When I was twenty years old and quite single I was always on the lookout for female companionship. I did not consider myself a smooth operator. I knew of men my age who could walk up to attractive strangers, strike up conversations, and find themselves with a date ten minutes later. Oh, to be one of those men. How easy and happy my life would be. This felt like freedom. I, meanwhile, was confined to a cell of my own awkwardness. Such was the hand I had been dealt. At this time I worked in a café in Providence, and one afternoon I was enjoying my mandatory thirty-minute lunch break. There was a little table near the counter where employees would eat lunch or smoke, and I was sitting here with another non-working co-worker when I saw Whatshername, who used to live below my high school girlfriend. She was very distinctive looking, Whatshername, with her long curly black hair and her pronounced nose. Hers were unusual good looks, but good looks nonetheless. I was in a jovial mood that afternoon, and when she passed our table I called out, “Hey, there! How’s it hanging?
This is how I was with people I knew. I liked to say hello. I liked to like people.
Whatshername sort of blinked at me. “I’m – I’m doing fine.”
“Great! Better go drink your coffee.”
This is how I liked to talk to people I knew. It was fun to have fun with people you knew. Just as my mandatory lunch shift was coming to an end, Whatshername had finished her coffee as well and was headed for the door.
“Well, it was nice seeing you,” I called out. “See you round.”
Whatshername stopped, looked squarely at me, and said. “I’m sorry. Do I know you?”
I leaned forward in my chair. It was like watching a picture develop in a darkroom. This was not Whatshername.
“Oh, God! I’m so sorry. I thought you were my old girlfriend’s neighbor. I don’t know you at all!” I laughed a little too loudly at my own stupidity.
“That’s all right,” she said, and turned to leave, and then turned back. “I wouldn’t mind getting to know you, though.”
And thus began . . . nothing. I believe I said, “Oh,” and then she left. I was too disoriented to respond. I was too busy thinking, “What just happened? I was just being friendly. What the hell just happened?”
The light outside the prison walls always feels too bright at first.
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