Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Take Me On, Or I'll Be Gone

By Doug Vehle, The Daily Bosco

Ever notice that most any story about dating starts in the middle?

Occasionally someone like me comes along and tells of what others treat as 'The Secret Origins' or something, but usually people won't mention the time before, or even the first multiple of dates, they're just suddenly starting about 'This Guy/Girl I've been seeing. . . .'

Is it the greater complexity of my mind that sees the foreboding in the way she was looking back over her shoulder at me before I even knew her name as significant? That seemingly innocuous song playing in the background, could there be a hidden message there? Or a way to pretend there is if I think hard enough? Or could it be that people don't start talking until there's a problem, with the problems in my relationships just starting sooner?

Ah, whatever, for me the whole story is in those little details, especially in adversity. Since I catch every one of those details, I always have much to tell. Especially in adversity. But enough of my intensely analytical mind games.

The innocuous song in the background, just to bring you back to a reality you're more familiar with: A HA, 'Take on Me.' A coincidence that it played not once but twice as I was living out this story? Or. . . .?

 So I had recently graduated from Cal State University Fullerton, to the deafening silence that was the response to my search for a real career beginning job. Logical thinker that I am, I'd expected as much.
Working parttime, back in school again the next fall, I was expecting to have classes for just as long as I wasn't too busy. yeah, I'm still in school.

Since this is a dating story I should begin with how I always started the semester by sizing up what opportunities would be presenting themselves, assuming I didn't have a girlfriend at the time. And I didn't, always I didn't. I've never had a steady girlfriend. Or a date with a woman I'd picked out myself, for that matter.

This would be another school session of quickly striking out with the one prospect on my radar, avoiding the suspects that had me on their radar, then deciding what are the chances with one of the 'Projects,' perhaps among the seemingly not what I'm looking for there could turn out to be hope. That, literally, is the group every one of my exgirlfriends came from, the girls I didn't take an interest in at first, but they were skulking around.

Easy to say that's why they're all 'Ex,' but couldn't there possibly have been one diamond in the rough? If things had been just a little different. . . . So who were these projects? One was a girl I really didn't know, hence my inability to remember her name, but I knew her boyfriend.

He'd lived not that far from me our whole lives, though we hadn't seen so much of each other. This was the most recent girl in his life, who didn't really, on the few occasions I'd seen her, so much as speak to me. Imagine my shock, finding her as my unescorted classmate, having her project a feeling of 'I thought he'd NEVER leave' now that she was finally alone with me while making it clear that she intended to take advantage of the opportunity. Even if the guy wasn't really my friend, I still couldn't get around the idea this was HIS girlfriend. Even if she was a ringer for Katie Holmes.

 Then there was another girl I did know fairly well. You know the girl that's going out with a lot of guys? Each of whom is very happy with her accessibility. At first. Then he comes to realize that he's only the latest to have to watch as she remains accessible. These girls always have that mascot: The guy she talks to about all these other guys, all the while the guy believes he's waiting in the wings for his big moment, which will never come.

Mary Anne had TWO such mascots that I knew of. Meanwhile, she had suddenly decided she had room in her schedule for me. Here I'd never even called for an appointment. Sorry, I've always lacked any interest in being the latest to have to watch as she remains. . .accessible. Nor did I ever want to find myself numbered among the mascots.

Oh, I might have had it a bit easier to remain hands off with Mary Anne if we weren't in a dance exercise class together. Oh, the leotard on that woman. Oh, the attention she attracted walking to and from class. Oh, the enjoyment she derived from that. Good thing, it helped me to remember I was doing the right thing. Really I was. Even where the looks leave off, the personality carries on. Too good to be true, or too true to be good?

So I could believe I was going to draw a blank that semester. Inevitably most women will never even fit as a project, just too wrong. Probably a good thing I didn't have any sort of identification issues over the fact I never could date a cheerleader in school; I've known enough fat, funny looking guys fearing that others will realize they're largely invisible to women, trying at all costs to prove there's much inner passion directed their way, searching for any, ANY woman he can keep safely in tow to demonstrate that.

The A HA song has the line "It's no better to be safe than sorry,"

I guess I agree. Or maybe I always realized everyone already knows that I, too, can be invisible to women, at least when it matters. No reason to think I can project some image. And I was resigned to months more of Saturday nights alone, as was my lot in life; really there was no point in something thinking they're funny by saying I seem to have attracted the attention of Grace Kelly over there, since I didn't engage any of that 'God's gift to women' behavior. Save it for someone who deserves the needle. Except suddenly I was noticing I REALLY HAD attracted the attention of Grace Kelly.

Here the similarity to Grace Kelly went beyond the blonde and the supermodel like.

