I Saw You

*Skirt! Magazine published this in 2004, although because I moved and didn’t have a forwarding address, I never saw the final version.  I wrote this in the Spring of 2001 in Charlottesville but the local weekly wouldn’t publish it.  Such high standards!  I am very fond of it, being the first thing I’ve ever written that I thought stood up quite perkily.*

“Statuesque Blonde One.  Downtown, you skip as though you’d just fallen in love.  I’d like to learn the secrets to your happiness when so many of life’s circumstances suck.”

My girlfriend Wendy and I were reading the “I Saw Yous,” a routine that rounded out our Wednesday morning coffee hour on the Downtown Mall.  I liked to wonder whether the “hot babe” in the red Jetta would respond.  Wendy’s objective was less imaginatively complicated: checking to see if anyone was writing about her.

The prose of this one intrigued me.  It wasn’t simply “Statuesque Blonde” but “Statuesque Blonde One.”  The addition intoned a respectful formality, like a Shakespearean sonnet.  “Skipping” was less numinous, but it did lend itself to the image of a person who walked as though she’d “just fallen in love.”

“I want to know your secret to happiness when so many life’s circumstances suck.”  The sentence began wistfully, but  grew regrettably clunky at the end and then downright awful.  Someone who’d come up with “statuesque” could surely do better than “suck.”  But the ad was free if it came in under 30 words.  True, I agreed with the writer who’d managed to convey much in 29 words, so many of life’s circumstances do suck, including word limitations.

“This one’s for you,” Wendy said, pointing to the ad I’d just read.

It almost made sense.  I was blonde (chemically, but definitely blonde), tall (“statuesque”?) and walked on the Downtown mall several times day.

“I don’t skip,” I pointed out.

“Sure you do.  You walk around with a smile on your face, no matter what your mood.  That’s what it means.” she exclaimed.  “Are you going to call?”

I laughed off the question, but later, I began to wonder.  For the past few months, I’d been wandering in a dating Sahara.  If there was one decent, available man out there and he was looking for me, how could I shrug off this summons?

To get a man’s perspective, I called my ex-husband.

“Blonde?” he said after I’d read the ad.  “You’re blonde now?”

“I was blonde when we were married,” I responded irritably.

“`Skipping’?” he continued suspiciously.  “You don’t skip.”

“I kind of do skip.  It’s the way I walk.  Suppose it is me.  Would you call?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because anyone who knows you knows you wouldn’t skip.”

“Whatever.  I agree it would have been better if it had said, ‘you smile as though you’d just fallen in love.’  But I’m willing to compromise.”

“Don’t,” he insisted.  “It’s not only the ‘skip’.  The whole thing is poorly thought out.  If this guy had thought about it for a few more minutes he would have come up with something better.  This slap-dash approach to poetry isn’t worth your while.”

Even though I thanked him for his advice, I continued debating.  What did he know?  We hadn’t lived in the same state for over a year, and my life of waiting tables and writing fiction in Charlottesville was a far cry from his world of teaching at a big name university.  Going through the acceptable dating pool in a small town involved dating two men and finding out first-hand what commitment phobia was all about, befriending three others and feeling grateful you hadn’t dated them first, and finding out the reputations of six more before they’d manage to corner you at a bar.  I was tired of fetching my own drinks at parties and had started avoided cafes on weekend mornings, where starry eyed couples wandered in, clutching each other as if drowning.  I wanted my own Prince Charming to recognize me for all the variously strange things I had to offer.  Already this ad writer appeared ready to fit that bill.

Before I could pick up the phone to call the listed number, my first experience with a secret admirer returned like a bad meal.  In 8th grade I was new in school, and there were other girls whose hair feathered back more perfectly and who hadn’t stretched to the ungainly height of 5’6” by the age of 13.  Frankly, I didn’t fit in, and I took solace in Pride and Prejudice and other novels that promised me my time for romance would come.

One Friday, a girlfriend told me that a boy she knew had asked about me.  “He thinks you’re pretty.  He’s a really sweet guy.”

I was thrilled.  I was resigned to solitude until the guys had growth spurts and caught up on their reading.  But maybe this boy knew beauty was about more than a few inches; maybe he’d seen something in me no one else had discerned.

When my friend told me his name, I’d never heard of him.  All weekend I imagined that one of the cute boys in my advanced English, math, and language classes was about to confess his interest.  I felt plucked from the crowd, appreciated for something no one else had to offer.

On Monday when she pointed him out, that we were worlds apart was obvious, no matter how many “wrong side of the tracks” stories I wanted to believe.  Clearly he had thought I was pretty and that was all.  There was nothing more he could have known about me just as there had been no reality involved in my weekend pipe-dreams.  The situation was so shameful that I fled the cafeteria.  I resented him for liking me, for letting other people know, for getting my hopes up, for not being what I wanted him to be, and for placing me in this situation that exposed how far I was from being a person worth loving.

Now I realized I’d been imagining that the sexy café owner was finally admitting his interest.  But what if it were the hot dog vendor who always watched me walk past?  Or one of the guys who took cigarette breaks in groups of ten outside their office building?  Could I trust myself to be gracious if my fantasies weren’t fulfilled precisely as I would have liked?  As much as I said I wanted romance, I was unprepared for potential obstacles.

Days went by, and my mind continued to wander to the “I Saw You.”  It was nice to have read it and to be certain that someone was acknowledging me.  That was enough.  Too often I’m reminded how little I control other people’s impressions of me.  I try to send the right transmissions, but things keep getting jammed.  My last relationship unraveled with the guy distrusting every other word that came out of my mouth, as if I had metamorphosed into some updated Medea.  After the relationship ended, I described his behavior to my sister.  As I unfolded an rambling explanation for why he’d asked me out to begin with, she cut me short, performing the post mortem with the precision of a surgeon.

“You’re making too much of this,” she advised.  “Maybe he just liked the way you looked.”

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