The Not Entirely Complete Works of Peter Schulman

©2011 Peter Schulman
 

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He Said, She Said

Chapter

Rose

Annie

“I saw him across a crowded room. God, it sounds like South Pacific, doesn’t it?” Annie asks. She laughs.

“He looked at me quite a while. I smiled to encourage him, but he looked away every time I looked at him. Finally he came over to talk to me. He was so shy. I was used to that. I was gorgeous in high school.”

“What do you call how you look now?” I ask.

She giggles and shakes her head, tossing around that beautiful red hair.

“So I’m standing there with my friend, Shelly, but he just says hi to me. And I say hi back. Shelly’s watching us with this amused expression. I get it. It’s like he didn’t even know she was there.”

This sounds vaguely familiar. I think I’ve heard this story before.

“He didn’t have any bluster about him. He didn’t even exude much confidence, which was a shame because I’ve always found confidence very attractive. But he did show courage and that is attractive too.

“He’s standing there trying to think of something to say, and finally he reaches out his hand to shake and says his name is Bart.”

I’m trained not to show any reaction to whatever a patient says, but if Annie is looking at me she will see my face turning white. Please don’t let her tell me she was a seventeen-year-old senior at George Washington High School when this happened.

“So he asks if I’m from around there and I tell him not far. Neither of us is exactly distinguishing ourselves in this conversation.

“And he asks where I go to school and I tell him I’m a senior at George Washington. And he says he’s a junior at Central.”

I cough, trying to dislodge a lump in my throat, which I’m sure is my heart. I have heard this story. It was about two months ago.

* * *

Bart

“I was sixteen and, in most respects, beyond confident, maybe even beyond cocky. I was probably arrogant.”

I rolled my eyes. Bartholomew Fedders had a compulsion toward accuracy. If he had tried any more words to describe his attitude I would have cut him off.

He had been seeing me for nine months. We could have cut at least a third of it if he could only convince himself to just describe things with a fair degree of accuracy instead of searching for the precise phrase.

“I knew how smart I was; I could match up with anyone. I had no particular respect for my elders. In my mind, all they had done to accomplish being my elders was to be born before me and fail to die. It didn’t occur to me that some of that living might have actually given them useful experience.

“Unfortunately, my confidence did not extend to women or, more accurately, girls.”

Again with the accuracy. Things might have worked out better for him if he had learned brevity.

“I had no idea what qualities they valued in boys. I did have some inkling based on their behavior, but I couldn’t believe they could be so vapid as to value an expensive car or stylish clothing.

“Would I suddenly become more attractive to them if I borrowed a Mustang or a Thunderbird from my parents rather than a Nova? It seemed inconceivable, and, if it were true, unfathomable.

“My mother and my aunts were very intelligent women. It just didn’t fit with the way I saw high school girls act.”

If this was how he was going to continue explaining his possible epiphany, it could take weeks. I would have to write careful notes after the session or I might not remember what he was talking about by the time he got done.

“It didn’t help that I went to an all-boys school. I thought it was a great benefit at the time. I could focus on what was being taught instead of having to worry about what the girls thought about me, or how I acted.

“It turned out not to be particularly helpful since I got bored so easily with the material and didn’t pay all that much attention anyway. What I did miss was the crucial opportunity to study the female species up close to try to find out what made them tick.”

That, and the fact that he obviously was, and still is, such a nerd that, even if he knew what made them tick, they wouldn’t be interested in him. Well, that didn’t apply to all women. A certain clinical psychologist might find him very appealing, much to her dismay.

When he wasn’t talking about his feelings and how they got that way, Bart could be very charming. And when he got into a discussion, his reasoning and analysis could be mesmerizing.

He also had an irreverent, wicked sense of humor. All of those things you wish you had said when you think of a conversation later, Bart came up with on the spot.

He sighed. “I’ll never know what they were thinking for sure. I never had the experience of being a teenage girl and I don’t anticipate the opportunity will ever arise. I suspect the reason I was unable to figure out what qualities the girls valued was they didn’t know themselves.

“They learned about desirable qualities from their parents; dad would weigh in on the matter as well as mom. They learned from their peers who were just as confused. And they learned from the media, although it must have been much easier then than now when sex is used to sell everything, tiny little bodies are presented as the ideal and having and acquiring stuff is represented as the epitome of success.”

Oh, yes. That was the other frustrating thing about him: his tendency to analyze ad nauseum. It’s okay to do it in your thoughts, but it’s not a social highlight to talk to yourself out loud.

“Anyway, despite my ineptitude, and I had no illusions about that, I knew I had to do something about the immediate, intense, irresistible attraction I felt when I first saw that red-haired girl. I’ve always been partial to red heads, but I can’t remember whether it’s the result of meeting this particular girl or whether it led to my attraction to her.

