I was 14 years old when I took those first tentative, and extremely nervous steps into the vast wilderness that is the dating world. It was shortly after moving to Union City from East Oakland, and attending Alvarado Middle School. The truth is I was not actively looking, or thinking much about that sort of thing. My mind was almost always occupied with thoughts about the paranormal, horror movies, anime, astronomy, video games, or some book I had just read.
It was the sort of bright autumn day where the sky seems so big, blue and perfect, with the scent of firewood trailing after every occasional, chilly breeze. I was just leaving the school library with a large book called, “Unexplained Mysteries”. I thought it was one of the greatest things I had ever been fortunate enough to come across. The moment I saw “the Mystery of the Devil’s Footprints” among the table of contents, I was completely sold. Admittedly, while I was rather skeptical of a great many things even at that age, there was still this huge part of me that seriously wanted to believe that every monster, ghost, phantom, and bizarre event within those pages were absolutely possible.
“Hey.” A friendly sounding girl’s voice called to me as I was passing by a number of tables.
I turned to find a small group of girls who were all playful grins, and watchful eyes. I instantly felt like someone had cast a sudden spotlight on me. Artemis was standing in front of the group with her arms folded, and a sort of lazy but charming smile curving her lips. She was well known as a star basketball player. Since arriving at that school I had heard her name mentioned in praise a few times by both students and teachers.
So, perhaps its understandable that when she called out to get my attention, I was a bit surprised. That day Artemis’ sandy brown hair was pulled back, and she wore a dark blue sweater with gold writing across the chest, and a pair of dark jeans. I remember instantly noticing her high cheekbones, caramel complexion, and light brown eyes. I thought she was very pretty.
“Oh. Hey.” I replied only after clearing my throat as casually as possible.
“How are you?” She asked cheerfully.
“I’m alright.” I replied with mild suspicion. “And you?”
“Super bored. Just kind of waiting around for lunch to finally end.” She replied with a shrug and small laugh. “You are new here, aren’t you? What’s your name?”
“That’s right. And my name is Walter.” I nodded and shifted on my feet still feeling a bit uncomfortable.
“I’m Artemis. I have seen you around a few times.” She said. “Where you from?”
“Oakland.” I answered. “You?”
“Wow, no way. I’m originally from Oakland too.” Artemis explained with a small note of excitement and pride. The group of girls behind her shared knowing laughter while still closely watching the conversation between Artemis and I unfold. “I was about to go to class. Do you want to walk with me?”
“Um. Sure. Okay.” I said despite being little taken back by the invitation. The chorus of giggling was absolutely no help. She turned to the group, briefly explaining she would catch up with them at practice, and then we began walking together.
“How long have you been out here?” Artemis asked curiously.
“Not long.” I replied while secretly trying to find her angle. “I moved out this way a few months ago. It was a little before the summer actually. How about you?”
“I think it has been a couple of years now.” Artemis smiled before motioning for me to turn with her near a block of class rooms. “It’s not so bad out here I guess.”
“It’s been okay so far.” I shrugged. We both went quiet for a while as students passed by in both directions on their way to class. It was awkward. I shifted again on my feet trying not to embarrass myself too much. “I saw you play last week.” I finally recalled.
“Oh yeah?” Artemis asked with pique interests that made her smile brighten all the more. I caught myself staring so I averted my eyes and prayed she did not notice.
“Yes.” I nodded. “You play extremely well.”
“Thank you. It is nice of you to say.” Artemis smile became coy and she folded her arms behind herself. “Listen, um-- I was wondering if you wanted to hang-out? Or maybe go out sometime?”
My reaction? My mind became this sudden hive of thoughts.
“Did she just ask you out?
Wait. No. She said hang out.
But she also said ‘Go out sometime’, right?
Maybe I heard that wrong.
But is she asking me out?
Like out, out, on a date?
I should really say something.”
“Yes. Of course.” I replied as calmly as I could.
“How about maybe after school today?” Artemis asked happily.
