The beginning, May 1998

(I’m having trouble writing my memoir, particularly when it comes to the chapter about meeting Mike and our first few dates. Therefore, I thought it would be easier and less stressful if I just poured it out on my blog where I don’t have to concentrate on it being actual “good copy.” I plan to do this, maybe, for the next couple days and see where it takes me. Please bear with me; it’s all part of the writing process.)

The first thing I noticed about Mike was his legs. We were playing volleyball at a party called Woodchuck. My team had just scored a point, so it was our turn to serve. Someone tossed the ball over the net, which landed at my feet in the middle row. I leaned over to pick up the ball so that I could toss it to the server when my eyes caught sight of a sexy pair of calves–muscular, tanned, not too hairy. I’ve always been a “leg girl,” admiring the legs of the boys on the soccer fields back home so I knew good legs when I saw them.

What have we here? I thought tartly. Time seemed to stop ridiculously slow, like every cheesy movie gimmick that plays when a man meets a woman, as I raised myself back to a stand with the volleyball in my hand. My eyes followed the legs to the body they were attached to–a man who looked about my age, dressed in a polo shirt and Dockers, very handsome. He was looking back at me, our eyes momentarily locked in mutual acknowledgment. No doubt he was checking me out. A few moments longer our stare lingered. Then, he dropped his eyes away, almost shyly.  He was the next server, so I absently tossed the ball to him. The world snapped into focus. I would never be the same again.

I know it sounds melodramatic but that’s the way it was. An all-encompassing “wow-moment” that grabbed me all of the sudden out of nowhere at a party I’d attended as an indirect-invitee, a guest of my cousin Gary who knew the host. Being 23, I can’t say I wasn’t looking for potential guys to date; after all, I’d just broken up for the second time with my post-high school sweetheart, a man I’d thought I would marry back when I was 18. I was definitely on the prowl, but I was looking for fun, not love. I thought it would be my chance to date multiple guys at once, like my mom had always wished I would do. That moment at that party was not supposed to change my life. I guess all life-changing moments feel like that. Still, running into Mike at that time in my life was pure luck. Chance. Destiny?

I spent the rest of the evening trying to play cool while my eyes suspiciously followed Mike’s activities during the party. I wanted to say hi, introduce myself, but I was really too much of a coward (always have been) when it came to actually trying to talk to a guy I was interested in. Admittedly, I took to flirting with every single guy I knew at the party, except for the one lone stranger I didn’t know. It was part of my “date multiple guys” initiative. I couldn’t put all my eggs in one basket, could I? And, anyway, Mike did not immediately show much interest in me.

When telling the story of how we met–which is inevitably what every happy couple has to do over and over during their engagement and first few months of marriage–we always stated that we “fell in love over a rousing game of foosball.” Exactly like that–a rousing game of foosball. We liked to make it sound sexy even though it was probably about as innocent as a first meeting at a party could ever be. As evening set in on the party and people were taking to the house in the gathering darkness, one of us discovered a foosball table in the host’s garage. Immediately, those of us unwilling to settle down gathered and the games began.

Mike and I took to slinging playful insults at each other, whether we played as opponents or together on the same team. There was an energy going back and forth between us, perhaps powered by a mutual fear of following through on introductions with someone we found ourselves attracted to, and we really couldn’t resist paying attention to each other’s words, movements, reactions. I was high on adrenalin and anticipation. I teased him without a moments’ hesitation to think my words through. Somehow, I didn’t manage to stick my foot into my mouth (as is my usual modus operandi).

Whenever Mike told our story, he would add here, “She was the only girl I’d met in a while who could keep up with me!”

The foosball matches went on for hours. There were about ten of us there–hanging out while groups of four were playing, cheering each other on or jeering random opponents. It was a fun time, but around midnight I realized I had to go. It was a Saturday night and back then, I worked six days a week, Sunday through Friday. As my cousin made his rounds to say goodbye (he was quite the popular guy in his circle),  I stood in the middle of the garage, looking wearily at the five guys gathered there. Realizing it was my last chance to make any lasting connection with Mike, I tried to summon up the bravery to ask him if I could have his number. Instead, I fumbled out to the general group, “Hey, anyone want my phone number?”

Five sets of eyes blinked vacantly at me. Silence filled the garage. I felt my cheeks flush. What a moronic move. One guy chuckled slightly. Talk about an uncomfortable moment. I left the party wilted. Had I mistaken all the attention for just friendly, party-goer camaraderie? If not Mike, then I was sure at least one or two of the other guys were interested. How could it go so wrong?

The next day at work, I wrote an email to my cousin asking him if he could covertly get the contact information–preferably email since I was better at writing casually than talking–for all of the guys who’d taken part in the “foosball tournaments.” I really just wanted Mike’s contact information but I didn’t want to admit that to Gary, or myself for that matter. I was forming the new Heidi–the one who dated multiple guys and was attached to no one.

Gary got back to me relatively quickly with the information I sought. Fortunately, Mike’s best friend Jonathon–with whom Mike had come to Woodchuck–worked with my cousin and I was able to get his email. However, so as not to look suspicious, I emailed each and every guy who’s address Gary had given to me. Fishing in the days before “phishing.”

Naturally as one would expect in this sort of situation, I received a reply back from every guy except Mike–the very “fish” at whom I was attempting to cast my line. It was frustrating and I spent the next few hours going back and forth through email with two of the other guys. To be fair, I did view them as legitimate dating possibilities.

Very late in that first day, I finally got a reply from Mike. However, it wasn’t at all what I expected. It simply read:

This is a test of the emergency boredom system. If this had been a real case of boredom, it would have been followed by something like this… BBBEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!!

I was crushed. Was he mocking me, or just expressing his complete disinterest? Despite all the responses from the other perspective dates I’d received all day, I felt undeniably sad. I tried to shrug it off as I said to my coworkers, who were anxiously following my juvenile saga, “Well, I guess Mike F isn’t interested in me!”

In searching later through Mike’s sent email archives, which he’d always saved diligently every year (thank God, as they are all I have left of his “voice”), I was unable to find his first email message to me; however, I did come across my original email to him. It’s kind of embarrassing to read back as it almost smacks of desperation amidst a pathetic pretense of nonchalance:

Subject: Fussball Madness
Date:    5/26/98 12:36 PM

Mike!

Do you remember who this is?  It’s your mad, raging FUSSBALL* opponent!  Still recovering from terrible injury done to the palms of my hands, but hey… (get your mind out of the gutter!)

So it’s my lunch hour at work, and I thought, “Hey, I’ll spasmodically send email to people!”  (This probably means I have no life.)  Anyway, feel free to drop me a line!  I’d be glad to hear from you.  This is my work address, but since I am always here, you shouldnt have any trouble reaching me at all.

Always,

Heidi

I can still feel the tingle of that adrenalin high, that unmistakable desire to be noticed by the man whose very presence had shifted my world slightly of phase. Those were magical days. Young, careless, ridiculous lust. I hesitate to say love because it seems bordering on psychotic to say that I’d fallen in love with a man I barely knew. Yet, there was something powerful there, something so very, very real. And the road on which I was about to embark would quickly lead to love… and the best three years of my life.

* = Writer’s Note: I was spelling foosball the German way–Fuß, or “Fuss” if an ess-set character is not available, means “foot” in German. The word for soccer in German is actually Fußball.

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