A man hears what the other side is thinking
I met a girl at the gym last winter.
I got her number and name, and with that I was Fred Astaire, dancing on the ceiling and leaving victorious yelling voice mails on my best friend’s phones after she returned my first call.
We had a date.
Imagine it this way. You’re a wealthy millionaire who just got good career news and decided to celebrate by taking an exotic trip in a new-fangled marvel that flies through the air.
Things are good, until you discover, as you sip your martini and ponder the odds of seducing the flight attendant bending over two rows in front of you, that hydrogen is keeping your privileged transportation aloft, it’s 1936, and you’re on the Hindenburg. Your arched eyebrow gives way to panicked screams as the cabin erupts. You have no choice but to go down in flames.
I have no idea what to do so I opt to take her to the Dushanbe Teahouse in Boulder. I skip out of work with that whole “I’m on a date” feeling — good but eager, sun shining, cartoon blue-bird on your shoulder singing — and head home. I take a shower, run to a friend’s and grab my jacket, drive down, pick up my date and we head out to grab something to eat.
I got lost on the way to the restaurant. Boulder was designed by opium addicts, I swear.
We finally get to the Teahouse, and everything’s cool. We seem to hit it off. Movies. 20 questions. Laughs.
We leave and head to a bookstore, where I buy her a book she wanted that came up in conversation.
Then we take a drive up Flagstaff, where I listen to her talk and start to sound a little like my crazy ex-girlfriend.
I’m reminded of my best friend telling me never to date someone with more problems than me — me, the memoir boy — as I hear her slip into recounting all of her failed relationships with an openness that slowly morphed my passenger seat into a shrink’s leather recliner.
I suspect, based on everything gleaned, she’s one of those girls who has lots of guy friends, few girl friends, and doesn’t hold a relationship down — that whole thing where they don’t identify with other girls because they have some key bit of self-confidence missing?
A red flag.
But I ignore it because she’s honest and witty, and the extent to which she’s so candid (more on that later) actually serves to make the girl endearing.
Despite having to pee so badly that I’m flexing and un-flexing my toes inside my shoes, I enjoy everything she has to say. I actually heard myself making plans about “what we should do next time,” a fatal first date mistake.
We’d been driving up, with the road spiraling further and further along, a big fat moon visible. “Keep going,” she grinned. “I want to see where it ends.”
I laughed but eyed the gas tank, taking note of the time, and my bladder. “Next time,” I said realizing only then as I said it how it came off. So we head back to her place, and she invites me in.
It was a good date, and I wanted to end it that way. I had promised myself after my last relationship went up in flames that I’d start fresh. No kiss on the first date, much less sex.
I was going legit. I know, I know, I’m a wuss, I get it, shut up. I had my reasons to make the personal bet. That was my silent promise: Don’t you go in that house.
But I really had to pee.
Inside, her place looked like any student housing, empty and sterile and somehow artificial like a hotel, except more lived in.
I felt the caged animal feeling set in, the silent promise that on the first date neither of us would see the other’s place (respect for her, but also practical for me — I had friends over the night before, and my place looked like The Rolling Stones came to party).
But she had a bathroom.
I tried not to look rushed as I went in to use it, and after. I’m inching toward the door, trying to find the polite segue to leave as I’m looking at the handle, and she’s sensing it.
I feel terrible here. She genuinely seemed to be concerned about how awkward I was and she kept tentatively inching closer to me as we both hovered near her kitchen counter.
She kept looking at me, trying to find something to talk about.
So I’m sliding toward the door, ignoring the tangible “lack of goodbye kiss/hug/any sign of success” vibe I’m getting from her only to have the door open up and the roommate come in.
The roommate eyes me warily, noting the uncomfortable feeling in the room, and after shaking hands stands there for a while with the two of us.
She then watches me with vague interest as I bumble my way out of the apartment, my date saying she’ll see me again, almost asking.
I go to the car and I get in, happy to head home, get out of Boulder. Sleep in my bed. Play some Wii.
I turn the key. The car won’t start. “No,” I say.
“No way,” I say again, for emphasis.