“Oh. I have a previous engagement.” I instantly regretted saying that. ‘Previous engagement?’ You are only going to hang with your cousins and play video games! What are you the Earl of Grey? Who says that sort of thing?! God you sound like such an idiot!' I berated myself internally but smiled. “But,” I stammered quickly and recovered. “, but I could cancel. I would rather hang with you.”
“Cool.” Artemis nodded then began moving to enter her class. “Then I’ll catch you at the park at about 4?”
“Yes. Of course. See you there.” I replied a little too quickly for my taste. With that she smiled one last time and departed into the class she was standing near.
I watched Artemis leave before I turned and began walking for my own class. Everything fell into a momentary haze as my mind became entangled with anxiety and excitement that made everyone walking by fade into inconsequential shades speaking in some unintelligible language. Was she asking me out? Or was I reading too much into it? Maybe Artemis just wanted to hang out? Or she was just being friendly? But wait wasn’t I suppose to ask her out? Guys are supposed to be the ones who do the asking out, right?
“Yo.” Dolos, a guy who quickly became a good friend of mine, said as he caught up to me, while eating a large red apple. “What’s up?”
“Huh?” I shook myself out of my thoughts and glanced over at him.
“I said, what’s up?” Dolos repeated.
“Oh. Nothing I guess.” I replied absently.
“What’s wrong with you?” Dolos asked curiously.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You seem like something is wrong.” Dolos said with some concern.
“Why would something be wrong?” I asked a little too quickly.
“Why do you keep answering questions with questions?” Dolos took another bite of his apple as we came to a stop a few feet outside of the Earth Science class we attended together.
“No, I’m not.” I stammered then shook my head. “Look, can I ask you something?”
“Um. Okay.” Dolos nodded.
“So,” I began with nervous hesitation and lowered my voice. “, so Artemis asked if I wanted to hang out after school. What does that mean?”
“Seriously?” Dolos asked with piqued interests.
“Yes.” I nodded.
“That’s pretty dope.” Dolos said.
“But what do you think it means?” I asked curiously. “Is she saying we should just hang out as friends? Or…”
“Well,” Dolos began rather thoughtfully while taking another bite of his apple.
“Well?” I asked anxiously.
“How did she ask?” Dolos replied while chewing.
“Oh. Um,” I thought back trying to remember her exact words. “She asked if I wanted to hang out, or maybe go out sometime. What do you think that mean?”
“Seriously?” Dolos asked again.
“Yes.” I replied a little impatiently.
“Well, it seems to me,” He took another bite of his apple while thinking.
“Seems to you?” I repeated
“That if,” Dolos continued chewing.
“That?” I repeated with more urgency.
“That if she said it the way you said she said it,” Dolos continued before taking another bite of his apple.
“Dude, seriously?” I exclaimed irritably while motioning to the apple.
“Sorry. Sorry.” Dolos finished chewing with a brief laugh. “Anyway, if she said; ‘Hey let’s go out sometime’, then obviously she is asking your clueless ass out. Good thing too. Artemis is fine.”
“You think so?” I asked nervously.
“What? That Artemis is pretty?” Dolos asked incredulously as he looked up and down as if I had said something offensive. “Um, fuck yeah.”
“No. No.” I shook my head. “I meant the date thing? Are you certain that is what she meant?”
“What’s the matter with you? Why are you so nervous?” Dolos watched me closely as he began laughing.
“What? Nothing is wrong with me.” I replied defensively. “I’m just trying to make sure I understand what she meant. I’m chill.”
“Oh. My bad. I can see that, Walt.” Dolos shook his head still laughing. “You’re ‘chill’ as hell right now.”
“Yeah well-- you--” I went to reply but had nothing. “Shuddap, Dolos.” I mumbled causing him only to laugh all the more as we turned and went into class together.
