I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
Unseasonably warm for fall in Chicago, I rode toward
Racine Avenue slowly so I wouldn’t sweat. My eyes still puffed
slightly from the prior night’s terrible sleep.
The coffeehouse’s green awning peeked through the bare
tree branches, and I locked my bike to a metal pole near a street
cleaning sign. I walked in and ordered an herbal tea. I was a few
minutes late, but didn’t see her when I scanned the room. Granted, I
didn’t look too closely at her profile pictures, so I wasn’t completely
sure what to look for. I should’ve studied more. I thought she was
cute and remembered our back and forth full of sass and wit – the
right amount of ingredients for agreeing to an hour or two coffee
I sent her a text. “Where is your punkass?”
I saw her waiting at one of the few tables on the patio. She
appeared confident with her dark hair, sunglasses and knee-high
boots. She hugged me and we sat down.
The first few minutes are always the toughest. Gauging timing,
their sense of humor and deciding if they’re as charming as their
e-mails and texts implied. Reading body language. Do they make
eye contact? Do they fumble over words? I love these moments
because they’re real. Even after hundreds of dates, the slight sting
of anxiety punctures me. I love feeling their apprehension across
the table and watching it melt away with jokes and amusing stories.
In these minutes, a person’s face and delivery are the most honest.
False confidence lifts the cup to their mouth. They intentionally drink
slowly so I don’t get the impression she’s as nervous as she really is.
As if we’re both not in the same boat. As if we’re both not staring at
each other wondering if we’re better or worse than the pictures we
posted. Or if the other person figured out that we’re taller, shorter,
cockier or quieter than we lead everyone to believe. Am I having a
good hair day? Do I have white goo in the corner of my mouth? Do
I have a booger in my nose? I live for those moments. The thrill. The
vulnerability. The real adventure.
She was more intelligent than most. Her views opposed
mine, which was nice for a change. Most women keep it light
and cordial on first dates, but that’s not what I want. Once the
anxiety wears off and we relax in our seats, I want someone to
shake me. Someone to wake me from the sleep of typical first date
conversation. She did.
I asked her to “tell me things.”
She told me she wants to be happy because it’s what she
I’m instantly wary of anyone who says they deserve
anything. “Why do you deserve to be happy?” I questioned in a
slightly sarcastic tone. “There are more than six billion people out
there and every one of them thinks they deserve to be happy. Not
everyone is a good person, so I would think not everyone deserves
Her reasoning was sound and impressive. She was
impressive. Leaning back in my chair, I scanned beyond the naked
trees and said, “I would love to someday think I deserved happiness.”
“No,” I replied. “And no matter what anyone tells me, I will
never see what they see in me.”
I laughed to stop myself from crying. Ever since I was
young, I cope by laughing in the face of tragedy. Most people
measure their efforts and progress against others, but I only
measure against what I’m capable of, which is a recipe for perpetual
disappointment. There are always wasted minutes. Wasted emotions.
Half-smiles and ill intentions. Momentary bouts of selfishness
and the following inevitable guilt. A long slow spiral of running a
race and constantly tripping over my feet. The futility of smashing
my face repeatedly until I’m used to the pain. I laugh because the
alternative is throwing myself off a building or walking to the local
corner store, buying three packs of sleeping pills, crushing them
up into a paste and spoon-feeding myself into a forever sleep. And
I can’t do that. I won’t do that. Because despite my inconceivable
happiness, my love for my mother and overwhelming guilt of feeling
like a bad son keeps me walking and talking and breathing and
moving forward. I won’t allow her to know the feeling of losing two
children. She will go first. Then all bets are off.
She smiled and I exhaled. Shit. I liked her. After I told her I
was hungry, she agreed to get food with me. We ate, laughed and I
told her I liked her. I was irresponsible. I just met her, but I couldn’t
ignore the obvious. She was beautiful and wonderful in all the right
ways. All the wrong ways to throw my life into the chaos of potential
happiness. I resembled the one-dimensional characters of romance
novels. The men who push away good women because their rotten
self-image won’t allow them to believe they deserve anything good
and real. She was good and real, and she needed to know, right there,
at that moment, regardless of tomorrow. I was infatuated with her. I
wanted to know what she dreamed about. What makes her laugh turn
into a cackle and if she likes raisins in her cookies. I wanted to take
her home and be the big spoon. I wanted to kiss her to the point of
smothering. I wanted her to sit next to me so I could brush her hair
behind her ear and tell her I would never forget this moment, her
and how there was no other place in the world I would rather be than
with her. But I didn’t. I smiled, laughed and shook my head.
When she asked what was wrong, I replied, “This is going to
be no good for anyone.”
I almost cried because the moment was so last-two-minutes-of-
the-movie genuine, I wanted to live in it forever.
We walked outside and she told me I resembled a shy
12-year-old. I couldn’t stop smiling and shuffling my feet. I hugged
her and told her I had a good time. Her face said she wanted to kiss
me, but I continued smiling. I didn’t want her to think she was one of
the rest because she was better than all of them. Hundreds. I told her
she should cross the street and go home because the little man on the
walk sign blinked, but she didn’t move.
Her smile begged me to kiss her. I fought every urge.
The ideal she became could never measure up to her real life. She
couldn’t kiss me as well as I imagined. I wanted to tell her to leave
me with this memory. To leave and never come back because hope
makes me unstable and confused. But she showed me what could’ve
been, and on the sidewalk, in front of the legendary pizza restaurant,
I couldn’t imagine this being real. I told her to go. She didn’t budge.
I couldn’t take it anymore, so I grabbed her by the back of the neck
and pushed my forehead into hers and breathed out. This was it. The
type of kiss romantics wrote about for centuries. I gently pushed her
away and told her to go. Leave. It couldn’t get any better. I wanted
to cash in my chips while I was up. She stared at me, killing me with
her smile. I tried. I tried to be good. I repeated, “I’m trying to be
I pleaded. “Go.” Just let me go. Leave me be. Let me rot.
Guys like me don’t kiss girls like you. We could never work. Go
away. Just go. Her confidence kept her there, but my impulsiveness
grabbed her by the arm and turned toward my apartment. The guilt
set in and I reassured myself. While I didn’t deserve this moment, I
had to live in the happiness, even for only a few hours.
I turned the key and opened the door for her.
“Wow,” she said. “Your apartment is nicer than I expected.”