Some stories, you just have to get off your chest. So forgive me while I indulge my inner Bond villain for a bit and spin you a yarn ...
The First Night
I'm watching @soulcamp and his band last Wednesday night, going through their second set at the Ruby Room, sitting alongside my friend Em and her fiancee. I'm wearing a black blazer, jeans and shoes with a royal blue dress shirt -- natty enough, no? Three drinks in, Emily's fiancee taps me on the shoulder and motions toward a short-haired short blonde with dark glasses and a white top: "She knows your name, dude."
Even after saying hello, though, neither she nor I know where we would recognize each other from. But she's undaunted: "I have psychic powers," she says. Within ten minutes, we're dancing. Within fifteen, we find a spot of our own near the bar.
She likes the Beasties, Boingo, Bogie and the Cubbies. She's been to Paris four times. A former flame of hers is still in her life, mostly by necessity; like myself, she's a recession casualty as of a few months ago and also like myself, she's only now picked up some regular work. She preferred 'Iron Man' to 'The Dark Knight,' but is willing to listen to my argument to the contrary. She doesn't pull away when I touch her arm. She doesn't flinch when I name-drop Howard Roark in the conversation. And she listens when I tell her the story about my car accident nearly four years ago, when my Brothers went to pick me up at the hospital – after ordering a pizza (I'll tell you about that some other time). She writes down her number on a flyer, along with movies she recommends. The only one I recognize is "The African Queen." And there's moments where we smile at each other, notice each other, then look away, smiling.
As the bar starts winding down, we get one more dance in; the song doesn't matter, of course -- it's just she and I and all at once I realize I want to see her again and I don't question myself for thinking so. More than $50 in bar tabs later, the conversation takes us through a bus stop, a cab ride and a dinner on me (metaphorically, alas). Because of how things are with her, I walk her part of the way home, stopping two nondescript blocks from her pad. I walk home buzzing from more than alcohol. Because I'm an idiot.
People mean well. They see a guy like me, they want to help him be less alone. They've told me to be aggressive, and to not try so hard; that I'm too nice a guy, and come off as arrogant; to be the a-hole, and to be myself; to let it happen, and to make it happen. But the worst counsel I ever got was from a belly dancer, who couldn't just let us make out on my car, outside her Oklahoma City apartment, who just had to tell me, "You think too much." I drove off that moment.
See, I like thinking things out, sussing the angles, the patterns, etc. Little wonder some of my friends like to use me as a sounding board, work through stuff aloud. I don't mind. As it relates to romance, I've taught myself to recognize a woman's lack of interest as soon as I can -- not to look for it, just to see it if it's there. It's not self-pity; it's self-preservation, fueled by my own peculiar history. I've been blown off by women online and off, at the bar and after dinner, in open daylight and in private. I've been rejected by more body types than bone marrow.
So, when it's about "affairs of the heart," I let my brain do the driving -- the one up top, thanks. It's when I slip up that I tend to slip up big. If I'm not getting shined off by the gym teacher without a gag reflex, I'm finding myself in a woman's apartment while she and her dude friend tell me how they like to "cuddle." If a woman's head isn't dropping in disappointment when I ask her on a date, her eyes are bugging out in near-terror if I tell her I like her. People mean well. Just not always the best for me.
The Days After
For me to figure with confidence that this girl dug me is no mean feat. But it's a welcome change of pace. Which means I don't sweat it when I get her voicemail on my Thursday afternoon call. (Three days? This isn't the '90s, kids.) I leave her a joking message reminding her it's her turn to spring, if she'd like to get some coffee that night. When I go to voicemail again Friday, though, even after asking if she'd like to check out MC Flow, I take notice. I skip the show and don't get a "Hey you son of a bitch, where are you?" call from her.
And even though I can spot the disappointment in a girl's eyes from 30 paces, this blindsides me. It's the worst thing you can do to a guy who loves thinking everything through: make him think everything through. Is she okay? Is it something I did? Did she reconcile with this other dude? (Something, by the way, which happened to me at least three times in the '90s.) Even fortune cookies are f-ing with me, saying, "Happiness can be achieved by using your patience." By Monday, I'm answering the question, "How are you?" with "I feel like I'm in a Hitchcock movie," and I've determined one of three scenarios has played out:
1)I was punked out for $70 in drinks, cab fare and dinner
2) Some SVU-style ish is going/went down between her and her former flame
3) She's just not that into me
I make myself a deal: call her Wednesday. It lends itself to closure: a full week since we met; the potential third "strike" if I get to voicemail again. It's my attempt to gain control of the situation, once and for all, to give my fortune cookie a good shot. But I'm already second-guessing myself: I'm relying on goddamn fortune cookies now? Why don't I just go holler at a sooth-sayer?
Still, having a plan boosts my mood enough to join @soulcamp on a night of wandering. "Looking for trouble on a Monday night," I announce to the brunette barkeep at Gilly's, our usual karaoke joint. "We're mad, bad and dangerous to know." Her eyes drop dismissively, right on cue. We bail quickly, though, to go catch Lady Dottie & The Diamonds at another bar. We arrive as a sea of hipsters is faux-swing dancing, skinny jeans, striped shirts and push-up bras clustering together in a giant lack of rhythm. And my mood suddenly sinks. In the middle of a crowded bar, I freeze, overcome by memories of a dance floor I got to share with someone just a few nights earlier. @Soulcamp is nice enough to help me get out of there.
One Wednesday Later
I wake up with an aching head, an empty stomach, and a cotton mouth, having survived a return to the Ruby Room with @soulcamp and our friend Brad. I'm hurting but happy; returning to the scene of the crime didn't faze me too much. Now I just need to bite the real bullet.
In the mini-movie my imagination has conjured up leading to the last phone call, she picks up and apologizes, offering explanations wacky or emotional, depending on my mood. It's more about a start than an end, about figuring out what to do next ...
... Straight to voicemail. I decide to be honest.
"Hi, I was just calling because I wanted to see if you were okay. It may be silly, but there it is. Even if you don't want to hang out with me anymore, I'd at least appreciate that. Thanks." And with that, Vin Scully's voice rings in my ears: The saddest words of tongue and pen are these: What might have been. My head and heart aren't arguing -- back to watching out for No. 1. But I still make room for a little faith. If she does pop up in my life again, you never read any of this. Deal?
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