I was in class but I did not pay much attention. I recall the lecture concerned monocot and dicot plants. I would have found it all a great deal more interesting if I had not had so many thoughts and concerns buzzing around in my head. By the time the bell for the final class rang I was nearly reconsidering the idea, and had expressed such to Dolos as we walked home.
“You have to seriously stop over thinking this. It’s too weird seeing you so nervous.” Dolos said with obvious amusement while we made our way through the train tracks.
“I’m not!” I replied defensively.
“You seriously are.” Dolos shook his head. “You act like this is the first time you ever gone out with some chick.” My drawn out silence was answer enough. “Oh, damn. It is?”
“Well, yeah.” I shrugged. “I guess it sort of is.”
“Stop worrying.” Dolos said seriously as he turned to me upon exiting the tracks into our shared neighborhood. “Just play it cool, you know? Be yourself. Find out about the sort of stuff she likes and talk about it. No big deal at all. Girls like a lot of blah, blah, blahing.”
“Yeah. Ok.” I briefly closed my eyes and released a tense breath. “Sounds easy enough.”
“It is. Seriously, don’t over think it.” Dolos slapped me on the back and then turned to begin walking the rest of the way to his house. “Let me know how it goes, brotha.”
I turned toward my own direction and began hurrying home. I checked the two watches I wore on my left arm, and it told me I only had 50 minutes to prepare. Sadly enough by the time I entered the front door I felt all the more anxious about the situation. I hurried through a shower, changed my clothes and gathered up as much courage as I could scrap together. Dolos told me not to over think and I was determined to do just that. I thought really long and hard about how much I should not over think it.
'Wait, if we were going out, like “out out”, would that mean she would become my girlfriend? Am I ready for this? That is a huge step! A tremendous step! Wait. I could just ask one of my brothers-- no, no-- that is a terrible idea. Then they would know about my maybe, probably date. They could make fun of me. I did not need that before an already anxiety inducing event.'
All of the above was racing through my head even as I looked myself over in the bathroom mirror. I took a deep breath, straightened my clothes, and left the house. Nothing would still the nearly out of control, speeding train of thoughts. I was excited, nervous, and anxious all at once. Old Alvarado Park, is the place we agreed to meet. It was barely five minutes away from our school, and roughly no more than 15 minutes from where I lived. It was a small, grassy area with a few tall palm trees, benches, and a bright red gazebo.
Artemis was already there by the time I arrived. Dressed in her deep green, and white basketball uniform, she relaxed on a bench near the entrance of the park, repeatedly tossing her ball up into the air, and catching it. When Artemis caught sight of me, and smiled, I felt my stomach nervously flip.
“Hey.” She called over after sitting he ball on her lap.
“Hey.” I returned as I continued approaching. “I'm not late, am I?”
“No. Practice let out a bit early so I decided to chill here and wait.” Artemis explained before her eyes glanced over me. “You look nice.”
“Thank you.” I sat on the opposite side of the bench. “You look really nice, too.”
“In this uniform?” She smiled brightly with a skeptical laugh.
“Well, yes. You actually do.” I nodded.
“Its sweet of you to say.” She replied.
It was sort of quiet then for a while. We both sat there staring straight ahead. It did not feel like neither of us had nothing to say. The vibe was like we both had all sorts of stuff we wanted to talk about, but was gauging if it would interests the other person-- or maybe just embarrass ourselves.
“Do you play any sports?” Artemis was the first to break our short silence.
“No. Nothing.” I shook my head.
“Really?” She asked with a surprise that seemed more appropriate to if I had instead answered I practice juggling chainsaws.
“Nope. Why is that weird?” I asked.
“A little. You look like you would play basketball, or run track, or something.” She replied.
“I don't even watch any sports. They just really bore me.” I explained a split second before catching myself. “I meant-- not all sports. Or I don't even mean it is boring to everyone. I meant I just find it sort boring.” I wished I had not tried to explain.
“Wait, so why were you at the basketball game?” Artemis asked curiously.
“Oh, Dolos wanted me to come with him.” I shrugged. “I think he was crushing on some new girl, or something.”
