My friends, I swear to you, it was not my intention that night to start a new relationship. I hadn’t even known she would be at our apartment. Returning home from a few hours playing basketball at the gym, I was soaked in sweat, and couldn’t have smelled much better than the horses that pastured in the field outside. But there she was, unforeseen, unwanted, and irresistible. As we stood in the doorway saying goodnight, I was afraid to ask her out and go down in flames with Scott and Kristine listening from behind his bedroom door. So I let it go at goodnight. Not content with a simple goodbye, she said “Well, have fun doing whatever it is you do.” and blushed.
When she left I laughed out loud. She was nervous! This beautiful, engaging girl was nervous over me. How could that be? When I saw Kristine the next morning she came running over to me jumping up and down, “She likes you, she likes you! When are you going to call her?” I hesitated. I wanted to run right home and pick up the phone and ask her out that very night, but I didn’t want to seem desperate. I decided to wait one more day, and ask her out for next weekend. That night I walked around like I held a winning lottery ticket in my pocket.
On Sunday evening I called her, and after a half hour conversation that held all of the electricity and tension of our first, we decided on dinner. She chose a little family diner in her hometown of Canton, just ten miles away. I picked her up the following Friday and drove her to dinner. We took turns telling stories, more hungry for knowledge about each other’s past than we were for supper. She was a North Country girl, and had grown up on a dairy farm outside Canton. Her Dad was president of the local milk cooperative, and her mother came from a moneyed family down in Cortland.
The more we spoke, the more I felt like I had always known her. After dinner I offered her anywhere she wanted to go. She chose my apartment. Sitting in our drafty apartment in the dark of a winter night, talking until well past midnight I felt my grip beginning to slip. I hadn’t planned on a relationship. With graduation looming just three months away I didn’t want to find a girl I couldn’t leave behind, but here she was, and how could I say no?
I wanted to see her again the next night, but she had plans and I would have to wait. I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake looking up, as the headlights of passing cars projected shadowy figures on the ceiling. I was falling for her, and as much as I wanted to hold back I knew I couldn’t. So I fell. On Tuesday I went to the florist to get her a rose for Valentine’s Day. When I knocked on her door her roommate answered. She was at class, so I left my rose on her desk next to a bouquet of carnations, and I worried.
I could see it coming, but it was already too late. Like a car accelerating towards an intersection as the light turned yellow, I had already committed. There was nothing to do now, but press the pedal down further and hope the cross traffic would brake.
When she called to thank me for the flowers her voice dripped like honey from the receiver. We would see each other soon, next Friday. No dinner or movie, she just wanted to come over and play. It was just as well. I could hardly eat anyway.
She showed up at the door with a school bag over her arm. It held a pack of construction paper, scissors, and four cans of modeling clay. She said I made her feel like a little kid. So we sat on the floor in my room, making cutouts of animals, and clay figurines. She’d finish hers and set it on the desk next to mine, then squint as she cast a critical eye on them. “Yours looks more lifelike.” she’d decide, and her brow would furrow.
The next morning I drove her back to campus, looking over at her sitting in the passenger seat with my baseball hat, and sweatshirt on, I felt like I was dreaming. She had exams coming up, and I had a job interview in Connecticut, so it would be a few days before we could see each other again. Just knowing that, made me feel sick to my stomach.
I had made the drive down to rural Hartford that morning, jacked up on cheap coffee, replaying over in my mind how I would answer their questions, and sell myself. With sweaty palms the drive seemed to take forever, but I made it in time for the afternoon interview. This was my third round of interviews with this company and it would all be made, or broken by this trip. I needed this job badly, before graduation dumped me into the back bedroom of my parent’s house, over educated, under employed, and awash in debt.
The interviews had ended well, but late. I took my suit coat off, and loosened my tie, not wanting to let the feeling go. Alone, in a strange city, with nothing but my car, and a briefcase full of empty notebooks, and corporate brochures, I felt so grown up. No, I wanted to savor this feeling of freedom.
I climbed back into the car, and began the four hour drive back to Potsdam. It was the middle of the week, and I had blown off class to make the interview. Winter was ending in Connecticut, and already the brown grass was showing through the scraps of snow around the office parks. If all went well, I could be back in her room by 9 o’clock. She would want to know everything about the interview, what they asked me, what the position offered. I couldn’t wait to tell her.
