I felt like a high school kid talking to a venerable college senior. It was at once strange, engaging, awkward and humbling. It’s a sensation I haven’t felt in a long time, probably since I could truthfully call myself a high school student. In fact the first 5 minutes of our date was straight out of a John Hughes movie set in those fledgling years of everyone’s life where all of the possibilities in the world can be unlocked by unzipping a pair of pants or unhooking a bra strap.
I fell down the stairs within about 10 seconds of meeting her for our date. I knew what she looked like from photos, and going into it I was suspicious that she was fulfilling some kind of community service hours. The photos didn’t do justice to her eyes. When I met them with mine, I felt the gears in my head actually grind to a halt. It felt like my brain had run out of memory or was having a tough time churning through a 64-bit image with a 16-bit processor.
I exchanged a few words with her without really knowing what I was saying, and then turned to proceed down the stairs behind her. My legs locked up at the knee and I quickly discovered the ability to negotiate stairs was no longer available to me. Imagine a rusted tin-man trying in vain to put his foot out towards the next step before an inescapable fall to abject humiliation. Thankfully, at the last minute, my brain express-messaged my knee to unlock itself, narrowly averting disaster. I missed a step anyways, and clumsily fell forward to the bottom of the steps. Before looking up to meet those ferocious eyes once more, I collected myself and was thankful I was still on two feet instead of all fours.
“Don’t kill yourself.”
That set the tone for the night. I ordered an americano (purely to appear cool, since I don’t drink coffee), and then smoothly walked over to the table she had claimed without realizing my fly was undone. She pointed it out and I unceremoniously zipped it back up in front of her, now coming to the conclusion that there was no more face to save. This was roughly two minutes into our date. Little did I know that the emotional peaks of embarrassment brought about in the first 120 seconds would be met again and surpassed throughout the night in an incessant string of moments gone awry. But sometimes magical things happen by mistake.
Maybe seeing me pick myself up literally and figuratively after each awkward tumble was the secret. I never knew what she was really thinking past those eyes. To be honest I found myself not caring at times. I couldn’t look away. Her eyes were commanding most of my senses. I felt like a hunter, looking directly into glowing eyes of the forest at night. I kept talking, often deflecting or redirecting her inquires in conversation back at her just to give my mind a respite and protect my insecurities. I felt like fanning myself with my napkin more than once. I thought for sure I was sweating.
We talked and talked about simple, dumb things and not so simple big, fat ideas. We laughed and drank and moved from one place to another, walking in the cold winter air like teenagers without a ride. I guess that’s when I started to feel like maybe she and I were in the same grade after all. That feeling I had of being young and stupid was fading.
By the time we got back to her car, it was gone. As we got near her door she turned and said “So..,” expecting me to to finish the thought as some kind of love-barometer reading on how it went. Unfortunately at that moment, every ounce of confidence drained out of me, down through my body and out into my shaky stance. It was the first time I’d been faced with the possibility that maybe she wouldn’t want to see me again. She had inadvertently pulled the linchpin out of the connection holding together how I thought things were going and how I wanted to end the night. My eyes widened on her smile before I shot out my hand in a panic, reaching for hers.
“A handshake?” she asked.
I paused for a moment as she gave me her hand, and then came to my senses as I thought I might never get to do this again. I pulled her close and It ended up as a half-kiss on her cheek. As soon as it was over I wanted to pull away and just walk back home. But she was still in front of me, holding on to my hand. I looked at her. She was smiling, and just as I had zipped up my fly in front of her earlier, I dropped all sense of propriety and asked for another chance.
I got it right on the second try. I was 16, making out with the prom date I had always wanted. We said our goodbyes, and I started to walk back home with a silly grin.
It was way better than high school.