The Date
"I often have a dream where I’m my own date. There are two of us, male and female, but they're both me. We have opposing views, we get into fights, and we make love. That's the most disturbing. I seem to collapse inside myself and dissolve into something I don't want, namely a pregnancy. I become pregnant with myself and begin to fear the child. I'm convinced it’ll be a monster. I feel hands working on me, but I can't make out faces. In a shiny room I hear voices but they're speaking in a foreign tongue, then I'm floating over an ocean, terrified I'll fall and drown. Black shiny forms begin to fly toward me saying they're going to steal the baby. I fight them. It's a violent fight. I wake up thrashing my arms, weeping uncontrollably."

-the young man in apartment 64




THE DATE

I’d been looking forward to this particular date for a week now thinking about this or that, how it could go wrong or right, planning what to wear, where to go. I decided on a gourmet meal at home. I felt I could handle that best.

It preoccupied me. I found it hard to do my job during the week. I almost got run over several times. I’m a messenger in Manhattan.

I had no idea why this date felt so important. It wasn’t like I was going to ask her to marry me, or anything. I was nervous to the brink of panic about something I couldn’t peg, and that in itself made me nervous.

“This is silly, man!” I said aloud after finding myself getting extremely agitated in the bathroom while looking in the mirror, “Cool it, babe!”

I immediately calmed down.

We met by surprise. A month earlier we tripped over each other, literally. I was coming home from a meeting with my acting group, and it was late. I was balancing a ton of papers, and scripts. I was walking fast, and suddenly she appeared right in front of me. I couldn’t veer off, and we collided. Down we went. Papers went everywhere. She was angry at first, but after I apologized we talked a bit and she calmed down. We stood outside my building twenty more minutes chatting before I found out she lived in my building, on the same floor, in fact. It made me giddy.

I started chuckling aloud, saying hi to strangers on my way to work, smiling a lot. Neighbors began to stare. This was not the man they knew.

It had been a long time since I’d been attracted to a woman. Too many bitter ends had left a rotten taste in my mouth. I never thought I’d spit it out, and it showed. I didn’t flirt. I didn’t hang out. I never talked on the phone except for trivial things and never for very long, and I certainly didn’t own a cell. I even had trouble chatting up my co-workers, men or women, people I’d known for over a decade. I’d become quite a loner in the last few years, prone to talking to myself for hours in my apartment. Until this woman came along I never thought I was even the least bit lonely. Never once did I find myself pining over a lost love, let alone crying about it. I’d given up, and it was ok, or so I believed. This girl excited me, and I was amazed I’d never noticed her before, especially since she lived so close and for almost a decade, or so she told me. After the first few awkward moments I was never nervous or stuck for words. We had a rapport as if it had been there all along. Maybe it had, and I couldn’t tell anymore because I’d burned out the romantic heart. She was a strange mixture of cool and cute, kind of aloof but real funny. I liked her right off and I could tell she liked me too.

After that we saw each other every day for weeks. I had to force myself to go slow, a dinner here, dinner there, a lunch here, mid-day snack there, a few dates on the town, which was really a kick for me having never been out in years, a few late night drinks, then eventually, of course, breakfast.

We foraged ahead, and everything seemed to be going miraculously well. I was no longer afraid that something hideous was going to happen, like the return of a secret, prodigal husband, or the revelation of a terminal disease, an overseas assignment, or the appearance of a murderous burglar.

When I got up at 6:30am today, against my better judgment, I called her right away. I couldn’t wait to speak to her. I’d become a romantic fool. It made me chuckle to myself whenever I shaved and saw the new face smiling back at me. She was happy to hear from me, and that surprised me. Exactly a week earlier she pressed me not to call so early. She didn’t like being awakened before 7am even by a boyfriend. I promised I wouldn’t do it again, but I just couldn’t help it, a bit compulsive, perhaps.

It was Saturday, and all I could do was think about the evening.

I dashed about town gathering up dinner supplies. My shopping trips were usually as short as I could make them, an hour tops, but I spent four-and-a-half hours picking though vegetables at the A&P, fingering fish at Chinatown fish markets, going up and down isles in a number of bodegas making the proprietors nervous. I had to laugh, especially since I ended up with only one bag of stuff. I decided on lobster. It was easier for some strange reason because they were alive. I don’t know. It was like I could discuss it with them before I made a choice; more humane I thought.

She was expected at six. I started cooking at two, not the lobsters, of course, everything else. I was going to do it up.

My buddy Ed stopped over for a beer and watched me work.

“What’s got into you, man? Cooking? You?”

“Thanks, Ed.”

“You’re really going for broke, aren’t ya?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“You know,” I said laughing, “I’ve been trying to figure that out myself.”

“If I didn’t know better I’d say you were smoking some whacky reefer or you’d gone nuts.”

“Get outta here, you bum!”

