written April 27, 2012, with another stab at bits on June 7, 2016, because the best, hardest writing practice is striking true upon the utterly nebulous.
I had another in a series of first dates with Kavali tonight. I say “first” because strangely each has seemed nearly as formal and cautious as the original in early February. An oddly sporadic pattern was also forming by the third date, continued on from there as the norm with future encounters too. Her work schedule and travel, more than anything else, has played havoc with our meetups–plans having to be abbreviated or altered entirely. But this was unavoidable and thus entirely understandable, so I gamely signed up for whatever next opportunity that arose. This almost-on, off-again dynamic continued as spring arrived. Honestly though, the arrangement was working for me too, in a way. Between teaching nearly every day now, taking two courses, and the time for biking and all that, the disjointed excursions have always been novelties to look forward to. In short: why not?
Getting back this last Sunday from a vacation in Belize, Kavali has had a characteristically tough week getting back into the swing of things at the city paper. Par for the course, before this evening I had not seen her for two weeks, much like an earlier absence when she hopped off to India for a few more weeks. During those stretches there were the occasional emails, but we also went about our seperare lives. It worked, mostly, as far as I was concerned. But I began to discover, when we came back together, that our chemistry may not readily create a long-lasting light. Some connections can easily flare back up, even after months or years of neglect. There wasn’t much data to go on so far, but the numbers were hinting we may not be one of those cases. Or were we? I wasn’t sure by April.
Tonight’s date that I set up was a Black Keys concert at St. Louis University’s Chaifetz Arena that had been planned far in advance. To be safe. As today neared I began to sense it would finally be sink or swim. And if it was going to be the latter, as it might, at least I would have a better send-off than the Titanic’s violins.
We decided to meet at the Fountain on Locust, an vintage ice cream parlor near the campus. Hours before I had read a few chapters set in West Egg, and the dazzling art deco splashed across the walls spoke in tandem with the Fitzgerald voice still trailing me. That wasn’t the only sound in my ear though. In the bright lights of the buzzing restaurant, as she talking about a column she wrote that week, I wondered to myself if I was role-playing as Thomas Edison, holding out for the 1,001st attempt at illumination (warning: exaggerations abound) for her to take a shine to me.
Suddenly, something probably having to do with irony zoomed back to being a teenager, where I remembered how I sometimes would use a note or two while on the phone with a girl. Seemed silly even then. But now, years later as I sat tonight in this loud homage to the Silent Era, a cue-card guy standing off Kavila’s shoulder didn’t sound half bad. No matter what, I couldn’t remember the last time dates were like this, with a feeling of perpetual introduction. The one or two silences, when they occurred tonight were not kind to my optimism. I wondered defiantly if all it might take was a final, shared cracking of this stubborn ice.
Yet by the time our meals came I had corralled away all such thought, resolved that I would simply enjoy a bit of nuanced–at times even sprightly–conversation with a interesting person. So my mind loosened its collar and listened to stories of tropical yoga sessions, beach parties, and interviews with the the head of Panera Bread Company. By the time our waters were refilled the second time and the subject was her father’s position as the leading physician in Ohio, I was zapped with a comic vision of my own dad, outside his house, as the leading corn provider to his squirrels. That meeting would never happen, I thought, unable to even imagine it, and was more relieved than dejected by the realization. All the while a small, restive part of my brain busily took notes, wanting to better understand this fascinating, spastic hitch in my dating stride.
Chaifetz Arena was packed and electric as we found our seats by 7:30, along the far rim of the arena from the stage. The Arctic Monkeys were tearing through their opening run of familiar songs, the fun British storms of garage-pop dancy angst that marked the previous decade. As the former Next Big Things exited the stage, the crowd buzzed for the main act of current Big Things.
The Black Keys were low-key about starting their set, simply walking out to their spots, so that the first rise of applause had a surprised quality to it. As they swung into the thumping fuzz of “Howling For You,” soon replaced by the prowling funk of “Next Girl,” the present girl and I didn’t say much to each other, beyond bland gimme-gab like “You like it?” The guy next to Kavali shared his beers, she taking a swig or two. Smoke was everywhere. Amazingly for this setting I never fond my own beat, never entirely relaxed, tapping my leg to the rhythm of “I’ll Be Your Man,” and some Tin man-stiff dancing when the crowd required it. When I wasn’t focusing on the music I was wondering how this person seemed to fill me with starch and cotton balls. The strobe-drenched homestretch was impressive and got my full attention however, ripping through a few more hits like “Ten Cent Pistol,” before a glittery encore of “Everlasting Light” and “I Got Mine.”
Perhaps. Or perhaps I’d already Got all the Getting there was to Get.
Filing out with the still-giddy masses, both of us moving along to carefully avoid a few revelers, I suddenly ruminated in this idea of contact, of touch. For example, the tipsy guy alone on the corner belting out “Tighten Up” was avoided, given extra space. That’s how it goes, those are the rules. The rules of this spring with Kavali, if there were such things, might have been “An open window is fleeting.” Walking back to her car her hands remained secure in her coat pockets.
Like the other times I had walked her to her car we talked briefly as we sat inside. “Thanks for coming,” “No problem, I had fun,” that sort. It was late I knew, but still summoned a vague suggestion of extending the night and let the idea hang in the air. She replied with a sigh she was tired after a long day, and really, so was I. In the end, I broke open the dam a bit and said there were many things I still didn’t know about her, like “what’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” or “do you sing in the shower?” Not that either really mattered. I still wasn’t getting at it. I then softly leveled with her, in my own way, “Do you know it’s been three months since we met? What I’m saying is I think we’d get a lot from finding out more. I’d like to try to do more with you, if the time can be found. I think it can be.”
From somewhere came the exhalation of a months-long held breath.
The look she gave me was one of slight shock, as if the amount of time hadn’t occurred to her. Kavali asked for just a hug, and was off.