First date

I spent my high school years yearning for boys beyond my reach, the sort who were student council president and captain of the football team — the sort who dated cheerleaders. By junior year, my friends had begun pressuring me to aim for someone more reasonable, someone who might cure me of my frustrated nightly scribbling into a diary (Did he brush against my arm on purpose? What does it mean when he pulls on my ponytail?!).

“How about Kevin?” they asked. Kevin was quiet, studious, and innocent. He wore flannel shirts and jeans that were a size too big and clearly chosen by his mother. He hadn’t quite grown into his feet yet and so resembled a puppy. He could have been my male twin. But smarter.

The Valentine’s dance was soon, and I agreed that I would ask Kevin “as friends.” We were both on the yearbook staff. At our school, yearbook was a credit class that served more as a second lunch. My yearbook pals and I spent most of our time gossiping and asking Kevin for help with our math homework.

After biting my lips a few times and rubbing my hands on my own size-too-big jeans, I approached his desk in the corner. I asked. His face flushed tomato. The silence grew. And grew. “I’ll have to think about it,” he whispered. Furious, I scampered back to my friends on the other side of the room and repeated his answer. I had been doing him a favor, and he had turned the whole scenario upside-down. This was my third or fourth time asking out a boy, but after a string of rejections, I had been certain that this would be the first “yes.” I was well aware that “I’ll think about it” was a polite brush-off.

I returned to class the next day, mortified. Kevin called me over. He said that he wanted to go to the dance with me, that he was sorry he hadn’t responded but that he had been too surprised at my asking. And the way he said it, I knew that he was flattered. He wasn’t like the football players. He was sincere.

Though the Valentine’s dance was a jeans and T-shirt affair for most students, my friends and I, having all found dates, inflated it to a mini prom. I bought a little silver velvet dress that made me look like a 17-year-old rather than a middle-aged soccer mom.

I didn’t want my parents within a mile of this first-date scenario, so I got ready at a friend’s house, and Kevin met us there. He brought a corsage, a profusion of roses and ribbons that climbed from wrist to elbow on my twig-like arm. I might as well have strapped a potted plant on myself. To diffuse the tension, my friends and I spent the whole evening cracking jokes about it, something that I feel guilty about now. He must have been embarrassed.

Only a few memories have stayed with me. I remember feeling terribly overdressed when we arrived at the dance. And I remember our first slow dance, how I was surprised that Kevin towered over me, forcing me to rethink my little-boy notion of him. Afraid that he would try to kiss me, I pretended to doze on the way home and then dashed into the house. That was it.

During senior year, I remember seeing Kevin at dances with other dates, girls who were more popular than me, and I couldn’t help but feel that I had made both a discovery and a mistake. He was a good guy, and if I hadn’t been so concerned with what others thought of me, I might have noticed.

I wish I could say that was my big epiphany, but I had still much to learn. My college friends continued to push me toward the geeks, and I continued to chase the smooth talkers. This is why our parents don’t want us to marry young, right? After a few years, and a few heartbreaks, I met another quiet, studious guy who wore clothes chosen by his mother. And lived in the same college apartment building as Kevin (Birds of a feather, I guess?). I was wiser.