Almost, but not quite
Writers write a lot. Some of what they write gets submitted for consideration for publication by major newspapers. However due to the sheer volume of what they receive, very few get the "the nod". This is a piece submitted to the New York Times for their Modern Love segment. It didn't make the cut, but this true tale may resonate with you. Have you ever had an 'almost', someone you always wondered about?
It was fall of nineteen-ninety-something, and my friend, Amy, was getting married to her long-time boyfriend, Todd. Amy was and still is a hoot. I remember she came to my apartment to get ready for her bridal pictures. They were to be shot at the Botanical Gardens. She looked gorgeous in her dress, and she was so nervous, she picked up my bottle of hairspray instead of the can of deodorant. Well, needless to say, any armpit hair she missed shaving stayed put for the shoot! We laughed a lot that day.
Amy had asked me to sing at her wedding. I had no idea what song I should pick. I struggled over the choices. Which song would be perfect for her special day? I’d sung at her sister’s wedding, but that was easier since I had someone else to sing with who was a professional, and wedding duets aren’t difficult to find. This time around, it would be just me. Finally, I settled on the Theme from Ice Castles (Through the Eyes of Love). I practiced often, getting all the words solidly memorized. I refused to tell her what I was going to sing. It was to be a surprise, my present to her and Todd.
The time leading up to the big day was full of activity. As part of the wedding party, I attended all the pre-wedding functions. That’s where I saw a lot of Mike. Mike was the best man. I knew of him, had seen him now and again at gatherings held at Amy and Todd’s. All the girls loved Mike. He was nice, handsome, sweet. He was also musically talented and smart. I barely exchanged hellos with him though. We knew of each other, but didn’t actually know each other. There was also the fact that I was the nerd girl. I was never the girl guys wanted to date, but always the girl guys liked hanging out with – the cool ‘little sister’ type. I also suffered wobbly self-esteem over the fact that I’d grown up with a physical handicap. An early childhood diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis had left me with hip and knee replacements that kept me walking, but perhaps not nearly as gracefully as most.
Amy invited me over one night for an informal gathering of friends. The blue beast, otherwise known as my old Chevy truck, was out of commission. Not taking no for an answer, she picked me up and brought me over. She’d had a little too much to drink so driving me home was out of the question. She tried getting her crazy ex to drive me home, but he was in worse condition, and there was no way I was getting into a car with him. I know, Amy having her ex at the party was unconventional, but that’s a story for another day. She asked Mike. Mike said “sure”. See? Nice guy.
I actually felt nervous about this. No, he wasn’t intoxicated. No, I certainly had no fear for myself in his company. It was something else entirely. When he opened the door to his truck for me, I was hyper-aware of his nearness. I had to pass between Mike and the vehicle to get in. My head barely topped his shoulders, and what broad shoulders they were! I couldn’t help but notice his slightly curly dirty-blond hair and his bright green eyes. But what made my heart beat faster was his smile. Slightly crooked at first, and then full-blown wattage as blinding as the sun. It was the kind of smile you see in Colgate commercials, the kind of smile that makes a girl’s knees go weak. He released that smile on me at close range, and it knocked me off balance. I worried I might face-plant just stepping into the cab.
He waited until I got in, then came around to the driver’s side. Once in, he reached over me and grabbed the seatbelt. He proceeded to pull it across my person and secure it. My brain fried from sensual overload. All I could think was “Hey, buddy, I can do that myself!”, and “Oh my God! He smells so good!” The next thought was “How sweet!” I melted. The drive home was awkward, at least, for me. We had a good conversation, but for the life of me, I don’t remember what we discussed. I do remember his car radio had a light that changed color. I remember that because he made a point of showing me. Nothing else weird happened. He dropped me off, said goodnight, and I didn’t see him again until rehearsal the night before the wedding.
Again, that extreme awkwardness invaded me. I knew where he was in the church without looking up. When I looked up, I seemed to catch his eye more often than not. I felt completely self-conscious. I just knew it was all me, and I needed to just stop thinking about it and about him before I made a complete fool of myself. After rehearsal, it was time to decorate the reception hall. I found myself leaning on a table while everyone took a small break. I wasn’t alone on the table. I had company. Yep. Mike.
Small talk ensued and it was painful. Really, I could do better! I’m never at a loss for words. I’m a writer, for goodness’ sake! Still, there we were, reduced to trying to figure out where the green dye came from that seemed to have found a home on his flip-flopped foot. Gripping stuff. Memorable. To make matters worse, this all happened under the watchful eye and grinning face of the groom to be. And that was that, until the wedding day.
It was beautiful. Amy looked gorgeous. Todd was so darn cute and nervous. The church was filled to capacity with friends, family, and loved ones. Then came the moment when I had to stand before God and everyone, and sing. My heart was pounding. It’s not like I had never performed in front of a crowd before, but I was full of butterflies regardless. The music began, and I opened my mouth letting the words soar. As my voice ascended with the song, I looked toward the altar and the only face I saw was smiling from ear to ear, giving me goose bumps, and piercing me with his green eyes. I think it was the first time Mike had ever heard me sing. It looked a lot like he appreciated what he heard. That thought was confirmed later when he told me so, but we’ll get to that. My cheeks grew hot. Oh, God! He’s looking at me! I felt faint, but I sang on. I looked at Amy, and then Todd. To my surprise, Todd was in tears. As it turned out, I had picked exactly the right song. The Theme from Ice Castles happened to be the very song in a wind-up music box he’d given to Amy as a present when they were first dating. It held special meaning for him. How’s that for serendipity?
Finally, the wedding was over and it was time for the dinner and dance. When I arrived at the reception hall, Mike brought his mother over to meet me. Color me surprised! It all felt rather formal and proper. I mean, a guy doesn’t usually introduce a girl to his mom until they’ve dated for an extended period of time and he’s serious about her. So what was this? His mom had a look in her eye. I’m not sure if she’d already received an ear-load about me or if she had already hit the bar. It was a tossup. He turned to go back to their table, but left me with a parting shot, “Save a dance for me.” I was just in shock.
After dinner, I ran home to change clothes. Living nearby made it easy to quickly switch out of formal wear and throw on something more comfortable for the rest of the evening. When I got back, Mike found me. He said he’d been looking for me. I told him I had just run home to change.” His reply was “I thought you’d forgotten our dance.” I had no words - again.
I wish I could say it was the dance of all dances, that is was magical, but unfortunately, it was awkward as heck. My friends were standing off to the side, watching us, smiling, giving me that knowing look. He knew it. I knew it. Still, we danced. That hyper-awareness thing threatened to make me spontaneously combust. I felt so overheated and stifled, I thought I was going to pass out. It was the craziest feeling of both wanting to be closer and needing to have room to breathe. Thankfully, the music ended. We parted ways. As he went about his best man duties, I went outside to get some fresh air. After a bit, I left, and I didn’t see Mike again.
It has been about twenty years since that day. I’m still single having not yet found Mr. Right. I am still a writer of articles and now, books. I’m still the nerdy chick, but older, wiser, and far more confident. Amy and Todd divorced. Both found love with another. But Mike is married, and now has a family of his own. He’s happy, and I’m happy for him. We spoke briefly online via social network about a year or two back, caught up a bit, but that moment, the one that had my whole being alert, alive, and in a state of anxious anticipation, ended that night long ago. It was left in the reception hall as a coulda-been or a maybe, perhaps as a nothing-at-all. It may have all been one-sided, but I will always wonder if, in between the space of awkward pauses, surreptitious glances, and knee-weakening smiles, he wondered too.