Traffic was flowing fine all the way up I91 to Springfield, where I pulled onto the Massachusetts Turnpike and headed west. By the time I reached Albany, and turned onto the Northway, the sun had already set. Traffic thinned as I got north of Glens Falls and the highway began climbing into the edges of the Adirondacks. Just tractor-trailers, and myself, climbing and descending the hills, playing leapfrog on our way North.
Exiting the Northway, onto US 9, I left even the trucks behind, and turned up and into the mountains. When US 9 turned off towards Elizabethtown I continued on to NY 73, and the trees closed in on the sides of the road, until only a tunnel of pines remained. The banks of snow rose like hay bales along the shoulder. The road narrowed, but I only drove faster. It was past 7 o’clock, and I had the road to myself. The little engine in the Plymouth strained on the climb, but I wouldn’t let up. I knew she was waiting.
Through the heart of the High Peaks and the winter desolation, I kept on the gas. Husker Du was blaring inside the car, but outside only the silent trees saw me pass. I was driving too fast, and I knew it. One patch of ice, one deer in the road, one misjudgment of a curve, and all could have been lost in darkness, and ice, but there was no thought of slowing down. I threw the car into the turns, and downshifted on the descent to save the brakes. When the road straightened I jumped back on the throttle and accelerated over the frost heaves, the car leaping forward into the small cone of light in front of me.
Down into Lake Placid, and on through the slow, sleepy, towns of Saranac Lake, and Tupper Lake, I caught my breath. When I turned onto 56 to follow the Racquette River out of the mountains and back across the blue line, the race resumed, but the adrenalin had faded. Around 9 o’clock I pulled into the parking lot outside her dorm. The lights from inside glowed like gold. Stepping from the humid warmth of the car, my breath billowed like fog in front of my face. I put on my coat, and stepped forward toward the lights.
When I got to her room the door was open, and there were several other girls sitting around talking. I felt like I was interrupting something, but once she saw me she immediately put me at ease. She walked up to me, and put her arms around me and kissed me right there in front of everyone.
“How did the interview go?” she wanted to know. So I proceeded to fill her in on all the details.
Her friends took her hint, and excused themselves one by one, until it was just the two of us. She wanted to know everything about the job, how much it paid, how far away it would be. We had only just met, but I was already doing the math in my head figuring out how long it would take me to drive up to visit her on weekends next year.
“Has anyone ever told you how hot you look all dressed up?” she asked.
“No.” I responded. “Most girls tell me that when they see me naked.”
She laughed out loud, and I smiled wondering how long I would have to wait before she had the chance. I crossed the room, and sat down next to her on the edge of the bed. The door to the hallway was closed, and her radio was playing in the background. I leaned across to kiss her and she met my mouth with hers. She pulled my tie off over my head, and placed it around her neck.
“How do I look?” she asked.
“It looks better on you than it does on me” I answered.
“Do I get the job?”
“I’ll have HR put an offer together tomorrow.” I said
“What makes you think I’ll say yes?” she teased. “I’m sure there are lots of companies that would kill to have me.”
“I have a good benefits plan.” I said. We lay back on the bed kissing for half an hour, until she apologized that she had an early class in the morning, and had to get some rest.
I drove back out to the apartment, my mind racing ahead, already making plans for the future. By summer I could be setting up an apartment in Hartford, and she could come down to visit. We could make trips to the shore, and spend days together in bed, like people did in the movies. For the first time in my life, I began to imagine a life beyond college. A life cut and pasted from L.L. Bean and J. Crew catalogs, with ocean breezes and Labrador Retrievers running along the beach.
I had to get this job now. The only other interview I had been able to land was for a job that required me to travel 100% of the time. When I had first interviewed for that position, I had yet to meet her and it sounded like a great opportunity to escape Upstate New York, but suddenly I had a reason to stay. Leaving now would be the worst of all possible outcomes. She was only a sophomore and still had two years before she graduated. How long would she be willing to wait for a boyfriend she never saw? I didn’t want to think about it, but the thought kept creeping back into my mind.