When I went on my first date it was something akin to going to my own execution except I had to pay for everything and I had to get dressed up. Seriously, I was mortified. It’s one thing to go out with some friends or in a group or something like that. But to have to go to a girl’s house, meet her parents and have to perform some sort of small talk was way past my level of social grace. I would have rather bobbed for French Fries than face her father, however.
He was an ex-Marine Drill Instructor who worked construction.
Okay, imagine of you will a sixteen year old kid who can barely breathe around most people and especially adults. Imagine this kid having no ability to be able to function in public, no fashion sense, and hair that was diabolically hard to control on the very best days. Yes, I did once have hair. But it always stuck out in as many different directions as I had follicles and short of shaving it off there wasn’t a product on earth that helped. I was five- ten and weighed one hundred ten pounds.
Oh, and asking her out? That took an amount of courage that transcended bravery under fire. I think she said yes just to see if I would actually survive it. This was my first date and it was my first time under the influence of a redhead. She let me take her home from school one day so I would know where she lived. All that was left was to pick her up at six on a Friday night and get her back home by ten.
I was petrified.
On the way home from her house I tried to memorize how to get there even thought it was pretty much a straight shot from my house. I measured the distance with the odometer. I thought about painting an X in the road in front of her house in case I forgot what it looked like. Seriously, I had some issues.
All week long I thought about what to wear. This shirt? That shirt? This pair of pants? Those shoes? I was a wreck. I tried on everything that I owned in different combinations. I thought about wearing a suit and tie. I thought about using the tie to hang myself.
So the night of the date I put gas in the car first, went back home and took a shower, got dressed, checked my wallet a dozen times and then really freaked out. I didn’t have any condoms. The odds of this girl having sex with me on the first date was as likely as alien abduction while being struck by lightning during an earthquake right after a Sasquatch attack. But, after all I was a sixteen year old male, and this girl jolted my libido with a ten billion volt bolt. The idea that things might go well enough for sex to happen really freaked me out even more.
I made it to her house alive but I had begun to sweat. I parked near the house, but not too near the house, did I park in the right place, oh dog what if they think I parked like a moron, and walked up to the door. There was no doorbell. Damn, I have to knock. How hard should I knock? What if they don’t hear me? OH MY GOD WHAT IF THIS IS THE WRONG HOUSE AND SHE IS PLAYING A CRUEL JOKE ON ME?????????
Knock, knock, knock.
The door opened and there was her father. He was everything, every, thing, you’d expect from an Ex-Marine who worked construction. He was large, very large, and he had a flat top haircut and a scowl on his face. He was wearing a pair of baggy shorts and a wife beater tee shirt.
“What do you want?” he growled and it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea at all what to say. None. Nothing. Nada. I had nothing.
There was this awkward silence where even the crickets got tired of chirping. Sweat poured down my back in rivulets so large they made sounds like rapids. Suddenly, it occurred to me that this wasn’t her father at all, that I was at the wrong house, on the wrong road, and that all of this, the entire thing, was some terrible delusion I was having. Why on earth would she even agree to go out with me? I knew I could make it to the car before he caught me. I could be out of the whole thing in less than sixty seconds.
“Uh, yes, sir, I, uh, is , mmm, is Susan here?” I even managed to speak something that sounded like English.
Can you imagine what was going through his mind? This? This?? THIS????? This is going to potentially be the sire of my grandchildren? THIS?
“Come in.” he grunted at me and led me inside. There he and her mother, who was a gentle soul and didn’t laugh at me although I cannot imagine why, grilled me on such topics as to what my name might be, if I always spoke in a stutter, and if I was going to die of dehydration from sweating so much before I made it back to the door again. The palms of my hands were wet. I could feel my shoes filling up. I knew that before she managed to get ready to go I would already be dead of fright. As I sat in the chair I looked over at a decorative mirror and realized the object of my affection was standing right behind my chair. Later she confessed as to having stood there for quite some time and enjoyed the show. She was a redhead. They are all like that, you know.
We managed to get into the car and I was so relieved I nearly collapsed. Maybe we shouldn’t go out and eat after all, let’s just shake hands, agree we had a great time, and I’ll go drive myself off a cliff, okay? But once alone with her I was just a little, some small amount, less likely to go into some sort of seizure. For some reason I cannot explain to you the idea that I had forgotten my wallet consumed me. I checked it. Then I though perhaps I had forgotten my money. What if I hadn’t put it into my wallet, not like I would have kept it anywhere else, and what if I didn’t have enough money for the restaurant?
She cleared her throat loudly and asked me if I was okay.
Oh, hi, yeah, okay, you’re still here, aren’t you?
Actually, I had done something right. I had bought an eight track tape of her favorite singer even though I truly loathed it. Barry Manilow. Yes, it’s true, I had bought it and as we were going down the road I gave it to her and let her slip it into the player. I hated Barry Manilow. She also slid over and sat right next to me and she kissed me on the cheek.
Heaven and Hell.
I would have listened to the sound of a dog being cut in half with a plastic butter knife to have her next to me and to have that kiss on my cheek. Barry Manilow was worse than that, mind you, but worth it.
Okay, I had never, ever, been in a Mexican restaurant. I knew nothing about the menu or what to order. She delighted in asking me how to pronounce the names of the dishes and she giggled at my attempts. Ever the coward, I ordered the same thing she did and hoped like hell I had done the math right as to if I had enough money to cover it. I think she was having a great time watching me try to have a good time. But I was not only in public but I had to deal with people and I was trying not to stare at her. I thought she was incredible. I couldn’t believe she had agreed to go out with me. I couldn’t believe we were out on a date. The idea that we were out on a date freaked me out so I tried not to think about it.
When the check came I had more than enough money to cover it. It was like having a death sentence commuted. I felt a sense of relief so great you would have thought I had been freed from a gulag. The first man to set foot on the tallest mountain for the first time did not feel a greater sense of accomplishment than I did when we walked out of the restaurant. I could have died right then and there and felt as if I had done something with my life.
The movie wasn’t nearly as bad. I had been to movies, knew how to buy tickets, and knew how to buy popcorn and stuff. I had this. Right now, suddenly, it occurs to me I have no idea what movie we went to see. I don’t think I actually realized there was a movie there. In the dark, with no one to see or talk to, I think I just sort of withdrew into some sort of coma. The relief was overwhelming. Now, all I had to do was sit for a couple of hours then get her back home. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel now.
You see why having a relationship was hard for me? Just being there was a battle. Just being around a girl I really liked was something that took most of my emotional currency. This one, especially this one, transfixed me. I felt as if I were in the presence of a goddess. We held hands during the movie and who cared what was playing?
The movie ended and we drove away into the night. As we were driving I noticed I was going to score points with her father because we had about thirty minutes to spare. Suddenly, she reached over and turned on the blinker. “There’s a place to park right there,” she said. And I nearly died.
It’s not like we had sex or even got close to having sex, but we did totally steam up the car’s windows. I think someone could have struck a match near me and I would have burst into flames. But at the same time, to me, this was it. This was evidence she did like me. This was proof of existence. It was all I could really see and feel and taste. Without the social skills I needed to navigate an interpersonal relationship, physical contact was all that I would really count on as some sort of barometer as to where we were headed.
And so the first date led to a second, and another, but eventually, it failed. It had to.
Over the years she would return to me and each time it was heaven. Over the years she would leave again and each time it was hell. Finally, she and I escaped one another’s orbits and we drifted apart forever. I know she is married has a grandchild and very likely, still likes terrible music.