“The attraction was purely physical, although it was so momentous that I imbued her with laudable personal qualities without ever having spoken to her. They’ve done research on that, by the way, and I’m not alone. A majority of people attribute positive qualities to attractive people. I certainly did with her. For all I knew she could be incapable of navigating to the end of a coherent sentence by herself. She could be cruel to children and animals.

“Okay, I’ll admit that, at the time, the children part wouldn’t have bothered me a bit - I had a younger sister - but I wouldn’t have been able to abide cruelty to animals.”

How this related to his inability to maintain a lasting relationship wasn’t getting any clearer. I took a deep breath and reminded myself of the value of patience.

“I went to a youth group meeting and first saw her at the synagogue my best friend went to. Sometimes he came to mine. After the meeting, we would find someplace to sing and play guitar. For some reason I can’t remember, that seemed like a really good way to make the world a better place.

“I don’t know why she was there, but the fact that she was must have meant she wasn’t as shallow as I perceived the general female population to be. I can’t explain it, but that’s how I felt; probably that positive attribution thing.

“After I saw her, I couldn’t look away, except when she caught me looking. I boldly glanced kind of furtively at her. I had to gather up my courage. She wasn’t just out of my league; she was out of everybody’s league.

“I couldn’t approach her the night I first saw her. My heart was racing and I was afraid I would be completely incoherent if I attempted to talk to her.

“I fantasized about her. Despite the fact I was a horny teenager with enough hormones coursing through my veins to power a small city, the fantasies of her were romantic, not sexual. Those fantasies were reserved for girls not destined to become my soul mate.”

“You’re a real romantic,” I said.

“You’re a real cynic, Doc.

“Anyway, I fantasized about how the conversation would go. I fantasized about how our interests would match; all the things we would do together; how much fun it would be. It would have been impossible for the reality to live up to my fantasies.

“I realized that in the back of my mind. It didn’t diminish the anticipation. Each day was another day closer to my next opportunity to see the red-haired girl and the chance to meet her. Each day the sun shone progressively brighter, the birds sang sweeter, the air smelled fresher. There was less pollution back then and air actually could smell fresh.”

That brought a smile to my face. He’s waxing poetic about his red-haired girl and still feels the need to toss in an environmental zinger.

“Finally the evening arrived. At some point I collected all my courage and made the perilous journey over to talk to her.

“I’m sure you remember that guys made the moves back then and girls just had to wait for them. It wasn’t a very good deal for the girls, although I suspect that then, as now, they possessed the ability to manipulate us in their direction.

“For us guys there was the constant risk of rejection which the girls experienced only indirectly by not being asked. And sometimes it wasn’t just rejection. Some of the girls had the feminine version of macho and it wasn’t enough for them to just turn you down. They had to let you know how absurd it was for you to even think they would deign to go out with you.

“Rejection is bad enough but if you approached the wrong girl, you could experience humiliation as well. Maybe that’s the reason behind the claims of the most beautiful girls that they don’t get asked out as much. Guys are willing to risk rejection but far more reluctant to risk humiliation.

“I was mesmerizing. I said hi to her. I don’t think it fully expressed what I wanted to say about how I felt about her. About myself, I felt like an idiot. She said hi back.

“I got a good look at her close up. She was exquisite. She had deep blue eyes but not the pale freckled complexion that goes along with Irish redheads. Her body was thin and tight, the kind that would make me say, ‘Oh my,’ if I saw it on the street. Maybe I was as shallow as the girls I condemned.

“She was about an inch taller than I and she wasn’t wearing heels. I began to get a queasy feeling that I was so far outclassed that this might turn into a humiliation moment. I had never given any thought to what guys were attractive to girls and what made them attractive, but I knew with absolute certainty that I did not have killer looks. She did.

“I reached out my hand and said, ‘I’m Bart.’”

“‘Annie,’ she said.

“I remember thinking what a wonderful name. But to tell you the truth, I think she could have said ‘Ichabod’ and I would have thought that was wonderful too.

“I said, ‘So I guess you’re from around here.’ Such a dazzling display of my intellect!

“‘Not far,’ she said.

“I was hoping her side of the conversation was going to get longer than two syllables per response. With the flair I had thus far shown for repartee I was not going to be able to carry the conversation myself.

“I asked her where she went to school, another witty and completely unexpected entry in this crucial first meeting between us. I cringed at my conversational ineptitude.

“She said, ‘George Washington. I’m a senior.’

“I knew this was not going to end well for me. ‘I’m a junior at Central,’ I confessed.

“She said, ‘Wow! That’s a long ride from here. You must be awfully smart.’ She sounded completely sincere.

“Perhaps I would survive this after all, I thought. I said, ‘It’s about an hour and a half each way including the mile I have to walk to the bus.’ Obviously, I had not planned this in advance. I had just confessed to taking public transportation to school to an older, taller, drop-dead gorgeous woman.

