Given the evidence presented in my last entry, it should come as no surprise that I haven’t had a stellar dating history. Now I understand that in spite of my low self-esteem, there might have been girls out there who didn’t share my assessment. But combine it with my severely Catholic sexual repression and I never stood a chance. Girls just weren’t in the picture for a long time. There were a few dates, but they were few enough that my lack of them became noticeable enough for friends to tag me with a reputation. The assumption was made on more than a few occasions — by people of whose business it was none — that I was gay. (I wasn’t.)
As for the few dates I managed to score, I never seemed able to get them without help. In school, I relied on the help of my best friend, Marc. In later years, I relied on the help of my fifth friend, Jack.
Meaning, my 750ml friend, Jack. Liquid courage. I wasn’t as bad off as Raj Koothrappali; after all, I could actually talk to women without being drunk. I simply couldn’t ask them out without the assist. Which is why it’s a good thing Kim wanted a group of us to take her out drinking for the first time after she broke up with her boyfriend (at my recommendation); otherwise, I might never have gotten drunk and asked her out.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I still need to fill in some important back story. That, or I’m just trying to draw this thing out. Regardless, the back story begins with an appropriately awkward moment.
I met Kim on my first job out of college, building document databases for a legal consulting firm based in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. I had reluctantly agreed to transfer to Raleigh to work at a client site. We had a cavernous room on the unfinished top floor of the client’s headquarters, where five or six of us consulting types shared spaces with an army of paralegals and oversaw the daily sweatshop-style production of a team of document coders.
The coders were untrained temps brought on from a local firm and maybe five percent of them possessed a work ethic. As one of the few “real” employees of the consulting firm, I was considered management. When I wasn’t building databases from the coders’ work, my job was to oversee them — and I’ve never felt so miserable in my life. I sat in a little room off the main drag, sharing spaces with another database administrator, several overheated DOS computers and an impossibly loud dot-matrix printer. I signed off on the comings and goings on the main floor, where the atmosphere was akin to Romper Room. I reported to two man-haters — one, a bipolar lesbian with an axe to grind and a tendency to make our female employees feel uncomfortable; the other, a chain-smoking micromanager who had no social life and forced her management employees to attend Saturday meetings at her house, where her brooding German shepherds made me feel slightly less threatened than she did.
The 12-hour days had become a drain and I was pretty much a shell of a human being by the time Kim joined our team. Her boyfriend was employed by one of the law firms that had hired our consulting group for the project, working as a runner between that firm, the client building and a document production trailer at the remote site that was at the core of the mega-litigation. He belonged to a program at N.C. State that was furnishing paralegals to the law firm and was happy to recommend Kim when he heard they wanted to hire another employee.
Originally, she was to be a “shared” employee between the law firm and us, so the day she came in for an interview, she met with a hiring manager from each. After an attorney from the firm had finished his interview, no one was available to interview her from my team, so he brought her to my little antechamber and asked me to keep her company. He dragged a chair in from the main floor and, because there really wasn’t anyplace to put it, stuck it in the doorway facing me and invited Kim to sit down. I had been working on my computer, building some database or another while my mind wandered to my happy place, when they interrupted me. Now I was forced to try to make small talk with a stranger. Bad idea.
As we waited for the assistant man-hater to come forth from her office and take Kim away for an interview, I made a couple of feeble attempts at conversation. She did the same. She was nervous, I was bored. I figured she’d be working at the law firm and I’d never see her again, so I made no real effort. I eventually settled on ignoring her, going back to my computer while she faced me from two feet away and tried her best not to look at me. It was a big box of awkward.
Regardless, she got the job. The man-haters liked her enough to keep her around, so she never did a minute of time at the law firm. As a result, I got to know her a little better. She was mature, responsible, hard-working and cheerful — the antithesis of most of the other coders — and I came to appreciate her and her work. My roommate Paul, who was the manager at the remote trailer, began to hang out with us when he was in town, and the three of us became fast friends. Her smiles were the stuff of legends and as the two most miserable people in that building, we sought them often.
In the meantime, I was trying hard to get over a bad case of unrequited love left over from a Virginia Beach vacation. One night while the three of us were working late, I called Kim by the name of that other woman. After the awkwardness passed, I recognized sympathy on Kim’s face and I began to see her in a different light. I also had sympathy for her, having repeatedly witnessed her boyfriend belittling her in front of the other coders. I stepped in a couple times to ask him to stop and not long before Christmas 1990, I told her in front of him that she needed to ask Santa for a new boyfriend.
After she finally dumped him in January, she asked me and Paul if we’d like to join her and her roommate, Nancy Carol, in a celebration. It was her last semester of college and she realized she’d never really gone out drinking; dropping her boyfriend afforded her the excuse she needed.
So we made the plans and went out as a group the first weekend in February, setting the wheels in motion for that first date, which was to come a week later — and about which I’ll say more in the next entry, lest I nod off one more time while typing this.