Devon, too, seemed from a distance to belong in the movie 'High Society.' I could picture her on the French Riviera to film a movie, only to be invited back months later so the Prince could propose to her. Believe me, I fully expected to be invisible to Devon. Not that I hadn't noticed she kept looking back over her shoulder at me, with that look on her face. And it was going to be that look that would seal the deal.

Devon, you see, didn't say much.

Those that knew me back in college might begin to confuse her with Sandy, my short lived girlfriend from some four years earlier. But Sandy was only quiet as we walked across campus together, if we ran into someone she knew, or someone I knew she had barely met, suddenly she became quite talkative, until they were gone.

On an evening out with her I'd think of seeing her across the way at school talking to her high school friends, as I sat there wondering 'Why not me?' It should be no surprise that it didn't last with Sandy. I just don't know why she had such a hard time letting go.

Devon, on the other hand, had little to say to anyone. She might say "I wouldn't like that," but don't expect an explanation, or to hear what she would like. But I believe that was because she didn't much need to talk, this was one of the most expressive faces I've ever seen. When the prodding of others finally sent me over to talk to her, she was coming unglued. I guess she was glad.

When I at last asked her out I didn't have a problem with the fact she didn't say a word: I could guess from her face that she'd started that looking around to get a pen and paper to write down her address and phone number. Again, the A HA song, which just happened to be the music playing when the teacher had her take her turn to lead the class.

She came over to me after class and said "I'm not used to being in front of people." There was nothing unusual about her saying only one sentence when we talked, it didn't stop the communication. And that was when I asked her out, she didn't say another word, but she was obviously happy. So the song says: "You're shying away---I'll be coming for you anyway."

 So indeed, what did I think I was doing going out with this girl? I thought of the novel 'Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?' Our hero experiences the perils of dating the girl that has EVERYONE'S attention, the fear that the football players were laying in wait for their chance to steal her away. No matter how much the parents have always liked me, there's always that first time to go wrong. What if they, too, expect only an heir to a throne to be suitable for their daughter?

That expectation worked out for the parents of Grace Kelly, didn't it? But I'd start to see I'd be flying by the seat of my pants on this one, nothing was going to happen as I should expect. I'd quickly considered he'd never been on a date, perhaps everyone was too intimidated to ask, especially intimidated by her silence. Before I arrived at her home I was wondering if maybe she'd been cloistered by parents who wouldn't let her date. Could I simply be thinking that it just couldn't be this easy, that the inquisition would begin the moment the door opened. . . ? . . . .

But I didn't meet the parents. I couldn't make up my mind whether she was home alone or not. Silently she demonstrated her pleasure that I had arrived and rushed out the door. She didn't seem to know what to do as we reached the car, her face was saying 'Oh, it's like THAT' as I opened the door for her. No matter what she looked like, she had no supermodel grace.

It was an awkward struggle just to get in the car, leaving her visibly embarrassed. That didn't last, by the time I got to the drivers seat her face was turned upward and her eyes were closed; it was as though she was lifting herself when her head rolled and turned her to face me, there she stayed as I drove. It couldn't happen to me like this, what was going on? It wasn't going to happen as I would expect with this girl, time to get over it. Maybe I should stop trying to figure out what I'm seeing and start guessing at what she's seeing.

As is the song itself, the video for 'Take On Me' is a musical landmark '. . . .To get lost in,' is an apt description often used by commentators. Alone in a crowded diner, a woman is beckoned into a comic by the hero. But for all the dynamic image of the motorcycle racer presented up to then, he does nothing more than be with her once she's inside. Nothing will really work until that's all it really takes.

Nearly 30 years later people still love to argue the meaning of the song, even teenagers who weren't born yet when it first came out.

I always took it as the guy starts off unsure where this is going, being noncommittal. Then she's pushing him away, that's all it takes for him to make up his mind. So it ends up: You're all the things I've got to remember. . . . Back when the better restaurants were a mile or so north of downtown Fullerton, we parked between the hills along Harbor Boulevard, she seemed embarrassed by the way she walked as we crossed the lot; maybe I was relieved every time she was less than perfect and therefore less 'Beyond reach.'

As a guy who has a way of rushing and running right past things, I always take a moment when we reach the door, stopping to look at her even if I don't say anything. For Devon that was perfect, she had the chance to look back at me and that said it all. And what a break, two guys I know checking I.D. at the door for the bar. At least I can expect word of this woman to get around.

The nice one of the pair became silently expressive himself once she'd walked past him in showing his approval as I looked over, the bad guy looked suitably shocked. I found myself thinking that Devon was nowhere near so impressed with herself as the less spectacular Mary Anne. Why did this woman seem like she was on her first date? How could she feel so out of place here, where so many of her male classmates of the last several years would have dreamed of taking her?

