Crissy revealed herself to me first as a mirage. I saw her first as I'd always known her; that slight, black-clad, sullen little girl with her black hair pulled taut in a ponytail, and that blended in to who she was now. She still had the same facial structure and her hair was still midnight black, but she was older now. No Sepultura T-shirt and ripped jeans tonight. Instead, she wore a black blouse, knee high skirt, and fishnet stockings, and her hair was down, loose, and flowing over her shoulders, hiding the Egyptian ankh hovering around her collarbones. It took me a second to see what she'd been reading when I came in, but I frowned nonetheless. I'd never heard of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and I had only the most basic idea of what an archipelago was, let alone a gulag.
"Good book?" I asked.
"Oh," she said, realizing I was there. She tucked her bookmark away and stood up to hug me. She smelled like vanilla. "Yes. Harrowing. How have you been? Have a seat."
"Good. Busy. I've applied to a few different places, but so far no bites."
"That's too bad. It'll happen for you. I just got back from Kingston the other day. My parents are letting me move back in until I get on my feet and figure out where I'm going next."
I've had some dates. Some went well and others not so well. But I'll never forget Crissy.
She'd been Christine when we met back in third grade. She'd been a hanger-on to our little group of misfits back then, barely a nonentity. She couldn't ball and she had no game, but she had a mouth on her and that was enough for her to roll with us. She started calling herself Crissy in sixth grade, when she temporarily left our group to hang with the cool girls, but she was back with us in eighth grade, except now she was Kris with a K, and had chopped her long-hair off in favour of a defiant shaved head and the black concert-T and ripped jeans that constituted our unofficial uniform.
She dated my best bud Mack until tenth grade in that cutesy pre-teen way, and their breakup nearly tore our little group apart, but we rode the storm out. After that, she sort of drifted off into the social scene in high school, and the last I heard of her, she was heading out to Queens University in Kingston to chase an English degree. I've never gone in for the academic stuff, but good for her.
Mrs Hatcher, the guidance councilor, told me that if I just applied myself a bit more, I'd have my choice of universities and a bright future somewhere out there beyond the walls of high school, but I had my eyes set on other things. I wanted to sling a bandolier over my shoulder, trade in my tea-shades for a pair of aviators, lock and load my service rifle, and go kill bad guys in Afghanistan. I saw action with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in Kandahar, proudly doing my duty before I took some deflected shrapnel in my right shoulder that bled really badly, but ultimately left only an awesome scar and an even more awesome story. After that they shuffled me off home and gave me a job riding a desk for the rest of my tenure in the armed forces. That part I leave out.
Our server appeared, made proper introductions, and dropped off some menus. She chose a glass of red wine and I went for a beer, and then he left. Crissy had always been pretty, even during her no-make up and full rebellion against whatever it was she was rebelling against phase. She'd always just had a lovely, symmetrical face, and these bright, brilliant brown eyes. She turned heads among our friends, but to me she'd always just been Crissy, or Kris, or Christine.
This all started when Mack, who was calling himself Michael now, hit me up on Facebook and suggested a meet-up. He'd gotten married while I was off on assignment to a graphic designer named Jeremy, and they were in the process of adopting a little girl named Sierra. We hung out once or twice and then he hit me up one night on Facebook to tell me that Crissy had been in contact, and she wanted to know if it'd be alright if she added me on Facebook. I said sure, and so she did, and then we started talking regularly. She was single, and had recently killed off her Masters degree in English Lit. I creeped her pictures. Some had her in black concert-T's and jeans, but there were some where she wore loose, flowing dresses in sombre funereal black, and wore her hair in a pinup bob. For the first time, I saw Crissy as more than that sullen, angry goth-girl clinging always to Mack's arm. Naturally, I proposed that we get together. Seven PM Dinner and drinks. Calories Café.
When we were young Calories Cafe was the place to be. Fashioned out of the lunch-counter of what was once a Sears and Roebuck back in the sixties, it had been refurbished to meet the demands of a dairy-bar when I was a kid, a bohemian coffee-shop when I was in my teens, and now a swanky (but not too swanky) restaurant with white linen tablecloth, a Steinway piano gathering dust in the corner, and hardwood floors. They still served the same fare - ice cream sundaes, soda and cheeseburgers, but at night they tucked away the kids menu and offered Italian dishes and wine.
