--"White Horse", Taylor Swift
"I just don't know what to do about them," I answered him, referring to the noticeable red bumps just below my knee. "My daddy told me they were from spiders and that he'd take care of them, but..."
I looked at the boy sitting across from me at the table. He had glasses on but you can only hide your light under a bushel so much. Some of it seeps out despite your best efforts. I still saw the spark in him that made me want to say yes.
We were seated at probably one of my favorite places near my hometown, Paul's Diner, at what ostensibly could be described as my first date. Not that it was, mind y'all--but officially it was the first time that my company was asked and accepted in the presence of an audience so there you have it. I also mark it as my first official date due to the complex nature of the process of obtaining permission from my folks. Before that time it had been a rather simple affair of conveniently labeling it as a "date" and informing them that I was going out with friends. Those are other times were simpler, more casual. Those times were like taking a walk in the park. With him, though, it more resembled a brisk jog, you know? Or as my daddy called it, "your first real hunt in the jungle, tiger." It was only natural that I ask to be taken to someplace I was familiar with. After all, I didn't want to be completely surprised. I wanted some thought I was at least partially still at the reins. And being at Paul's was just like being at home. Now I'm not sure that Mr. Paul and all the staff there would go to the lengths to protect me like my daddy would, but I felt like, if anything, I had a sort of family watching over me that day.
He had the country-fried steak and I had the pulled pork sandwich--barbecue sauce be damned--because, hell's bells, I wanted it not to be a big deal. I wanted it to seem like that was the sort of dates I'd been through many a time before because playing the nervous schoolgirl has always been a tough act for me to portray. I wanted him to see me as at ease and funny. I wanted him to like me precisely because I wasn't putting up airs of being high maintenance. I wanted him to see me as a young woman he could have fun with and talk to without me getting hoity-toity. I wanted him to see me as something much more than my age or my grade level.
"Don't worry, Breasy. I hardly notice them at all. If you hadn't pointed them out... well, I might've missed them entirely."
"Well, that is a relief off my little 'ole mind. I tell you, it was the only thing I was fretting about when I got up this morning, sugar."
The first thing he said when he picked me up that morning in his mother's old Chevy and we got to talking in the truck was that I talked funny (which I do). But he also said that I didn't act like he thought I'd be acting. There I was, all of thirteen going on fourteen, and I spoke like all of that was old hat for me. I just shrugged my shoulders. I told him that that was the way I always acted and that if he wanted someone who was going to bow and scrape for him--well, then he had picked the wrong gal. He laughed and told me that, no, it seemed like he had picked up the perfect gal. Well, good, I laughed, because I'd sure as Hell be upset if I thought I had gone and wasted his time. Or mine.
But the truth was I was nervous--or at least what passes for nervous with me. Just minutes before he had come to pick me up my mother had sat me down to have a face-to-face discussion with me. We went over all the old chestnuts about me playing it safe and "not doing anything your grandma wouldn't do," which I thought was ridiculous since my grandma at the time was one of the most active sexagenarians I've ever known. Hell's bells, I hope to be half as active as she was when I reached sixty-four. We also went over how a proper lady acts when in the company of a gentleman caller. She was reminding me of how to properly defer to him in the conversation, how to meet his eyes without staring, and how to play up on his idea that I was someone he wanted to know. Most of the time I would've taken my mother's advice with the grain of salt that usually accompanied it, but--I don't know--that time most of what she was saying struck true. I did have a vested interest in making sure he thought I was good company. I did hope that by the end of the evening he would have a somewhat favorable impression of me.
Most of all, I was hoping that somewhere between that last bite of dessert and when he walking me back up the steps of my folks' home I would have my first real opportunity to kiss someone.
"So how'd you get them anyway? Hunting in a lot of caves are we?" he asked.
"Nah. The way my mother figures is that it's all those races through those tall grass fields up by the Worley's place. I must have brought some of the critters home with me and they just got into my room and such."
"They've been a real burr in my britches all this week, you know?"
It wasn't like I was looking for something approximating real love. Even at that age I knew better than to pin my hopes at jerking one out of the park my first time at bat. I did have a fixation at what and where and with whom my first kiss would be with. You could say that I was entirely too obsessed with getting it out of the way just so I could capture the feeling in my brain somewhere. What's funnier is that if you'd asked me at the time I would've told you that it was entirely to preserve the moment, the emotion in a poem or two. It was rather tiresome to write verse after verse about what it might feel like or what it could feel like. I wanted to know. And soon. I was nervous because I thought I'd waited long enough and getting through the next few hours without thinking about the subject would be as unlikely as fitting a beagle into a birdhouse.
I was also nervous because I didn't much care for the prospect of having to try to impress someone. Folks have always just been impressed by me. I never had to work at it. I'd always been surrounded by people who thought I was the cutest, most talented, fastest, smartest, &c... It just came naturally to do what I did and have people fawn over me. But with him (and all the various "hims" that followed) I started to question myself. I reached the end of the rope that tied me to being alright with who I was. I found myself reaching for the next rope of who I could be when I wasn't around people who were predisposed to like little 'ole me. It was like running over ice when all I'd been running on was the firm pavement of the streets I knew. I not only did not know what it was like to slip and fall, before taking a shining him I didn't even know it was possible to slip and fall. He took me out of my comfort zone. He took me to a place where I was fallible. I was nervous for that.
