by: Dana Norris
Dana Norris is the founder and host of Story Club. She once went on 120 internet dates. This was date number 13.
One of the reasons I’m a terrible dater is my absolute, instinctual refusal to let any man know that I’m interested in him. But then, at the end of my first date with Benji, I gave him my phone number. This moment was the emotional equivalent of those apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey finally figuring out that bones can be used as weapons to smash the skulls of their enemies. I feel bold, empowered, and kind of sick.
I find myself continually checking my phone and I realize I’m actually expecting to receive a text from him that says: “I didn’t really want your number.” But that doesn’t happen. Nothing happens.
Two weeks later, Benji still hasn’t called. I sigh and go back to the internet, slog through profiles, and start to set up dates with other guys. But then I see I have a new voicemail from an unknown number. Holy crap.
“Umm…hi. I….I was wondering. Do you? Want to hang out again?”
I recognize Benji immediately from the awkward pausing. I call him back and we set up a date for that coming Friday afternoon at Café Selmarie, an adorable restaurant 30 seconds from my apartment.
That Friday is one of the first good days of the year, sunny and bright. I walk into Selmarie and Benjii already has a table. He’s wearing a blue hoody and some esoteric t-shirt. He’s as nervous and quiet as he was last time, so I try to start us out on something light.
“We’re both free on a Friday afternoon. Isn’t that great? How’d you get the day off?”
He fidgets with his knife and fork. “Um…well.” Silence. So, that wasn’t an answer. I sit quietly and wait. He finally manages, “That’s a loaded question.”
“It’s not loaded. It’s just a question. Like, most people work on Fridays, but we aren’t at work, so clearly we’re getting away with something and…”
Oh – he doesn’t have a job.
And we both lapse into weird silence. I don’t want to overcompensate here by telling him it’s OK that he doesn’t have a job. Because a) it’s clearly not OK to him, and b) I just met him, so I don’t really give a damn. My thought process about men and money is: as long as we don’t share a bank account, I don’t care how much money you make. Sure, it’s nice to have things bought for me, but I also think that guys with lots of money come with lots of strings. Like, in exchange for paying my way they’ll also expect me to always flat iron my hair and wear lip gloss and not wear pants with stains to the grocery store and do pilates and get big fake boobs. I’d rather date an unemployed guy who doesn’t mind when my hair frizzes out everywhere. I change the subject to something science related, but it’s still weird for a while.
After lunch Benji suggests that we take a walk. I’m in my go-to second date outfit: brown sundress with high heels. Not good for walking. But my car’s near the restaurant and I left some workout shoes and socks in there. Benji walks with me to my car and doesn’t seem to care as I open the door, sit in the passenger seat, clumsily take off my high heels and lace up my sneakers. With my sundress and sneakers I look like I’m both ready for a comfortable walk and like I’m single-handedly trying to bring back 1996.
We walk around Lincoln Square, slowly, meanderingly. We walk west, and end up on the Lawrence Ave bridge overlooking the river. We lean on the rusting railing and quietly watch the water slowly flowing underneath us. The railing leaves a white residue on our clothes but we don’t mind. There are ducks in the water, swimming in pairs. Benji tells me that ducks always swim in pairs and that you’ll never see a duck by itself. I think that’s an interesting fact and try not to let my lady brain apply that statement to the fact that we’re a pair right now. He also tells me that geese are assholes. I agree. I tell him about when I was a child, feeding geese bread, when I ran out of bread and a large goose was still hungry. The goose lunged for me and I started running with the goose right behind me, ready to bite. My dad swooped and kicked the goose right in the face. Benji agrees that my dad is great.
I ask Benji if he’d like to get a beer. He would, but he’s participating in a medical experiment for money so he can’t drink. OK then. We get some ice cream instead and eat it as the sun sets. I’ve been on this date for six hours already and I’m exhausted from paying close attention to what Benji’s saying but I also don’t want the date to end. Since I’ve been single I haven’t really spent the entire day with someone else. It feels so intimate, like a shroud has fallen between me and him and the rest of the world. That feeling where you finally start talking without thinking and the conversation just flows like a slow-moving Chicago river
He walks me back to my house. Evening is upon us and people in tight jeans and smooth hair hurry past us, streaming into the nearby bars. Benji kind of smiles and says, “I’d like to see you again, if that’s OK?” I agree that’s OK. I stand in my doorway and wait for him to kiss me. He rubs the back of his neck, still smiling, and walks away.
I go inside. My apartment is dark except for the orange streetlights. It’s Saturday night. I should call someone. I should go out. Instead I open my windows and lie on my couch, listen to the sounds of Saturday night revelers outside, and think about Benji.
Dana Norris is the founder and host of Story Club, a monthly show for stories. She has served as the Nonfiction Editor and Managing Editor of TriQuarterly Online. She performs around Chicago with Mortified!, The Kates, Essay Fiesta, Stories at the Store, This Much is True, Beast Women, Waiting for the Bus and Cafe Cabaret. Her stories have been published in Tampa Review, Partner Dance Press, and been featured on Vocalo.org (89.5 FM). Dana received a Bachelors in Creative Writing and Religion and from Wittenberg University and a Masters in Religious Studies from The University of Chicago. She has a Certificate in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Chicago and is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Northwestern University.