J still lived in the St. Louis suburb where we grew up. For those of you unaware, Florissant is seen by many as a dangerous, crime-stricken area. It’s a huge town that used to be full of middle-class families and hard-working single parent households. However, many people moved away from Florissant when demographics began to shift, and with that shift came a new image: hood life. But my 80-year-old grandma still lived in the suburb, and I visited her and friends often. It’s, honestly, falsely accused, so I wasn’t concerned about taking the well-known route back to my former, nostalgia-inducing homeland. My roots.
My biggest concern wasn’t the neighborhood. Rather, Joey bought a house to rehab nearly 5 years before. In my head I kept thinking, ‘fiscally responsible and, probably, handy.’ Sweet. But the downside, the part that threw me, was his roommate. His brother Matt lived with him, too. Bachelor pad. Icky.
Even though I told Joey I would be coming over, and that I looked terrible, I wanted the first time he was seeing me in ‘real life’ to be memorable, so I put on a thin layer of cosmetics and freshened up the hairstyle (which has grown a lot since we last spoke, friends). It’s so easy to make yourself look great online. It’s as simple as deleting the awful pictures posted by friends and only uploading the ones where you look like Marilyn Monroe, but in real life, well, I knew I couldn’t go sans foundation and hairspray. Wearing my favorite dark blue jeans and a flirty tank, I hopped into my beloved Bug and drove the 20 minute drive from my south city apartment to his north county house.
His street, upon arriving, either didn’t have a single street light or was currently suffering a power outage. Awesome. It was frighteningly dark, and I couldn’t see a thing, let alone a house number. After squinting at the sides of houses for several minutes, I decided the neighbors might soon be concerned about the creeper in the middle of their street, if I didn’t do something different. So I called him.
Me: “Hey, guy. I can’t quite tell which house is yours.”
J: “Oh, I’ll come to the front door.”
I jumped out of my car and rain my fingers through my hair a few times, in hopes of adding back any volume lost on the drive, and started looking door-to-door. Within seconds of this, I saw light shine through the doorway of a house 5 houses down. I told you it was dark. So I started the long walk down the road, thinking the only thing a single, twenty-something could think: He’s totally checking me out and looking at EVERY flaw imaginable right now. But when I made it to the porch, he stood on the opposite side of the storm door, screaming, “Hold on. Let me get the dogs in order.” I was relieved by the fact that he was distracted. He couldn’t judge me yet.
He owns two dogs. He was also watching his sister’s dogs for the weekend. There were five animals in the house.
Once inside, I was attacked by various animals of various sizes. The dogs provided a less-awkward introduction than had they not been there, so I felt a little more at home with him seeing me as an animal lover first. As their excitement subsided, we caught our first glimpse of one another, face-to-face for the first time since high school (10 years prior).
J: “I thought you said you looked terrible. You look great.”
Me: “Oh, really? I’ve been running around and packing all day. I’m sorry. I didn’t spend a significant amount of time getting ready or anything.”
Lie. Total lie.
J: “It’s fine. I just feel like a bum now.”
Joey had taken me at my word and was wearing a plain white T and basketball shorts. Tattoos covered one arm and one leg, adding intrigue to what I thought I knew of him. We stood there, awkwardly, both of us unsure what to say, so I just turned and plopped myself down on the couch.
J: “Do you want anything to drink?”
Me: “How about beer?”
J: “You’ve got it.”
With beer in hand, nerves in throat, and dogs surrounding, I pretended to be confident (a nice change of pace from my new, scared persona). Mostly, I asked about his tattoos and the rationale behind each. We talked about Huckleberry (mine), Rocko (his), and Frank (his), and by the time we’d finished gushing about our dogs, I realized it was getting late and I had an early morning practice to lead the next day. I excused myself two hours after arriving. My goal was to meet him, and I’d done just that. Staying too long would’ve brought us back to the uncomfortable silences, and I had no intention of adding awkwardness back into the mix after we’d just avenged it, so I threw away my beer bottle and thanked him for the drink and invite.
Just like that it was over. Just like that. I’d survived my first unofficial ‘date’ with a guy. I’d survived the PTSD inducing idea of entering into the house of someone I didn’t really know. And I was ready to get home, to the silence, and let the fog clear from my head. This dating stuff, this huge step, was going to be stressful. And I wasn’t sure I was ready.