Eight years ago I spent all night riding around the back roads of Pensacola and Perdido Key returning home around 5 am. My sister lent me some of her clothes, told me how to do my hair, and then sent me on my way to my first real date (yes, you’re counting right. my first real date at the age of 19..) It was a night full of awkward silence broken by quips like:
“Know what that is?” he was pointing to a stain on the cloth of the passenger seat where I sat.
He proceeded to tell me the story of the frazzled dog walking around the parking lot of a mall. He couldn’t let the dog just roam around next to a busy street, so he pulled up near the dog and slowly lured him into his car. Only after the dog skittishly got into the car did he notice the dog was injured and bleeding. He drove the dog to the nearest shelter to be tended to and put up for adoption.
The drive lasted all night because that’s how long it took for us to get the courage to ask each other questions. What are you doing here? Where did you come from? Where do you hope to go? Are a you a big fan of Where the Wild Things Are or does a 30 year old wear that tee shirt because he has nothing else to wear?
We stopped at a Dairy Queen parking lot. How southern of us. Except this one was along Scenic Highway and overlooked the gulf. He had a tattoo I heard about. He rolled his eyes, kicked up his converse to the table, pulled up his jeans, rolled down his tube sock, and there he was. The Lorax.
He explained how he eats a sandwich. He has to hold it, take bites while never putting it down. Because the moment he puts the sandwich down he loses interest, won’t pick it up again for another bite. No leftovers for this guy. The only leftover he ate was pizza that sat all night in its box on top of the stove. How ignorant and wasteful, I thought. Years after telling me this, he ate day-old leftovers of something I cooked. I was more than a little proud.
He asked permission before hugging me. I’m a stand-offish person. Not one to openly hug friends or let them know how much they mean to me. My chest exploded when I realized I agreed. I didn’t know how to move, we ended up somehow in a bear hug between man friends kind of position. I had one arm over his should and one around his waist thinking to myself how this arm position is so off and I just blew it. The whole night lost to an awkward arm position in a hug. But what’s with this sweater? This ribbed sweater he’s wearing, so soft. A year or so later I found that same sweater at the bottom of a drawer, stole it, hid it, kept it so he would never give it away.
That was it. He drove me back to my sister’s apartment. I had my hands stiff on the seat and probably looked like a deer in headlights because it was my first date and how can I like this dude I know nothing about and how can I know nothing about him after spending about 7 hours in a car with him. And then I saw him reach over and grab my pinky and say that he wishes he could chop it off to have a part of me to hold when I leave town the next morning. I had slight relief at him saying something rather disturbing to take away from my awkward hugging skills. We were back on level ground.
I thanked him, got out of the car, walked to the door too scared to look back knowing that he was watching me, and pretended to sleep 4 hours until I got out of bed and my sister said he had already called to say good morning.
That was 8 years ago.