I was driven off the road by an vicious man in a truck who’d given me hell with a fist shake and a honking horn for the whole block to witness. It was because I had attempted to turn right on a red light, but apparently my understanding of what I thought was a universal road rule did not apply to this particular intersection. It was a muddling and bewildering experience, and so I rattled off onto the next exit into a strip mall of sorts. I was gratified and relieved to see there was a Starbucks in the vicinity, like a beacon in a storm. I would hide out here, with a coffee, until I’d collected my wits.
The town I was in was a new one to me, and I had been there for the day looking to secure living arrangements as I’d recently accepted a job placement and was gearing up for a speedy relocation in less than a month. Trying to navigate the strange one-way streets, dead ends and uniquely designed intersections while keeping an eye out for rentals was proving fairy stressful. After the red light incident, I was ready to call it a day. At the bar I ordered a hot chocolate, deciding perhaps that caffeine would not be an appropriate salve to fraying nerves. I glanced around the steamy room and saw an available spot for one in the middle of a long oak table. A cat lady with 80s glasses, wearing a matching skirt and blouse, sat at one end reading a paperback. A friendly looking guy my age sat at a laptop on the other end nearest the window.
I was gratified and relieved to see there was a Starbucks in the vicinity, like a beacon in a storm.
I shuffled in between them and dug through my purse to find my phone. It was running at low battery power and, naturally, I’d forgotten to bring along a power cord. At the mercy of 10% charge, I attempted to schedule a few more apartment walkthroughs for the day. Waiting on a call back as the ten percent dipped down to six, I politely interrupted the woman beside me and asked if she perhaps had a cord for a 5-generation old cell phone. Surprisingly, she did not.
I turned to the stranger by the window and asked the same question. He offered a sympathetic smile and apologized that he did not. I shrugged. “I don’t understand why body powered charging hasn’t been invented yet,” I said, very off-the-cuff. This was likely due to a combination of the 50 grams of sugar in my drink and the fact that I didn’t have anything else to do.
He turned away from his laptop, and towards me. “One day maybe it will be built into our clothes or bags.”
I took in his lean build and dirty blonde hair, plaid short-sleeve top. He looked like the typical west coast boy, arboreal really, as if he’d uprooted himself from a mountain and trudged down into town. Not my type, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. He wasn’t bad for a random run in. With no other reason than simply the laws of attraction, we started up a conversation.
“Nice to meet you, Emily.”
I responded in kind. He asked what I needed the charger for – if it was an emergency situation. I explained how I’d found myself at the café, and Roy listened carefully with a lopsided grin. “So you live in Nanaimo?”
“For the next three weeks.”
“I’m actually applying for a job in Nanaimo right now,” he told me.
“What do you do?” I asked, noticing that his crow’s feet seemed to melt into the laugh lines around his mouth. He was very much someone who spent a majority of his time outside. It was a face imprinted by weather.
“Pharmaceuticals,” he said.
That threw me – I’d never met someone in that industry, but it didn’t seem particularly in keeping with his appearance. “Why are you moving to Nanaimo?” I asked curiously.
“There’s no work in Courtenay right now, and I just recently came out of the hospital. I was in a fairly severe skiing accident. Spent a year in physio and just getting back on my feet. Literally.”
“Wow,” I said, adding, “Well, you look good considering.”
“Thank-you! I feel great. I’m a long distance biker so there was some concern I wouldn’t ever bike again. But yesterday I biked from Courtenay to Qualicum Beach and back without much problem.”
I was startled. “How far is that?”
“80 kilometers,” he said, as if asking a question.
I smiled to appear impressed while thinking that he was the kind of guy I would breeze past online. I spent 90% of my time inside in front of a computer, and the other 10% in front of a TV. If I knew from experience that outdoorsy guys had no problem with an indoor girlfriend I would have felt slightly more hope for our potential match. But I knew this was never the case. Outdoor guys were looking for someone to help them haul a canoe. If this flirtation were going to lead anywhere it would only be in bed. Physically speaking, he appeared very fit. It was harder to get a good look at his face, given that he was only visible from two seats down with the sun shining on it, but he’d do well enough. Besides, it could be worse. He could have been a dancer. That was the only other activity I was less inclined towards than outdoor sports.