I'd been a Disc Jockey in restaurants like this, I was more at home than I should have felt, she seemed to like that. And then she noticed the music coming from the bar. Today the DJ's usually don't start until 10pm, used to be they'd start at 5:05 some places, leading into happy hour.

She stepped backward, pulling at my hand, looking excited. Okay, she wanted to dance. But did she know how? Once I'd agreed to go she held back, I was going to have to lead before we reached the floor. Then when I got her out there she was visibly confused. Was I supposed to just dance without her and hope that she would start? Then the DJ played it. The song. I guess it was poised to become our song. A HA. 'Take On Me.' And finally she looked like she knew what to do.

 She was doing the dance from the exercise class. I still have a vivid memory of her arms swinging to the front and to the side, elbows bent/hands up, as her feet kicked out behind her. Bending forward, all moves you recognize if you know those classes. Blissfully ignorant of people starting to look at her. And for the first time I was thinking she'd found the right guy. I had no problem going out and making a fool out of myself for my date. In fact I rather liked it.

Whatever she did, I did a bit bigger. How nice of her to pick that particular song. The floor cleared, everyone was watching us. And having a good time. They thought we were kidding. Well, I was, afterall. Once Devon realized everyone was cheering her she was absolutely thrilled. But this impromptu workout wore her out pretty quick, she stopped suddenly with a look and I went with her back to the lobby. Once we were away from the music she said "I always wanted to do that."

So I asked her if she had ever been to a dance in high school. I had my own bout with the lack of a normal life in high school. My delusional mother had stuffed me in a phony private high school out of town that deprived me of a proper education at the same time it deprived me of all that was right.

I escaped in time for my senior year at Fullerton, at which time I finally got a chance to attend a few football games, etc. For all the difficulty of being that kid in a new school, I thought the dances were easy. Now, this is Devon, so of course she didn't tell me the story. But the look in that expressive face was tragic. After a moment, she changed the subject. And she talked. By Devon's standards, she talked up a storm.

Well, I did get to hear her string sentences together for the first time. Going to school parttime, no major. She told me she liked the way I made jokes all the time and acted like nothing was wrong, giving me the idea she felt something was wrong much of the time. Here I'd dealt with oppressive parents, violent classmates, rose up and had a showdown with the unethical administration of my socalled first high school and forced them to expel me so I could get at least a small portion of the secondary education I was supposed to, as well as have peaceful days at school.

After that, there was still my Fathers' terminal illness and many long nights, so much substance abuse and fighting in my family, so much more than anyone could want to read about; yet Devon was giving me the idea she'd been through something more horrific. Even if that had only been her own fears. We never made it to the movie. She pulled me along, obviously she wanted to walk around some more. I'd like to think she felt she couldn't just be with me if we went in. I finally decided what was so odd in her walk was the way she leaned forward, as though walking uphill Yet I'd seen her run, she transformed into a gazelle. And maybe this was more than I wanted to think about for the night.

The most seemingly normal women refuse to just let things be alright, but here was someone who may well have hid from the world while staring into the mirror and quietly expressing to just herself with just her face, she's ready to think of everything as being just fine. Oh the things that you say Is it live or Just to play. . . . But wasn't adversity supposed to be an important part of this story?

This sounds like a successful first date, something I've known so little of. Indeed she seemed happy with I first saw her the next Monday, if a bit reserved. In fact I'm thinking I already know her well enough to wonder if something is wrong, I thought she'd be all lit up. She would be, shortly.

 Be sure and understand I'm not just saying this: That guy she was staring at was gay. I mean his boyfriend was right there with him in class. In my life this was the first openly homosexual couple I ever knew. Her face was lit up, you could almost hear the music from the old movies. At last, as I had expected to be from the very start, I had become invisible to Devon. She was dumping me for another guy, without his permission.

Which did not sit well with these two guys. In fact they were insistent: 'Control YOUR girlfriend.' Uh, she obviously doesn't see herself as that anymore. In fact if tried to talk to her, the pained look. That was the worst, I wanted to ask her how she could do THAT to me. The great danger of understanding. REALLY understanding. So needless to say I'm odds and ends I'll be stumbling away Slowly learning that life is OK And A HA had a second song where the video started with the racer turning back into an animated cartoon and falling back into the comic, as the woman cried.

A sad song indeed. They couldn't just leave us with the happy ending. So that other guys' girlfriend, what's her name, was having a rather expressive face of her own through all this. She was letting her anger with me show, then shifting to despair. When I'd see her with her boyfriend, he sure seemed happy. When she thought he wasn't looking she'd be sneaking this knowing smile at me, but she knew nothing, there was nothing. When once he suddenly started kissing her in front of me, she was shocked.

