I go on a date with Marshall from the meditation center. I said yes after he boldly asked me three times, twice in front of other people after sitting. Each time involved a series of “Would you like to’s” or “I really hope we can’s” or “I’d like to get to know you better’s” and a sheepish blushing smile. I found his bravery endearing and guessed we were about the same age. Why not? I thought. He seems nice enough. Give it a try.
After three weeks of putting it off, I finally call. We set plans for dinner and a walk tonight, followed by meditation at the center. “I’d like to get to know you better.” Hmmm. Sounds healthy enough…
I knock on his apartment door not at all nervous. Since I didn’t initiate the date I’m actually much more at ease. No anxiety here. This one will be a piece of cake. Finally, no pressure.
He opens the door with a grin and I suddenly realize what it is about his smile that seems so familiar. His eyes and lips are big and almost boyish, but in a soft way. They are by all accounts in my memory near replicas of the eyes and lips belonging to a lovely man name Eric Vobel, whom I dated while living in the Adirondacks.
We greet and I notice immediately that he is nervous, beads of sweat forming along the top of his upper lip. I step in the door and see that the table is set with two wine glasses, a bottle of Australian Shiraz, and a flickering vanilla bean scented candle.
This is how “I’d like to get to know you better” starts out? Who was I kidding? This guy means date in a major way. I wasn’t prepared for this at all.
I walk past the table and into the kitchen where Marshall has made an elegant meal of home cooked rice noodle egg drop soup and oven roasted chicken. I am fully impressed. I glance at his arms adorned in quilted blue oven mits. He is even wearing slippers. The whole thing feels very domestic, except for the slightly trouble techno music in the background.
“Make yourself at home,” he says.
“Where are your apartment-mates?” I inquire – only to find out they are conveniently MIA.
Give him a chance Katey. You’ve been the nervous one before many times in your life. He’s Buddhist! He’s allergic to dairy, too! Most of his close friends are girls – a very good sign. Chill out!
Conversation is slow at first but I brewed myself a double soy mocha before leaving work for this precise reason. In case of an awkward lull, I had planned on using my caffeine reserves – and it was a good thing I had them. Once we get things going it’s not so bad. I compliment the soup. He asks about my writing. I ask about the dragon puzzle on the wall (his friend’s). He mentions a love for Monty Python, mountain biking, and the occasionally video game. I mention a Master’s, a lack of hot water in my house, and my love affair with coffee.
I try really hard to fend off my own voices of skepticism. I do enjoy his company. He is nice enough, I was right about that much. We could even be friends. But as the conversation continues it is clear that he is looking for more. We’re only twenty minutes into dinner and he seems enamored.
I begin to fret. I overanalyze the chicken, which is dark meat and on the bone. As an ex-vegetarian, I still can’t handle meat on the bone. Especially dark meat. I eat it out of politeness, though. Before I finish chewing the first bite Marshall asks me how it tastes.
“Just right, tastes great,” I say, and I mean it – but I can’t bring myself to finish it. He excuses himself to use the bathroom and adjusts the fusion techno music with a remote control from the table. This is beyond domestic.
While he is gone I indulge in an anxiety-ridden fantasy. I consider writing him a note one of the paper napkin and leaving it for him on the table:
I’m sorry I had to leave. I’m really not good at dating anyway. I fall too quickly for men. Either that or I act childish when I’m not sure how I feel about someone. I’ve even been known to play pretend girlfriend. Really, it’s probably not a good fit. But the soup was yummy. You sure looked nice tonight in your Ecko shirt and your quilted oven mits. It’s not you, it’s me.
P.S. I might have to write about you. Um. That just happens sometimes. I can’t explain it. Don’t worry though, I’ll change your name.
My fantasy ends with the clanking of dishes and I look up to see that Marshall is kindly clearing the table. I offer to help but he shakes his head no.
“Just enjoy your wine,” he smiles. “We’ll leave for our walk soon.”
In his car I see the clock and realize we still have two hours to go before meditation. I resolve to have a go at decent conversation. We drive out of town towards Pisgah to hit the trails at Bent Creek.
“Oh,” he sighs disappointedly as we pull into the parking lot. “Everyone is here today because it’s so hot out. I was hoping for some privacy.”
Beep! Beep! This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test. Should you be prepared for dating, Marshall’s comment would have seemed romantic. You must now exit the vehicle. Put your hands in your pockets and keep them there. This is only a test, but you have failed.
We walk along a happy-strolling-couples trail and everything is postcard picture perfect. Except I can’t get my brain to shut off.
