Anyway, this girl did look at me several times between short conversations on her cell phone. I noticed with a not insignificant amount of satisfaction that she was drinking a mixed drink like mine, perhaps even the same rum and coke. As her clothing, different as it was from the 'normal' TCU female barslut uniform (themselves only slightly more diverse than their male versions), didn't catch my interest as much as the fact that she wasn't drinking beer. And her very short, very dark hair. And how she slipped off her sandals and sat cross-legged in her chair. And...toyed with the few strands hanging to the nape of her neck when she happened to look at me while talking on her phone. What I could gather from her little conversations was that she was waiting for her boyfriend and friends. I didn't care; a few seconds of eye contact spiced with a coy or knowing smile have been enough to keep me happy through uncountable nights. If she had a good relationship, all the better. I'm cold enough to prefer looking at pretty girls who are also happy.
Now, I tend to sip on my drinks before midnight; I don't go out to get drunk, but I feel awkward when asking for virgin cokes and having the bartenders hand them to me for free. I'm neither too poor to pay nor anyone's designated driver. I've compromised by making it known to the regular tenders that I'm not a college kid looking for a double whenever I ask for a single, and they accommodate my backward oddity. Suffice it to say that I had only half-finished my drink when the dark-haired girl got up to get herself a new one. Nevertheless, and I can't stress this enough, she hesitated for a few seconds while facing the bar, then turned and walked over to offer me a drink. I've had college kids offer me drinks, oh so many, since being in my wheelchair that sometimes I wonder if I really need to buy anything at all in bars. But this hesitation...am I reading too much into it to think that she was having one of those rom-com moments? Bear with me, I think I can be justified in at least imagining it.
"Do you need another drink?" she asked, as had many other young women before her (guys mostly say something like, "Dude, no. We've got it," or, "This one's yours...no, no. Don't shake your head."). For whatever reasons; be they altruistic, guilt-ridden, or pitied; I get asked or cajoled into spending other people's money more often than most men in Texas would consider seemly. But I don't give a rat's ass about that kind of pride. I turn away as many drinks as I accept, usually saying no to shots, but I rarely turn away ones offered by women. Although this girl didn't at first explicitly say that she would buy it, she made it plain when I reached for my wallet. With a grin, she said, "Oh, no, please. It's on my card." Far be it from me to take away someone's opportunity for charity...or one of those clichéd excuses to start a conversation. When it's the latter, people will normally invite me to join them at their table, often with the overly casual, "Why are you sitting alone?" After getting her and my next rum and cokes, however, this girl asked if she could sit with me. Added to the admittedly ambiguous earlier hair-play, this gesture made me wonder what she saw of me from her perspective. I had my hair down, and I surely don't look my age, but she was no high-talking, flighty socialite looking to make herself seem kind before a half dozen friends. She was alone, for the time being at least, and came to me in a room with at least ten guys giving her more attention than I had.
She sat slowly, as if unsure that she was welcome despite my glad invitation. In fact, for most of the night, her manner towards me seemed quite like that of someone with a crush; shy, yet taking chances after working up the nerve. I have no doubt that much of it was my imagination, but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief on this point. There was small talk; why she was there, how long I had been a patron (my cap carrying the bar's logo a dead giveaway for 'regular'), and the like. She did not, however, immediately ask me how I had come to be in the wheelchair. Let me tell you, truth and beauty fans, I could tell from her questions that she wanted to, but the words took hours to form themselves. By which time, we were far from sober and newly met. This reluctance to publicly delve into my particular darkness, more than her pretty face and otherwise personally directed body language, made her more attractive to me than the dozens of others who have shown me as much interest, yet spoiled it all by nonchalantly asking that single question. That question is not one for strangers to ask, and she obviously knew this. I would have found a way to tell her, hopefully without bringing down her good mood, but we were soon interrupted by her friends: a small collection of TCU kids more into the liberal arts part of the university than the hapless football team.
They sat at the next table, made the ubiquitous greetings and handshakes, and we settled to me listening to their various reasons for being late. After another ten minutes or so, the girl's boyfriend showed with another couple of friends, so I decided that I'd had my nice little time and begged off to use the restroom. I got another drink on the way back, not wanting to make the previously polite gesture into an uncomfortable habit; or worse, the occasion for an embarrassing refusal. I can turn down drinks easily when I know none of the group in question, but I had a 'friend' here now from the group's perspective. I wasn't quite the same kind of outsider as the other bar patrons they didn't know, and whatever attitude my 'friend' showed toward me would mean a change in their social dynamic, especially for her boyfriend. I've been in some very thorny situations created by a girl's invitation to join her table and my subsequent refusal of free drinks; an insult or faux pas among the otherwise most laid-back people. Fortunately, I thought, the girl had taken a chair next to her boyfriend at the other table when I returned. I sat back in my spot, not exactly alone but not bothered. Even the dark-haired girl did not try to edge me into the now loud conversation, something one of the superficial socialites would do, but she did not stop looking at me, either.
