One of my favorite tales!
I’ll just admit it: I looked at her pictures first.
I did that with everyone. I looked at their pictures first and then, with my immediate physical interest either whetted or withered, go back and read their profile. If I found their profile suitably charming or at the very least cogent, I would craft a brief introduction relevant to their interests that established common ground, ask a question or two, and end it, nearly always, with some variation of: “You seem interesting and I think we’d get along well. Let me know if you’d like to see if that’s the case sometime.”
Sometimes they did want to see if that was the case. And sometimes it was the case, and sometimes it was wasn’t, and sometimes it so very much wasn’t that I’d begin to imagine while the date was still in progress how I would retell the story later that night in a bar to my friends. By the summer of 2015 I’d been split from my girlfriend (See: Annabelle – Nice to Meet You) for over a year and a half and was largely finished with the sudden solitude induced frenzy of fear driven dating that I’d forced myself to endure immediately following my newfound status as a single adult male. Also, for almost a year I’d been in an on-again off-again on-again relationship with someone who I cared for but knew without a doubt would eventually be off-again and never, ever on-again.
Which is, in part, why I continued regularly meeting new people, not in search of someone better, but of everything better… better friends, better talks, better laughs, better misunderstandings, better in-jokes, better love, better life. Around that time I often claimed that I didn’t want to be a part of any relationship that precluded any other relationship, which I do still believe to some degree, as far as that goes. No one can be everyone else for another person, nor should they be expected to try. But there’s always that one person that no one else can ever be for you, and I had yet to meet that person.
I was hopeful.
As I said, I looked at her pictures first. I can still recall the dark-haired, doll eyed, almond skinned beauty in each of those first images. Here she is, petite as a teenager, standing in front of a graffiti wall, her hips at an awkward cant. And here, in a black summer dress with white polka dots, holding two dogs, her smile the brightest thing in the photo. And this one, her hand smashed against her face, soft nose and lips squishing out between small fingers, almost daring me to find her attractive. And finally, there’s that smile again as she strums a guitar, her downward glancing eyes forming the bold semi-circles of a particularly adorable Sanrio character.
Her online dating profile mirrored mine in the fact that they both tread a delicate path between witty condescension, feigned disinterest, and actual, useful information. Her intelligence was immediately apparent, as were her pop culture, gourmet, and internet meme credentials, but if I had to choose one reason for contacting her, I would have to say it was simply that I recognized a familiar voice (echo?) behind all of it, a voice I liked tremendously, and I suddenly wanted to hear what else it had to say.
Eventually I sent the girl a message that detailed my interest in cooking large meals from scratch and my love/hate relationship with food poisoning, which were both topics mentioned in her profile. Later that day she replied, and for the next several hours we volleyed messages back and forth until phone numbers had been swapped and plans had been made for the following evening. Our initial exchanges were playfully guarded, like two unfamiliar boxers dancing around each other, neither very interested in being the first to connect or be connected with.
The following day I worked and then met friends for drinks at a much buzzed about bar that had opened only a week before. Unexpectedly, my ex-girlfriend had also been invited, and so we chatted cooly with each other while sipping cocktails with names like “The Coltrane”, “Joe McCarthy’s Ghost”, and “The Chimney Sweep.” “The Chimney Sweep” was a eye-watering concoction of scotch, ouzo, vermouth and bitters, and it was the last thing I drank before saying goodbye to everyone (“What, no hug?”) and began my journey up Ben Franklin Parkway. It didn’t hit me until I was riding just how drunk I’d managed to get myself in such short a time. This did not bode well for the date to come, which I had been allowing myself to feel cautiously optimistic about. My biggest concern at the moment was that she’d ask me if I was drunk, because I most certainly was.
We’d agreed to meet at a small hipster bar in Fairmount that neither of us had ever been to. Earlier in the day the battery of my phone had died, so I hoped my date wouldn’t try to call and reschedule with a voicemail I’d never receive. I walked inside and found a spot at the bar. Then I went into the bathroom to splash some water on my face and squint at myself in the mirror. My disappointed reflection shook its head derisively before sighing and shrugging its shoulders. As I walked out of the bathroom back to my seat, she walked through the door and identified me immediately. We then shook hands efficiently, our arms as stiff and fully extended as soldiers at attention.
She wore a white tank top, jeans, and a pair of black Chuck Taylors faded to gray. Her inky hair was pulled into a ponytail, and her large eyes were boldly outlined with makeup. A long, well structured nose hovered above a full pair of cupid’s-bow lips. But the most striking thing about her face was the uncommonly potent mixture of youth and world-weariness that it possessed. She was pretty and petite, but seemed both aware of this and tired of it being mentioned, so I didn’t.
I don’t recall what introductory pleasantries were exchanged, but within seconds of arriving she eyed me suspiciously and then asked if I was drunk. “No,” I lied, “but you’re going to have to play a little catch up.” This turned out not to be an issue for her. A round of gin and tonics were ordered and downed, followed by a second round that we consumed with equal ease. I remember liking that she drank to drink.
My plan, pre-happy hour overindulgence, was to meet her at the bar, chat for a while, maybe walk around the neighborhood, and then go to a nearby house show where a band that I wanted to see was playing. It was still very early when we stepped out of the bar and back onto 21st Street, which was glowing warmly in the fading sunset. We briefly debated ducking into another bar, but then she made this suggestion: “So, I’m not trying to be too forward or anything, but my roommate has a bunch of liquor we can have and I live really close by, so do you want to just go there?”
Yes. Yes I did.
Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion!
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