“She said, ‘You must think it’s pretty important to spend all that time to go there.’

“I said, ‘It’s a really good school. And I get to know all the bus drivers. They even let me go through their change for my coin collection.’ I had incontrovertibly established myself as a nerd. At least I had the presence of mind not to tell her about my extensive collection of bus transfers.”

The only possible response to this was laughter. “Some women like nerds,” I said.

“I suppose,” Bart said, not just accepting it, but carefully considering it. “She asked where I learned to play the guitar so well. I had no idea she had seen me. I kind of got into a zone when Dennis and I were singing and playing. I didn’t notice much going on around me.

“Was that part of what was appealing about me? I thought it was kind of nerdy too. While the cool guys played football, talked about cars, and listened to Rock, I played soccer, talked about social justice and played folk music. But there she was. Maybe she wasn’t interested in the cool guys.

“I said, ‘I pretty much taught myself. I read a book about it too.’ In for a penny, in for a pound.

“She said, ‘That’s so cool. I wish I could play.’

“I told her it just takes practice though I didn’t know if it would work with her nails. They were very pretty but I thought they would make it kind of hard to hold down the strings.”

“An attractive blonde approached us and told Annie they needed to be going.

“Annie said, ‘I’ll be with you in a minute.’ She gave the other girl the body language to let her know she needed to finish our conversation with a little bit of privacy. Maybe she was expecting me to ask her out and didn’t want an audience.

“I still had considerable trepidation about asking her out, but if she expected it, I wasn’t going to squander the courage I had marshaled and the smooth talking I had displayed, by disappointing her. I said, and I think this is an exact quote, ‘So, uh, would you like to go out some time to a movie or something?’ After a suave offer like that how could she possibly decline?”

He was hilarious. He did the voice to perfection and I relived all the guys I’d heard ask it just like that, like they were thinking, “Please don’t bash my head in.” I chuckled.

Bart continued his story.

“She said, ‘That would be nice,’ stunning me. I’m pretty sure my mouth was gaping. She opened her pocketbook, took out a piece of paper and a pen, and wrote down her number for me. I gratefully took the generous offering from her hand. She smiled and said, ‘I’ll talk to you. Bye.’

“By dint of gargantuan effort I managed, ‘Bye’ and swooned.

“Dennis came over and asked the obvious question. ‘So, did you ask her out?‘

“I told him I did.

“‘And?’ he asked.

“I told him she said yes.

“‘I knew you could do it,’ he said. His confidence did not end when it came to females.

“I told him I didn’t think I had a chance in hell. She was so amazing.

“He said it was great. Then he said he had to get going and he’d see me in school Monday.

“I don’t remember driving home though I must have because I got there and the car was intact. I must have taken a path through cloud nine because I was currently residing there.”

“You are quite the romantic,” I said. “This sounds like, whatever happened, you may still not be over her.”

“No, Rose. Well, maybe. I don’t know. Anyway, I was unable to resist the urge to call her on Sunday. I knew the conventional wisdom was that you didn’t want to appear too anxious, but I had to hear her voice while picturing her in my mind.

“The call started off as smoothly as our conversation the night before. It was something like ‘Hello,’ from her. And I said, ‘Hi’ and asked, ‘Is this Annie?’ I recognized her voice; I just didn’t know what to say.

“Then she said, ‘Yes, it is.’ And I said, ‘This is Bart, from last night.’

“And she said, ‘I knew who you were.’

“You can tell how stilted the whole thing was. But I didn’t notice at the time. I felt so giddy I didn’t think it would be safe for me to talk too long. I still harbored the fear that I would say something so unappealing she would change her mind and call it off.

“I asked her what kind of movies she liked.

“She said she liked comedy, drama and romance. She asked what I liked.

“I said, ‘Comedy and drama. I don’t think I’ve seen enough romance to have an opinion one way or another.’

“You know, as I’m telling you this now, it sounds like it was written by a brand new author who doesn’t have a clue how to write dialog. And as bad as it obviously was, I couldn’t tell. I was so enthralled with her it felt like we were taking our lines from one of literature’s classic romances. In other words, I had it bad.

“I would like to be able to tell you the rest of the conversation, but it was more like a religious experience to me. I can’t even remember the genre of the film we agreed on, let alone the name. I do remember that I was to pick her up on Friday night.”

Despite the insipid dialog, it was a compelling story. I wanted to know what had happened that was so traumatic he thought it might have shaped his relationships with women. People would pay hard-earned money to see this at the movies, especially with the gorgeous co-star he was describing.

But, I said, “Our time is up. You’ll have to pick this up next week.”

No, on second thought, stay and finish. Who wants to wait that long?

“Same time next week?” asked Bart.

No, make it an hour earlier. You will not be permitted to drag this out.

I said, “I’m writing that in my schedule.”