“I’ve also been able to get back into dancing,” he continued.
He wore an expression that again appeared to suggest he was still trying to impress me. I felt badly for that, and so asked him what type of dancing he did.
“Ballroom,” he said, matter-of-factly. Roy launched into a comprehensive soliloquy on the thrill of ballroom dancing while I analyzed the length of his legs that rested under the coffee table trying to determine whether he would be taller than me. “Do you dance,” he asked.
I shook my head. “Nope.”
He laughed, a sort of soft giggle. “That was decisive. Why not?”
“I don’t like people watching me.”
“Well, you should come ballroom dancing with me. It’s easy for women – they don’t have to do anything, just follow the lead.”
“That’s very misogynistic.”
He seemed confused, as though he wasn’t sure whether to laugh. “I’d not looked at it that way.”
I was teasing him, pushing the edges of the conversation to see where his sense of humour lay. From what I could tell his was fairly low-key. My cell phone rang then, and I excused myself to answer it. A landlord on the other end offered to show me an apartment in the next 15 minutes. I agreed and jotted the address down on my napkin. I filled Roy in as I checked my street map for directions.
“Well, I’ve enjoyed talking to you,” he said.
Because it was very unlike me to chat up a stranger or perhaps because it had been a year of revirginization, I agreed. What need did we have for commonalities if this was to lead to a simple, unfettered, casual fling? He asked next for my phone number and I gave it to him as he typed it out on his laptop. I left feeling quite proud of myself. I was like those ballsy women I always heard about. The ones brazenly making their way through the world while effortlessly Gettin’ The D.
When Roy did call me back I was on a road trip with one of my oldest girlfriends, Nicole. We were driving up Highway 99 on an oppressively hot day in July. The heat was radiating off the little paved road and battering at the windows as we wound our way between mountain crags. We passed a field of horses. The animals were all gathered in a circle around one horse that was sprawled in the dirt with its tongue lolling out.
“Oh no!” cried Nicole, eyes wide and one hand coming off the steering wheel to cover her mouth.
The phone message I was listening to went forgotten. “That was a dead horse!” I said, hanging up on Roy’s message.
“Was it really dead?” Nicole asked. “Maybe it was just resting?”
“Why were all the other horses gathered around it then?
“A lullaby?” She offered.
“They were clearly giving a eulogy. In other news, coffee shop guy just left a message.”
“You’re really the epitome of compassion,” said Nicole.
I shrugged. “I don’t know what I think about his message though,” I continued.
“Are you going to cal him back?”
“When I get home. His number shows up as blocked. Isn’t that kind of weird?”
“Not if he’s a secret agent,” she said, reasonably.
“Or one of the paranoid people who think the world is stalking them.”
“The world is stalking them. We’re all being thoroughly stalked.”
“Oh well, what does it matter,” I muttered, staring at the sun through my sunglasses.
Nicole rearranged her sunshade. “What was wrong with his message?”
“Well, he said he hadn’t called me back sooner because he was busy.”
Nicole made a face. “Unlike the rest of us.”
I agreed this was fairly inconsiderate and dropped the phone in my purse, forgetting about the message as we drove in silence – feeling badly for the poor horse, naturally. Several days later, when I was back at home knee deep in boxes and packing tape, I listened more carefully to Roy’s message only to discover I’d misunderstood. He actually specified that he’d not called me back earlier because he knew I was busy. I felt like an asshole. The remainder of his message was fairly confounding: “So, I’m sure my number already came up in your display but here it is again. It’s a landline, by the way. Okay, talk to you soon. Bye.”