In truth, her friends were nice enough, none of them insufferable frat boys or stereotypical sorority girls. Two of the guys, the group's 'nerds', were even taking a geology class, so I was able to keep up a portion of the conversation, however we three were sidetracked from the rest. The dark-haired girl was well paired with a decent guy, himself apparently ready with a new job in the Northwest (Oregon, if I remember right) after finishing school next semester. I envied him not in the least; I have no illusions about my compatibility with a young woman twenty years my junior. Yet, she asked questions about geology, questions that her friends couldn't yet answer. How could the sea reach up through the Central States (to form all of the limestone in this area)? Why was there a cycle to plate tectonics (which creates supercontinents every few hundred million years)? Her friends were impressed that I knew the difference between Gondwana and Laurasia; they hadn't even heard of Rodinia. I was much amused, and fortunately didn't make a fool of myself. No one else among the group but the girl and her two friends cared in the least, of course, and it was clear that the girl was not taking geology. How else could I interpret this but as either a continued effort to make me feel 'at home' or some unlikely way to keep talking to me personally? The conversation moved on, pitchers of beer were drunk, and the girl and I fell to drinking our mixed drinks and exchanging glances which I was glad her boyfriend never seemed to notice. She pulled her legs up again at one point, smiling at me as she scratched the top of one of her feet. I could have melted onto the floor.
I'm forty, `tis true, and I can't even get horny any more; but I'm not dead yet. This girl, this young woman, was showing interest in me I haven't experienced in a decade. It was more intoxicating than the rum. About half past midnight, the group elected to change bars to watch a band play, and I was duly invited to go along. On other occasions, I've gone unless the girls involved had boyfriends; I love to watch girls dance, but too often boyfriends devolve into groping teenagers after unhealthy doses of alcohol. I didn't care this time. She wasn't drunk, and neither was her boyfriend. At worst, I thought, he would get a whiff of the glances passing between us and make it 'known' that he didn't approve. Fine, I've seen that attitude before, quite understandable. I'd just bow out and call it a meager win. He was a good guy, after all, giving her space and me respect which was not what I'd call the empty deference of a 'nice guy'. After the girl signed out her tab and while three others did the same, she came to me and asked if I'd seen the band play before. I had, but I didn't remember their music. While she waited for her friends, though, she put her hand on my shoulder. Oh, my droogies, women can make such easy personable gestures without even noticing it, but guys notice. Perhaps we notice more than is there, but so much has been the beginning of countless obsessions. Did her thumb move? Yes. Did it mean anything? What a question.
At any rate, the group fell into a pilgrimage into the back parking lot, then across Berry St. to the waiting club. Along the way, I became the momentary center of some attention as the odd one out - one of the idiosyncrasies of the disabled. Did I need help down the curb? No...hey, look at that! Can I ride a wheelie? Sure, but I didn't tell them that I'd ridden one on University from Berry St. all the way to Bluebonnet Circle before. A little showing off was enough with them to lose my possible status as 'needy'. And I know my limitations, even when I'm not yet tipsy. The boyfriend wasn't clingy, so the dark-haired girl walked near me some of the time; just enough to show me some private smiles at her more intoxicated friends' expenses. The geology students carried me up the steps to the club: a courtesy I've accrued from being wheelchair bound and one I've come expect. I didn't have to pay the cover to get in: a very different privilege gained from being a local who has frequented the establishment longer than its present owner. I was perfectly gratified for the first, but felt a tad uncomfortable at the second. This honor, at least, has never been given to me on Berry St. because of my wheelchair, and I'd rather that no one think it was. Once inside the club, however, I was back to being the group's new 'friend'. No chance of buying my own drinks here, it was too crowded for me to easily reach the bar (not that this would normally stop me, but they didn't know that). I compensated by sipping again, and only had two more refills the rest of the night. For her part, the dark-haired girl looked at me, spoke to me, and touched me as if we had known each other for years and, my friends, it was heaven.
If her boyfriend saw any of this attention as untoward, he made no indication of it. If anything, he spoke to me almost as much as she did. What a guy. When the band played, though, and she and he danced along with several others from their group and many others, the dark-haired girl seemed to be sure I knew that she was dancing for me as well. She didn't throw out the slutty college girl-gone-wild moves with sultry looks, but what looks she did give me were intensely private. Her body language wasn't of lewd promises for later, but something closer to a description of her love of music and movement. Sure, I was definitely exaggerating her in my imagination again, but who cares? No one was having a bad night in that club. Of course, she and another friend 'forced' me to get out and move around with them. I can't call it dancing, because I have danced; but I know the importance of not taking oneself too seriously. And I felt great.
What more is there to say? She didn't ditch her boyfriend for me, and there was no huge drama otherwise to make the night memorable for the rest, but I guess you could say I got mine. During the band's rest, part of the group went out to the front, so I went along. The dark-haired girl's boyfriend stuck into a talk with a few other guys, so she and I got some rather silly and serious time to ourselves. Only a few minutes, but enough for her to finally ask me the question. I told her the truth with just enough detail to give the 'that was a lifetime ago; I don't cry over it' attitude. To her credit, she said, "I know," rather than, "Oh my God, I couldn't have lived through that." She's had her share of tragedy as well; her mother, like my father, died of cancer. She lost her mother while just going into high school, however. It was only a few minutes, and this punctuated by continuous distractions on the crowded deck, but it was a time apart from everyone else.
So, she didn't kiss me good night, didn't even touch my shoulder again. I didn't get invited to an after-party, but I probably would have declined the invitation anyway. I knew who she was going home with. This was no romantic comedy, and there will hardly be a final embrace before the ending credits roll. There was some kind of connection there, though. In the words of my old friend, David, I got mine. Way back in the first few entries I posted here, I told about my modest and often careless love life, but I've learned a lot since then. Learned what people fifty years older than me know, perhaps. I'd take another night like last Saturday over the rest of my life spent fumbling out of bluejeans and into vaginas. There can be so much passed between open eyes, it doesn't really matter that we'll likely never see each other again.
I wonder what she would have said if I had told her that I was a senior in high school when she was born. Next time, maybe. ;)