I turn it again, knowing it probably won’t do any good. It didn’t.
“Goddammit!” I rest my head against the wheel. I call my mom’s house, and my step dad the handyman says that the Jeep might have some problems.
“What do you mean, ‘might have some problems?'”
“I don’t know. It has trouble starting lately.”
“So what do I do? I’m in Boulder, and would like to be not in Boulder.”
“You have to let it sit for a while. If you’re low on gas…”
“Sit for a while?! Like how long ‘sit for a while’?”
“About 15-20 minutes, let it settle into the tank. Especially if it’s cold.”
I hear a smile in his voice and wonder if he’s screwing with me. I silently will him to swallow a knife.
I hang up and ponder my dilemma. I can beg a friend to drive down and help me out or I can wait in the cold-ass car … or I can perpetuate a really bad stereotype and tell the date my car won’t start and go back to wait in her room.
I get out and have someone let me back in, some doof in basketball shorts running around her apartment complex. I walk up to her door and raise my hand to knock.
Here’s where it starts.
Inside, I can hear her talking to the roommate, she’s giving the post-date wrap-up. All I catch is “mumble mumble … and he has like no chin, and I don’t think he’d be cute if he shaved … mumble mumble … ewww … did you think he was cute?” in a doubtful tone.
I turn around and start to walk away, embarrassed to have overheard, but also hotly wounded, instantly taking every positive thought I had of her and dashing them.
I’m aware of my hand self-consciously reaching for my face.
It’s a fact you never date the actual person in the beginning, but more their representative.
“HI! I’m so-and-so, representing the crazy ex-so-and-so you’ll be dating for the next year before you realize how unhealthy and messed up this was!”
I mull this over as I head to the door, but stop as I look out over the parking lot. It is bitter cold out there, I decide to swallow my ringing pride and turn around; my sense of self-preservation and comfort have won out over my sense of embarrassment.
I come back and move to knock, and again God laughs. I hear my date mumble something about another guy. “If I had to pick, I’d prefer (the other guy),” she says decisively just as my knuckles rap the door.
I box for sport. This was worse than anything in boxing. I’d forgotten how solid phantom jabs can feel against your gut. I want to run away. I think about it, then.
Instead, the door opens. I try to explain my situation about the car, but am almost shaky embarrassed. The roommate flees for her room. My ears are red, but I soldier through — explain that the car is dead, needs some time, etc.
We go to her room, me doing the obligatory look around room-inspection, noting all the VHS movies she had; rows and rows lined next to a lonely DVD player. You could have taken a picture of it, and labeled it irony.
Anyway, I didn’t plan it. I’m sitting against her wall, staring into space, her looking at me and talking, and I just said it.
I mumbled it at first, and she frowned: “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
I sigh and try and look calm, despite red ears and a beating heart.
“See this?” I point to my neck, mustering up any dignity and confidence I have as I stick my head up proudly. “I do have a chin under here.”
I let the statement stand, what it meant hanging in the air.
She stared, blinked.
I winked, take that. I was feeling thematic.
“I feel really uncomfortable that you were listening in outside my door.”
Yeah, how’s that . wait. Uh-oh. No. Oh no. Don’t think that.
I start. “No, no, I wasn’t –”
“– I mean I feel really uncomfortable.” Her voice is rising. She sits up and goes to stand.
“I wasn’t listening in. I wasn’t . okay, I came back, heard that, left, then decided to come back anyway. I knocked as soon as I could.”
But it was too late. I was a snoop, a creep.
I never give a shit about small things in relationships But I remember how I felt with my crazy ex going through my e-mails or my journals. What lack of security she must have had, what lack of trust, and I remember being completely creeped out at the invasion of my private thoughts and correspondences. Now suddenly I’m that guy, a bearded guy with no chin to boot.
I’m mortified, then suddenly hotly indignant, and she hesitates. As I turn away to storm out, escape and die, she calls out after me, “We’ll talk later.”
I remember the door being slammed. Maybe I did it. In the hallway to no one in particular I say, out loud, “No, we won’t,” and head to the Jeep.
It starts on the first try.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Ben Prince at firstname.lastname@example.org