I don't think she liked the fact I was rather unaffected by that. The fact that I'd only met her because she was his girlfriend, whether I knew him well or not, this just wasn't going to happen, though I'd say if she'd been a stranger to me when our class started I might have found her quite intriguing. When she at last broke up with him he was devastated, thinking he'd had something special and I'd sure never him otherwise. Plays right into my thoughts about keeping someone in tow just because there's ALWAYS supposed to be someone.

I never did see her again. Mary Anne was completely unfazed by the whole Devon affair right in front of her. She might walk up behind me as I'm reading some list posted in the window as they did so often at Cal State back then, knowing I could see her reflection in the glass. She'd stand there staring at my reflection, arms crossed, waiting for me to turn around, which I put off doing as long as I could. She only had two expressions, happy and expectant/demanding.

Such was the easy way she had with men. I'd hear the wisecracks about we seemed like a married couple; I'd respond of knowing married guys whose wives had gone right on dating. I never gave any thought to her planning to stop seeing other men if she was seeing me, or her talking to me about our relationship more than she talked to her mascots about me. I saw her as merely trying to 'Right' what she perceived as a 'Wrong.' Had I been the ONLY guy ever to have the good sense to say no to her?

Once she'd had the chance to make me face up to her remaining 'Accessible,' all would be right with the world --- for her. Yet I fear my not knowing what came of Mary Anne. Her disappearance was abrupt, we weren't really part of the same circle where everyone knew everyone else. Many months after I'd last seen her there was a newpaper article of at last the arrest of the exboyfriend who'd some time past beaten to death, in a jealous rage, the girl whom a 'Long time (Male) friend (Mascot?) remarked on her many male friends, which provoked his jealousy.'

A girl by the name of Mary Anne. I couldn't remember that I'd ever learned Mary Anne's last name. So I can hold out all the hope I want that she's actually alive and the mother of 4 somewhere, anytime I have seen a mutual acquaintance they have always said, 'Haven't seen her in a long time, don't know what ever happened to her.' Whatever I thought of her behavior, she wouldn't have deserved that.

A HA performed what was to be their farewell concert in their native Oslo, Norway on December 4, 2010, but reunited August 21, 2011 to play a benefit for the victim of the Norway attacks.

And Devon? Wouldn't you know the one I'd get involved with was the most difficult. It wasn't enough that I stayed across the way the rest of the semester, she'd seek opportunities to glare at me. And just what did I do? I still wasn't working fulltime, but freelancing was picking up and at the end of that semester I was out of Cal Sate Fullerton for good. Although I did go back to help out in the television department quite a bit. And I'd see Devon on campus.

You know, you try to be nice. 'I'm just acknowledging you and saying hello as I walk by, you don't have to give me that evil look. WHAT? I can't even be NICE????' She was the one who turned her back.

I had read 'A Doll's House' as an English Major, at the time I had to take exception to the feminist mantra of the oppressive opinion of the husband. As he said on their anniversary, he still wished there could be the evil cannibals he could save his wife from so that he could make the grand gesture. The problem is when she turns out to be two faced, manipulative, unethical; so hard for such an upright man to know just how to save her from her evil self. And there is where I was with Devon.

Obviously this wasn't a matter of having to compete with another man. When I tell this story others suggest to me that I somehow missed that this was a confused young woman who suddenly realized this was no longer a fantasy, that she would have to learn to deal with me, unless she found another way to hide. Actually, I wind up having to explain that to them better than they can to me, I definitely considered that possibility. But she still has to make herself available.

It's not enough that she stopped glowering and started to look at me stone faced, as though she was learning a pokerface. It's not enough that she started following me across campus, all the way to the television studio. It's not enough that she might still have been standing there when I left, 3 hours later. She had rather fiercely rebuffed any overture I had made, including simply being civil once it was obviously over.

Usually a couple gets to have some sort of FIGHT before a woman decides to hate a man for the rest of his life. So there can be no question the ball was in her court. It's not  enough that she suddenly enrolled in a television studio class. In fact it made for a very unpleasant day when the engineer again asked me to come if I was free that day to help them solve some of their problems the way we do it in the real world.

Her across the room glaring, pouting, near tears. A classmate I didn't even know coming over and telling me "She didn't actually say, but I think she's upset because you won't go talk to her." "She knows where I am."

What more could there be for me to say? It was okay when she was there demonstrating that her actions really did speak louder than words. But you have to make it possible for someone to believe in you. I never did learn if she had been through anything real or if she just hadn't been dealing with the fact that life is hard.

My life had already been real hard, I could see where stumbling along with Devon could have been easy in comparison. But only if she wasn't going to flee the moment she felt any little uncertainty. I never did see her again after that day. It was my turn to shy away, I didn't go back to help out at the television studio class until I was sure she wasn't there anymore. If you just can't deal with me Devon, you're just going to have to tough it out.

But as the song says: I'll be gone In a day or two

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