Then, as today, it was my habit to check my email first thing in the morning. An email from Mike awaited me the morning of our planned date:
From: Michael F.
To: Heidi E.
Subject: PLEASE CALL ME NOW!!!!!
Date: Fri, 29 May 1998 22:40:36
I guess GOD does not want me to take you to Put-In-Bay. He blew-up my car. Ironically it DIED 1.25 Miles east of I-71 and I-80. Isn’t that your neck of the woods?
So. please call me as soon as you pick this message up.
[reiterated his phone number]
I am sure I will be here, I am now a pedestrian.
Ugh! Thwarted again! It was starting to seem as though a date with Mike was never going to be. At least this time the reason for our disconnect was not my fault. But still, all of this back and forth was placing a lot of stress on my already over-stimulated nerves. It did seem as though the fates were against us on this pairing. Unavailability certainly does make a person attractive for the longer we failed to connect for a simple date, the more desperately I wanted this date to happen.
It’s funny that it never occurred to me that this date could really flop. All the things I have learned in the years after Mike to expect from a date with someone I barely know or don’t even know never occurred to me: that we might share nothing in common, he may have some weird quirks I can’t get over, he may be completely boring; or worse yet, he may be dangerous, violent or a psychopath. Somehow I had this clear assurance that something wonderful was about to happen if we connected. I suppose that’s mostly the carefree imprudence of youth.
Still I felt caught in the mesmerizing force of the little bit of his personality I’d already seen at Woodchuck. When our eyes had briefly met on the makeshift volleyball court, I saw in his eyes a tender shyness that asked quietly to be noticed, a calm kindness, contrasting with the confidence with which he held himself outwardly. And then there was that mischievous grin–the look I’d come to learn was classic Mike, the expression that was left on his face in death–that seemed to alternately laugh out loud at the silly, inane circumstances of life and proclaim, “I’ve got it all figured out.”
I couldn’t help myself. I was intrigued. And now I was left frustrated, for our date was now most likely delayed for another day or, worse, he was lying to me to back out of it. Judging by the time stamp of the email–10:40pm the previous night–I was already running late on my call to him. Maybe there was still time to salvage this. Nervously, I picked up the phone and the dialed the number. But all I got was his answering machine. I left a message, this time remembering to actually include my phone number, and I spent the next hour or so waiting for a response while trying to pretend–and convince everyone else in my family–that I wasn’t waiting for anything.
Then it came. The phone rang, my mom answered and handed it to me. I could hear the muffled sound of people in the background and muffled voices over a loud speaker.
“Hi,” Mike said. “I’m at the dealership buying a car.”
Huh? I thought. “Okay…” I replied, confusion in my voice. Most people take their cars into a shop to get repaired. But I didn’t know him well enough to inquire further into this strange venture into impulse buying. Even though now I was slightly worried that perhaps this man had a spending problem, a part of me didn’t care what he had to do to make sure the date would still go on.
“I’m crunching numbers with the salesman right now,” he went on. “I’m sorry about Put-in-Bay.”
“That’s okay,” I replied. I felt myself on the verge of a nervous stutter. I was afraid of the answer, and I didn’t want to come off unsympathetic or selfish, but I had to ask the question anyway. “Do you, um, think we might be able to do something together later this evening instead?”
Mike’s voice became a little more animated. “A spontaneous woman,” he said approvingly. “I like it.”
I silently let out my breath, relieved. He’d accepted my suggestion not as the desperate act of a lunatic woman, but instead the laid-back spontaneity of an easy-going woman. If only he knew the truth…
“But I don’t have insurance on this car yet,” he sighed. “So I wouldn’t be able to come pick you up.”
“I could drive out and pick you up,” I said, a little too enthusiastically.
“You’d do that?” Mike asked, sounding impressed and relieved.
Of course I would, I thought quickly. I’d do anything to keep this date today–not tomorrow, not next week. Today.
“It’s no problem. I’m a woman of the 90s.”
“Well, then I definitely owe you dinner,” he said. “And somewhere nice. Not McDonald’s.”
I wondered who he had ever dated who suggested a dinner date at McDonald’s. “Oh, I can’t be bought off with McDonald’s,” I retorted.
Mike chuckled at that remark and continued, “Well, think of some place you’d like to go. I’ll call you back when I get done here at the dealership.”
As I hung up the phone, I was again filled with bubbling excitement. An hour or so later he called back and we arranged to meet up at his house in the early evening. Having woken up early for the original date, I now had a lot of time on my hands to be nervous before I even needed to head out. I spent my nervous energy being a complete girl, going through all my casual shorts and tops and ultimately deciding none of them would do. So I went shopping and bought a few new pairs of shorts and matching tops. One of those outfits I wore to the date. It’s sad that I can remember exactly what I wore: a pair of navy dress shorts–with a belt, which I rarely wear–and a navy, blue and black tank top. I wonder if he remembered what I wore that night… Most men probably wouldn’t remember such details. But, as I would soon learn, Mike wasn’t like most men.