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Out There

12 January, 2011 (00:03) | Women

WARNING:
The following is extremely long,
running over 3500 words.
It is likely a candidate for tl;dr.

My hand slaps against the warm tile wall. The noise startles me and I draw my hand away, steam and suds leaving a foamy white silhouette. The torrent of water pours over my back as I stare numbly as the temporary mark drips into unintelligible blots of froth spread randomly and awkwardly across the wall like my latest direction in life. Certainly, were I to trace the pattern back to its origin, I would find myself staunch and strong in the midst of it all. But now, only moments lapsing from impact, I’m but a faded memory to what is, what can be, and what will be.

“I’m glad to hear you’re putting yourself out there,” she says, the bit of excitement cascading from her vocal chords perhaps a figment of my own enthusiasm.

I hate that phrase. Out there. It’s as if it’s a risk; as if I’d be worse off after rejection than I was before. But the truth is that rejection is just a return to the status quo. Rejection may hurt; it may make me feel unwanted, unloved, undesired, or any number of uns, but with a few days, weeks or months, we all recover.

“Last time we talked,” she continues, “I thought that wasn’t exactly a primary concern.”

“It’s not,” I reply glumly. “But I always said that when something worth pursuing came along I wouldn’t hold back. She just happens to be the first thing that seems worth pursuing to come along.”

It’s a crush, at best. I can list the things I know about her on my fingers: her home town (according to her name tag); how long she’s been in Boulder and now Nederland; a traumatic experience being stabbed in the head with a ski pole; her religion; her tattoo, so briefly glimpsed; her scholastic goals; her new year’s plans; and, now, addendized so unfortunately, her lack of organization and perhaps her disinterest or even active disdain.

Yet when I close my eyes, an image of her face is burned into my retina as if I had stared into the sun; her soft-spoken eyes and wry smile glow against the darkness of my eyelids.

Our interactions had been amicable at best, not necessarily flirtatious. I hardly have the time–let alone the energy–to be social at work. I offer a smile, a glance, a wave, as I pass by and disappear into my profession, transforming from the aloof cynic into a maven of children and the keeper of the Sunkid for nine hours each day. By the end, with my mind slogged from a day of simplified language and imagery, I stumble over my words, stand silently to the side, and hope she has a moment between customers for even the briefest of exchanges.

In my head it’s perfect.

“Got any big plans between now and New Year’s?” I ask, my nonchalance forced like a liquid diet into a coma patient.

No, she’d reply, how about you?

That depends, I’d tell her, smooth as silk because it’s always that way when it’s in my head, can I take you to dinner?

From there, I’m on my own; rehearsals can only prepare you so much. And of course, no rehearsal can account for things not going to plan.

“No,” she tells me. I can sense the foreboding silence waiting to swoop in and steal the moment.

“Would you be interested in grabbing dinner one evening?” I stammer quickly, cutting off the awkwardness before it descends. I wait for the inevitable no, a slight hope in the back of my mind that I could put it all behind me and move on.

“Sure. Where?” My mind reels; my expectations dashed with a surprising dose of shock.

“To be honest, I hadn’t thought that far ahead. Let me give you my number. Either give me a call tomorrow or I’ll track you down up here.”

I stumble off in search of paper and pen, my dingy scrawl a mess on my first attempt due to shaking hands. In my stupor, I deliver the scratched note, say my goodbyes, and disappear off into the sunset before I embarrass myself worse.

It was a little victory that left me inflated and light on my feet. In my ears, the music swells. The adrenaline rush trumps that of any extreme sport and the sense of joy is simply overwhelming. For a moment, I’m perfect.

By the time I wound my way down the canyon and home, I had calmed down. I worked through possible plans, and different contingencies. Was she vegetarian? How much should I plan out? Should we do more than dinner, perhaps a show or an event?

I haven’t been on a real date in over 6 years. My relationships have been flings, flirtations, and passing fancies never coming to fruition. When I paused to think about how long it had been, there was nothing but anxiety left in the pit of my stomach.