I realized that I'd been staring and broke the silence with a question.
"So what options are you entertaining?"
"Hm? Oh. I have some good references from my professors, so there may be PhD candidacy in the future. Maybe McMaster in Hamilton or maybe U of T. But I'm really thinking about teacher's college and teaching high school. Maybe even around here. See if I can make a difference in some kid's life. Try to be the teacher that we never had."
I nodded. "Admirable."
"What about you? You've served your country like you always wanted, and admirably, I might add, so what's next?"
"I was thinking I'd get a job around here. Maybe make my way up the corporate ladder. Get a cushy desk job somewhere."
"Oh," she said, disappointed.
"What?" I asked. Her reaction baffled me. I got angry. I'd done my time. I'd served my country. Shouldn't that be enough?
"I just thought there'd be more. You were always the one among us with the grand ideas. You wanted to serve in the army one week, and then you wanted to go to school and learn to be an engineer, so you could build your own solar-powered car. It would revolutionize the way we travel, and end our reliance on oil. Now all you want to do is the same as everyone else. It's okay, I guess. The world needs plumbers and mechanics. But we always figured if there was one of us who was going to get out of here and make a difference, it would be you."
That shut me up until our waiter came back for our orders.
I thought I was hot shit. And why not? I had the chops. I had the muscles and the body. I was riding high on a wave of post-military serotonin with my hair growing out, decked out in camo and my life on point. It made sense that I'd ride back into my dinky hometown, find myself a job somewhere, and work my way up the corporate ladder. I'd land myself a cushy nine-to-five and start cruising the malls and the downtown strip in search of all the ladies who were immune to my charms back when I was a tea-shade toting, Nietzsche-reading dweeb with no muscles and a bad teenage mustache. What was wrong with that? Crissy invaded that daydream and turned it inside out. Now I had doubts.
The rest of the date went well enough. We reminisced about our time together as kids. She laughed at my bawdy military-jokes, and I chuckled at her high-minded anecdotes about life in university. She drank wine until her face was warm and pink, and I stopped as I always do at one beer, and switched to water. Throughout our time together, any romantic inclinations I'd daydreamed up on the way over here crumbled into dust. She was too smart. Too accomplished. Too goal-directed. In comparison, I had nothing to offer but bawdy military-jokes and stories about how not to die in the desert.
Crissy leaned on me on the way out. I waited with her at the bus stop, making small-talk and serving as a pillar for her to prop herself up against. Then as the bus appeared on the corner, she smiled and looked up into my face. She reached a slender hand up and cupped the back of my neck, pulling my head down to kiss her. She tasted like sweet wine, and my heart rolled over in my chest.
"Come home with me. My parents are in Saginaw for the weekend."
"Sure, but let's take my car."
We spent the weekend together doing what adults will when left to their own devices. That first night, I dared to dream that this could become a regular thing. When we were kids, I'd been distant with Crissy. She'd always been too coy, too sharp-witted, and full of judgmental pauses. I could never feel safe. I'd dated louder, dumber, pretty girls precisely because they wouldn't challenge me, and then found the lack of challenge stifling. They were never my equal. That Sunday night, I lay awake and look down on Crissy, sleeping on her belly, with her black hair fanned out and spilling out over the pillow, and felt that, for the first time in my life, I had a partner who could understand me and maybe provide me with the emotional and intellectual challenges I'd been missing. I lay down beside her, and wrapped my arm around her waist. She curled her butt into the nook created by our newly attached hips, and I gently kissed the top of her head.
The next morning, I woke up to the smell of cooking bacon. I wandered out into the dining room where she sat at her computer going over her university application. She pointed towards the kitchen, where my breakfast awaited, and then asked me if I could see myself out because she had work to do. She met me at the door when it was time to go, and she kissed me goodbye.
"We should do this again," I said.
But as the weeks went by, our conversations grew fewer and fewer. Texts reduced to one line, then one word, and then once or twice a month. Eventually, I called her.
"When we had our weekend together, I thought it was going to be the beginning of something."
"Oh. I'm so sorry if I misled you, but it would just never work out between us. I'm going to Hamilton in two weeks, and you're still here. You'll always be here. Do you see what I mean? I mean, don't misunderstand me. I love you. I think I've always loved you. But that ship has sailed. I'm not what you need and you're not what I need. Please. Just understand."
I understood perfectly.
It was #myworstdate