I was sitting on an old leather couch (originally solid black; now, black with crackly, zig-zagging lines of copper) in a new-to-me coffee shop: Urban Standard. My best friend and I were sharing the space with him on his laptop and me on mine. I ordered a mocha, a small plate of scrambled tofu with bell peppers, and a hearty bowl of grits. The grits were too cheesy for my liking (I prefer bland, plain-tasting grits), so I pawned them off on my best friend, accepting half of his made-from-scratch biscuit in trade. We leisurely finished off our breakfast, taking turns talking and laughing, and then he plugged in earbuds while I pulled on a pair of headphones, and we both amiably set off on our separate writing endeavors.
I knew that he was working on a new entry, and I had set the intention of finally editing and publishing a blog post that I had drafted two weeks prior; a sort of informal treatment on personal financial management. You can read it here, if you’re interested in such a boring topic. Anyways, in-between swapping out this word with that one, paraphrasing a sentence here and there, and then sometimes erasing and rewriting entire paragraphs, I’d look up and gaze around the room, taking everything and everyone in. To my immediate right, a bald-headed young man (wearing a gray t-shirt that read “Art should make those who feel comfortable UNCOMFORTABLE and should comfort those who feel UNCOMFORTABLE”) was interviewing a young black woman. She was wearing a flow-y blue dress and had amazing hair, and they were talking about – big surprise – art. Specifically, photography. After ardently trying to tune out their loud banter for approximately two hours (with a shuffled alternative/electronica mix on Spotify), I suddenly noticed a sharp rise in the pitch of the dude’s voice. Then, in response, I could hear the chick positively squealing with delight. I looked up as casually as I could, letting one ear muff slide discreetly down and off of my right ear, and heard him saying something to the tune of “and this would increase your annual income by at least 10k.” Awwww, I thought to myself, he’s offering her the job! That’s awesome. I smiled and resumed my work.
There were other interesting persons visiting the cafe. Lots of UAB students; girls wearing – you guessed it – either gym shorts or sweatpants paired with a not-even-optional over-sized athletic t-shirt. They all (I’M NOT exaggerating) wore their hair swept back into a messy bun or ponytail. I eyed lots of dudes who came in wearing suits (the suits; NOT the dudes) and then watched as they dictated their orders at the front counter. The orders were, obviously, to-go; these men looked very busy and seemed especially important. A 60-something-year-old guy was, for a period of about 45 minutes, conducting an interview with a petite blonde at a wooden table in the middle of the room. He seemed very charismatic and flirty; she laughed a lot and nodded agreeably at everything he said. I rolled my eyes a little.
Once I’d finished critiquing the first 2000 words of my post (as well as everyone in the room with me), I noticed her.
She stepped in through the front door and then paused, her eyes searching the room (I felt like, more than for someone, she was scoping for an area that contained very few someones). In the process of searching, she made eye contact with me and I immediately dropped my eyes downward and fixated them on the screen of my laptop. Am I blushing? Why the hell would I be blushing? Stupid.
I could see, out of the top-corners of BOTH of my eyes, her footsteps approaching the couch. My heart raced. She did it; out of the 15 or so available tables in the partitioned, double-room, she sat down at the table directly beside me (it had previously been occupied by the interviewer and his interviewee, but they had just vacated the premises to pound the pavements of downtown Birmingham together to, presumably, sort out all of the fun details regarding benefits, paid off time and etc). She sat down gently and quietly and, as she did, I stole a glance at her simple black shoes. Her black denim jeans. Scanning my eyes upwards, I looked at her white and black, cotton, short-sleeved shirt. Not a t-shirt; slightly dressier. She had pale skin. Her hair was shoulder-length; brown on the bottom, but with interesting colors mixed in as you neared the roots.. some reddish tones. I felt like she could somehow feel me looking at her, even though all of this happened in 4 careful seconds, so I quickly averted my gaze and tried to focus on the remaining 1327 words in my post.
Eventually, she got up to use the restroom and order coffee. I feel like a STALKER right now, I admitted to myself. Except I was here first and I’m really NOT staring at her. I’m just very aware of her and her movements. GOD that sounds creepy. Why do I feel drawn to this person? Is it because she’s adorable and quiet?
