Jared Witt | October 3, 2019
Part I: The way it used to be…
Backstory: When I was about 12 or 13, I thought briefly of asking out a girl from my class. But as I contemplated the humiliating logistics of (A) seating her on the back of my banana seat huffy or (B) asking one of my parents to drive, I just figured it was a no go and tried to focus on bettering myself (I asked my Mom to take me to Old Navy).
So my first encounter in romance (let’s just use the term liberally for the story’s sake) came when I was sixteen. She was a cute, soccer playing blonde with a loose affiliation in my friendship circle. Truthfully, that’s all I knew about her, that she was cute, soccer playing, and blonde. It was enough for me. I’d only had my eye on here for a couple weeks, which I figured was advantageous timing as I’d long noticed the self-sabotaging effect of pining after someone for months on end if unaccompanied by action. And so that’s where we find our hero in the spring of 2002…
I’ve strategically timed my departure of our mutual friend’s home with hers. The plan is clear and well thought out. Somewhere in the driveway, I will call to her in a way that is at once purposeful but doesn’t betray my intentions before they can be softened and contextualized with my well-rehearsed preamble. “You know, it’s been fun getting to know you…”
…I delay too long. She’s already at her mid-nineties Jeep Cherokee. “How, so quickly? Did she just teleport? Is she some kind of beautiful time-shifter?” I just keep on walking. BYE! I say with little or no volume control. “Awesome. What a creeper.” I stop at my 94’ Subaru Legacy. I’m overtaken with terrifying visions of dying alone with just lonely stacks of philosophy books, football memorabilia, and the smell of dog fur to keep me company.
“No, Jared. It’s now or never.” My car key retracts itself back into my pocket. My legs begin their mutiny in the direction from which they’ve just come. “What’s happening? She’s already in her car. Not now, idiot.” The door is closed. She’s flipping through a CD case or something. “This is all wrong.” I knock on her window. She lurches just a bit. “Of course she does. You scared her, you creeper moron idiot. What an idiot!” She points down at the door handle with one hand and shoos me away with the other. “See? she wants you to leave because you’re a creeper idiot.” She giggles. “Oh, she needs to wedge open the door to talk. Her automatic windows must be broken or something.” I totter back “like a big tottering moron.”
“Hey, Jared, what’s up?”
“Would you like to go on a date with me?”
“Wait (giggle), when? Where do you want to go?”
“Um…I’ll call or something. Ok, have a good night.”
“Do you have my number?”
“Oh yeah, um, let me get your number.”
In a daze, I find my car seat. I stall until her car disappears around the corner and then roll down my window and blast “Sugar Ray” like a boss.
The day approaches like a slug in molasses. I try to occupy myself that morning with some emergency push-ups. I suddenly curse my narrow wardrobe selection. Old Navy? What are we, living in poverty?
“Mom! I’m probably gonna die alone thanks to your career choices. So thanks.”
“Whatever you say, Jared.”
“Nothing for it, I guess. Fortunately, the hole I just ripped in the knee of my carpenter jeans looks convincingly factory. Plus they have that boot cut [I cut it myself] so they won’t bunch up on my faux-Doc Martens [Sketchers]. But none of my shirts are expensive enough to pull off that worn look. Could I get away with one of my Dad’s old baseball tees from his softball days or is that too trashy?…Too trashy…Trash…Oh crap the trash!”
I scramble down the stairs to the garage. I lunge into the passenger’s side of Subey. The Taco Bell rubbish sits just where I left it. Crisis averted for now. But removing the superficial clutter only reveals a far more profound layer of filth beneath. I look at my Nokia 3310 Dumbphone. “Ok, 4:10. If I can shower, brush my teeth, dress, and get to her place in 38 minutes (three minutes late so as not to appear over-eager), that leaves me twelve minutes to at least vacuum out the seats.” I finish in five. “Should I stop by King’s Soopers and grab a single rose for when I pick her up? Is that too much? Ok, slow down, Jared. Wayy too much. Seven minutes is enough time to wipe down this windshield.”
I come careening back through the garage door and slide to a stop at the cabinet beneath the sink where we keep the cleaning products. “No time to think.” I grab an armful of potent solutions and a roll of paper towels. I go to town on my car like the Brawny man on uppers. My mom peeks out the door bemusedly. She’s never seen such industry.
At this point, time begins to blur, and the next clear memory is of me on her front porch, sweating like I’ve been wearing a saddle and trying valiantly to control my breaths and look natural. “The doorbell? You fool. Nobody rings a doorbell anymore. Should’ve just honked. Have you never seen a high school movie? Are you trying to be the nerdy, nice guy in the movie or the dangerous one? The one who gets the girl?...
“Can I help you?”
“Oh, hi, yeah, uh, just…for Lauren.”
The wine glass held by the middle aged woman standing in front of me might as well be an extension of her arm. She looks me up and down like a loan officer. “That’s alright. Lots of people don’t get along with their mothers-in-law.”
“Lauren, he’s here.”
There is a froufrou down the stairs and then, at once, the tension in my shoulders eases. She’s more beautiful than even I remembered. She’s clearly put some time into her hair, and I’m flattered. Her outfit is cute but not overthought. She’s done this before, and I haven’t. I immediately scrap whatever decadent, overwrought plan I had dreamed up for the night and throw a wild audible.
“You want to go bowling?”
“Sure. I’m not very good, though.”
“That’s ok. You don’t look like you’d be a good bowler.”
We bowl for a bit and then grab some chilly cheese fries at Chubby’s.
Prince William and his Lady Duchess haven’t seen a more charmed and amorous evening. “I wonder if our kids will take after her or myself? I hope they get her nose and cheekbones.”
I’ve already forgotten the lessons from earlier and walk her all the way up to the door at the end of the night. No matter. Soulmates make exceptions for such extravagancies. A pleasant hug and then I’m back in my car. I stop conservatively at the stop sign in case her parents are watching, safely round the corner, and only then, roll down my window. This is a “Sugar Ray” kind of night.
I didn’t see her for a couple weeks after that until a friend strongly suggested that she might’ve been avoiding me. It turns out she’d long had an unreciprocated love of one of the center halves on the boys soccer team, and I guess everyone but me has always known.
I’m a touch hurt, but only a touch. At some point during the second week of radio silence Kendra Perkins caught my eye. Turns out, she was my true soulmate. For a while. Until I found out she was in love with the varsity tight end.
But that’s how it went sometimes. Love was risk. Love was uncertain. You couldn’t have your armor and still love too. So you left your inner parts exposed, and you popped the question. You took your shot. You made your wager. And win, lose, or draw, you felt alive.
That’s how it used to be.
Next week, part II.
Cheers and Peace,
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