I was running late, from my other job I was pretending I didn’t have — or rather, lying about it being somewhere else, mentally berating myself over both things, simultaneously. He was running late, too, though I have no idea from what — I was too nervous to ask. I remember wishing I could’ve dressed more nicely, without being sure whether the occasion even called for it, but having no time between to do so, not that I would’ve known what to wear, anyway. I didn’t know how to look nice, really; I wasn’t used to caring. I might have even had my (then longer) hair tied back, lazy as ever, because I wasn’t in the habit of caring about how it looked, either, but I can’t recall for certain. Fuck, do I hope I didn’t.
I do remember, hilariously, that I pointedly hadn’t shaved my legs, not so much because I believed there was any potential for anything to happen (I didn’t dare be that optimistic), but more a ridiculous little inside joke between me and Bonnie Hunt, who I do not know and will never read this, by way of Return to Me. The only thing I had on to potentially look more presentable than I typically did was my boots — fashionable and covered with buckles, but far better for walking than they appear — otherwise all I could do was put on a vaguely nice outfit, despair at my skin as I did (and still do) every day, hope for the best, and head out the door. This was what I’d come here for, I was finally ready to say: I am ready for things to happen to me. I am ready to make things happen. Back down in my hometown, I couldn’t; too much despair and anger tethered me too closely to the ground. But now, at last, I could. As the late poet John Berryman said, “We must travel in the direction of our fear.”
While I was still in the car, looking for parking in an unfamiliar neighborhood, he chanced sending me an unmistakably, albeit gently, flirty text message, and I finally felt I could chance some real optimism about the whole endeavor. I’d been too busy for the past week or so being extremely, silently pissed at myself for having any interest in the first place; I was new, this was stupid, I can endlessly punish myself for feeling things, no matter how innocuous, etc. It was already the second thing — after asking me to meet him in the first place — that he’d been brave enough to risk; that I’d wanted to do myself, but had been too afraid to. My pulse quickened a bit, and I finally found a spot.*
As I approached him on the street, where he stood in casual silhouette waiting outside his apartment, I realized: yes, this was a date. We both wanted it to be, and this seemed to hang in the air between us the closer I got, and so it was. And from there, we walked. Winter was approaching, and it was already dark out; streaks of reflected neon light from shops lining the boulevard shimmered up from the asphalt, as cars hissed sleekly through them. There was still a slight mist of the earlier, weak drizzling rain hanging in the air like a moist kiss.
I wish I could retrace our steps exactly — I have a vague idea of the paths we wandered, but I was still new to the city, and not very well acquainted with the area yet; the streets didn’t mean anything to me then. Our strides matched each other perfectly, which he noticed, and commented on, sounding pleased.
My heart remained simultaneously in my throat somewhere all night, while I also felt surprisingly calm and at ease. I rarely ever feel at home with people, and almost never do so immediately. It felt a bit like being mildly high, or some other form of chemical imbalance in the brain. He was easy to talk to, with a slightly shy smile, as though he wasn’t sure he wanted me to see beyond his moodier way of presenting himself outwardly. He watched me carefully all night, while I deftly avoided eye contact, not yet used to feeling okay about looking anyone right in the eye, after having been trained out of it for so long. Later on, sharing a milkshake, he watched me again, more closely still, playing with my hands across the table; I watched his fingers caressing mine, instead. At one point I did chance a look up, and there was such an open look of sweetness on his face, it shocked me, warmed me to my toes. I didn’t look away that time.
It was late when he walked me back to my car, holding my hand, sharing jokes as we traversed the mostly empty streets. Standing by my car, lingering, I gave him an opening, surprising myself, and he wrapped an arm around me and pulled me into him. It was a hell of a first kiss — though I didn’t tell him then, not for a little while, that that’s what it had been. I was afraid he’d think of me as childish or pathetic, given my age, or worse: it might break the spell that seemed to have taken hold of me, and cover me back up with the veil that had always made me as invisible and unwanted as I’d always appeared to be. I was visible now; I wanted to be seen.
And so I was. I melted right into him, and forgot about everything else. It went on for several minutes, and genuinely made me weak in the knees; I sort of fell into the front seat of my car after we said good night. But I remember, too, how I could feel his knees trembling against my thighs, and how wonderfully endearing that felt, how awed I was by even the concept of having any sort of power over anyone to inspire such a reaction, let alone facing the reality of it pressed warmly up against me. *I’d gotten a parking ticket; something I could not afford to deal with then, and which should’ve both terrified me and pissed me off, and yet in that moment, and for hours afterward, even, I genuinely could not care even slightly about it. It had flown out of my head, along with just about everything else.
I even missed seeing a pothole on yet another unfamiliar street, on my way home, just before merging onto the late, near-empty 101 North (and later overshot my freeway exit, too). My car had already been making a lot of cranky noise about the slowly degrading control arm in its undercarriage, but following this it made even angrier noises related to this particular oversight for years afterward, though I never told him. Slightly damaging my car driving home from that first date in such a haze of wonder and lust and smitten energy remained a funny reminder of that night to me alone, even once I’d finally gotten it repaired, only just earlier this year. My mother would’ve understood, but my father never could have.
There was some great expression in me that had been waiting to be brought out, or is still forming even now, or perhaps there are yet many of them in me still, big and small ones, coming out all the time, while others lie in wait. I do know that I wouldn’t feel this about myself at all if not for the spigot opening that night, and his uncanny ability to continue to open me up beyond that intial spark, and help me to face all the things I’ve found there — good and bad, silly and sad, beautiful and ugly.
This was all only 10 days after we met; 10 days further on, and he’d be wrapped around me from behind in my car, in a seemingly impossible position, the physics of which I still can’t fully explain, gently stroking his fingers along the top of my breasts, just above the line of the tiny red dress I’d deliberately worn to the holiday party, working his hand under it to my bare skin while a cop car sat just 50 feet ahead of us. Fuck, was I in trouble.
But I knew that before then. I knew it out on those streets, when I realized as we struck out together in the night that I would’ve walked anywhere.