A landline? How odd. And it was clear too that he didn’t actually realize his number was blocked. So, I listened to the message again, noted the number and then punched it into my phone, waiting expectantly as it rang. And rang. And rang. And rang. Roy, clearly, also didn’t have an answering machine. I hung up and punched in his number again, assuming I’d dialed wrong. On and on it rang until I hung up, baffled.
“What do you mean he has a landline,” asked Gemma, my work friend, during a coffee break the next day.
“I mean, he called me from a landline that is a blocked number without an answering machine.”
“That’s just weird,” she said, pressing her matte pink lips together with a disapproving frown. “Is he 80?”
Gemma was several years younger than I was, so the idea that someone did not live a plugged-in life essentially meant they were geriatric. The only reason I didn’t fall into this category was because we both worked in social media, so I had a get out of jail free card. I was “keeping up with the kids” so to speak.
“I think he’s my age,” I said.
“You’ll have to keep calling him back until he answers.”
“Really?” I asked, put off by this scenario. Exactly how desperate was I? Was there a statute of limitations on calling a guy back who didn’t have an answering machine, before it devolved into stalker territory? I asked Gemma, who told me that at least he wouldn’t know I was stalking him. “Unless he has caller ID,” she added as an afterthought.
I sighed, and prayed for patience. I knew I was being ornery. “I’ll call him back three times,” I conceded.
“That’s fair,” agreed Gemma.
“He has just recovered from a brutal accident.”
My friend took a sip of coffee thoughtfully and then asked, “Do you think he has a head injury?”
I pursed my lips. “No,” I said, after thinking about our conversations. “Besides, it was a groin injury.”
Gemma’s eyes widened. “Hopefully he’s not maimed, you know, down there.”
I stared at her, unblinking. “I had not actually thought about that possibility!”
She shrugged, making a face of sympathy.
On my third effort of calling him back, he answered. He seemed completely oblivious of his less than desirable phone situation. When I asked him if he knew he had no answering machine he muttered that he “still needed to figure out how to set it up,” but was quite apologetic about the whole inconvenience and asked me out for dinner in Nanaimo. “I’m going to be there this weekend, for a first aid re-certification.”
I agreed, curious how this was going to be arranged, given that he wasn’t sure when the course was going to end.
“I’ll call you on my iPad,” he assured.
On the day of the proposed date, he did indeed call as promised, though the reception was so dodgy I could only make out every other word.
“Day… So… can be…?”
“Roy, I can’t understand you.”
“Will… find… one… sec…”
“Can you hear me now?” he asked, through static.
“Yes,” I said, and in an attempt at efficiency asked where he wanted to meet.
“I don’t know. I’m not from here.”
I gritted my teeth. “Why don’t we meet at the Coast Hotel? We’ll walk somewhere from there.”
“Okay,” he said, as the background shifted through various levels of white noise as though I was listening to a shortwave radio for signs of extraterrestrial life. “I don’t know where that is,” he added, faltering.
Instead of suggesting he look it up on his iPad, I magnanimously opened up my laptop and found the address, repeating it to him.
“Masten?” he asked.
“Bastion,” I said, louder.
“BASTION! ON THE CORNER OF BASTION AND FRONT STREET!” I shouted, patting my hair back in place.
“Okay,” he answered after another garbled pause.
We carefully decided to meet in the next half hour and I hung up with him, realizing that I needed a spa treatment to take me down to a normal pulse rate. There was a bit of a struggle as to what to wear – between dressing up, because I rarely had the opportunity to do so, or not trying at all in case I wasn’t feeling this guy. I didn’t want to send any mixed signals. I settled for somewhere in-between, which was more mixed than intended to be honest. I drove down the hill to the parking lot across from the sea wall, and walked up the steps toward the hotel.
The famous city begonias were tenaciously aspiring to greater heights, winding and blooming in great bursts of colour and green amidst the grey climes of cement. Above them, strung out and flapping in partial tatters was the street banner advertising the annual flower festival. It was a cozy evening, with a kind of dusky warmth that conjured up faint memories of happy childhood moments. I scolded myself for being so judgmental. Just because Roy was inept with technology did not render him undateable. What a snob I had become! Here he was, willing to date me even though my idea of outdoor activity was stopping at a Starbucks Drive Thru. Besides, from what I could remember I’d not thought him hideous.
