The Toast

My dating history is a mashup of triumphs and failures.

My longest relationship to date was a nine-month soiree with a lovely young woman named Lindsay. I remember the very first time I saw her. She was walking through the rows of cardio equipment at the Maryland Farms YMCA. I was running on a treadmill and talking to Shannon, a curvy blond bombshell. Shannon was a year ahead of me, and took a new interest when she found out what I’d scored on the ACT. We were in Mrs. Rickleton’s art class when Mrs. Simons brought in the paper reports for everyone who’d taken the test. I was in the middle of a project, so I told Mrs. Simons to just set my scores down on my desk.

Shannon couldn’t stand it. “Don’t you want to know what you got?” she asked.

“Sure, but I’m in the middle of something. My score isn’t going to change if I finish this, and if I didn’t do as well as I would have liked, well, I can wait on that kind of disappointment.”

She asked if she could look, and I told her to go ahead.

Her response after looking over my scores? “Austin, I had no idea you were so smart!”

I just smiled and said thank you, but I thought, “Shannon, I had no idea you were so adept with backhanded compliments.”

From that day until Shannon graduated, she regarded me with a mixture of awe and playfulness. I became a curiosity of sorts, something you admire anytime you’re in the shop but something that you’d never buy. If I had been a bit more naive, I would have thought this special attention from Shannon suggested a special affection. I knew better, however. She just thought I was smart because of a silly number, which piqued her interest in my opinions on a variety of subjects. I was more a plaything than a serious love interest.

On this particular day at the Y, she wanted to know what kind of girl I was interested in.

Without hesitation, I pointed—discreetly, of course—at Lindsay. “That kind of girl,” I said.

Lindsay had curly blond hair down to her shoulders and very large blue eyes. Her cheeks were always flushed, and she was almost as fair-skinned as me, except she was the type of white that became tan with enough quality time roasting in the sun. My skin just turned red and started to itch. Thanks for nothing, genetics. Lindsay was the star player on her lacrosse team, I found out later. If she played, they won. If she missed a game for some reason, they lost.

Lindsay was the type of pretty that I found magnetic at the point in my life. She was perhaps the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen in person. That meant that I should never, under any circumstances, go over and talk to her.

My quick reply must have surprised Shannon. No opinions or philosophy this time, no, just a straightforward answer: that girl.

”Why don’t you go talk to her?” she asked.

Strange creatures swam through my stomach. Obviously, Shannon didn’t understand how it worked. You don’t just go talk to a girl that pretty. At the time, I had the notion that women of a certain caliber of attractiveness were beings of absolute confidence with formidable powers of critique. She would make mincemeat of me with these weapons. From her lofty abode in the ether of physical and mental charms, she would brush aside my pathetic attempts at conversation and humor. She would single out every mistake I made and reduce me to putty.

No, one didn’t simply walk over to a goddess and ask her what her name was and where she went to school. Aphrodite was born with her Ph.D. in captivating, befuddling, and destroying mortal men. Circe turned men into swine. The Greeks built mythology around natural phenoma. They must have watched beautiful women turn men into slobbering fools; otherwise, the stories wouldn’t exist.

Thankfully, Lindsay left the room, and without looking like a coward, I could tell Shannon that I had missed my window.

This all happened in the spring of my junior year of high school, and over that following summer, I ran into Lindsay a couple more times. A mutual friend introduced us at a Jars of Clay concert at the Harley Davidson dealership in Cool Springs. Out of nervousness, I had been rolling up a piece of paper into a ball between my fingers, and when she turned to ask me a question, I threw the paper ball at her. I guess this was a juvenile attempt at flirtation. It hit her in the forehead. She raised an eyebrow and said, “Thanks.”

“No problem,” I said, thinking though was “You idiot! Is your brain damaged?”

I ran into her another time when I went to hang out with our mutual friend John over at another friend’s house. Towards the end of the summer,  we talked briefly at Dancin’ in the District. That’s when we found out that we had the same last name. Yikes.

John was doing some work over at Forest Hills Baptist one afternoon, and I dropped by to say hey. School had started up again at this point. We were both seniors.

He must have picked up on the fact that I was interested in his friend Lindsay. He himself had been interested in her, but he said he was fine with stepping out of the way if I wanted to pursue her. I’ll say this, different girls have come and gone, but John and I are still friends. Both John and Lindsay were involved with FCA at Brentwood High, and I was involved with a homeless ministry downtown through Lipscomb High.

What if I invited Lindsay to ride along with me one evening and McDonald’s hamburgers? We could get to know one another a little better, and I could get my foot in the door under the pretense of ministry.