She returned with a coffee in hand and pulled out a journal. She began writing (with, I noticed, her right hand), occasionally stealing glances around the room and, now and then, gazing dreamily out the window. Sigh; she’s even a writer, I thought to myself miserably.
My friend had no idea that I was smitten. He continued his writing with admirable focus. I silently slapped myself across the face. Once we’d both reached stopping points and had finished proofing each other’s pieces, he asked: “Are you ready to go?” My heart sank. I’d run out of time.
“Yeah!” I answered enthusiastically. “Let’s go check out What’s On Second.” I stuffed the headphones into my backpack, unplugged my laptop from the wall, and tidied up the couch. I grilled myself inwardly, asking: IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU CAN POSSIBLY DO TO LINGER? Maybe, if you do, she’ll say SOMETHING.. like “hey; I noticed you typing away on your laptop. Are you a writer? It looks like you’re on the way out right now, but I’d love to get your number. Maybe we can talk sometime.”
I shook my head. Nope; there was nothing left to do. And I certainly wasn’t going to say a damn thing. I did have a bottle of furniture polish back at the house, but it would look stupidly awkward and possibly insane if I polished a cafe’s leather couch, anyways.
So I shrugged the backpack onto my left shoulder (the right one was still sore from a tattoo I’d got several days previously) and – without even looking up at her and stealing a sweet, final glance – I trekked across the room.. reaching the front door too quickly, and opening it too easily. I held the door open for my best friend, smiled at him as he exited, and then left. #somuchdrama #TOOmuchdrama
“You could have given her a BUSINESS CARD, you IDIOT,” I snapped at myself. “It wouldn’t have been weird at all. You would have just said ‘Hey! I saw you come in earlier and I noticed you writing and I felt this.. strange connection with you, and I just wanted to let you know that, if you’re looking for a place to work; you know, for a job, that my credit union, where I work, is currently hiring, and I don’t know you at all but you could email me or call me – my number is on this card – and we could talk about it or anything else, because if you already have a job and you like it then you obviously wouldn’t want to switch jobs, but WE could still talk. If you wanted to. Otherwise, you can just just shred this, or throw it away in a regular trash bin.. there isn’t a card number or account number on there or anything super sensitive, so it’s no big deal; discard it however you want. My name is Jace, by the way. It used to be Rose.”
“You know, it’s better that you didn’t,” I conceded, actually feeling relieved. “It’s definitely better that you kept the business card to yourself.”
I went out to dinner with two other friends that night; the occasion: a last minute celebration for a friend who is doing phenomenally well with her sales at work. She requested that we meet at a restaurant called Ginza, which specializes in Chinese/ Korean/ Vietnamese food. I ordered the Nabeyaki Udon: a light and brothy soup featuring udon noodles and containing pillowy mushrooms and bloated-looking turnips. It was also served with a raw egg which was supposedly going to cook inside of the soup. As soon as the waitress had smiled and walked away, I quickly scooped the egg out of the soup and tossed it onto a napkin.
“Why are you wasting the egg?!” My friend chastised me, inserting a fork into the middle of her tempura-fried shrimp and swabbing it with the egg.
“Ehhh.. it was freaking me out,” I answered quietly, watching her. “Anyways,” I began, “there was this really pretty, in a gorgeously and refreshingly simple kind of way, girl at the coffee shop I went to earlier this afternoon, and I wanted to talk with her SO. BADLY. but I just didn’t have the guts to make it happen.” My friend made a sad face, in sympathy, while my other friend just rolled his eyes, popping another vegetarian sushi roll (fried in avocado; tasty) into his mouth.
“Yeah,” I continued, dejected, “I actually thought about giving her my business card before I left.. you know, just quickly dropping it onto her table and saying, like, nothing at all or just stuttering a few quick words–”
“WHAT?!” She interrupted me. “Oh no.. Jace, no. You can’t treat everyone like an employee.”