When I walked through the glass doors to see him lounging on the hotel lobby sofa, my hope faltered. It wasn’t that he was unattractive, but he was not the man I had tailored to fit my perception of a good match in my head. I couldn’t put my finger on what particularly I wasn’t attracted to, but I knew immediately there were no sparks. But sparks, as I’ve been told, can come with the friction of getting to know someone. I realized I may have to put more time in with Roy to get to a place where I’d be willing to sleep with him. This realization was a bit disappointing. I suggested we dine at a palapas hut on the water, and so we made our way down the boat ramp at the seawall, and onto the floating restaurant. We took seats at a small plastic table where Mexican blankets had been folded over the backs of the chairs.
“Did you bike to Nanaimo?” I asked, jokingly. The joke passed him by and he replied seriously that he’d decided not to, given the fact he didn’t know how long the evening would last. I appreciated that he said this with no hint of lasciviousness.
After a moment of thoughtfulness he leaned in and said rather intently, “Listen, I don’t want to give you the idea that I’m some hardcore outdoor enthusiast.”
My eyebrows almost shot off my face. “You’re not?”
“Well, don’t get me wrong I love the outdoors. Skiing, rock climbing, biking, running, skydiving, fishing…”
As he talked, it was as though tiny grenades fell from his mouth, detonating mid-air and leaving small bits of shrapnel in my hair. I stole looks at neighbouring tables, wondering if anyone else had been hit by the ricochet. People were involved in various levels of conversations, from bent-head whispers to neck-tossing guffaws. The world carried on as normal around our inept attempts to connect. I continued to listen to him, though cautiously.
“Anyway. The point is, I’m just as happy to take a nice gentle hike and have a picnic.”
I tried not to curl my lips at the thought of a hike and a picnic. Gross. Dammit! Why couldn’t I be more open? “I don’t mind hiking, so much,” I offered, overcompensating again but feeling that I really needed to try and be a somewhat normal person.
He perked up. “Really? I just went on a really nice casual hike last weekend, as part of physio.”
I folded my menu and asked him what qualifies in his world as a casual hike.
He watched me, aware that this was probably a trick question. “10 kilometers?” he guessed.
I started laughing.
“That’s not causal for you?” he asked, and I shook my head but told him I respected his love of the outdoors.
“We could always go dancing,” he pursued.
I popped open the menu again, and told him that I’d heard the fish tacos were very good.
“My son loves fish tacos,” said Roy, and then realizing what he’d said looked startled. “Sorry, I should have mentioned I have a son.”
I wasn’t overly shocked. “How old is he?”
I almost choked on my water, as the waitress appeared to take our order. When she’d left I asked him point blank, “How old are you?”
“50,” he said, as though he was apologizing. “I know, I don’t look it. You should have seen me before the accident.”
I took in the new information, even though I was in my 30s, 50 seemed ancient. It seemed almost more inappropriate to date him than his son. I had 22-year-olds messaging me online. Was his son on OkCupid?
“Is this a deal breaker?” he asked, nervously.
I shrugged. “It’s expected at this point in life.”
“You don’t want children?” he asked.
I was fairly ambivalent about children but I didn’t say this, as I’d noticed this type of attitude wasn’t well regarded, especially with parents. “There was a window about five years ago when I thought I really wanted a baby. But then it went away. I think if I had really wanted one, I’d have one by now. I’m fairly selfish about my time.”
Roy nodded but was quiet. I could tell he fundamentally disagreed, and I broke the silence by asking him about his son. He spent the next few minutes on the subject, while I watched for the food. It turned out that Roy did not live on his own, nor did he own his own house. He was crashing on a friend’s couch, which was only temporary because of the accident.
