It’s probably impossible to guess how much we needed each other. She was still horribly shy. I was completely awkward in everything imaginable, but I played the part as if I knew what I was doing.
The fact that we were dating was semi-miraculous, if not truly an act of divine intervention. I’ve mentioned it to her often that she didn’t give me a single clue as to whether or not she liked me. There were no obvious flirts, no batting of the eyes, and none of the silly girly things that in any number of ways would confirm a young man’s suspicions that he was the object of her affections. I was, basically, just rolling dice and hoping on twelve. Of course, I realize that probably wasn’t true. In her way, there were probably plenty of signs. It would just take time for me to learn her and understand what those ways were. Regardless, I was probably too inept to have noticed either way.
In fact, we almost never went out at all. I got her number. That was great. Good for me. Of course, social media didn’t exist back then and texting was a luxury that no one I knew would waste the money on. No, you only had one option. You had to call her. It might be an evil and overprotective older brother on the other end, a wicked baby sister, or worse her mom or even worse than that, Dad. Dealing with whoever else answered was a fearful enough event in and of itself, but that wasn’t even the hard part. Then you have to ask her out all over again.
Yes, you got her phone number. Bravo, but now the courtship ritual progresses and you must ask her out a second time on more actionable terms. You have to commit to a real date at a real time with actual activities.
Better have a plan there, too. A friend of mine invited me to a double date with him and his girlfriend. It seemed safe enough. This plan had potential.
I thought it would be smart to go bowling, a spur of the moment decision, calculated in the unexplainable battle focus that takes place in a young man’s mind during the hyper-alertness that happens directly before he asks a woman for a date. I decided on bowling for one reason: I am not any good at bowling. I thought that there wasn’t a better way to make a girl warm up to me than to fail gracefully in front of her, laughing the whole way through. It also seemed a good idea to work as a team for a period to build some closeness and comradery. Anyway, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
I hoped she didn’t change her mind, get a boyfriend or had been married in the last five days. I held on to the number for nearly a week, too afraid to do anything about it. Finally, on Wednesday as I remember, I called her. I invited her to the date, movie and bowling.
She hadn’t decided she was furious at me for stalling so long, though she was anxious and wondering why in the world I wouldn’t call. She was fine with me picking her up the next day and sounded happy to go out. By the way, up to this point in the time, we were probably still only up to about twenty or so words which I can positively remember her sharing with me. She was still the beautiful mystery whose shell I was beginning to crack. The phone call probably put it closer to thirty.
Our first date was something rather special. Perhaps it wasn’t, compared to the first dates of others. Perhaps it was just another one of millions of calls that millions of terrified boys have experienced and not special at all. It is special to me, though. At the very least, it went much better than most first dates did for me.
Our first date movie was “Old School” staring Will Farrell, Vince Vaughn, and Luke Wilson. It was a hopelessly awkward experience for a first date movie between two teenagers. If you’re not familiar with the film, just know that it is a very odd choice for such an occasion, most especially the carrot class scene featuring Andy Dick. That’s all I will really mention about that.
More than the movie, looking back, I remember the way she held my hand. I honestly didn’t know if she was really into me when we walked into the theater, and then she held my hand. It was so tight and all-encompassing, almost as if she was afraid I might suddenly escape and run away if she ever chanced letting me be free. I became very nervous. I had never really had anyone show me attention and affection in a romantic sense yet. No girl ever made me feel special without playing games. This was the first time, and even though I wanted it, more than anything, it scared me very much. Still, I was smart enough to just accept it. Being loved too much is a kind of concern that fades with time, and you really learn to enjoy it.
After the movie we went bowling. At the lanes we hit a snag. It turns out there is such a thing as “league night”. No exceptions for star-crossed lovers. I was a bit flustered. I had no plans from this point. We all decided to just wing it from this point on. My friends went off together and Jennie and I went together as well. I suggested a local pizza place not far away. We sat down and started to talk. I was really afraid that it would be just me talking in silence the whole night, but she opened up nicely. It turned out, she confessed to me, that she was terrified of going bowling. I asked her why and she told me that she just assumed that, since it was the first thing that popped into my mind, (and that it was so weird, which I found out years later) I must have loved bowling. I must have been great at it. She must have imagined me with the odd shoes, my own ball in hand, eyes focused and with a determined look on my face, gliding up to the lanes for a release with perfect form. She just knew that she would show up, lob the ball like a drunken duck and I would be furious with her for making us lose. I realize that she couldn’t have known that I had planned on being terrible, but I can see how she would have been afraid that I’d be mad at her. She really is terrible at bowling. I would find that out later. I just couldn’t believe how wrong she was about my motives. It’s worth a laugh.
We talked about the nothings that people do on their first romantic evenings together. She reminded me of things I had forgotten. For example, I had forgotten that on that day during enrollment, it was her that I had shown around the school. As quiet as she was, it seemed I had forgotten altogether that it was her. Again that same year, I had forgotten about my confession I gave about not getting a girlfriend and the following counseling I took from her during art class. I would have forgotten a lot if not for her. She told me what her real first impressions were on that first day, she thought I was an arrogant jackass. She also told me how ironic it was that I would confess all those things about never getting a girlfriend to her when, truth be known, she had such a crush on me the whole time. We laughed about what it would have been like if I had only asked the question. I never knew at all. We joked for a while. I told her about how this restaurant was where my mom had brought me to teach me how to take a girl out on a proper date when I was ten. I hoped Jennie wouldn’t think that I was off for talking about something like that, but she thought it was sweet. Honestly, men don’t know how to handle being called “sweet”, but I considered it good thing. We talked about how when we were little we both used to play the games in the back corner and enjoyed our pizza.
I remember thinking about how so much of our lives we would have shared so many of the same experiences living in the same tiny town. We were dragged to the same grocery store with our moms, went to the same daycare, and played the same arcade games at the same pizza places. We had likely crossed paths hundreds of times, never realizing that we would ever be more than just background in the crowd to each other. Eventually, we would matter to one another, that other random girl in the crowd would be grown and sitting opposite me at this table.
Eventually, it came time to go home. One thing to know about where we lived is that nothing is close. Everything good is twenty miles away at least. It’s a hassle when the economy is in the tank, but the silver lining is that there is always a lot of time to talk on the way to where you’re going. I don’t know at all what we talked about, just that I didn’t really want the conversation to end. We reached her home and I walked her to her door. I had a decision to make that I just knew I was going to screw up. I told her goodnight and that I had a lot of fun. I asked her then for a second date and said goodbye. No kiss, just goodbye.
We didn’t have our first kiss until the next date. It was my first. It was in my room on a bean bag that would be a very important part of our life for far longer than it deserved. The movie we were watching didn’t really matter all. It wasn’t very interesting anyway, not nearly as interesting as melting through this mysterious girl’s icy walls.
I was hers from then on.
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I Drew a Monkey in a Math Book and Now I'm MarriedNon-Fiction
***Ranked #4 in Non-fiction - "It's a thing of beautiful nonsense to be young." ***Featured original non-fiction for Pivot TV's Secret Lives of Americans. I Drew a Monkey in a Math Book and Now I'm Married is the true story of how I met my wife Jenn...