“Yeah,” my other friend interjected, trying to stifle his laughing, “DO NOT try to pick up a girl by talking about your job and handing out a business card, BRO. Sooooooo lame.”
I scowled and stared down into my stupid bowl of noodles.
“I’m not even READY to date ANYONE right now,” I defended myself. “And I don’t want to! I’m not looking for another relationship. I just had this insane and irrational but tremendously gripping fear that I would never see her again, and that we wouldn’t have another chance to meet, and that – without at least knowing her name or having her number, or her knowing or having MINE, we would be.. lost loves. Forever.”
They found this hilarious, so I waited their giggles out patiently and then breathed a sigh of relief as our conversation drifted off into another vein of thought. At one point, we all jokingly teased about how cute the waitress wearing the rectangular glasses was and took turns guessing at what stupid pick-up lines I could try using when it suddenly hit me:
“You guys..” I began slowly, still processing the thought myself, “earlier today, when I was at the coffee shop, I forgot that I’m not actually a boy.” I paused and they waited, looking confused. “That means,” I continued, “that if I HAD tried to talk to that girl, who was probably a straight girl, that she probably would have been freaked out. Or at least definitely not interested and I would have just totally embarrassed myself. Honestly?!” The horror of my reality continued to sink in. “It’s going to be VERY difficult for me to ‘find’ anyone. I’m not a BOY in pursuit of a girl. I’m.. gay.” I paused one last time. “And there aren’t that many gay people.”
They were really laughing now. Finally, my male companion was able to offer, in consolation: “Jace, you aren’t that bad off. It’s 2016 now. There are plenty of gay people out there, and people who are just open to experimenting. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
I wouldn’t even consider dating someone who was just “looking to experiment,” but I didn’t even bother stating that aloud. My friends already know that about me. And I’m honestly not worried about the matter at all. My heart still grows ridiculously tender when I reflect on my lost love — the girl that I saw but didn’t speak to (2) days ago and who I will quite possibly never, ever know or see again. And what’s the goofy lesson inherent in this exaggerated but truthful tale? It’s twofold.
- Be courageous. Tactful, but courageous. If I were actually in a place where I was ready for a relationship, I would like to believe that I could have found an “in” — a way of starting a somewhat normal conversation with this girl. And at dinner, I learned, from my female friend, that – rather than using business cards – you can “break the ice” with someone in a more personalized and less business-like way. “For example,” she explained to me, “you mentioned that you noticed her writing in a journal. Right? You COULD have made THAT an “in” by leaning over and casually saying ‘Hey! That’s a really neat journal. Can I ask where you got it?'” She paused for emphasis. “See? That’s an open-ended question. That would at least get the conversation started, and then you could see where it led to from there.”
“THAT IS BRILLIANT!” I cried. “I NEVER would have thought of that!”
- Just stay single, Jace. Don’t assign some kind of arbitrary time period to yourself (we’ve all seen how well that works out for you), but don’t rush into anything, either. Quit checking out girls at the coffee shop and focus on your writing. Write about fictitious heartbreaks; don’t cause one or experience one yourself. Also: Remember WHY you wanted to be single in the FIRST place. You haven’t been a single, independent entity since you were 15; that means that you’ve been coupled with, tethered to, caught up with and accountable to someone else for the last 9 years. You had to hurt others and fight yourself for this kind of independence, and guess what? You won. You’re finally in a place where you can navigate, develop, explore and grow freely without worrying about another person and how your actions will impact them.. so take some freaking time – enough time – to utilize this freedom and to, by doing so, hopefully figure out
- who you really are,
- what you really want, and
- who you really want.
All you know about bullet point #3 right now is that you want a partner who is independent, driven, ambitious, creative and stable. Someone who doesn’t need you, but who wants you; someone who simply enjoys your company but also craves their own. Someone who will challenge you. Someone you can admire. Also, you obviously, on a super superficial level, have a type, so you can add that to your short list of “knowns”. The girl in the coffee shop definitely shared two things in common with all of your movie-star crushes..
As you can tell, I obviously adore blondes with blue eyes. Obviously.
Awesomely Awkward and Adventuring Alone,