“When I’m gonna meet her?”

”In time, man, in time, gimme a break, here, I’m going bonkers!”

“Ok, ok, you nut, I’ll see you Monday at dispatch.”

“Fine, man.”

Ed walked out laughing.

“So how did he know she was coming over?” I wondered, “I didn’t tell him. Long ears, I guess.”

I kneaded the dough.

The phone rang.

“Hey, babe, how are ya? Yeah? Ok…no problem. No, no, that’s fine…yeah, I’m sure…absolutely, no problem, babe, don’t worry…7 O’clock? Fine. It’ll give me more time. I’m a basket case here. No, I’m ok…no, I don’t need your help. It’ll be great! You wait and see.”

After I put the cake in the oven I made sure the anchovy salad was doing alright in the fridge and wasn’t bad-mouthing the cheese snacks, and then I set about doing up the living room, sprucing it up, setting the candles but not lighting them, puffing up the cushions, picking up the magazines, rearranging the books on the shelf, basically just getting everything more neat. She liked it when my place was clean and neat. Her place was immaculate. She never brow beat me into cleaning. That wasn’t her way. She just kind of showed me the way by being who she was, and I followed. I was glad to follow. There was a feeling about it of doing something for myself that I never was able to do on my own, and I was very grateful to her. So my frantic fastidiousness was not so much vain paranoia but a desire to show her I was paying attention. It was my way of showing her love. I needed to show her that, that I was capable of love in the first place. She didn’t want me to change. She never insisted on me changing anything. She was very accepting, and I adored that. I made the choice to make certain changes, and in doing this for her I did it for me, and it was good. I’d been so demanding of people before this, that they do things my way. I insisted they change. I never accepted anyone for who they were even though I paid lip service to it. As soon as I embarked on a relationship I tried my damndest to change them, and of course they walked away. Who wouldn’t? They walked away in a rage.

All that’s changed with this incredible woman.

It was about six-thirty when I finished rushing around with the cleansers. I caught my reflection in the den mirror. It horrified me. I was a mess. I took a shower and paid particular attention to my feet and hands. They were always the filthiest parts.

I’d laid out the outfit I wanted to wear on my bed right away in the morning, a green button down shirt with a single breast pocket, gray pleated slacks with a belt and Green Gucci loafers.

“She’ll like this, I know it.”

She adores green. Her apartment’s painted green. She has a green sofa, green bedspread, green tablecloth, and lots of plants; all of which were mostly green.

Everything was perfect in her place. It was only my duty to reciprocate.

It was now about 7, and she was punctual as a person could be. Any moment the bell was going to ring. I started getting nervous, but I didn’t know why. I sat on my sofa and tried to calm myself down by breathing slowly.

“I guess it’s all that work I did. I just want it to be right. It’s got to be ok with her.”

The doorbell rang. I jumped.

“Jesus!” I’d broken out in a sweat. Before I could answer the door I had to dry off my face. The bell rang again. I ran to the kitchen for a towel but I couldn’t find one so I ran to the bathroom. The bell rang a third time. I used toilet paper. Little bits of it stuck to my face. I scratched them off. The bell rang. I combed my hair, splashed my face with cold water, dried it off, took a long moment to look at myself in the mirror to see the new face, and I smiled.

“It’s ok, man, go for it.”

I went to the front door, paused a moment then opened it.

“Well hello, I was beginning to wonder if you were even here.”

“Hi babe, yeah,” I chuckled nervously, “You caught me in the bathroom. Come on in.” I took her coat.

“Your place looks great.” She walked into the living room and sat on the sofa

”Thanks. I worked hard enough at it.”

“Come on over here, you.”

“Ok!”

I sat down next to her. She took my hand.

“Let me look at you,” she said playfully.

I didn’t say anything. Nothing seemed to be appropriate. She took her hand and traced my face.

“Is this you?”

”I hope so. It was this morning.”

”Your face has always been so familiar to me.”

”How’s that?”

”I’ve known it a long time.”

”You’ve been spying on me haven’t you?”

”No, not spying, my dear, just noticing you, day after day, doing what you do, coming and going, living here.”

“Why didn’t you ever say anything to me?”

”To be honest I did, quite a few times, but you were always so involved in what you were doing you never heard me.”

”Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. I get pretty single-minded about things. Sorry.”

”But that’s all changed now, hasn’t it?”

”It’s incredible, baby. I never thought it would happen again.”

“Well, here I am.”

”Here you are,” I laughed, “And I didn’t even think I was lonely.”

”We protect ourselves.”

“Sometimes I don’t think it’s so much protection as torture.”

”Never mind about that. Just hold me.”

We held each other a long time, but we did not kiss. That was ok with me, and I was surprised. Usually I expected it, but not now.

“Would you like some wine?” I asked.

“No. Let’s eat. I’m starved. We can have wine later. What’s for dinner?”