It’s my own fault, if you can call it that. Despite my ego, I’ve never felt like I was handsome, pretty, or any other semblance of physically attractive. Add that to feeling as though my financial and living situations were constantly in flux and you have the perfect recipe for a stifling fear of commitment.

For a man hell bent on a serious relationship, this is not a good thing. A person has an imperative to do what’s right for them, so how can I possibly inextricably link myself to another person when my life’s path may yank me away? How can I leave someone so easily when I’ve worked so hard to make myself part of their life?

There were moments when I considered pursuing someone, but my imperfect logic headed me off at the pass most times, and their inavailability or disinterest took care of the rest.

“Your answer yesterday caught me off guard,” I admit.

“How so?”

“I’ve never been good with plans,” I tell her. It’s the truth, and yet it’s a lie. She caught me off guard because I was surprised she said yes, but I’m not about to admit that. “I either wing it completely or I need every detail planned out. I simply hadn’t thought that far ahead. How’s Tuesday night?”

“I have to work here until five.”

“That’s ok, I work until six thirty.”

“Ok, where?”

“Are you a vegetarian? Any dietary restrictions?”

“I don’t eat pork.”

“I can understand that. I’m a jew.”

“Me too!” For the briefest of instants, she flashes a tattoo on her arm of a Jewish star and some Hebrew script. I think it says chai, the Hebrew word for life and a bunch of other things, but it’s so fleeting I’m not definite. “But I don’t keep kosher. I just don’t like pork.”

“Not even bacon?”

“No.”

“That’s a travesty.” I pause, holding my breath for a moment before continuing. “How about the Walnut Brewery?”

“I love the Walnut Brewery!” Her emphatic response pleases me.

“Cool. Me too. Give me a call Tuesday when you head down and we’ll figure it out from there.”

There’s a dizziness and excitement to the waiting; my stomach in knots; my mind playing tricks on me. I can’t seem to get her out of my head, though there’s no reason my miniature infatuation should take on such gravitas. I find myself sleeping in shifts, my consciousness only realizing I’m awake when sense alarm that my thoughts have returned to her.

At work, I’m happy for the distraction. The down time leaves me slightly nauseated. My body is still in recovery mode from the skiing work week, but my internal monologue simply won’t shut down.

When I head home that evening, my phone is never far. I feel like a Jane Austen character–one with romantic aspirations and very little hope–as I anxiously wait. I think about hopping the bus downtown and simply hanging out at the restaurant but I tell myself that she’ll call before.

By nine, I’ve resigned myself to a night at home. I wonder if I’ve been stood up. I wonder if she lost my number. Maybe she has a good excuse, or maybe not. Maybe she went down there because she lost my number expecting me to just show up. I don’t eat. If she called and I had already eaten, what would I say…

I go to sleep hungry, my phone silent, my mind loud.

A message on facebook calls me into work. I had scheduled the day off my other job, but the mass of people expected in the post-Christmas rush is huge.

That day, when I see her back behind the counter, the throngs of people and the necessity of my duties force me to slide through too far away to chat and too busy to pause. I wonder why my heart isn’t leaping into my throat as usual. I’m not given the time to ponder too long, as I’m swept into my job.

It’s madness, as always; the exact formidable insanity I love. Teaching on a crowded mountain is a combination of herding, bonding, discipline, and knowledge. I play it fast and loose, eschewing lines and group think for fun and speed. It’s a strategy that, when it works, does wonders for us all. When it doesn’t, however, I’m left haggard and worn at the edges.

I have a late class, which makes me wonder if she’ll even be there when I’m done.

With my duties complete, my flower tossed over my shoulder, I wander into the lodge. Before I’ve had a chance to notice, she’s approached me, taking the initiative for the first time.

“I’m sorry,” she gushes. “I lost your number. Can I grab it again?”

Satisfaction is the only word for what I’m feeling. “Sure, I say.”

