She walks in while I’m standing at a bar with a couple of friends. She’s wearing a shirt that is cut low in the back, so I have immediate assurance that the tattoos on her shoulder blades and upper back are indeed still where they were the last time I saw her.
Her name is Jess. She is a pretty girl with whom I would very much like to have a conversation, one that leads to something more, like maybe a conventional kiss on a porch that segues into proof that I can enter into a “real” romantic relationship, that there isn’t really something wrong with me when it comes to commitment.
To get to that point, though, there will have to be a moment where I walk up to her and start a conversation that I use to learn more about her as a person while also attempting to somehow get her to want to spend a semi-significant amount of free time with me at some point in the near future.
The thought of doing so fills me with anxiety and makes me feel that hot, prickly sensation on the back of my neck and shoulders I experience in moments of distress.
I’m with my bar-hopping friends almost every Friday night. We stand in the same formation and drink the same drinks, more often than not in the same taverns. Then we go home, some of us with significant others and the rest of us alone, or with stragglers, to watch television and eat too many chicken wings.
This is what your winter social life is about when you live in a resort town that fills up in the summer and empties out in the offseason, leaving only a few thousand people and a small selection of year-round businesses.
You see the same people all the time, so I’ve seen Jess before, a few times, and I know her name is Jess because I’ve solicited this information from mutual friends on the sly, in various roundabout ways, to avoid suspicion of creepiness.
So I had a name and little else, and if you think about it, a name is kind of a worthless thing to have in this type of situation, because if I am going to do what I desperately want to do, which is walk up to her and start a conversation, I will have to ask her what her name is. I’ll act like I don’t know it, because you can’t just say you were leering at her a couple weeks ago and asked her name out of curiosity because you were thinking maybe you’d head on home and play detective on Facebook, see if you could find her and see what types of music she enjoys, and if she reads books that are not Twilight or The Hunger Games.
I nudge my friend Josh, who knows of my physical attraction to Jess and believes I am spot-on in my assessment, which is something I articulate to him with, “Wow,” or “I wouldn’t throw her out of bed for eating crackers.”
I nod in her direction.
“Dude, just go talk to her,” Josh says, and I recall the million or so times friends have said this to me.
Just go talk to her.
Josh has the ability to do this, which is to say he has “balls,” in the metaphorical sense. I do not have this ability, which means I am devoid of genitals, like a department store mannequin. Leading into this night, I have sat in a chair in a classroom or an office almost every Friday morning or afternoon for the past six years, saying to myself, “Tonight I’m going to go and talk to a random girl. How hard could it be?”
I don’t know the answer to that question because I have not done this before. Ever.
Why? Two reasons I can think of, and I suppose they are connected.
First, a fear of rejection and failure. Apparently, I won’t take a chance that could result in either. I’m afraid of two things: talking to girls and heights. So I don’t spit game and I don’t skydive.
Second: I have what my high school cross-country coach liked to call a “Comfort Zone,” and I am hesitant to get out of it. I’ve become so accustomed to going home, eating and sprawling out alone in my bed that I’ve begun to tell myself I am OK and even satisfied with this as my norm.
Josh tells me this is all fine and that we need to just get me drunk enough to speak to this woman, just like how we have to get me drunk enough to attempt to dance.
“Look, worst-case scenario, she shuts you down or has a boyfriend or whatever, and you just end up at home watching TV without a phone number, which is where you’re headed if you don’t talk to her anyway, so why not?” he says.
This is what we call logic.
I tell him I am probably not going to approach her, and I repeat it with each drink we skull over the next half-hour. But then he gives me some sort of inspirational speech about how great moments are born from great opportunity. I realize he is quoting a speech from Miracle — one of those underdog-turns-champion movies — in a slightly condescending way for his amusement, but I am drunk and it leaves an impression anyway.
“Fine,” I say. “I will piss, and then I will walk straight to her.”
“Remember to talk. Don’t just stare at her,” Josh says. “You stare sometimes when you’re drunk.”
After this, I recall nothing.
I wake up hanging halfway off my couch. My hand has been in a Styrofoam box riddled with bones and ranch dressing. Blankets are strewn all over my living room floor, indicating that at least one person slept there. I walk upstairs to brush my teeth and wash the sauce off my face. Josh appears and says he took my bed because I told him to when I was half-awake on the couch.
“What happened to me last night?”
“You got pretty wasted. We both did. Oops.”
“Sometimes you gotta get weird. Did I talk to Jess?”
“Yeah, you were all about her.”
“No, I mean, it looked like it was going well, at least from what I saw.”
I say “No way,” and I mean it, not reassured by Josh’s reassurances. He had been on or close to my level the night before, so his judgment probably shouldn’t be trusted. I am a bit hopeful now, though.
I walk back downstairs to check my phone and make sure I haven’t done anything stupid while incoherent. There is a text message from a number I do not know, saying I’d better call her and that she is also “totally going to eat snacks in my bed.”
We will eat wings, probably.
I guess I should drink more often.
I wait a couple hours, and then I dial.
For more from Scott…
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