Granted, it wasn't him. He was nothing if not gentlemanly. It was more the idea of him. It has more to do with the idea that I had to change anything about me to please anyone. That's what I was balking at, the idea that any sort of self-improvement was necessary.
And at the time I wasn't doing my damndest to not change, to play it sweet, but confident at the same time.
"You're cute, you know that?" he asked me as I swung my legs back into the booth after him showing the rather unsightly bumps on my legs.
"I've been told," I replied.
"I just can't put my finger on what it is about you I like more."
"Because there's just so much to choose from, darling, right?" I laughed.
"So I've been told...."
The date went well, all in all. I laughed more than I thought I would that day, which is the greatest compliment I can give to any time you spend with another person. If you can laugh more than you usually then it was a good day. I can't complain as far as first dates go.
The trouble is that nothing really came of it. We never went "out" again despite all our maneuvering and complimentary dialogues. I don't know if it was the lack of spark or lack of anything really noteworthy to talk about. That's where I think my first time fell short of my expectations. There I was expecting lightning in a bottle and all I got was a mild tingling feeling. I don't reckon I set my expectations too high. Like I said, it wasn't anything close to deluding myself that anything of note would take place. But I did expect at least a couple more times with this guy I liked of mine. I did entertain thoughts that he would be somewhat of a beau to me. It's not like I would have flashed the label around at school or anything. It would've been mighty nice if I could've taken care of the little 'ole hurdle my first time out as well. Because I reckon that's what puzzled me the most, how the two of us could seem to hit it off at the time, but to only have that one time to look back upon. Hell's bells, I've been on plenty of dates where I knew by the end of the evening I would not be calling the guy back. It comes with the territory of sussing out exactly what kind of man you're looking for. But that was not one of those times. That time should've resulted in something... more.
I suppose it's always gnawed at the back of my mind that it didn't. It wasn't an honest stab at finding someone to love, I understand that. It was, however, my first stab at getting a real handle on how the whole process would take place. Given the circumstances of that first date you could forgive me for being a little thrown at the unsatisfactory ending. I worried for a few months that that's what all this seeing each other and going out would entail, a mighty tasty appetizer, but a somewhat lackluster main course. I liked the courting part. I liked the back-and-forth attention two people heap on one another all in attempt to let each other known they're interested. When that's established, though, it was my assumption that the real meat of the matter would be just as rewarding.
I still don't understand why the two of us just didn't pick up where we left off. I still don't understand why I never made more of an effort to set up another dinner. Maybe I was just too young to understand that that's how it worked sometimes. With some people, you just have to push them into doing what you want. Hell's bells, it's how I lived the rest of my life. I didn't comprehend that love... or like... or whatever might function like that too. I thought I was one of the lucky ones, that relationships would come as easily to me as dancing or running or charming the socks off of people. It didn't occur to me that it would be work or that I would have to work so diligently at it.
"You're not so bad yourself. As far as company goes, I could see us doing this again, you know?"
"In fact, what would you say about extending our evening and getting dessert?"
"I would say I'd be in favor of that, if you were asking."
"Then I would."
Yes, I like it when men open doors for me. I like it when they fawn over me or pay compliments. And, yes, you could accuse me of soaking up the attention like a sponge. Yet I would hesitate to label me as being anything near a high maintenance type of gal. If anything, I'm much more comfortable of taking the initiative when it comes to seeing someone. I'm the one who usually sets up the romantic getaways. I'm usually the one who takes control of where and how fast the relationship is progressing. I'm usually the one who takes it up a notch or slows things down when it comes to the passion department. As George Strait might say, when it comes to doing the whole relationship deal I'm "easy come, easy go."
If there's anything that my first date taught me it's that not every relationship was going to end in happiness or finding the love of your life. I knew that. I just didn't that understand that before that night. And it doesn't mean that every date I was to go on when end in tears or harsh words, or, heaven forbid, me being physically hurt. It just meant that every time I went to the ball I wasn't going to have that memorable dance. Most of love, like most of life I reckon is going to filled with "good enough" and "just fine". Most of what going out meant was sifting out the merely average from the extraordinary. Most gals have a good sense of what they absolutely cannot tolerate in a man. It's a vastly different ride trying to ascertain what they find mildly annoying. It's paring down all these instances that aren't going to kill you, but will bother you for a lifetime, that going through all these average dates is all about. It's about the elimination of the little things that other people might compromise on but shouldn't have to that is the real struggle of looking for the right person.
Nobody's ever going to be perfect for you. Nobody's going to get everything just right. But it's about striving to establish a bare minimum of excellence that describes the dating process. If there's anything my first date taught me it's that most dates aren't going to kill you; they're not going to be the tiger that mauls you to death and then eats you. Most dates are going to be the tiresome spider bites that irritate you something fierce. They're going to be the pebbles in the stream that disturb the flow of your life without ever stopping it completely.
Perhaps if my first date had lead to a second date I might still believe in the whole getting it right the first time ideal. But I'm always relieved that it turned out the way it did. If he had called me again and we had another good, but not great, time, I might not have held out for someone more completely suitable to my needs... like Eeyore... like Greg.
I'm not a princess. I knew I was never going to have the whirlwind romance of storybooks and movies. But if I limited myself to someone who just made me laugh and with whom I had a decent time with, I might not have gotten as close to my happy ending as I did.
I'm not a princess, but I am Breanne. And that's worth a hell of a lot the way I look at it.
Labels: expectations, First Dates, growing up, Promises, Taylor Swift