There’s an almost indescribable experience that I have been party to just
three four times that I can remember. It’s memorable, so I would expect to remember them all. There’s fuzziness between these and falling in love at proverbial first sight, but clearly they aren’t necessarily the same.
This is seeing someone across a room or whatever separates you, and it’s completely electric. Jolting. Perhaps exhilarating. Perhaps disturbing. Perhaps confusing.
The first was with my big high school crush, call her Ella. Not my only or even my first crush in high school, but the most significant unless you count the significance of a girl we’ll call Daphne, who left me believing no girl could ever want me.
Except the zap moment was later. I forget exactly the year, but it was either toward the tail end of high school, or after high school. While I didn’t lose absolutely all interest until three years after high school, when I ran into her and we talked at length just before I started college later than the rest of my age cohort, the main even was 9th and into 10th grade. My brother, by comparison, still dwells on a girl from 8th grade, fifty years ago. She’ll always be a part of my personal history and memories, but we wouldn’t actually have been suited for each other. I’ve been in touch with her sister in the past couple years, expressing condolences after their awesome mother died, but I haven’t seen or talked to her since 1982 as far as I can remember.
Ella was working in a department store, the only one of its name and kind, rather than part of a chain. I had no idea of this when I walked in. I set foot in the door and our eyes met across the distance between the door and the checkout she was manning. It was absolutely electric and I was floored. It was as if the intervening years had never happened. If I’d never seen her before, I’d call it a love at first sight moment, but I knew exactly who she was and was a bit uncomfortable. It was obviously a mutual thing.
The second instance, if it counts, is the one I’d somehow forgotten that led to the strikethrough at the beginning. Call her Tammy. Summer of 1983, between first and second years of college, I was floating around a chain of stores as a temporary assistant manager, covering vacations. First or second day at one store, she walked out of the back room and toward the front. Zap! Not sure there was an mutual there, but for me it was the love at first sight zap. She was one of the sweetest people you could ever meet. She was athletic and was going to college in Maine when she wasn’t home for the summer. We talked a lot and she was a great employee, but I just couldn’t bring myself to ask her out. I had the impression she might already have had someone, but it wasn’t clear.
It was during that interlude that a girl I’d met at a different store earlier in the summer also landed at that store for some hours and made a different impression on me. At the first store, she acted weirdly like “don’t you dare be interested in me!” Not a problem, since I wasn’t, even a little, even though she was objectively attractive. She’s how I first heard of Def Leppard. She was going to a concert one night after work and I had never heard of the band, which was huge then. That girl ended up acting miffed, obviously enough so that even I noticed, that I was not acting interested in her. She was the cause of my forever associating a particular Def Leppard song with Tammy, and to a lesser degree with her. (Naturally I started hearing Def Leppard songs after that, after never having heard one before.)
Flash forward just a little and it’s New Year’s Eve, on the cusp on 1985. I had landed in a specific store as a regular cast member, so to speak. Someone who worked in a completely different store, call her Layla, lived near my store and would come in there sometimes. While I’d never noticed her, she’d noticed me. This is something I think about when I wonder how many girls there were over the decades who might have been interested but gone utterly undetected by me, with or without effort on their part. She started conversing with me when she came in, and even helped free with a lottery crunch one night when I shouldn’t have been alone at all, let alone in the face of a then huge jackpot. Made me nervous to have someone who didn’t work in the store behind the counter, even just feeding cards into the lottery machine, so after a while she left, but that made her more of a presence. We became friendly in a talking and talking about everything way, but it never registered to me that she was or that I ought to be attracted. Indeed, the downfall would arguably that I was not, but I wasn’t exactly dating anyone else.
She invited me to a New Year’s party at a relative’s summer house way out on the Cape. I agreed. I wasn’t a real party person, but hey. We had Chinese on the way. Yum! Everyone but me at the party was a girl. She was the only one I knew, though I would see some of them again.
We had not been there long, hanging in the kitchen initially after bringing in the Chinese leftovers.
A girl walked into the kitchen. ZAP! Never experienced anything like it. Not even any other zap moment. I’d call it chemistry at first sight, more than love at first sight. She was a short-haired blond girl we’ll call Beth. Turned out she went to my college. This was a mutual zap, though not sure what she made of it or how she internalized it.
That made the rest of the evening completely surreal, since all I really wanted to do was be with Beth. Alone. I was with Layla and completely focused on Beth. I managed to irritate Beth because when she told me where she lived at the school, in a rental house, between ambient noise and her accent, I couldn’t parse the name of the road and had her repeat it a time or two. She was from a rich town on the North Shore, which must have given her just enough of a different accent to trip me up.
