This was originally published at In Our Words: A Salon For Queers & Co. Republished here with permission.
Dana Norris once went on 71 Internet dates. This is date no. 19 (we posted no. 18 here).
Eric is bald—but in that cool way where it’s a choice. His profile says that he bikes a lot and reads philosophy. I don’t bike because a friend borrowed my bike and returned it with the seat raised so my feet can’t reach the pedals. I need a ¾” wrench to move the seat back down but I don’t own a ¾” wrench, so I left the bike in the basement of my last apartment building because that seemed easier than procuring a ¾” wrench. I also don’t read philosophy unless it’s on a class syllabus, but I’m drawn to this Eric guy. He seems laid back, and his profile pictures show that he has a nicely shaped head and some nicely shaped biceps.
In an effort to shake off my bad date luck, I decide to switch up the date location from The Grafton to a restaurant across the street, The Bad Dog Tavern. The Bad Dog Tavern has a nice patio that’s adjacent to a parking lot, and it seems like it could be romantic. This Eric guy may have some real potential so I make a special effort to look nice. I wear a blue dress that I bought in a store in the Lincolnwood mall where every outfit is designed to show as much of your areola as possible. I wear a white tank top underneath the dress because this is a first date and I want to keep my areolas private for now. I’m torn about what shoes to wear, but I decide on my flashiest pair—shiny red high heels. Damn, girl. Go get you some Eric.
He’s already sitting on the patio when I arrive. He’s as cute as his pictures and seems fairly shy. He rode his bike to the date, and he’s dressed like it, in a baggy T-shirt and cargo shorts, and I am incredibly overdressed next to him. I see him take in my outfit, and I slowly realize that I am wearing red, white, and blue.
I decide to play off my patriotic attire like it’s not at all weird; I just like dressing up and loving my country. We order beers, followed by dinner. Eric’s quiet, but he answers my questions and eventually gears up to asking me some of his own. As the sun sets, a cold front blows in, and we find ourselves shivering in our metal patio chairs.
“You want to get some hot cocoa?” he asks. Hell yes I do. We run down the street to a coffee shop, giggling and shaking from the cold. We order two hot cocoas and sit down. Eric is fully relaxed now, and he starts telling me about his close relationship with his older sister and his dreams of becoming a freelance graphic designer. He talks about how much he likes to cook and how his kitchen is very small but he makes do. This reminds me of a funny story so I tell him how my kitchen is small too, part of my living room, really, and how I balance things on the back of my stove because I have no room to put them anywhere else. I tell him how my favorite metal water bottle accidentally fell behind my stove two weeks ago and how I then moved the stove so I could get the water bottle. When I pushed the stove back I smelled gas and the gas immediately ignited with the pilot light which caused a roaring fire in my kitchen. I called 911, the fire department came, put out the fire, covered my apartment in water and axed a hole into the wall. My apartment still smells like a burned-out refrigerator and my landlord is still working on getting me a new stove so I’ve been eating out a lot.
As I’m talking, telling what I think is a very amusing story, I’m watching Eric’s face. He starts out leaning forward, cupping his hot cocoa and smiling, but about the time I get to the fire he releases the cup and slowly leans back. I should probably stop talking, but I’m halfway through the story and I can’t think of a way to exit this narrative gracefully. I plow on as Eric furrows his eyebrows and starts looking around the room. As I get to the end, I realize that this is not a story to tell on a first date. I see myself from his perspective—red, white, and blue woman who not only doesn’t even know that she should turn off the gas before she moves a stove but also thinks her ignorance is funny. And I do maintain that my ignorance is, in fact, funny—but I also realize that this is oversharing. I watch Eric’s interest in me drain out of his face.
He doesn’t even finish his hot cocoa, just says that it’s getting late. He walks me home but stands more than an arm’s length away from me as he says goodnight. I let myself into my apartment. It still smells from the fire, and there’s a scorch mark on the wall next to the place where the stove used to be. I think that maybe, maybe I’m misreading Eric. Maybe he thinks that I’m delightfully quirky with my burned out apartment and pro-America wardrobe. But, no. He probably thinks that I’m unstable.
Am I unstable? I’m 30 years old, Internet dating, accidentally setting my apartment on fire, and still crying about my last relationship at least once a week. But at least I’m trying? I want to email Eric to apologize for the story and explain that I’m just having a weird time but then I realize that so far I’ve just been strange but sending him that email would cross over into full-on crazy. I sigh and let it go.
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.