Thursday, March 1, 2012

1986: Mr. Cool takes his girl out on the town

Twenty-six years ago tonight, my wife and I went on our first date.

I know this because I am the designated person in our relationship whose job it is to remember dates, anniversaries and the like. My short-term memory is slipping year by year, but March 1st, 1986, will be forever seared into my brain.

For a long time, I thought Feb. 27th was our dating "anniversary." But then a couple of years ago I looked at a calendar from 1986 and was surprised to see that the 27th was actually a Thursday...which made sense when I thought about it. I asked Terry out on a Thursday afternoon, and it was on Saturday that we actually had the date.

The "ask" was the hardest part of the whole thing. Terry was a junior, while I was but a lowly sophomore. She was -- and forever will be -- eight months older than me, but we were both in band, which for whatever reason is a place where age differences tend to matter less than they do elsewhere in the high school ethos.

Being a football player, I was only in concert and jazz bands, not marching band, where a lot of band relationships were born. But as fate would have it, Terry and I both spent our second-period study hall that year hanging out in the band room. And somehow (who knows how these things work?) we started noticing each other.

We talked a lot during those study halls, and she seemed to laugh at my jokes (she doesn't really bother doing that anymore...we both know the only one who thinks I'm the least bit funny is me, so why pretend?) Any idiot watching from the sidelines could see we were rapidly falling in "like."

But I wasn't just any idiot. I was an idiot actually involved in this thing, and I was scared to death to ask her out. Oh my goodness, she was so pretty. I mean like make-my-heart-race-and-my-stomach-flip-flop pretty. She still is. That's one of the reasons I love coming home so much.

It took a wise and mature 18-year-old senior, Connie Meier, to play matchmaker for us. I think Connie got tired of us skirting the issue and just decided enough was enough and that SOMEONE had to prod this moron into asking Terry out. So when I asked Connie if I had a shot, she said something to the effect of, "Uh, yeah, dude. Don't be so dense. Ask her."

That was about as much encouragement as I was going to get, so the only thing to do was to pop the question. Now if you've ever been in high school and have gone through this, you know you don't just ask someone to go out. You have to set it up. You have to figure out all the angles. You have to determine the right time and place. And most of all, you have to be Mr. Cool.

In retrospect, I find all of this hilarious. I already had it on pretty good authority that Terry was with the program here. No fancy prep necessary, really. But as per usual for me, I was far, far too stupid to see this. So I took a couple more days to figure out how and when I should execute my plan.

It helped that our lockers were right near each other. It was the last period of the day on Thursday. I was in Mr. Robertson's history class (poor Mr. Robertson...such a nice man and a great teacher. He would pass away the following year from, I believe, cancer). I knew I would see Terry when I went back to my locker, so I decided this would be it. This was where I would make my stand, for good or bad.

As I walked back to my locker after the final bell rang, I had that dry throat, sweaty palms thing going. Why was I nervous? Connie told me this would work. What I jerk I am, I thought. This can't be that hard.

I get to my locker. Terry is standing at hers. Oh my gosh, she's so pretty. No way I can do this right now. Seriously, no way. But oh man, she's just beautiful. Look at her! And she's not dating anyone! And she likes you, you big dummy! Just do it! JUST DO IT!

ME: "Hey, Ter." (This is what I've called her for the last quarter of a century: "Ter," rhymes with "air." I'm pretty sure that's what I called her at that moment. At least that's how I remember it. I'll have to ask her if she remembers it the same. In any case, I tried to do it in my casual Mr. Cool voice, though I'm sure I was squeaking like the frightened 16-year-old I was.)

HER: "Yeah?"

ME: "You wanna go out tomorrow night?"

HER: "Oh! Uh, no, I can't."


HER AGAIN (quickly, probably seeing my look of alarm): "Only because I have a youth group meeting at church! I can do it Saturday night!"

ME (intense relief, trying without success to slip back into Mr. Cool mode): "Oh! OK, cool. We can see a movie or something."

HER: "OK, we can do that."

And then I don't remember a thing for two days. I remember being on Cloud Nine. I remember being happy, relieved, and nervous for the actual date. But the details of the next two days are forever lost. On Saturday, I picked her up in my styling yellow 1979 Chevrolet Chevette. Nothing, I mean nothing, says "Chick Magnet" like a yellow 'Vette!

It was a snowy might. I took her out to the Mentor Mall, where we saw "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" with Nick Nolte and Bette Midler. Then we drove to Willoughby and I treated her to a gourmet dinner at the only place the wages I earned working at Wendy's could afford: McDonald's (I do see the irony there.) Then I took her home.

As I drove down her street, I couldn't remember which house was hers. They were all made of brick, and at the time they all looked alike to me. I was cruising along at full speed when she suddenly said, "Stop, that's my house!"

So I hit the brake and immediately began skidding across the snow-covered pavement. The car turned 90 degrees to the right and came to a stop right in front of her house -- actually facing her house, as it turned out.

Terry's house had a good-sized front window. And standing there as my car swerved crazily and ended up facing the house, as God is my witness, was Terry's father. I could have died.

I sheepishly backed up and pulled into her driveway. I walked her to the side door. I told her I had a good time. She said the same. Mr. Cool leaned in for a goodnight kiss. And I kid you not, just as our lips were about to meet, I burped. I NEVER burp. Seriously, I'm almost incapable of doing it. I burp maybe 5 or 10 times a year. And the God of the universe, who has never lacked a sense of humor, found that exact moment to be the time when I should take a step toward meeting my sparse Annual Burp Quota.

I was mortified, of course. I think we both laughed. But then we kissed anyway. And it was wonderful. I'm telling you, it was something. I will never forget it. I wish I could tell you at that moment I was thinking, "OK, this is the person I'm going to marry," but I don't think I was nearly sharp enough to know that. I just knew that this beautiful girl had just gone out with me. Had had a good time with me. And had kissed me. Whatever is 50 feet higher than Cloud Nine was where I spent the rest of the night. I went home a happy man in the yellow Chevette.

As it turned out, we would be engaged less than three years after that and married in a little more than six years. Kids would come one after the other for a 12-year period starting in the mid-90s. And it has all been amazing. Seriously, I can't imagine I would ever change a thing.

Except the burping part. If I could go back, I would do everything humanly possible to hold in that burp. But other than that? Paradise.

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