“I’ll grab a pen and paper.”

“Do you have your phone?”

“Yeah, I do,” she revelates.

“Do you get service up here?”

“When I go outside.”

She digs into her things, pulling out a fancy touchscreen phone. I type in my number and watch her punch in my name under the heading.

“How’s Thursday for you?”

“We’ll see.”

“Let me know,” I tell her as I turn to catch up with my ride. “Text me later so I have yours too.”

“Ok. I will as soon as I go outside.”

“Cool.”

At the base of the canyon, I turn my phone back on. I don’t get service at work. Unless you have T-Mobile or AT&T no one gets service up there. Even if you have one of those two, it’s sporadic at best.

My phone goes nuts, as usual, the few texts and voicemails ringing out in a cacophony of whistles and beeps. Her text isn’t among them.

Perhaps she forgot, I don’t really care. I’ve made my decision. I’m simply going to pester her until we finally get the chance to sit down face to face.

We drive up in moderate silence. At least, for us, it’s moderate silence. Normally, we argue, bicker, jibe one another, banter, and converse incessantly during our commute, be it about music and our difference in taste, life in general, movies we’ve recently watched, or whatever else might come up.

Our conversation is intermittent at best. I can’t tell if Jess is as distracted as I am. I keep reminding myself that it shouldn’t be a big deal, that I didn’t suffer for her lack of contact, but I’m finding it hard to convince myself.

It’s another monster day at work when we arrive. I have nary a moment to stop and think. If I had taken the time to notice how busy I am, I would’ve been appreciative. The butterflies have gone, replaced by a combination of confusion, anger and the rapidly beating heart indicative of my interest.

She’s not there as I pass through her department. As we wind down and darkness descends, I keep looking for her, but I know it’s no avail. It’s New Year’s Eve after all.

My New Year’s Eve is spent at a lovely dinner with two close friends and two beautiful women. I crawl into bed early, my body broken from a ten hour day. I sleep wonderfully, deeply. I awake and it all feels different.

How was your New Year’s?” I ask as I pass by the next day. There’s no nerves, no butterflies, just a strange matter-of-factness to the exchange.

“I was two hours late to work today.

“Ouch. Late night? Out partying?”

“I went to see Moe with some friends, but no drinking for me. I was the DD.”

“Good for you. Did you still have fun?”

“Yeah. I didn’t get home until five.”

I wait for her to continue, to tell me of her adventures, but she leaves it at that. “I’m still waiting for that text, you know,” I mention.

“Oh yeah,” she says. “What should I say?” She pulls out her phone and begins typing. “It’s me?”

“Sure. That’ll work.” My l’espirit de l’escalier tells me I should’ve told her to be creative, but I really don’t care. I’m just happy to have a line of communication open.

I live with a certain amount of general embarrassment.

“I got my degree in journalism, which is why I’m a ski instructor,” I tell people, the snide facetiousness belying the disappointment and confusion as to how my life is different than expected. I have no car, and though I love life without a vehicle, I have difficulty imagining a relationship in which I’m reliant on my significant other to provide transport. I’m not exactly thrilled with the idea of bringing a girl back to to my home, complete with thin walls, disheveled roommates and a bachelor pad atmosphere.

I own a smart phone, but I don’t pay for a data plan because the interface is clunky and I don’t really need one. I try to cook and eat cheaply, my mind and wallet swooning any time I spend more than $15 on a meal and drinks, despite the fact that I enjoy every moment with my friends.

Ramen and mac and cheese made up a large portion of my diet when I was out of money. Now that I’m make more than enough to live on, my diet has improved, but it’s still on the cheap side and I still cringe at every expense.

I can’t help but wonder how, with every aspect of my existence uncertain, can I open my life to someone else?

It’s me. the text reads.

Message received. Let me know when you’ll be free after you’ve recuperated from New Years. Until then. I’ll just keep bugging you.

Ok! she replies.

“It’s got an exclamation point,” I tell Jess. “That’s a good sign, right?”