The waitress reappeared with our food when I’d asked Roy about the rest of his family, and whether they lived on the island. The plates of steaming rice, fish and beans were placed in front of us and he took a moment to stare at the contents, remarking that the tortillas were home made, before answering my question.
“I do have family here, yes. I was just visiting with my sister the other day in Campbell River. She has a new baby.”
“Aw,” I said, as I was partial to babies. They smelled lovely and were perfect cuddlers. I pushed my fork through the contents on my plate. “Her first?”
“Eleventh,” said Roy.
It was my turn to be oblivious. “Eleventh what?”
I chewed slowly and then swallowed. Oh yes, I’d forgotten – there was one more thing in life I didn’t do, besides outdoor activities and dancing. That would be religion.
“So, do you,” my voice trailed off as I struggled for the right, polite, words. “Go to church?”
“Yes,” he nodded. The shrill screech of a seagull broke out over the sky. For some reason, I thought of the dead horse. He continued: “I haven’t been in quite some time, but I am definitely a believer. My family has a Mormon background.”
So much for trying to box this guy in, I thought, in admiration. Dating a long-distance-biking-ballroom-dancing-pharmacist-Mormon was definitely a first.
I regarded him blankly, until I realized what he was asking me. Clearing my throat I told him no I did not go to church, and then segued quickly to the flavour of the fish tacos as a diversionary tactic. This seemed to work, as the topic of faith was not pursued.
When it came time to pay, the waitress asked if we’d like separate bills. Roy glanced at me, clearly unsure, and I could appreciate the struggle. I wondered how guys could ever maneuver correctly around feminism, especially when it was so different for every woman. I suggested we split the bill while hoping that he would be a gentleman and insist on paying. He didn’t. Here’s the thing. Women know that all men want is sex, at the end of the day. So the least you could do is employ some chivalry on your quest to bed us. I know that some of us are happy to pay, but you should still try. Still offer. Still put it out there that you don’t mind spending money despite the risk of not getting laid. It’s a qualifier of your gallantry, and will never be bad game.
I let this go with Roy, because I figured the poor guy was probably broke after a year of hospital bills and current unemployment. He walked me to my car, and as we wrapped up our conversation Roy asked if he could see me again. I was unsure about the chemistry but he certainly had not been giving off any exceedingly creepy vibes.
“I appreciate your really laid back demeanor, so I‘m open to another date,” I told him.
He nodded seriously. “Well, I want to make my intentions clear, but I also want you to feel safe.”
I burst into laughter, which got quickly out of hand. “I appreciate that, thank-you,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I’m moving this weekend but give me a call sometime.”
Roy moved towards me, and I caught a hint of Old Spice deodorant. “Listen,” he added. “I’m telling you right now I’m attracted to you.”
I wasn’t sure what to say, so I said, “Okay.”
“I mean it, I don’t want to be friendzoned.”
Awkwardly unable to navigate this fairly odd comment, I dodged his kiss for a clumsy hug. During the drive home I wondered if this was a lot to ask after one date. Initially, I had gone into the date with the intention of a casual roll in the hay, so was it unjust for me to back away and ask for it to move more slowly? I wasn’t sure what was fair but I definitely did not enjoy the pressure of expectation looming over his next phone call. Clearly, at 50, this guy was in a different place than I was, and he was probably seeking a wife. How soon, then, was too soon to let him know I wasn’t looking for the same?
“He wants you to have eleven of his babies,” said Angela, over coffee at work the next day.
“I told him I wasn’t into that,” I said, cupping my mug.
She rolled her eyes. “He probably thinks he can change you. He’ll have you popping out kids and helping to carry the canoe before you know it.”
I stared at her dubiously, but nervous.
The next time I heard from Roy, I had moved an hour from my home and relocated to a brand new apartment building in a new city. I was trying to find my can opener when I answered, slightly out of breath from tearing apart boxes.
“Hi, Emily. It’s Roy.”