[Attention, Women, this is a classic Christian nice guy move. If some guy with a crooked smile on his face asks you to volunteer at the mission, or hand out clothes, or go rake an invalid’s leaves, then beware. He’s really asking you out on a date, but he doesn’t have the cajones to do it straight up. He wants to see who you are in a variety of environments. He’s trying to put together the full picture so that he can be sure that you’re worth the risk of rejection. He may also ask you to “hang out.” This is the nebulous no-man’s-land between friendship and romance. Ask him what his intentions are.]

While I was in the middle of pitching my idea to John, he was dialing a number.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Calling Lindsay,” he replied.

“What?!! I wasn’t even sure—”

“Lindsay? Hey, it’s John…I’m doing fine, how are you?” John was now talking to her. I guess he’d made up my mind for me.

He handed the phone to me. We talked for awhile, and she agreed to go downtown with me.

We passed out 25¢ McDonald’s hamburgers to the homeless men who gathered on Demonbruen near the mission. My teacher and mentor Mr. Millson was there to give me some good-natured ribbing in front of Lindsay. I made a mental note to thank him.

The homeless men drifted away when the food ran out, and the rain began to fall again. It had been raining off and on all day. As Lindsay and I drove away, she mentioned that her church had already started. I invited her to go to church with me, so we went to youth group at Hillsboro Church of Christ.

When class ended, the rain had let up. I opened the door for her, and she leaned over to unlock my door, which, according to Code of Dating Ethics I’d developed with my friends, was a good sign.

I settled into my seat and started my ’88 Honda Accord Lxi. My dad bought the car for $1000 from one of his clients after a hailstorm had totaled it. He fixed everything that needed fixing, and my parents surprised me with it the summer after I turned 16. Although I was grateful for their generosity, I’d wanted a ’73 International Scout that my dad and I had looked at in Belle Meade. The man who was selling it had done all the work himself. It was beautiful—hunter green with white shearling seat covers. It was also $13000. I would have looked so awesome in that truck—the original SUV. Visions of my cruising around in the summer without the hardtop evaporated. Instead, I received an Accord with a leaky seal around the sunroof.

The “Toast,” as I called my champagne-colored means of transportation, would sometimes hold water between the roof outside and the ceiling upholstery inside. None of the water seeped through to indicate the reservoir above my head, so I had no way of knowing whether or not I was about to get soaked on any particular rainy day. Sometimes, water dumped all over me. Sometimes, it didn’t. Hit or miss. How exciting!

Of course, on the rainy day that I had the girl of my dreams in the Toast and wanted desperately to come off as charming, smooth, and impressive, this special feature of my car slipped my mind. I pressed the clutch and put the car in first gear. I gave her a little gas and turned to the right.

Remembering what happened, I can see a gallon of mean-spirited water pooling invisible above my head then pouring out the crack underneath the sunroof cover. At least half a gallon fell on my head, soaking my hair, shirt, jeans, boxers, and the seat itself.

I was too shocked to speak. I pressed the brake. You can imagine what that would look like from the outside looking in. Dumping a bucket of water on a guy’s head while he’s in the middle of trying to woo his quasi-date. Talk about ruining a guy’s game, or as my friend Kyle called it, his “swerve.”

Lindsay was bent forward laughing so hard that her face was almost touching her knees.

I squeaked out a few words, “I’m not really sure what to say except I can’t believe that just happened. I am so embarrassed. I hate this crappy car.”

Lindsay was near tears at this point and waved her hand at me as if to say, “Too much! Too much!”

Nothing to do but press on, so I gave the Toast a little gas and straightened the steering wheel. Now, you can imagine what was left of the rainwater above our heads shifting to the right and pooling above her head.

A moment later, the Toast dumped half a gallon of water on Lindsay’s head.

I hated my car, and I hated my life.

How does one apologize in that situation? “I’m sorry that my car gave you a shower. I wish I could say it won’t happen again, but I cannot make that guarantee. You are very pretty and sweet, and I hope this doesn’t ruin my chances of dating you, but I completely understand if my mode of transportation makes you vomit a little bit in your mouth and associate that taste of swingset chains with my face.”

What I did say was, “I. Am. So. Sorry.”

Lindsay was gracious: “Don’t worry about it. It’s just like we were standing outside in the rain.”

“But,” I responded, “It’s not too much to ask that when you’re actually inside a car, you stay dry.”

She just laughed, and we started talking about other stuff. I drove her back to her car at Granny White Park. We talked for awhile longer, and I mustered up the courage to ask for her number.

She gave it to me, and we dated our whole senior year and through the summer right up to seven hours before she left for Clemson. A couple of months into her first semester, she met the man who would later become her husband.

Looking back, I guess that the Toast was a blessing in disguise. Those invisible buckets of water got my relationship with Lindsay started in the best way possible: I couldn’t be too cool. I had to be myself. When your underwear is wet and your quasi-date has to hold out her shirt so that her bra and goodies won’t be visible, you can’t take yourself too seriously. You may as well just laugh and savor the moment. Relationships are messy, but at least they give us good stories to tell.

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