Walking back to work from getting salad rolls I came across a very familiar place. It’s a few blocks from where I’ve worked for the past year and a half, and it’s on the streetcar line, so I go by this corner almost every week day. But whenever I do, even if only for a second, I can’t help but be transported back to an October evening in 1988. My first “date” with Julie.
“Date” is in quotes because, calling it a date was really just my awkward attempt at being cute, and an embarrassingly transparent one at that, or so I would later find out. After doing sound for her band at the time, Jane, his Wife, at a daytime gig, I volunteered to help unload their gear at her house. (Not a normal part of a sound-guy’s job description. My excuse? “I don’t have anything better to do!” More embarrassing transparency.) After unloading the gear, she was telling me how the next night she was going to watch the Vice-Presidential Debate between Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle (look it up in your history books, kids) at her mom’s house. With a completely phony off the cuff tone, I asked her if she wanted “a date for the debate.” She later told me she thought my use of the word “date” was a significant escalation and, of course, she was right.
So, I arrive at her mother’s house before she does, leading to the initially awkward situation of meeting your date’s mother on your first date, before your date even gets there. Fortunately, Spider Cat came to my rescue. Spider was Julie’s cat, but lived with Julie’s mom and the other cats they had brought together from California. Spider was one of those extra smart, perceptive cats. He could could give you the once over and immediately know the score. So I’ve barely sat down to make small talk with my future mother-in-law and whomp! Spider Cat jumps in my lap and introduces himself. “Well! He obviously likes you!” He stayed until Julie arrived with the pizza. The importance of Spidey’s approval should not be underestimated, especially given the fact that my cat, Wing Nut, had expressed his approval of her in an almost identical fashion only a few nights before. (Good thing she didn’t have to meet *my* mother first. THAT would have scuttled the whole thing! Just kidding, mom!)
After the debate, Julie was saying she had to go to the Long Goodbye (in what is now the Pearl District) and pass out fliers for their gig tomorrow and asked if I’d like to tag along. (One of the all-time stupidest questions in the history of stupid questions, mind you.) After passing out the fliers, we agreed to go for coffee at the now defunct Jazz de Opus. Once there (and for those familiar with that old Portland haunt, no, we were not sitting on the pillows in the make-out area in the back), she took my hand in hers and announced that, while she did not know where we were going or if there would be anything romantic between us, she was interested in finding out, and as a part of that discovery wanted to learn more about my previous relationships.)
What happened next was basically an out-of-body experience that I only remember in the third person, as if I was watching it on a movie screen. I know my mind and heart were reeling. I knew that as long as I held her hand, I would not have the ability to compose a complete or coherent sentence, and yet this could easily be the most important monologue of my life up to that point. So I gently placed her hand back in her lap, let go, and tried to tell her as honestly and openly as I could what had gone well and not so well in the two or three long term relationships I had had so far. I haven’t the foggiest idea what I actually said. I was very much trying to put my best foot forward, but I was also very aware that I needed to be very upfront and insightful about my own contributions to what went wrong in those relationships, probably more so than I had ever been, even with myself.
She drove us back to where my car was parked near the Long Goodbye and from the driver’s seat pulled me into an amazingly passionate kiss. Sorry to sound like such a girl, but it was seriously one of those take your breath away type of things. Once back in my car I had to sit there for five minutes because I literally could not see straight.
THAT was our first “date.” And, until about a month ago, the last first date I ever had.
But this post wasn’t supposed to be only or even mostly about old memories, but about making new ones, too. Across the street from what used to be the Long Goodbye, and only feet from where Julie’s car was parked, is now a Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream store. Sam and Ella came to work with me a few times when they both had the day off from school, and so of course the Ben and Jerry’s was a prime destination! The first time it turned out to be “Free Cone Day,” which, as wonderful as that sounds, turns out to be less so when it means waiting in a line that stretches half way around the block. The next time the weather had turned nasty (the real-time display showing the output of their roof-top solar panel hovered between imperceptible and insignificant), but we were the only ones there, and memories of extreme ice cream consumption were heartily created.