“Come and see.”

The table had been set with everything but the lobsters.

“Salad and cheese?”

I laughed and walked her to the kitchen, and when she saw the large glass bowl filled with water and the two clambering beasts obviously looking for a way to escape, she laughed.

“Let’s go!” I said.

And into the vat of boiling water went our evening victims. We stood back and watched the boiling vat and the thrashing claws in silence. It made me a little sad, and I could see she felt similarly. I reminded myself,

“I asked them in the store, and they said, go for it! So…?”

This comforted me.

“Things come, things go,” she said gravely, ”One minute something’s alive, then it’s dead,” and I nodded.

“Wow, I was thinking exactly the same thing.”

“I know. We’re linked that way.”

”Yeah…man, what a crazy scene,” I laughed.

“Crazy? No, babe, it’s just luck.”

”I don’t think I believe in luck. This was inevitable.”

”Yeah?”

”Yeah, that’s what I think. I can’t explain it, but that’s what I feel.”

She put her arms around me and hugged me close. “God, I’m glad you’re here!”

“Ditto.”

We stood that way till our lobsters were red and ready for the claw-crackers. We fished them out and set about our meal with delightful ferocity. Sitting opposite each other, hunched over our food, we didn’t say anything until our plates were heaped with red splinters. When we looked up and saw our mouths, greasy with bits of fish, we laughed.

We finished eating in silence, and it was good.

After dunking our plates in the sink, I poured two glasses of Clocktower Port, and for a good mood I put on my Johnny Hartman, John Coltrane Album. We sat on the sofa and sipped our wine. She was the first to speak.

“I think it’s time we had our talk.”

I knew this was coming, and I dreaded it. Nevertheless I recognized the need.

“If you think that’s best.”

”I do.”

”So do I, unfortunately.”

”There’s nothing to be scared of, honey,” she said, “I’m still here, and always will be. You know that don’t you?”

”Yes,” I said with mounting trepidation, “but after this evening everything will be different.”

”We have no choice.”

”Yeah, I know.”

”Ok, then.”

“Should I go ahead?”

“Please.”

I stood up and took her hand. She slowly got up. A long time elapsed in silence with our eyes locked before I led her to the bedroom. We got undressed solemnly without frenzy or sadness or expectation of anything. We both knew this had to be done.

“I’m scared, honey,” I suddenly blurted.

“I know, so am I, but underneath it all, I’m joyful. You’ll see why.”

“Yeah?”

“And you’ll be joyful too. You’ll find the joy. You’ll see. We’ve been moving toward this all along.”

”Inevitability?”

“Yes.”

“Couldn’t we just continue for a little while longer, maybe?”

”No, it wouldn’t be right.”

”But you like my place, the way I’ve done it up?”

”Yes,” she laughed, “I do. It’s great. I’m very touched you did that for me. It was for me, wasn’t it?”

”Yes, I’d never done that for anyone least of all myself.”

”Then I guess it was time.”

”Yes,” I said uncertainly.

“And now it’s time for this.”

I suddenly wanted to run or jump out the window or something just to get out of there. Fear, no, terror suddenly became me utterly, but I couldn’t move, couldn’t flee. Deep down I knew I never would or could, that I was here to stay till it was done, that there was no leaving now. I had brought this on myself.

She smiled and approached me. When she was right in front of me she took both my hands.

“Let me in.”

“Oh, God.”

I started to cry.

“Baby, I’m here.”

”God…”

”Here to stay.”

”Don’t hurt me.”

”I’ll never hurt you, ever,” she said gravely, “It’s you who’ve hurt yourself.”

”Aw, Jesus.”

”Close your eyes,” she said gently.

I did so.

“Hold me.”

I drew her close. I heard her breath. I felt her heart and warmth. Her arms embraced me tightly.

“Let me in,” she said softly, insistently.

I began to feel it happen.

“We have been apart too long. It’s time to come home.”

A laugh bubbled up. She held me tighter.

“Let me in, my baby.”

I craned my head back, body seemed to expand as it convulsed, flesh crawled, sweat poured, tears and laughter. I shook like a leaf in a typhoon. I screamed once, then blackness.

A long time elapsed. Although unconscious I knew this to be true, and it was ok. I opened my eyes when I was ready. I was on my back in the backyard of my building. The cool grass prickled my skin, and the night sky yawed brilliant black. Stars, like negative pepper, danced in flurries and seemed to wash over me like an invisible snow. They soothed me. It was the most beautiful feeling. I stayed there till dawn.

When I went back inside the table was still set. Two wine glasses, half filled, still stood on the settee. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror and smiled. She smiled back, and I knew then she would be with me forever, as she always had been, though it took some doing to remind me.

“I love you, baby,” I said, relieved at last to know the truth of her.

“And I love you too, my baby, and always will.”

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