Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Sweaty Palms

This is my most recent paper done for my Creative Non-fiction class. I chose to write about the first date I had with my wife. Enjoy.


So much to do and so little time, throwing my work clothes on the floor and jumping into the shower, I make a mental list of all the things I need to do for this date: 1) dress nice, I need to impress this one because she is something special, 2) drive from my apartment in Queens to her office in midtown, 3) find parking, 4) find her office, 5) most important, don't screw this up!
What is there to screw up? It really isn't a big deal if she likes me or not, so why do I allow myself to get so caught up in the game? Who is this woman that she can have such sway over my sanity without my permission? My jumbled nerves only add to the stress I feel, and I quickly come to the conclusion that the sooner I accept the reality of a failed date, the sooner I can go on with my life. The date hasn't even begun and I throw up the white flag pleading for mercy. Of course years from now I will look back at this small moment and laugh at the stress I felt, and I will smile when I tell my wife how nervous I was that she might not have liked me.
What makes her so special? I could tell you about her intelligence and determination to attend and graduate from Princeton University and then go on to Graduate School in New York, but that wouldn't describe her people skills. I could tell you about when I saw her teaching a horde of hungry twenty-somethings easily transitioning from Spanish to English so everyone could understand, but that wouldn't describe her beauty. I could tell you about the first time I saw her in New Jersey, and when she came through the door I noticed a glow surrounding this exquisite Latina with a sincere smile and a welcoming aura, but that wouldn't suffice to describe my date. She has become the subject of every thought as the ever-present butterflies fill my body during every encounter I have with her.
At 6pm in NYC, traffic is my greatest foe. Fighting through the masses of commuters struggling for the last inch of roadway, I map out what I hope will be the quickest way to cover the 10 mile drive. 78th Ave. to Myrtle; Myrtle to Woodhaven, take Woodhaven to the Long Island Expressway straight into the Queens Midtown Tunnel and then with any luck I can avoid the congested corners and arrive at her office by 7.
Of course traffic won't be as difficult as getting her to agree to a date with me in the first place. Why is it that at 26 years of age, I still have problems asking girls out? I sat at my desk looking at her number that she gave me, I questioned myself as to if she really would go out with me. I bit the bullet and dialed. She answered, but was too busy to talk; she will call me back later. I watched my phone all afternoon up until it was time to go home. At home she called me and I gathered the courage to ask her to dinner? What kind of dinner? She asked. The kind with food, of course! My humor helped little to ease the awkward tension I felt as she questioned my motives. I settled on the "just friends" kind of dinner that crushed my hopes of romance, but offered me a glimpse at the chance.
Thankfully, I find parking one block north of her office in a construction zone left empty by the homeward bound workers. With 5 minutes before my deadline I get into the elevator that will lift me even higher than my elated state. Upon reaching her floor I exit anticipating her welcome as we start our evening together, but I find an empty desk where a receptionist should sit. I call out and she responds from around the corner that I should enter. She has some more work to do, but if it is alright, I can wait for her in the lobby. With a heart that won't slow and legs that won't stand still I put on my façade of the "cool guy" who thinks that this evening is nothing more than a casual dinner between friends, but secretly I watch her face and body for clues that she really doesn't want me around in case I need to run away and salvage what little pride I have left; she smiles.


She wants me to stay.


I take some time to evaluate myself in the mirror. Spiky hair? Check. No food in my teeth? Check. Cool plaid shirt that everyone but me thinks is dreadful? Check. I look great! When we are on the street, she mentions a place she enjoys that is trendy and affordable and I quickly approve; the less time I spend talking, the less time I spend looking like a fool. At Republic, a hopping scene with fresh and tasty Thai food, we are greeted and I scan the restaurant hoping to find something on someone's table that I recognize and like, so that I can order without scratching my head like a giant ogre staring at the menu.
I spent several hours at work trying to find a great place that would be perfect for this date. I love diners and thought that she just might enjoy a large plate of cheese fries as much as me. I sent a few text messages with the hope of being on her mind, but found that I received much more—she flirted back. It wasn't overt, but I got a hint of maybe just a little crush for me when she said that she was looking forward to tonight and maybe we could do something after dinner. Maybe—that means if I don't screw up over dinner and keep her happy, I get more time with her.


Oh shit, there's a problem.


The tables in this place are fancy picnic tables with multiple parties sitting at one giant plank of wood. I have never had luck with sitting at any table that I couldn't move a chair far away from to get my massive 300 pound frame nestled into comfortably. With a couple "Hail Mary's" I squeeze and twist and plop onto the bench while holding my breath to save me a couple inches and hoping that I didn't look as stupid as I just felt.
I have a history of breaking chairs. The first happened in my parent's backyard leaning back in their outdoor cassock on a nice summer evening. The wood split. Without warning, I found myself on the ground with a sore butt and laughing family. With splinters still gracing my behind, I was at my grandma's birthday party sitting on what I thought was a stable metal folding chair—it wasn't. After standing up, I inspected the chair hoping to find evidence of foul play, but the facts don't lie; popped rivets and bent steel proved my guilt. Tonight would be a bad night to add another shattered chair to my collection.
She sits across from me and we begin the enjoyable conversations that I am "pro" at. Say something smart- check. Say something funny- check. Say something to make her smile—I am on a roll. When the menus come, I have no fear and I am starting to feel invincible; especially since the meals are described in English so I didn't need to ask what dish had chicken. The conversation continues and I am convinced that I am Adonis; captivating in every way and the true desire of her heart. Then the food comes, oh shit.


We have another problem.


Chopsticks! Really, chopsticks? I can't eat with chopsticks; since I was a young kid I had tried and tried again, but thankfully we lived in a country where forks were standard and people needed to ask for chopsticks. I have three choices at this point: 1) admit being a fool and ask for a fork, 2) hope she won't notice what I fool I am for dropping noodles all over my shirt, 3) run out of the building and back to the car and hope that I never run into this girl again. I choose the second, but only because people had sat down to my left and I am unable to get out of the table to make my escape. I find that if I take my bites while she is taking hers, I have one or two seconds in which I can stab my food and slide it into my mouth without her seeing. Crisis averted.
What is it about those early days of love when passions magnify the most mundane aspects of our lives? Feeling the undeniable butterflies of having a crush on a girl makes me giddy, and imagine a younger world where I needed multiple "cootie shots" to survive the square dance lessons of elementary school. How have I matured into becoming a dopamine junkie not wanting to release the dragon's tail even in the face of certain death? This evening's roller coaster ride of emotion is almost complete. I don't want to get off this ride just yet.
Fortune smiles upon me and we finish the meal without incident, and I find myself wishing for some more time with her. I had convinced her for dinner, but now I see a snapshot of myself standing outside the restaurant trying to keep conversation alive with rapid questions and uncomfortable puns while not wanting to admit the night is over. What is she going to do now? I asked her. She wants to see a movie. I pause, with me? Yes, with me.




She wants me to stay.