Walking by the spot on this day I was aware that the day after would be my fifth “first date” since beginning to try and meet people through online dating. Overall, despite the horror stories, a few disappointments and some laugh your ass off ridiculous profiles (“I’m Snuggles9779 and here are 19 pictures of my cleavage!”), my experience has been very positive. Frankly, I think a lot of it has to do with how up front I am in my profile. In the first sentence I tell everyone that my wife of 19 years just died of cancer and that I’m in the thick of grief and trying to figure out how to be a single dad. Chases away a lot of the riffraff! People who are going to run screaming can and do, and I never have to know about it. I’ve sent many emails and not gotten a response, and also gotten a few, “Wow, I’m so sorry. But, no.” But I had also met four very nice ladies and was about to meet a fifth.
The first woman was very nice, and we had a lot of things to talk about around parenting, education, schools, etc. Since Ella ended up being sick on the day of our first date for coffee, she came along, so we quickly set up a second meeting just for us grown ups. I was a little late getting there (I’ve always been punctuality challenged and now, well, it’s just so much worse!) and she tersely informed me that I had just squeaked underneath her 15-minute lateness limit. Yikes! (In my own defense, we had not exchanged cell phone numbers, or I would have let her know I was running late.) In any case we had a very nice conversation, and said goodbye with a rather platonic but warm embrace. I then apparently committed the unforgivable sin of not contacting her to say thanks, etc., for 6 days–more than two weeks later and she has yet to reply. (High-stakes testing, anyone?) OK, then! One down, a universe of possibilities to go!
Skipping over my second first date, my third, fourth and finally fifth were all very nice experiences; enjoyable conversations with engaging, kind, funny, interesting, attractive women. Only after each one, as pleasant an experience and as lovely a person as they were, I could only think of one thing:
This is the place, of course, where I’m supposed to dance that delicate dance between keeping what is private, private, and providing details, DETAILS! for all you nosy Nellies out there. (You know who you are.) And I’ve read wonderful blog posts by widows and others beginning to date after loss who manage to do it wonderfully–you almost feel like you’re there, but not that you’re a voyeur, and it doesn’t sound like redacted porn, either. Like a well written episode of Grey’s Anatomy, you can’t wait to find out what happens next.
But for whatever reason, though I fully indented to do that, here, to wax poetic about how wonderful #2 is, about all the things she does and is that are so cool, so amazing, so funny, and so great for me to be around, I can’t. Or won’t. Not now. I’m not sure why. But I’m trying to be OK with that. Sorry, dear readers, but we’ve hit a bump in the road to complete transparency.
The one thing I will say is that, in the category of “No shit, Sherlock,” all of these first dates have been different, not just from each other, but from that night by the Long Goodbye 21 years ago. And that’s good. Really, really good. But, wait. How can *not* having your heart jump out of your chest because of a mind-blowing first kiss be a good thing? Honestly, I wasn’t expecting I’d think that it would be. But it is I think because different is good, because different IS. Life, real life, is never the same. Every person is different. *I* am different. If Julie and I met today as middle-aged single parents, *we* would be different, very different. Accepting and looking forward to those differences makes me feel more tingly alive than I’ve felt in a long time, and in ways that cancer and death and even healthy, middle-aged, we’ve-got-our-problems-but-wouldn’t-want-to-be-anywhere-else married life pretty much wipe off the map. And, having had 19 years of wonderful despite the ups and downs, I can let myself off the hook for enjoying it–it’s not as if I’m a serial faller-in-love, jumping ship as soon as the newness wears off. I’ve got buckets of confidence in my own ability to be a loyal, faithful, hard-working and present partner. Where I could use some help is my ability to find the right person and win her heart; to do all the right things while still being completely and totally myself; to be completely present in the here and now, without plans or expectations, while still allowing myself to feel, to hope, to dream, to fear and giving them space and opportunity to do the same. For that, these experiences might just be the ticket. Assuming that feeling like a 13 year old girl two-thirds of the time doesn’t kill me first.
I will share one thing about #2. In fact, I will literally kiss and tell, because this is what she said to me right before (or after–I honestly don’t remember!) our first kiss, at the end of our third date:
“Don’t be scared. I’m not scary.”
I know sweetie. I know.