We talk about exotic invasive plants. I mention the Nature Conservancy. We talk about future plans – he wants stability, I confess to mounting student loans and what I predict to be a creative life of low but livable wages. We discover we’re both only children. I like birds. He likes insects. For a moment I consider that one is the prey of the other, then I stop myself from overanalyzing. Out of nervousness, I apologize humorously for my body odor.
“See, I worked both jobs today and we had a lunch rush. And I use this Tom’s natural deodorant that really doesn’t work anyway, and-“
“It’s O.K. Every man loves the smell of a woman.”
God help me. I can’t handle this.
“Every man loves the smell of a woman,” Marshall repeats.
By dusk we are ready to hit the road and head for the meditation center. I mention I might like to get my car and take it there so I can leave from the center, but he explains that no, it would be more convenient in his car. I agree out of politeness but secretly worry about showing up at the center with someone else. This kind of thing always makes me nervous. What if Keller is there, for example?
Meditation is fine. It is a relief. I am happy to see my friends and be in a group. Note to self: The next time someone says “I’d like to get to know you better,” suggest a group outing. Never start at the apartment.
I nod to Marshall that I am ready to go when all is said and done and aim to sneak out the door. But suddenly he announces,
“Well, I guess Katey and I are going to head out.”
Eight heads suddenly turn in his direction, then all eyes are on me.
“Hah!” I smile nervously. “See, my car is at the North end of town. We carpooled.”
Jack looks at me wondering. Jon knows what’s up, he was there when Marshall asked me out. Kim looks at me, then Marshall, then back at me again. She opens her mouth as if to speak but then stops herself. I simply walk out the door with Marshall trailing behind me.
It takes ten minutes to get from the center back to his house and Marshall asks me if I’d like to come to a party with him tomorrow night.
“I’m sorry, I just can’t I’ll be wasted by the end of tomorrow after work. I’m not sure I’m up for driving all the way back to BigCity.”
“How about Saturday afternoon? I could come to your place. We could go on a hike,” he suggests.
I sigh then there is a long pause. He asks again.
“I’m just not sure how much I can commit to Marshall. I’ll be honest. Besides, I’m working 12-6 and I eat dinner at the craft school. I won’t be home until 7:30pm. I think Saturday night for me is going to be having a glass of wine and reading. I’ve got a lot of work to do to get ready for residency.”
“I like to sit and drink wine and read,” he hedges.
“I’ll be pretty tired. I don’t think I’d make great company.”
“How about Sunday. What are you doing Sunday?”
Is this for real? Did he really just try for Friday, then Saturday, then Sunday? Oh, how to be polite? How to be empathetic?
“I’ll be coming to the meditation center. But I’m carpooling with Kelly and she has to leave by 1pm. I might go on a hike in the afternoon up in the Black Mountains. I think I’m just going to need some alone time. I work on weekends so my Friday night is actually more like Sunday afternoons. I just like to wind down.”
“I like to hike. I could come out. We could hike together.”
Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod. This is the part where I am the bird, and he is the prey. And I have to kill him. I feel horrible for doing it, but it must be done.
“Marshall, I’m just not sure how much I can commit. I know that might be frustrating, but I don’t know how I’m going to feel on Sunday. Feel free to call me and check in but I’m pretty sure I’ll just need some down time.”
He sighs loudly as we pull into his driveway and he turns off the engine. “Well,” he says slowly. “I’m disappointed. It’s not everyday that you meet someone that you have something in common with. You seem like a nice person…” he says. Then he continues. He gives a speech about me. I try really, really, really hard to like the speech. I pretend he is someone I’ve wanted for years, I pretend that I have all the time in the world to give to him, I pretend that he doesn’t listen to techno music.
But it doesn’t work. There is no click. No chemistry. Not an ounce.
As he unlocks the door to his place (I have to get my guitar, which was kept safely in his apartment as opposed to in my car) he smiles and me and says, “There’s still time for a Monty Python movie on the couch!”
I say nothing.
In his doorway I hug him goodnight and dodge the lip dive. He shakes nervously. “Maybe I’ll see you Sunday then.”
Ok. I am completely out of tools. There is nothing but frankness left.
“I wouldn’t count on it Marshall. I’m sure I’ll see you again soon, but I’m probably going to need some time to myself on Sunday. Thanks again. Goodnight.”
On the drive home I eat three cookies out of nervousness and perhaps a little guilt and play Paul Desmond’s sultry jazz all the way home to wipe the techno off. I make it to the gas station just before it closes, my last chance in forty miles, and coast all the along the mountain highway to home, sweet home just in time to see the full, buttery moon shining boldly through the clouds.