This One Time, 68

This one time I was on this date thing with someone I had met through a friend-of-a-friend scenario. All things considered, it was less of an actual date and more of an interview over coffee to see if an actual date was something either of us wanted to do. And let me point out that these things are terrifying. Worse than job interviews. In a job interview you never have to worry about hurting the company’s feelings. If it’s not right, you just walk away. You don’t worry about whether the company thought you were a jerk, whether it laughs about you when it talks to its friends, whether it shed any tears over why you never called it back.

I have a couple of female friends, mostly women I wanted to date but things never worked out that way, one of whom likes to take me under her wing for some reason. She just says all I have to do is be honest and polite and respectful. And she says it just as if those last two things weren’t a contradiction to the first. And she says it just as if people aren’t constantly expecting lies out of each other’s mouths 24/7, trying to wheedle them into doing whatever it is they want them to do.

I like people, mostly. But I hate that people use words like tools, like hammers and chisels and lube and duct tape and try to shape other people with them like they were made of wood or stone, not actually dealing with a person with a mind, but dealing with a shape and a substance that they want to fit into a particular blank spot in their plans. People use little lies to do that all the time, like it’s acceptable or something, when you really shouldn’t even do that with the truth. If you really have any respect for someone, you should just present the facts and let them use their own brains, their judgment, to decide what to do.

Instead, you have to worry about the fact that they expect you to spin a web of little half-truths and lies to make them feel however it would be beneficial to you for them to feel and then get away before you get caught. If you tell them something harsh or even just unexpected, they build a wall of distrust and wonder what unexpected thing you are trying to get out of them.

I hate playing that game. I have a little of the Quixote in me, the self-deluded would-be knight that lives in an idealized world in his head and has a crisis when other people won’t join him in there. And I’m whining. That’s unmanly. The only right thing is to demand the best from myself and expect the best from others and know I’m strong enough to take it when I get a slap instead of a handshake, a punch instead of a kiss.

Anyway, I’m on this coffee-interview thing, and the woman in front of me is beautiful, if not the sort of thing you’d expect on the cover of a magazine. She is petite and curvy. Her face is framed by dark and wavy curls. She has laugh lines, and that is never a bad thing. I’ve already seen a dazzling smile, but there is sadness and weariness in her posture. And she has worn a beautiful dress for me — not the sort of thing one would usually wear to work, and she has had time to change.

There are a few pleasant words. We ask about each other’s day, exchange complaints about the weather and public transit. And then she asks me, in a clinical and neutral tone, this question: “Why are you alive?”

Of course this is an interview. This is a test. A shock like that, she’s already read who I am off of my face. Did I take it as an accusation, the way I asked it of myself after my daughter died? Did I see it as an opportunity to explain my purpose in life? Did the shock unseat me, like a lance-blow, and land me on my ass in the dust? Was I offended to be examined so directly, that I had lost the upper hand in directing the flow of conversation?

I am not a fast thinker. All of my thoughts show up on my face. I read them from the muscles in my forehead, my cheeks, my jaw, from the corners of my eyes at about the same time as anyone in front of me. And frankly, I am proud to do so. It is far more honest than the words in my head that reflexively try to shield my ego. But I am strong. I can withstand this test.

“It is a mystery,” I reply. “There were plenty of opportunities for it to have been otherwise, from illness or accident or what I can only call lapses in judgment in hindsight.” I laughed a little. “Regardless, I try to do what I can to show that I am grateful to still be here, after everything, and not waste any future opportunities.”

She gave me her smile, but I couldn’t tell if it was a true one. “Aren’t you going to ask me the same thing? To return the favor? I can see that stung a bit….”

“Ha,” I returned. “What would the point of that be? You have been through all of this in your head, or maybe someone has already put you through that. You must already have an answer.”

I watched her face over a sip of con leche, smiling. I did appreciate her stratagem, that she had thought to bring one, and that it was so direct. After a moment, composing myself, I spoke again.

“Here is your test, lovely woman. Fill an uncomfortable silence however you see fit, and I will judge how well you do. And maybe after that, if I feel you have bested me again, maybe we will arm-wrestle and see if I can save my ego on some front or other.”

And she laughed, and I laughed, and she told me how she loved to dance.


March 9, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


Leave a Reply