“Hi Roy,” I said, and immediately flopped onto my couch. He asked how the move was and I filled him in. I thought about whether I was still interested in going out and decided it would be good to have at least one new friend in town – despite the threat of “not wanting to be friendzoned” still looming. Roy asked if I would like to take a break from unpacking and go for a swim. I peered out the window, and could see only blue. Apparently it was a nice day.
“Okay,” I agreed. A swim would be nice. He asked if I wanted to meet him there but I suggested that since I was new to the area, it might be nice to get a ride, so that I could scope out the area. Really, chivalry. Come on Roy. He agreed this was a good idea. Then I remembered he didn’t have a cell phone. “I guess I could just meet you outside the building at noon. My buzzer isn’t set up yet.”
“That sounds perfect, I will be there at twelve!” he sounded positively giddy, which made me all the more reticent, but I hung up with resolve that at least I could take this opportunity to explain to him that I was going to need to start off as friends and see where things went, despite his reservations about friendship.
After changing into my least flattering bikini, and throwing on a pair of cut off shorts and a t-shirt, I threw a bottle of water and two pre-purchased chicken wraps into a bag. Then I headed downstairs at five minutes to noon. This plan was foolproof despite not having a cell phone! Maybe there was no need for one in some situations. Maybe we all depended too much on technology! I considered this as I raised my face to the sun and sat on the edge of the flowerbeds outside the lobby door, waiting patiently. Five after twelve passed, and then ten after twelve. At fifteen after twelve, I wrestled with my impatience and by twenty-five after twelve I was completely annoyed. At twenty to one I was angry and by ten to one I was fuming. I’d eaten both wraps in spite – deciding he didn’t deserve one – and walked down around the block to make sure he’d gotten the address right. There was no sign of a gold SUV. I went back and waited an additional ten minutes to allow myself full permission to give up on Roy completely.
At around 1:30pm I heard someone yelling outside the building. Mortified, I moved to the window and peeked out through the blinds to see Roy standing at the front entrance. He was calling my name, and looking up towards the windows. This was not happening. Was this real life? I slunk back onto my bed, waiting it out. I was not going down there. Should I go down there? I realized I needed to put this guy out of his misery. I walked quickly out of my apartment and took the stairs to the lobby. Outside, I shielded my eyes from the sun and stared at Roy expectantly.
“I’m so sorry!” he cried, when he saw me. “I, I was on my way like we’d planned but I guess I’d let my car insurance expire – I forgot I guess – and a cop pulled me over.”
“Okay,” I said coolly.
“They towed my car. I even asked the tow-truck driver if I could borrow his cell phone to call you and then I realized I didn’t know your number. I went and got insurance so I’m good to go now. We can go swimming.”
Actually, it was a fairly funny story but it illuminated a major flaw in terms of letting Roy into my life. This grown man did not have his shit together, accident or not. “I’m sorry, Roy, but this just isn’t going to work out. You’re a nice guy but,”
He interrupted. “Because I was late?”
I shook my head. “No, no. I’m just not looking to jump into anything and I get the impression that you’re looking for something more than what I’m looking for.”
“A relationship?” he asked, as though there was no way I was looking for anything other than one.
I nodded. “I’m not looking for that right now. And I am not looking to jump into anything. If you were willing to just hang out casually.”
“I’m looking for a relationship,” said Roy, still apparently confused that I wasn’t on the same page. Note to self: less mixed messages.
“That’s fine. I just don’t have time for that right now.” This was partially true.
“I know you’re busy, and you have more going on in your life than me right now,” he said. “You can call me when ever, I’ll be waiting.”
I shook my head and he backed away, body language closing up and stiffening. “I get it.” I wasn’t sure that he did, because I didn’t. Why didn’t I like him? Because he loved a good sunset and had an above average sense of rhythm?
He waved before driving off.
It was so easy to venture out into the dating world and say, “I want sex,” or “I want love,” but you still needed to find a partner seeking the same. Otherwise, you’re just a pirate on the open sea, looking for a ship to rob.
“Good luck out there,” I muttered, and then let myself back in the building.