So I went on a date last night for the first time since my divorce. I separated in August of 2010 from a guy I had known since childhood. In college, I may have gone on two actual getting-to-know-you dates, which apparently aren't memorable enough for me to get a firm count.
I met "Charles" at a Winter Solstice party held by the Houston Atheist's Association. So, basically, we met at a bar. He's a former Jehovah's Witness who had a great many intelligent things to say about why religion is bunk. I had my own intelligent point of view and we enjoyed the mutual blowing of minds.
So he asks me to dinner. I think "why the hell not?" I need to break though into this realm of being social.
We meet at Lupe Tortilla and I already feel my mind receding into itself. Was it fear or self-preservation? I was entirely outside my comfort zone, but believed this was a step in the right direction. No pressure, this didn't have to go anywhere. It just dinner. It's just one date. It was an experience and I needed to learn as much as I could. About myself more so than Charles.
We went to a beer and wine bar for a couple drinks after dinner. There was good music, and in between sets it was easy to continue talking. I found it easier to talk about myself than to remember to ask questions about his life. Realizing that in the moment, I was ready to teleport home. Nice as he was, I guess I was done. I tried to focus about not feeling bad about that.
As the evening wound down and I switched from beer to cola, his eyes lit up as he asked a most innocuous question:
"Do you like fuh?"
"What's fuh?" I was expecting to hear about some new cultural trend that was all the rage that I obviously was in the dark about.
He seemed to revel in the thought that he was about to introduce me to this wonderful of wonderfuls. "It's Vietnamese noodle soup..."
"Oh, Phò. No, I don't like Phò." I pronounced it foe. I wonder if my facial expression revealed the twisting in my gut at the mention of Vietnamese noodles.
"Have you ever had Phò?" he asked incredulously, as my psychology went on full-tilt lockdown.
Back in 2004 or 2005, for one of my first dates with my would-be ex-husband, I met him for lunch at his office. He was so proud of where he worked -- a major oil company with a swanky office building and an even swankier cafeteria. That it might have been inappropriate to bring in a new girlfriend for lunch did not occur to him. Or he didn't care. That day was Phò day in one of the serving lines. I knew this before I arrived, and I believe it was the main reason he chose this venue for lunch, because Phò was a sensory experience to behold.
Dressed as best as my college wardrobe could accommodate, I felt horrendously out of place to begin with. I followed him around like a lost puppy as he showed me the plethora of options at this company cafeteria, its huge dining room walled by four stories of glass overlooking a man-made lake. Everything in its design was meant to impress--or intimidate. Many of the dining options appealed to me, with lots of comfort foods and sweet treats, but we were there specifically to eat this wonderful of wonderfuls known as Phò.
The bowl was huge. It had a clear broth with thinly sliced pieces of beef and green onion. There were noodles in there somewhere. I don't remember the cost, but I know it was not just expensive soup, it was more expensive than your average lunch.
By the time I had my first taste, I guess I couldn't taste anymore. I choked down a few spoonfuls of the broth while he reveled in the complexity of the flavors. I tried to make conversation about something other than the food, knowing I wouldn't swallow enough of this to convince him I liked it. It was a lost cause. Thinking of the dollar amount wasted, never mind the potential offense of rejection, I could barely breath.
He saw how I was having a difficult time enjoying my food and encouraged me to finally say that I didn't like it and couldn't keep eating it. He didn't act offended or dejected, maybe that would have been preferable. He picked up the large ceramic bowl off the plate it was served on, covered the bowl with the plate, and we walked to the return window for the dishes.
I had lived on my own in San Antonio, I had my own apartment and paying the note on my own car and was increasingly self sufficient as I was on the verge of launching out of the academic world and into the corporate world. But as I picked out comfort foods which I no longer remember, I felt increasingly like a child in this corporate cafeteria in which I should never have been. Seeing my discomfort and becoming my source of comfort pleased him. Paying for a second overpriced lunch for me pleased him.
No, I do not like Phò.
I gave Charles a short explanation of my experience, I threw out the term PTSD almost like a joke and he took it as one. Far easier to laugh at the unfunny. My self-confidence crashed within those moments. That he admired the recent accomplishments of my life didn't matter to me anymore.
"This girl's got baggage." I repeated in between stories as he drove me back to my car. For the good bye, I couldn't look at him. My phrases were short and clipped as I got out of his truck. He waited until I was securely in my vehicle then pulled away faster than I expected.
I hyperventilated immediately.
I cried most of the way home.