My first date with Kim took place 20 years ago this past Tuesday — February 8, 1991. At least, that was my interpretation of what happened that night. To her, it was more like a blind date — in that she was blind to the fact that it was supposed to be a date.
See, I did such a good job of keeping it casual, she apparently thought we were going out as friends. I didn’t find that out until our wedding day, when her maid of honor made an addendum to one of the best men’s toasts. (Yes, I had two best men. Awkward, I know.)
I have to admit, for a first date, it wasn’t a spectacular venue. I took her to dinner at Bennigan’s and we went to see Awakenings. Both were tearjerkers. But even though there were awkward moments and I had to pee a lot, I enjoyed getting to know her a little better and just spending time alone with her — a stark contrast to our daily interaction among the hustle and bustle of the huge litigation that employed us, and to the group outing to a busy bar the previous weekend.
I was probably born several decades (if not centuries) too late and have a warped sense of gallantry, so I spent a lot of time that night doing things like opening her car door for her — but at least I didn’t go so far as to buckle her in, which happened to one of her friends on a date. (I’m old-fashioned, not an overprotective goon.) Nevertheless, I thought the message got across.
Everything seemed to go well, until the end of the night. As we pulled into her apartment complex, she pointed to the front of her building and said, “You can just drop me off at the curb here.”
“Oh, no, let’s park.”
“Park?” She sounded nervous.
“Sure — we can park the car and I’ll walk you from there.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that.” [Uh-oh.]
“Don’t you want me to walk you up?”
“No, it’s not that — it’s just, I don’t want you to go to any bother.”
In retrospect, this scene foreshadowed what our life together would be like, as we’re both fairly passive types and neither of us ever wants to make a decision or impose on the other. We’re like Mac and Tosh, the maddeningly polite Goofy Gophers from Looney Tunes: After you. No, please — after you! No, no, no – I insist…
But before she could argue more, I was out of the car and at the passenger side, opening her door for her. (This habit has long since died off, but I think she grew accustomed to it and even came to appreciate it before its termination.) From there I took my time, chatting casually about nothing as we strolled across the parking lot in the chilly night air. I wanted to hold her hand, but didn’t dare, so I spent the time alternating between swinging my arms from front to back and cracking my knuckles — something that still annoys her to this day.
When we reached her door, I realized she was shivering — another bit of foreshadowing. I’m always warm, she’s always cold. Like an idiot, I’d been taking my time while she was freezing. She wanted to be inside her apartment, without me. This thought resonated as we turned toward one another and I said, “Well, I don’t want to keep you. You look cold.”
“No, I’m fine,” she insisted, polite as ever.
“I had a really good time tonight.”
“Yeah, me too.” Her teeth were chattering. I had to do something fast and avoid being awkward — but what were the odds of both those things happening?
“We ought to do this again some time.”
“Okay, that sounds fun.”
“I’m supposed to go to Virginia next weekend [No, you idiot, don’t try to pinpoint the exact date yet! Leave her an out, leave her an out!] and spend a week at the main office, but maybe after I come back?” I remembered from our small talk at Bennigan’s (she’d argue that was the last time I ever listened to what she said) that her birthday is February 25 — the week I was due to come back. Probably not smart to commit to a birthday dinner as a second date, so I figured I’d work around that whenever we talked over the details.
“Sure, that sounds like fun!” [That dazzling smile, teeth clacking behind the dimples. Time to lean in and commit to something before she dies of hypothermia.]
“Great! Well, thanks again for going out with me tonight. Talk to you Monday?”
I leaned in and thought I saw doubt in her eyes, as if she thought I might have a box of severed fingers in my freezer. (I didn’t.)
Whatever the cause, she wasn’t open to the idea of a goodnight kiss, so I aborted that effort at the last minute — rapidly jerking my head to one side and shifting my weight in what surely looked like I was trying to walk like an Egyptian — and instead gave her a quick, brotherly hug. She reciprocated slightly, then hurriedly unlocked her door and scooted in. Oh, brother.
I stared at her door for a minute, because you’re always supposed to stare at the door pensively after your date goes inside — it’s one of those unwritten rules. Suddenly I felt cold, so I hurried back to my car and drove back to my apartment complex, heat blasting and butterflies holding a circus in my stomach.
At our building, I hurried up the stairs, stomping extra hard outside the whiny downstairs neighbors’ door, and burst into our apartment. Paul was watching TV.
“How’d it go, Dude?”
“Y’know, I don’t know. I thought it was okay at first, but she seemed a little cold at the end.”
“You gonna go out again?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t think she liked me.”
That phrase would come back to haunt me 23 months later, when he repeated it in a whiny tone during his toast as one of my best men. (Yeah, I know already. Two best men. Awkward.)
Across town, a similar conversation was taking place. I would learn of this one 23 months later, too, as Nancy Carol ran forward to snatch the microphone out of Paul’s hand, having seen an opening for mockery.
“How was your night?” she asked Kim.
“I don’t know. I think that was supposed to be a date.”
“Did he pay for dinner?”
“Did he walk you to the door just now?”
“It was a date, Kim.”
“That was a date?”
“That was a date.”
Can I leave an impression, or what? Fear not, though — I managed to turn things around in a short amount of time, getting her onboard with the idea of dating me. But first I had to get through one more obstacle — the toughest one of all. I had no idea on that Friday night, but a metaphorical Sword of Damocles was hanging over me. It would drop the following Friday, just before I left for Virginia, literally making me sick while I was there.
It turned out, the only reason they wanted me to come back to HQ for a week was to break some devastating news to me in person. What was the news? They were going to give me the one thing I’d wanted for more than two years. Except I didn’t want it anymore, as it would prevent me from further pursuing a relationship with Kim — which was now the only thing I wanted. What was it?
I’ll tell you in Part 5.