#1,818 Our First Date (Ben’s 10 Year Edition).

Today, Ben is guest posting about our first date on the 3rd day of knowing each other, during which I spent part of it with the guy I was actually kind of dating at the time. I know how bad that sounds, but we weren’t serious, so cut me some slack. You can read my 2010 post about this night here.

So, today, Erin and I listened to Damien Rice all day which prompted her to locate the old “Drive Safely” mix CD.

We added the mix to her computer and to both of our phones. We took a little date night drive over to Sonic for mozzarella sticks and Ocean Water (which I know Ashlee can appreciate). Simple, cheap date, but a very special one. We drove out to see her parents, just like we did ten years ago and I gave her mom a bear hug. Tonight was the anniversary of our first official date.

Thursdays in college are really like Fridays. I mean, you’ve got class on Friday, but by 4:00 on Thursday, you’ve checked out.

I spent Thursday morning as if it were Friday morning. I had checked out. I wasn’t sleeping at night for talking and thinking about Erin, but I wasn’t tired. I was just ready to see her in between classes or in the student union. Isn’t it interesting how in college, you can go on little to no sleep? You can pull an all nighter writing a paper, and then pull another one the next night cramming for a test, and somehow make an okay grade on both. To that end, you can spend all day and night talking to a girl, and still be interesting enough and charming enough for her to want to continue talking to you. These days, I’m an ogre without sleep. What is it about aging that does that?

After lunch with a crowd, we went to find a spot for Erin to paint and finish the last ones she needed to turn in for her finals. Did I mention already that she is an artist? I didn’t really know this yet. I mean, I knew she was doing “graphic design” in yearbook, but what does that mean? No seriously, I didn’t know what it was, but you better believe I thought it was very interesting. We drove all around the South Jones area looking for a spot to pull over and paint. Honestly, I was hoping for something more than painting, but don’t tell her I told you that. Lisa, don’t let your kids read that. We settled on painting the trees next to the pond where we had shot the yearbook pictures one day earlier. I wanted to hang out with her, whatever she was doing. If she’s painting, then I want to watch her paint. Nothing has really changed there. Whatever one of us is doing, the other wants to be right there.

We sat there for a while, talking, painting, flirting. She had left her notebook of wax paper palettes in the art department, so I ran over to the guys dorms to borrow a piece of cardboard that would make a fine makeshift palette. Eventually, the day began to fade and it was time for another delicious meal in the JCJC cafeteria. We went to dinner together. This wasn’t really a date because it was just the way things were at Jones. You hung out with people until it was time to go eat. Dates happened after dinner.

Now, you should know that I have never tasted alcohol. When I was younger, it was because my dad told me not to. When I moved out, it was because I had as much fun as the drunk people when I was sober, and I could remember it. Now, it’s because, what’s the point? This was a great asset for a college kid with no money. “Dude, we’re all going to the club tonight, Afroman is playing!” “I’ll drive if you’ll pay my cover.” “DEAL!” So, as word was getting around that EVERYBODY was going to Sports Rock, a big, dimly lit club that played loud dance music (think Usher, but also think Gretchen Wilson), for one last night out before finals week, I had to arrange it so that Erin would go. I couldn’t let my best friends go and risk getting DUIs, and I wanted to continue hanging out with my future wife.

“A bunch of people are going to Sports Rock tonight, you wanna go with me? Since neither of us drink, we could talk and it won’t be so awful.” 

Yes, I was asking her to go on a date with me. No, it wasn’t the kind of place she went on Thursday nights, or any other nights, and I knew that. The excuses started, but I could tell she wanted to be with me.

“I’ve never been to a club… Pretty sure that’s not my scene… I need to work on these paintings… I’ve got to go to my parents’ house and grab some things…” 

Ahhh… yes, the parents. Yes, let’s go to your parents’ house. We will talk more about it on the way. Sheryl, a mutual friend was there with us and she wanted to go meet Erin’s mom. You see, my grandfather is a politician, and my daddy is a preacher. I enjoy talking to people and parents love me. I could write a book on how to charm mothers, and in fact, believe that men who avoid meeting the parents of the women they love aren’t men at all. But I digress. Erin wore clothes from Urban Outfitters, but all good Southern girls, even the artistic ones, want their mama to like the boy they’re dating.

Upon arriving at my future in-laws, I knew I was in the right place because I saw her dad’s restored ’86 Silverado in the garage. The house was decorated for Christmas and my little blonde, elegant, future mother-in-law, no bigger than a bird, was cooking supper. I walked in like I’d done it a million times and wrapped her up in a bear hug. Her tiny frame compared to mine was funny to us both. She couldn’t get over my size. I hoped she would love me from then on. I hoped I would soon be a permanent fixture in her family. We hung out a while, talked about life, and soon it was time to go. Erin told me that Karen said, “He seems like a partier… But I like him.” as I walked out. She then asked, “What about Charlie?”

Charlie. We’ll get to that.

On the way back, I convinced Erin to go out to the club with me. We made it back to the dorms to change clothes, and afterward I picked her up along with my roommates. I was driving Sheryl’s car, who was riding to the club with some other girls. That way, she would know she had a sober ride home. Chase, Vino, and Barron all agreed to pay my cover so that they would have a ride home, and I had about $20 cash to my name that I would use to pay Erin’s cover. Everybody wins. On the way, Charlie called and Erin told him we were going to Sports Rock. I don’t know if she did it to make me jealous, or if she did it to gauge my reaction, but they’d only been on a couple dates and were co-workers at the hospital pharmacy. He couldn’t believe she was going to a club and said he might come hang out, though she doubted he would. He used to play college football. He’s big too, almost as tall as you. He has a beard, too.

