I said, "Well, remember, those pictures are only of my oversized head." He laughed. I had been very honest in my profile. No surprises. Just me. He had no photos on his profile. I knew he was 6'1", that he loved ska and 80s music and science fiction, and that he was "a spiritual guy," raised Catholic, but had fallen off that wagon long ago, like me.
He said he had two children—daughters. They were young and lived with his ex-wife, except for two weekends a month. I told him I was sorry, that it had to be hard to raise kids that way. Hard for everyone. He didn't respond to that.
He said he was really happy to find someone who liked the same movies and music as he did, the same TV shows. And oh—he liked to run.
I said, "Well, as you can see, I'm not much of a runner, but I love to walk." Running was just "fast walking," he said. He said he was 39. I told him I had eight years on him. He said he didn't care. He really wanted to meet and have coffee with "such an incredible woman."
I felt a twinge. I don't take compliments well, especially from strangers. It makes me distrust them. It makes me question the sincerity. But coffee is just coffee. I said yes and very cautiously turned the key in my chest, a rusted key that kept my heart from taking sucker punches and being shattered. The door opened a tiny bit.
He said, "How about the Starbucks in Wheaton?" I agreed. It wasn't far from home—mine or his. I described what I would be wearing, but added, "You can't miss me. I'll be the biggest woman in the place."
He laughed. An online laugh. "LOL." He said, "I'll be in a black jacket and jeans, with a plaid scarf." We set a date. We set a time.
I arrived about 15 minutes early. Coffee shops get crowded on Saturday afternoons in winter. I wanted to make sure I had a table to avoid any awkwardness. Well, more awkwardness than there would already be, the fat broad meeting a stranger for coffee and small talk. I had let my hair fall in its natural curls, my minimal makeup in place. (If I have lip tint and mascara on, that's a big deal.) Green jacket to highlight the sparks of green in my hazel eyes (eyes most people don't even notice are hazel), Russian scarf... I smelled like roses.
And I waited.
I saw an old Honda pull up, and a dark-haired man stepped out. Black jacket, blue jeans, plaid scarf, average build. But he was far from 6'1". I know 6'1". I like looking up into someone's eyes. He was in the neighborhood of 5'8", 5'9", but I'm short, and I'm fat, and what does it matter in the end if he fibbed to feel good, right? Right?
He walked in and scanned the room. His eyes fell on me, and I could feel his entire body stiffen from across the cafe. I didn't wince, but just said, "Kenneth?" and waved. A smile appeared and then fled from his face as he waved back. He walked over, taking his scarf from around his neck. He said, "I'm going to get some coffee. Do you want some?"
I said, "Sure, I'll take a small coffee, cream and two Sweet'N Low, please." He walked up to the counter and stood behind two other customers who waited for their drinks.
And then, he turned around.
He strode to the door, right past my table, without looking at me. He pulled his scarf tight around his neck, fumbled with his keys, and got in his Honda.
He pulled out of the lot, and he drove away.
He pulled out and drove away fast.
I sat for a few minutes. I waited for the people who had been at the counter—the people who had seen what just happened—to get their drinks and go. There were no open tables, so no reason for them to linger. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes... I finally got up and quietly walked out to my car, hoping no one at the tables had noticed. Hoping that they were so engaged in conversation or texts they didn't see my humiliation. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes... I sat in my car and felt my shame well up.
And then my phone buzzed. New e-mail.
It was him.
And he said, "Sorry. I just can't do this. I didn't realize just how unattractive you'd really be."
I re-locked the door in my chest, the key settling into familiar rust. And it hurt. Old rust, scratched with fresh pain.
I closed my eyes and breathed in roses.
And I drove home, to the quiet, to the empty. Full of things, but still empty.
He said, "I just can't do this."
I prayed. "I hope someone can."
Rusty Heart by Vera Kratochvil