirt as it were and fertilizes the egg, the egg somehow sends off some kind of Star Trek force field and shoves the rest of the semen away. Gunnar raised his hand and asked—I couldn’t believe it—he asked how did the semen get into the girl in the first place?

It was kind of funny. Of course then I thought a guy just had to touch your naked breast and somehow semen would find its way in. Actually, I wasn’t far off considering the first few guys who got to touch my breasts in high school were suddenly embarrassed and had to leave—but by then I knew about sex.

Frankly, the one thing I really remember about Gunnar was in the first day of eighth grade Spanish class. I saw him staring at me—staring hard and smiling at me like he wanted to talk with me. I really liked him for that, I did. We talked on the phone a few times after school after that, and we were supposed to go to the movies, but something happened, I don’t remember what. I don’t think my girlfriends liked him. Girls can be cruel at that age.

I ended up going to a private school after that, and I lost track of Gunnar until I came back to the public school my senior year. Gunnar had a girlfriend then, and so, well that was that. I was attracted to him, though. He was so smart, I could tell. I wished I’d known him more then, but we were just in different groups.

What was your favorite subject in school? What did you want to do when you "grew up"?

English was my favorite subject, and I read a lot in high school. I like the Brontes. I liked Jane Austen. I think I wanted to be a writer then. Maybe a poet. I didn’t really think much about what I’d do, but I had a vague notion I might like to write.

In college, I became an English major, but my first job after college was working for Mr. Speedy Print in Madison. Then I worked for another printing company, and I realized that sucked, so I started working at restaurants. I liked that, and by the time I met Gunnar again at the baby shower, I was managing a restaurant in Madison.

We all got to read what Gunnar thought when he saw you at the baby shower. What thoughts were going through your head then?  Were you instantly attracted to him?

Yeah, I was was instantly attracted, but then he went off and was talking to those two girls at the bar. From where I sat, he looked like he was flirting, and one was touching his hair. That’s being personal. When Gunnar came back and we started talking, I couldn’t tell where his head was at. Plus I was late for work, and I’d just met a guy speed-dating. Well, I figured Gunnar was out of my league. He was a professor and smart and clearly handsome, and who was I? I was just some restaurant manager trying to go to nursing school at the same time.

What did you think of his makeover when you saw him at the restaurant for the speed dating event?

Actually, he looked kind of confused, and that was the moment I realized he wasn’t out of my league after all. I felt for him. Then again, things were heating up with Jeff at that time, and as attracted as I was to Gunnar—Gunnar was charming and funny—I knew I had to follow through with Jeff. Now that I think of it, I was getting confused. I really liked Gunnar. I don’t think I noticed his braces right then. He just looked good is what I remember.

What happened with Jeff?

That didn’t last long, actually. Sometime after that night I saw Gunner, I broke it off with Jeff. It might have been because of Gunnar, actually. I really felt bad for Gunnar when I saw him out there barfing on the sidewalk. I realized that I didn’t like Jeff if I could be attracted to Gunnar. After I left Jeff, I starting thinking maybe I should call Gunnar, if I could only get his number. Then he called me. Perfect.  

After the date at the sushi restaurant, what did you do?

I fucking cried. I couldn’t believe Gunnar had toyed with me like that. He was so gentle and concerned when I got to that restaurant and-- shit shit shit (sorry). I just had hoped so much that magic was going to happen. Sometimes I think we, women, are brainwashed somehow—that we’re programmed to think Mr. Right is going to come along and make everything work. Mr. Right will remember my birthday and help complete my sentences. Maybe I see too many damned movies.

Anyway, things had happened before that night—my breaking up with Jeff, my Dad having a heart attack, and then getting my finger stuck in a pay phone that night. I had this strange feeling that Fate or God or whatever was pointing me toward Gunnar. I can’t tell you how the evening at the sushi place was so great, when, wham, he told me about Kara and going to Denmark. Life sometimes sucks, you know?

Shit, I probably sound like some seventeen-year-old talking about love, but when you fall for someone hard, it’s just like those intense feelings you have as a teenager. I’m not embarrassed saying it. It felt right.

When you saw him in the hospital, what did you think?  How did you feel?

Gunnar had broken my heart. Everything in me said, “Warning, warning. Beware.” If he hurt me once, he could do it again. Still, another part of me was thinking that I felt this way because he had really touched me—my heart, my soul—in a way that no one else had.

Man, I was so mixed up inside. Still, I could see how worried about his mother he’d been. He’d flown all the way back from Denmark. For a guy to do that… I loved him again for that. His mother, Audrey, is just an amazing woman.

We know that Gunnar is very much driven by science and the scientific method, what drives you?  What guides your life?

Women are different. I was never very conscious about where I was going until two things happened. One was deciding to go to nursing school. There’s a lot of pressure running a restaurant and not for a lot of pay. You work late nights, which isn’t really prime for dating. Did I want kids? I kind of thought so, but it wasn’t the biggest factor of anything then, at least consciously. I really had to consider what would be a better career, and nursing was it.

The second thing was that becoming attracted to Gunnar made me realize what I wanted for love. It was someone like Gunnar: smart, sensitive in key ways, focused, easy to talk to, not pretentious. After he went to Denmark, that was it, right? I had to get over it.

What are your plans for the future?  Where do you want to be in 5 or 10 years?

Kids? (laughs). You know, most people don’t plan out their lives, do they? We’re always under a kind of pressure from friends, families, and ourselves. As teenagers, we’re worrying about college—hoping for college, wanting to go to a good one. Then you’re thinking two things in college: about meeting the right guy and about finding the right major that might get you somewhere eventually.

Then you meet the right guy and everyone wants to know when you’ll get married. If you get married, they want to know if you’ll have kids. If you have kids, what’s the next question? When you’ll die? Will you get cremated or buried? (laughs)

I just feel lucky, and I want that feeling to last a while.

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