"No," I said, my mind wandering through the muck of uncertainty. "But maybe my mission in life doesn't involve marriage. I don't want to rush things."
That was only half the truth. The other half: I'm not even dating. I haven't dated since college, and the one relationship I had dissolved in the pain of the past.
I met Jessica at a night out while at Mizzou. A couple of dorms held an ice skating outing one Friday night, and I couldn't resist the lure of cold ice and good times -- anything to divert my attention from exams approaching in the distance.
Jessica was a sophomore. I was a senior. She was a plump, lively girl, about a head shorter than me.
From my journal of December 3, 1993:
We're both from St. Louis, and she sort've knew me already from Six Flags [my summer job] and a class that shares the same room as one of my CS classes. She talks a mile a minute, which might drive some people crazy, but it doesn't bother me at all. We skated together tonight and had a great time.Jessica came over to my dorm room the next day with tea to take some of the edge off the study crunch.
The more I told her about the finals situation, the more she became convinced I needed more than tea. She gave me a back massage this afternoon. She's really good, on account she plans to study physical therapy. That massage really mellowed me out. I also read over a draft of a paper she'd written for a learning strategies class, and I basically tightened and refined her sentences, not bothering to mess with structure.A few nights later, she came over again. We talked... we slow danced in the dark... and then we kissed. Passionately.
"Have you ever kissed anybody before?" she asked.
"Not like that," I replied, embarrassed because I'd told her I wasn't after a physical relationship.
Neither of us were ready for one, anyway -- especially Jessica. The night of the big kiss, she revealed to me the evil of a previous boyfriend, one who had his way with her in high school. She hesitated to call it date rape, but her description left no doubt it was. I refused to let her accept any guilt or let the guy off easy, but her handling of the incident bothered me. She had told an aunt and some people at the campus Women's Center but not her parents. Knowing her father would go after the ex with full prosecutorial force, she didn't want to relive it on the witness stand. The pain stayed bottled up within her.
"I feel safe around you," she said to me as we held each other.
I felt helpless. A few days later, she called and told me of holding a knife and not trusting herself with it. I begged her to come clean to her parents, telling her I couldn't do anything more to help her. Both of us survived that scare, but she kept the secret.
We went out again, to the fading St. Louis Center over Christmas Break. And then it was over -- an amicable parting. We lost track of each other, and I knew it was for the best. I feared being an emotional trigger for her, and as much as I wanted to help her, I didn't think I was the right person. I would be graduating soon anyway, off into the real world, and this was no time to start a long-term relationship.
I have never had another girlfriend since then. I've been too busy grinding out a living on nights and weekends. I've attended at least four weddings among my newsroom peers. I've seen at least three others collapse.
I spend ten hours a day staring at a computer screen, cramming my head with information, talking on the phone, chasing down video, churning out scripts all to feed this hungry beast called a 10pm newscast. It's hardly attractive, yet it's what I do. The day isn't even over, even when it's over, as the necessary adrenaline fails to wear off. Hours evaporate as your humble servant downshifts with some web surfing only to find himself in a state of dark restlessness, desperate for a few hours in the land of his dreams.
What lady would tolerate such emptiness and odd hours? Why should she?
My parents don't nag me about marriage anymore. They know better. And with my brother married and raising a family, they've got grandkids. Still they fantasize, imagining me tying the knot with some beautiful girl met through some historical diversion and holding a colonial-style wedding. They imagine me in a tricorn and breeches instead of a tux.
Over the past year, I have shared many wonderful moments with fine women, but that's all they were -- moments. No numbers were exchanged, no dates attempted. My path is solo. At times I wish it weren't so, notably last year during my first full night in New York City, when an inexplicable sadness crept in. Amazing sights surrounded me, and nobody stood by my side to share the moment. I remember also a Saturday night sight from my youth in Kansas City, wandering the Country Club Plaza where it seemed like I was the only single person in the world.
The words of the kindly schoolteacher Miss Kay come back to me: "Don't be lonely."
I know, Miss Kay, and I count the blessings of several friendships. However, I won't be on the giving or receiving end of flowers this Valentine's Day. That is the reality I live with given this mad career choice and my own uncertainties. If the proverbial right girl is out there, I haven't met her yet. If I never meet her, so be it. "Love is patient," we are told, even if that sentiment doesn't fit on a candy heart.