“Excalamation points are always a good sign.”

The weed is still pungent on my shelf. Its certainly drying out, having gone unused for the last month and half. It’s not that I’ve stopped enjoying pot, but I simply have too much to do to drop myself into that blissful stuppor.

I weigh it in my hand, shifting the small glass pieces and my grinder into a velvet Crown Royal bag. The bags and the film canister slide in next to it. I feel their draw, but I lack the desire. The desk drawer has just enough space to slide my cache of goodies into its own miniature storeroom.

Pot has a calming effect on me. It calms my mind, my body, and mellows me. Recently, with kids 4 days a week, I need every ounce of energy I can muster. I don’t desire that sensation of heavily floating along, slack jawed and utterly relaxed. I wonder if the haze would be a good thing, a calming thing, or if the paranoia would assert itself.

I slide the drawer shut, and as I do, I begin to wonder if I’ve finally grown past that stage in my life.

I doubt it.

“When do I have you back?” Pam asks. The winter break attracts all sorts, and the children’s center will be overrun until school begins again.

“Not until Thursday.”

“Ah ha.” She says it with a smile–she’s always smiling–but there’s a bit of worry in her eyes. I wonder if I’ve really become so reliable, such a staple, that her mental wellbeing is tied to my arrival. At the very least, it’s nice to know I’m appreciated.

As I head toward my exodus from Eden, I try to duck around to say hi to my current interest, but I’m grabbed at the last minute and whisked out the door.

“Dude. I was trying to go bug her.”

“Oh, sorry. Go bug her,” he says, saddling up to the counter for a moment.

“Naw, the moment’s past. Besides, there’ll be other days.”

I meant to swing by and bug you, but my ride whisked me out the door. I text as we arrive back in Boulder. I’ll be back up again Thursday. If you’re free before, let me know.

Ok, comes the response, no exclamation points.

“I turned down smoking twice last night,” I tell Jess.

“Really?”

“Yeah. I got offered some before running off to Catan and then there was a ‘Safety Meeting’ over there that I passed on.”

“That makes sense,” he says, bringing the aside to an end.

The mountain is on wind hold when we arrive, our plans to practice maneuvers lost to the whimsy of Aeolus. We take a few runs on the little mountain and I teach a brief lesson to a pair of Ukrainian damsels at the request of Brian, the head of rentals.

“Did you get her number?” he asks me afterward.

“Are you kidding me? I’ve got other targets in mind.”

I hate the callousness of the comment. I had spent the previous two days working, the hypotheticals playing off and on in my head. Now, with no work and no play to distract me, I can’t avoid thinking about her. Even with two beautiful girls hanging on my every word, handed to me in an absolutely gift-wrapped fashion, I can’t help but remember that she is my primary concern for the moment.

“C’mon, man,” Brian whines playfully.

Jess and I book it to Costco. We grab a couple slices of pizza and do a quick run through the store. He drops me at home, both of us exhausted.

I hesitate as I pull up her number. After a few rings, it goes to voicemail. I leave the normal message: brief introduction, cut to the chase, sign off. It’s simple and to the point.

As I hang up, I wonder if I’m being a pest. I guess that was my goal. What is the difference between persistence and pestering?

She’s not there the next two days. On Saturday, it’s the first day of Trek. The place is a madhouse, over 450 kids not including regular ski school. As I rush around in my duties, I notice she’s back, but our eyes don’t meet; there’s no smiles or waves. I’m moving too quickly to make a sustained glance, and my stress level is through the roof.

The day goes surprisingly smoothly. In deference to the other instructors, I take on the low class; the late-comers, the troublemakers and the kids who probably should’ve been at a level lower. They’re a good collection of kids, but even with six weeks, making progress will be a challenge. My class management leaves something to be desired and I’m forced to yank a kid off the magic carpet twice for getting on without the class.

