after Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Who knows what odd things kick up in a pandemic. I certainly did not.
I was busy minding everybody’s business and monitoring the news on an hourly basis, when I realized I might not be the only person freaking out. Out of sheer frustration, I offered publicly to volunteer for a local project. I thought at least I could keep busy. I expected nothing in return.
Within weeks up popped this random person into my life. He had heard of me from my Facebook post. After knowing him for slightly more than ten minutes I noticed that he seemed to flirt. Or at least I thought that is what it was. I am so out of practice, not being a southern girl, I was wasn’t sure he was flirting. I thought I was, but even this was a bit confused. I am a New Yorker. We are not overly subtle. If we are drawn to someone our first inclination is to grab them by the hair, lay a serious lip-lock on and say, “Wanna explore our options?”
I have refrained from this behavior for years. First I learned to not speak the language of my people (New Yorkese), then I learned not to interrupt constantly, and not to debate absolutely every subject and point of view, then I tried to unlearn how I say ‘mirror.’ The mirror thing did not work but I am better at interruption and don’t immediately grab anyone by the hair. To my surprise the impulse remains.
Despite any urge to grab, this is pandemic time. I want to live and randomly lip-locking anyone is out of the question. Flirting on FaceTime or Zoom is a safer choice. I suspect I am not the only one flirting on Zoom at this point. Our options are severely limited, but wouldn’t it be fun to watch all those digital bits of awkward ‘getting to know you’ behavior over an unsecured platform?
Just to be clear, two months ago I would not have known a platform from a spoon. Now I sound like a techie.
The flirting went on for several weeks, and then there was silence. No return text, no return email. I was peeved, ghosted by computer. I wondered what had occurred. Had the poor man fled in panic? Gotten busy? Dropped dead?
Now the only absolute fact I had about this guy was that he appeared to work too much. About as much as I. Yes, Mabel, I know I work too much. He seemed young enough to not have dropped dead but one never knows. Then it occurred to me. “I bet I look pretty good on Zoom, wrinkles not visible.” He might have gotten curious and googled me so I googled myself to get a sense of what might have sent him running.
The results were horrifying. Up came a recent video shoot. The video identified me as an ancient, and, in the video, shot at an odd angle, I looked to be 300 pounds and doddering into the grave. Ahh…no wonder. Scary even to me. Okay, perhaps he had stumbled on this video, this explained all.
I decided to simply lay low. To allow quiet to take the place of chatter. To allow distance to cool my curiosity. After all I am quite good at being alone and what can anyone do in the middle of a pandemic but sit, wait, stay sane? Certainly not obsess about a stranger.
Then there was an email. Out of nowhere a question about where I had once lived. I responded and heard nothing more. Then, a week or so later, I send an email. I needed info, that was it. Really, that was it. He answered back. I mentioned that I was going to be in his town. Okay, so this was fishing. He shot back a text, “Come over for coffee.”
I thought, how in the world do I do that? He was my maiden voyage into socializing at a distance and I had no idea how one social distanced in a house. He had shown me his house on Zoom. I thought that choice was interesting. It was so neat! My home by comparison looks like a resale shop that no one has organized. I thought more… well we could go out on a socially distanced walk. I felt nervous enough that a walk made sense.
I arrived at his house. I wore my black Darth Vader mask. I debated on the merits of the white N-95 or Darth Vader. I decided that Darth Vader, as weird a look as it is, was better. I did not want him thinking I had stolen PPE from a poor, vulnerable nurse. I knocked on the door, he yelled from the interior, “Come on in.” I tentatively did. My Darth Vader mask met him wearing a flowery mask and I said, “Is that Winnie the Pooh?” Winnie the Pooh? My getting to know you skills were abysmal. I looked around. The place was spotless. I did not mention the dog hair in my own home, nor will I. I think the next remark I made was about how clean his place was, also a poor choice of topic. I was sinking fast.
Even at this point I did not realize the situation I was in. I was about to make a complete fool of myself, but I was clueless. We talked about pranks we had both pulled, largely involving animals and colleagues, and other than that, the afternoon coffee was a great deal of my putting my foot in my mouth and chewing. First in mask, then six feet apart, without mask, sipping espresso. He made a wonderful latte. He mentioned two relationships he had been in but was now out of, which is usually a bit of a statement of, “I might be available.” I ignored all of this and changed the subject. I did everything you are told by your friends not to do. I one-upped, was judgmental, spat nut parts onto myself, apologized and did it again. It was a one-woman horror show. The classic casual coffee introduction in which one or both people go running for the hills. I certainly was not fun, or remotely seductive. I told him nothing about my relationship status, which was likely obvious anyway. “This woman has been single for a long time,” could have been the subtitle.
I was not at my coherent best. I thought about zipper masks, I thought I might invest in a zipper mask to drink beverages with, as this pandemic seems like it may go on indefinitely. At one point he did seem as if he had quite enough and was staring into the middle distance. Who could blame him? Inviting me to coffee appears to have been a little like inviting Lizbeth Salander to tea. That said he ended the visit with playing “New York State of Mind.” He was game, I silently commended him for his bravery. I tried to stay on both feet. Prior to the song I felt delusionally in control of the situation. After that, I realized just how badly I had sunk my little Covid coffee date. The statements that had rushed out of my mouth to say, here I am, I am cool, were not cool. I mentally reviewed all the nerds I had ever known who do not do casual conversation well. I was them.
I left and drove to pick up groceries and planter boxes. I thought about how spending the rest of my life alone might be the best way to go. I have goats, worse comes to worse I can talk with them.