The Date Jeanne De Vita
Our waiter has a man-bun and that look I know so well. He looks from me to you, appraising the tilt of your chin as you nod for me to order first. I give him a minute to process that yes, we are on a date.
He says, "I'll be right back with your drinks, ladies," and I smooth my hair, acutely aware that something feels out of place.
By the time he places the chardonnay in front of me, I'm ready to go home. It's not you, of course, you're lovely. Our mutual friends were right, we do have a lot in common. You write feminist lyrics for a vegan post-40 punk band who really live their values. You chuckle self-consciously and apologize for ordering the fish. You're cool and that charms me. But I've been worrying myself for days over how I would wear my hair. You see, for the last six months my hair hasn't troubled me, but since you asked me out, nothing about it has been right. None of my shoes fit, my jeans are too loose and too tight, both at once. I have no idea how I've dressed myself every day in the clothes I'm finding in my closet. There seem to be just so many things wrong with my face. I can't believe I have always looked like this, have I always looked this way?
I've been readying myself with small talk and self-talk and stories and lies. It's so hard to speak your truth over a plate of seared salmon and fingerling potatoes, so by the time the wine comes, it's not the hipster with the man-bun or anything about you. I am just tired.
That's when the negotiations begin. I promise myself like a child refusing her veggies that I don't ever have to see you again. First date and last date, no harm done. Just get through a few more bites, I think after all I'm enjoying the pesto puree. I'll sip the wine, I'll call an uber, and then, I promise myself, I can go home. Alone.
It's hard to be me every day of this life, every day that follows the days after the star-stained night when the person I could have been died at the hands of the person I was forced to become.
I am tired and my face feels funny. I know that when it's my turn to talk, I squint in a way that looks like pain and my nose gets bigger. I try not to imagine what I look like to you as I speak, and sip, and taste, and I hope that as I open my mouth the promises I whisper to myself don't slip out for you to hear.
Soon, I've finished my drink and the waiter comes back and something does slip out of me. It must be funny whatever I said because the waiter laughs and looks at you. You smile at me as though you're in on the joke and I realize then that you are. You say that I have a gorgeous smile. I realize this place must have kind light.
These laughs, these smiles they bring me into the moment and the chatter about leaving, and running, and getting back to being alone softens a bit, almost stills. I focus fully on my meal, I accept a bite of yours. I contemplate a second drink not because I need it but because I feel convinced that I can stay for one drink more.
By the time the bill arrives, I realize I've made it. At some point I pared the conversation down from two to one, from the one in my head to only the one passed between you and I.
I haven't run away. You walk me outside and I am less worried about the many ways my inadequacies must be obvious to you. I am less consumed with tripping over words that trap me into truths too difficult to qualify as small talk.
"Good night," I say. "I had a nice time. We should do this again."
I always say that. It gives us both options.