Tuesday, June 29, 2010


“You’re going to get so much action in this place!” Kate exclaimed as we moved yet another wave of boxes into my new apartment. Her enthusiasm and foresight, I suspect, were symptomatic of exhaustion.

“Ooh baby,” I said, “Welcome to my swingin’ bachelorette pad. You know, ‘ho’ + use equals house.”

And it’s jokes like that, I think, that serve as an inoculation to prevent social interaction with the opposite sex. I am as immune to dating as I am to small pox, mumps, measles, and polio. Good thing, I suppose, since all of these afflictions are kind of a bummer and can sometimes be fatal.

(I know - a good woman doesn’t make such jests. Let’s just call that last one part of a mounting body of evidence, shall we?)

Over the weekend, while at a bar to wish “bon voyage” to two climbing friends before their trip to Europe, a man crossed the room to join our group. He had that sharp, middle-management suck-up veneer and was a bit too man-tan for Nebraska. His clothes were too “crisp.” His haircut too groomed. He reminded me of the standard issue middle-aged man from Florida, someone who wears golf clothes all weekend while oogling younger women from behind mirrored aviator glasses.

This man we’ll call David (because that’s what he asked me to call him) made a lot of eye contact with me as I sat with my friends. As every Cosmo girl knows, men who look you in the eye for prolonged periods of time (longer than two seconds) and point their torsos in your direction are demonstrating classic attraction symptoms. The secret to wooing, the (s)experts claim, is giving good eye and where you point your chest.

His baby blues were saying something. The thing is, though, I wasn’t sure exactly what. Things were getting lost in translation. There seemed to be a note of urgency, like the hopeful glance a husband gives a wife when it’s definitely time to leave a dreadful party. But there also seemed to be a contemplative pause, which I attributed to either a minor stroke or his response to the waitress’ short skirt and tight tank top.

While I tried to decipher his eye code, I noticed his lips were moving. I focused. I squinted. It seemed he was asking me for directions and I, the ever polite Midwesternite, got up to help.

“So you’re lost?” I asked, setting my pint on the table.

David smiled. “Not anymore.”

He was indeed from out of town. He worked for an internationally known excavation equipment company. He seemed like a very nice man who loved his work – we talked about our shared enthusiasm for our careers. It was a grown-up and lively conversation. An hour later, he said he wanted to spend some time with me while he was in town. I gave him my number and we made plans for dinner the following night.

The exchange seemed natural (unlike his tan). I wasn’t nervous or uncomfortable. I didn’t invite him to my ho + use, either. David, a couple years my senior, seemed like the perpetual bachelor. But he was closer to my age than my ex, didn’t seem like a serial killer, and was genuine in his interest in having dinner with me.

Twenty-two hours later, dressed up and waiting for my phone to ring, my gut instinct foretold the unforgivable: I’d been stood up.

As I washed my face and readied for bed, I thought about all the good-natured pressure I’ve received to get “Out There and meet people.” Why do those who claim to love me foist this absurd notion in my direction? Don’t they remember how brutal the dating scene is? Have they forgotten how awful waiting for the phone to ring feels, or how deep rejection can seep into one’s bones? Don’t they remember the indignity of being stood up for dinner and having to eat the Plan B bowl of Top Ramen? Oh, the humanity! Oh, the horror! Oh, the sodium!

I wish I could report the dastardly stand-up didn’t make me sad, that I lived up to my middle name and powered through my disappointment. But by the end of the night, I was curled into a pathetic mass of quivering inquiry. I often tell my students that life is process, that lessons await us everywhere. So I wondered what Life was trying to teach me, and then asked God to smite David’s golf swing.

It’s not that the guy had swept me off my feet or even that I had been hoping for more than dinner – I’m a realist. I’ve met myself. I know my gifts are often lethal blows to blossoming romance. What bothered me, what really had me against the cerebral ropes, is that I hadn’t gone out of my way to court this kind of experience. I hadn’t gone to the bar to find a hook-up. I wasn’t trolling for dudes. I wasn’t even wearing my good underwear. I’m chaste for fuck’s sake.

In fact, when I had left the house I was content with my life, perhaps even happy, and filling my hours with all kinds of normal, happy things. It’s only been since my move to the new place that I’ve been able to look the world in the eye again – my recovery from last fall's (and my truest) interest in love (and the rejection of it) has been slow.

I thought I was doing well, really making headway with my heart. Certain songs weren’t suffocating me with sudden, inescapable melancholia. I was able to hang out with my merry band of marrieds and cutely coupled without feeling like Uno Royale, their simple and single sidekick; a matronly mascot serving to remind them they were lucky to have someone. This seemed like progress.

Then David McManTan showed up, tossed me a few compliments like Chief Martin Brody tossing chum, and when I surfaced he scurried the poop deck. Though I recognized his cowardice, I also recognized something I’d been avoiding.

For months now, I’ve been working (and perhaps overworking) a poem …

A woman shows a man her treasure, a collection of cobalt sapphires, fiery rubies, glistening emeralds, and twinkling diamonds. “These are my gifts,” she says. “These I will share with you.”

Looking upon her generosity, all he feels is the weight of the stone.

As she explains how beauty is exacted by compression, he senses his own suffocation.

As she shares the facets of her interests, he’s blinded by the glare.

As he walks quietly into the dawn she stares at the gems waking with first light, their colors deepening in holy hues. Aching with joy, she calls to him, longing to show him the illumination.

But he is already too far away. Her voice stirs nothing but the birds in the trees.

She waits.

She sits with her gems so long she too feels their weight.

She sits looking at their glistening colors until she too becomes blind to their beauty.

Without vision, heavy with contemplation, she gathers her stones and buries them again – for real this time.

I know: It’s a total bummer poem. My point: Mr. McManTan popped up into my life just long enough to remind me that I had buried my gems. What a bastard. So now what? Hell if I know. Date an archeologist? Buy a shovel? Bite tourists until someone sends Richard Dreyfuss and the sheriff? Pray there are no sequels?

I suppose I’ll just do the only thing I can: Take it to the wall and sort it out later.

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