Although I could easily have ensured nothing else ever transpired between me a Layla after the one date, we did kind of date for a while. It was never properly consummated and was doomed by my relative lack of attraction to her, but she was a decent person. It was on her account that I’ve ever been to New York City. Good memories.
She also marked a point where I rebelled against my programming. Daphne had conditioned me not to be wanted. Just because a girl was on a date with me didn’t mean it was acceptable to, say, put an arm around her when the moment was right, or kiss her, or think that sex might be a possibility.
Prior to Layla, I had hung out with a girl we’ll call Maddie, from some of my college classes. We essentially went on three dates, after drifting inexorably together in the face of her initial reluctance despite being interested. I was reluctant, and it helped doom things, because I didn’t perceive her as intelligent enough. That was part of the meet cute, or what helped get us together: Her need for help in accounting. For me it was the easy first semester of many accounting classes. For her it was the first of two required semesters for folks who weren’t in that major, and was a dire struggle. So I tutored her.
Maddie wasn’t beautiful, perhaps, but she was cute as a button in a way, and was very much attracted to her, yet always dubious. It was the perfect storm of someone I could be friendly and easy with, and someone attractive to me.
Our last date was when I drove north of the city, to where she lived, to go out for her birthday during the summer. Her family was at a cabin in New Hampshire, and she was staying with her grandmother, as I recall. We’d have had the house entirely to ourselves for whatever we wanted to do, but I was a little slow and she had been dealing with a crying grandmother before she came to meet me, convinced her little girl was going to lose her innocence or something. I later realized that that was exactly what Maddie wanted out of the relationship, but wasn’t aggressive enough to ensure in the face of my denseness and Daphne’s damage.
We went to a tourist place in Salem, on the water. At one point, we sat on a bench looking out at the water. It was just a few minutes. I had the powerful urge to put my arm around her, as would be logical in that situation. Daphne popped into my mind with a proxy “no, don’t touch me” and I Just Couldn’t Do It. That intercession in my head was a turning point. From there, I convinced myself I wasn’t interested in Maddie, she wasn’t smart enough or good enough for me. I could do better.
It was the regret from that when I was with Layla that countered Daphne’s influence, even though I just wasn’t that interested in Layla except perhaps as a matter of opportunism.
The next zap I witnessed took ages to arrive. It was at a workplace. A new, young manager arrived. We had never met. I was in a room for a meeting. She walked by the room, met my eyes through the window of the door, and did a double-take. I have never seen anyone react to me that way. The closest might be Beth, but that was more proximate and mutual chemistry. This was more like watching someone fall for me at first sight, or at least find me more attractive than I’ve ever been. It’s all the more fascinating because we aren’t and perhaps never had been on the same proverbial team. I have never stopped being intrigued, and will never forget it. I could be misinterpreting entirely what it was about, but there was massive surprise in the reaction, whatever the case.
Speaking of looks, I have most always been convinced, to one degree or another, that I was completely unattractive, even ugly. Girls fought to sit with me on the bus in kindergarten when I was a cute little blond boy, but that was about the end of it. Once in a great while I get some input to the contrary. I’m long since biased enough that it takes essentially no data to convince me the negative direction, and endless data to budge me in the positive direction. I’m like that in other things. Any negative is absolute truth and set in stone. Any positive is unbelievable.
The most recent particularly compelling positive came when my oldest friend, Julie, and her older sister, had an 80th birthday party for their mother. My mother and sister also went. When I walked in, both Julie and her sister, having not seen me in decades, with no stake in doing so, said ‘WOW!” in reaction to my appearance. Good wow, not bad wow. In my favor, I am relatively well preserved, and my hair may not have been overdue for cutting at the time. But I am still overweight. I was persuaded when I was a kid, and was actually not that heavy, that my weight was a huge personal failing entirely my responsibility and rendering me unacceptably ugly. Daphne indirectly contributed to my internalizing that outlook. When, during college, I lost so much weight that I started to look anorexic, I remained convinced I was too heavy and, even if not, unattractive. That almost anorexic weight was almost a hundred pounds below where I am now, which really is 30+ pounds too high.
Anyway, I digress again. This is why verbosity was my reputation and ended up in my blog name. Believe it or not, when i started typing, I chose this topic because it was a brief post. Ha! Shows what i know.