As the day winds down and I turn my class over to their parents, I feel tired, burned out. I’ve got one more day in my skiing week and who knows what class I have left. With an hour left in the day, I rush off to take a clinic. By the time I get back into the lodge at the end of the night, she’s gone; an opportunity missed.

The following day I’m not on Trek. After three straight days of 4-6 year-olds, I’m excited for a class of kids I can talk to on an intellectual level. I hope I have time to relax in the morning, but one of the greeters doesn’t show and I volunteer to fill in. At the last minute, due to a lack of instructors, I’m switched onto 4-6 year-olds for my fourth day in a row.

When I pass through her department, our eyes, once again, do not meet, my glances unanswered. My class, for the most part, goes smoothly right up to the end of the day. Our last run is a mess. When I stop to help our smallest member, a 4-year-old ripper named Roxie, the rest of the class scoots ahead and takes a wrong turn. We’re late getting back, and the cold is interminable.

At the end of the day, she’s there when I go to sign out. I turn around, not two minutes later, and she’s gone again.

I have these grand romantic ideals. I dream of sweeping a girl off her feet, of being the smooth-talking handsome gentleman.

Reality doesn’t work that way.

I stutter, fumble, and screw up constantly. My jokes fail more often than they succeed and I act the asshole too much of the time, especially when I have no intention of doing so. I see my flaws glaringly, starkly, and they leave me doubting, insecure, and aloof. I’m the fool; the bumbling idiot that makes a great sidekick, yet never a leading man.

I am the grand disappointment of my own existence.

Others in her department close up shop. As I wait for my ride, I hope she’ll reappear, that I can have a chance to chat, perhaps offer an alternative to dinner; something simpler and easier.

She’s gone once more.

I tried to catch you after work tonight, but you disappeared before I had the chance, I type. Should I bother trying again?

My finger hovers over the send button, doubt and disappointment racking my brain. I wish for an easy answer, wondering if I’ve become that annoying tool who simply won’t leave a girl alone. Perhaps she slipped out on purpose. Perhaps she’s avoiding me.

Then again, perhaps I’m just paranoid.

I delete the question and punch in a more suitable close:

I hope your day went well. I’ll try again next week.

At the very least, I’m a pest; I’m not giving up yet.

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  • SarahMarin

    What a story! I hope that you continue to write it out no matter what the outcome. If you do send her a text again, try ending it with a question (but not a self-deprecating one!)<– exclamation point.

    Also, I disagree with you about rejection. I think it's a slow and miserable death. Sure you may go back to your status quo for a while, but too many rejections and your line or normalcy sinks lower and lower beneath that original point. If it doesn't for you, then count your blessings: either you have the confidence of a superhero or you haven't been rejected quite as often as others.

  • Thanks for reading it all. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve reached a point of equilibrium where I’ve overanalyzed things enough to stop worrying and relax, but I still hold out hope.

    Rejection is what you let it be. When you invest in someone without any reciprocation, rejection is devastating. I can remember crushes from elementary and high school who rejected me and left me as low as one can feel.

    On the other hand, when you go into it on a lark, the end result a total unknown, then it’s no big deal. I think the key is to act on one’s whims early enough to find out if anything’s there before you’re too invested without reason. My freshman year of high school, my friends and I made a game of asking college girls out–we shared BU’s cafeteria and I was tall and old enough looking to pass for a college freshman. I asked out over 200 girls, with 4 successes. Two of those resulted in some of the silliest dates ever. The other two never happened. Not once was I bothered because rejection is par for the course.

    There’s always another opportunity, and as much as it sucks being rejected, it doesn’t keep us from being just as excited the next time around. Any other way to live is simply living without hope.

  • SarahMarin

    I really admire the way you think about things. I cannot even imagine asking out 200+ people the way you did. It’s pretty impressive that you kept going even after #50. Most people certainly would not.

  • I wish it were like that, but the only reason why it was so easy was because I didn’t care. Every time I’ve invested in someone before asking them out, it’s butterflies, heart palpitations, and the normal issues one would expect.