“Dude! She’s gonna be a supermodel some day. Her kids will all be Olympic athletes or movie stars. Man you’ll have to be stupid rich to marry her. Forget it.” I wasn’t listening. All I saw were blonde curls and green eyes.
It happened one day at practice before our first meet with our rival, Waterville. “Hey Jessica?” She looked at me and I almost fell into the pool. Before my brain turned to mush I did it. “You want to go to a movie with me Friday?” Then common sense kicked in, drying my mouth to a pucker. Holy crap! I just asked this really hot older girl on a date. What the hell was I thinking?
She thought a moment, shrugged and said “Sure”.
After practice I staggered to my dad’s car and fell in. When he asked me what the problem was I told him. “Dad, I just asked a girl out and she agreed.” “That’s great, son. What’s her name? Who are her parents? Where does she live?” I just stared out the window and replied, “Yes”. My dad sensed I wasn’t listening and asked more helpful questions. “When’s the date? Where will you take her? Don’t get too creative because these things cost money.”
MONEY?! I hadn’t even considered it! I didn’t have a job, and allowances were lies perpetuated by TV families, the rich and divorced parents trying to bribe their kids to behave. Money was a problem. But when I told my dad he just winked and handed me two twenties. “Bring back whatever you don’t use.” It was a lot of money. Even with mom working there was no spare change in our house. I took it with the understanding it was his blessing.
Friday night came and suddenly I was in the back of the family station wagon with Jessica. Dad dropped us off at the mall and we got something to eat at McDonald’s. I struggled not to bite my fingers with the French fries as we talked about classes we liked and teachers to avoid. I really liked this girl and our date would christen my “arrival” at high school, totally obliterating any future fears of fitting in. I think Jessica knew this because even though I was younger than her she treated me like an equal.
When it grew closer to 9:00pm we walked to the theater and stood in line for tickets. Then it dawned on me: I hadn’t even thought about what movie we should watch! Ohmygodohmygodohmygod! Quick! Think! Uhh . . Tom Hanks is in that one. Yeah. That will have to work. I can’t let her think I don’t know what the hell I’m doing!
The vendor handed me a pair of tickets. “Have you ever heard of this movie?” I asked without looking at Jessica. Had to stay cool. She was so pretty it tied my stomach in knots. “Tom Hanks is in it.” I said. “He was really funny in Bosom Buddies and Big, maybe this Philadelphia will be good, too.” Pleasepleasepleaseplease let it be good.
“It might be decent,” she said and when I looked she smiled. I was all in.
A quick trip to the snack bar for JuJuBees and Coke, then we took out seats near the front. The lack of people on a Friday night should have clued me in that something was seriously wrong. But I was as clueless as they came. During the previews I managed to intertwine my fingers with Jessica’s in what felt like a HUGE victory. Then the movie started.
To this day I don’t remember a single line or scene of Philadelphia—just the horrible knowledge I took my first date in high school to see a movie about the AIDS epidemic in the homosexual community of Philadelphia. It was a disturbingly sober story painfully worse by my ignorance and the don’t-ask-don’t-tell culture of the 90s.
Some thoughts galloped through my mind like the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. You IDIOT!! Now she’s gonna think you’re queer! Oh. My. God. She’s pulled her hand away. Say something stupid! Anything. Don’t look at the screen. Don’t look at the screen! Fodder. They will destroy you at school on Monday. Oh crap. You’ve wasted dad’s money too? You might as well leave. LEAVE! Too late.
We watched the whole movie and though my brain screamed dire premonitions about what Jessica would say to her friends and what she thought of me—there was no social backlash or looks of disgust. No drama at all. No second date either.
NOTE: This story has also been entered into the DPS 2016 annual writing competition.