Oh, good for him.

We walked in, the heat compared to the cold air outside, mixed with the darkness and loud music was a little suffocating. We found a raised booth along the wall with a lamp on it. We sat close so that other people could sit down. We were squeezed against each other, I put my arm around her and turned a little towards her to make it a little more comfortable. Isn’t that an exciting feeling? The first time your hands brush, the first time you sit close enough to each other that your clothes touch, the first time you’re close enough to really be in the other person’s space. The room was so loud that we couldn’t hear each other talking. The only way to carry on a conversation, which is what we wanted to do, was to talk directly into the other person’s ear. I would take her face in my hands and speak right into her ear, my lips brushing her cheek when I spoke. I didn’t know what it was like for her, but it was almost more than I could take—feeling like I knew her. I actually, finally, knew her. Then, only about an hour into our date, Charlie walked in. She was right, he was tall, and he did have a beard. He was a sharp looking dude.

She said she needed to go talk to him. That even though they weren’t serious, it would be rude to not go over and see him. I was confused. I was boiling with low grade rage at the sight of this guy. My heart was breaking and I couldn’t figure out how to stop her. I didn’t want to be here anymore. My drunk friends were getting on my nerves. The people at the table were talking, but I wasn’t hearing them. This went on for what felt like the rest of my life. Imagine that, if you will, sitting in a club that is playing horrible music. Dance versions of Tim McGraw songs, mixed in with some Usher, and maybe a little Ying Yang Twins, followed by some Shania Twain. It’s muggy because of all the alcohol and sweat from people dancing. You’re one of only about 12 sober people in a room of 300, and the only person you want to talk to is at another table talking to some guy. I saw my drunken roommates starting a brawl with some fraternity guys near the exit and went down to break it up. At the moment I felt like looking for a fight, but I’m not the kind of guy who starts fights, I’m the kind of guy who stops them. One of my friends got caught for underage drinking, and had to sit outside in the cold on the sidewalk. I went out to sit with him.

Finally, the torture came to an end. Closing time, everyone started making their way towards the exits. I found Erin… and Charlie. I would see to it that she wouldn’t leave my side again. At least 20 people claimed they’d be riding home with me, regardless that I was driving a 4-door ’96 Honda Accord.

“I drove here, but I got drunk, and I know you’re not drunk… Ben! David was supposed to be our DD but he got drunk and now we don’t have a ride…” 

My middle child responsiblity kicked in and I began rounding up rides for everyone. The thing about being the only non-drinker among your friends is that when the night ends, you have to make sure they all get home safely. Just as we were starting to get everyone organized, Charlie spoke up, volunteering to give Erin a ride home if I needed to let somebody else ride with me. Isn’t he great? I looked at Erin and said to him,

“She came with me, she’s leaving with me.”

That seemed fair enough to him. He was oblivious, somehow. So he waved goodbye to my girl and went home. Said he’d call her tomorrow.

We got in the car, but we didn’t really talk. There were 4 people in the backseat, Sheryl, Chase, Barron and some other girl. Vino was in the trunk. I was still a little heartbroken and angry. I was falling in love with this girl and she went and spent our date with another guy. She looked so pretty sitting there. She may have sat with him, but she was with me. Our hands were touching on the armrest. Maybe just our wrists, but there it was again. That energy. If you could bottle the spark between the meeting of wrists of two people who were falling in love, you could have enough energy to power all of North America. The sheer anticipation of holding hands with someone you love and who might love you back is so powerful that some people are too afraid to get that close. I took her small, cool hand in mind. It felt like it wasn’t possible. It felt like I’d done it a million times. Sheryl leaned forward and cooed drunkenly, “Do you guys love each other?” Erin said, “Yes, Sheryl, but you need to try and sleep now.” We rode on without talking, with the radio playing quietly. I rubbed my thumb across her hand as I drove. My girl.

The moment was interrupted by Barron trying to get out of the car at 70 MPH so that he could puke. We pulled over, and I helped him out, sitting my phone on the roof of the car in the process. I would never see that phone again. Upon dropping everyone off, Erin agreed to ride with me to look for the phone along I-59. This would give us a little more time—since curfew was a distant memory now at 3 am and she would have to call campus security to let her in anyway. I stopped at a gas station for a Nehi Peach, our mutual favorite soda. I bought one and planned on sharing it with her… hint hint. In the car, I asked her a question. A question that I have regretted for a long time, but after the stunt she had pulled with the former college football player future anesthesiologist, I was wounded again, just like the months before.“Can I kiss you?”She told me that I couldn’t ask something like that, I just had to do it. Before pulling onto campus, I stopped at the intersection in downtown, between the florist and the sno-cone stand. I leaned over and reached across her with my left hand. I touched her neck, behind her ear, in her hair. I turned her face towards me and tilted her lips up to mine. Just like in the yearbook room, she was going to let me kiss her. So, I did. It was short and innocent, the way you might kiss at the altar on your wedding day. It was the best kiss I’d ever had. I loved her.

On the way back to the dorm to drop her off, campus police pulled us over and took our student IDs to be turned in to the administration building. Neither of us minded. I liked knowing that my student ID would be spending the night with her student ID. My phone was gone. I couldn’t text her random messages, I couldn’t call her, I couldn’t hear her voice until the sun was up and classes were back in session at 8 am.

I just had to wait.