“Well, I'm sorry you were bored.” Artemis said with a small laugh. I could not gauge through her reaction if she was offended.
“I wasn't completely so.” I replied quickly. “I saw you. And you were really amazing.”
“Thank you. Its sweet of you to say.” Artemis face redden with her smile. “So, if you don't play or watch sports, what do you do then?
“Well, nothing super exciting.” I admitted with a self-conscious laugh. “I mostly draw, and read a lot. I probably spend too much time in the library.” I paused feeling rather boring at that point. “But I also hang out with friends, and listen to music, and play video games.”
“Oh yeah? What are some of your favorite games?” Her interests noticeably increased.
“You like games?” It was my turn to ask with obvious surprise.
“Yeah, homie. I have a SNES.” Artemis replied proudly with a smirk.
From there the conversation seemed to grow a lot easier. She listed off several games, we talked about them for a while. Despite a few cautioned pauses, the topics naturally moved around. We talked about Oakland, what it was like living in Union City, school, people we both knew, movies, music, and then video games again. At some point she asked if I wanted to walk her home, and of course I accepted.
I felt incredibly self-conscious the entire time. I was trying hard not to be dull but frequently reminded myself to ask her about herself, and her interests. So, there is a distinct possibility that I fluttered between talking a little too much, and not talking very much at all. I really wanted her to like me. The more she spoke, the more I enjoyed her company, and secretly hoped we would see each other again really soon.
I learned two very important life lessons that day. The first is that if you like someone, you should just be yourself, take your chances, and see what happens. The second, and perhaps arguably the most vital is this; as it turns out it is nigh impossible to evenly split your focus between trying to impress a pretty girl, actively listen, and avoid physical obstacles, all at the same time.
So, as I walked her home, I was polite, I was witty, I was considerate-- I walked directly into a street sign. It would have been really embarrassing to just bump into it. But I was not that fortunate. Instead, the dial was cranked way up to 'really f****** humiliating' because I hit the pole so hard, I sort of bounced off it, lost my footing, and landed right on my ass. The minor pain was absolutely nothing compared to realizing this all literally just happened in front of the girl I was trying to impress. I honestly cannot recall any other times in my life where I just wanted to instantly die.
“Holy-- are you alright?” Artemis asked with a startled tone.
“Oh-- yeah. Just didn't see--” I cleared my throat of as much embarrassment as possible. It did not work. I still wanted to die.
I thought I would just instantly implode on myself when Artemis started laughing. I completely, and utterly blew it. Just as I was preparing to slink away with what remained of my dignity, she reached out to help me up. It was then I could hear it was not cruel, but laughter of disbelief. I accepted her hand, and began laughing as well. It was all I could really do in such a situation. Indignation would have just made it worse.
“This is why you don't play any sports, huh?” Artemis asked with a grin.
“What? No!” I replied defensively. “I don't go running into things all the time!”
“Whoa, whoa, you don't have to try and convince me.” She feigned surprise.
“God, I can't believe I just--” I closed my eyes and took deep breath. “I wasn't paying attention. Sorry about that.”
“No. Its alright. It happens.” Artemis shrugged with a teasing grin. “Not to me. But it does happen.”
“You are not going to let this go.” I groaned as we continued walking towards her place.
“It might come up from time to time.” Artemis nudged me with her elbow. We both began to laugh, and surprisingly, the conversation continued on. When we finally reached her place we exchanged or goodbyes.
“Maybe we can do this again tomorrow?” Artemis face lightly tinged red as she watched me closely.
“I would like to. I mean-- if you want to?” I nodded.
“Yes.” Artemis nodded. Then before I realized what she was doing, she leaned over and kissed me the cheek. “Good night, Walt.”
“Good night, Artemis.” I replied as she left.
I sort of stood there for a few seconds trying to get my bearings. There was this sort of dizzy, happy, precarious feeling that buzzed through me. I turned to begin walking home, and when I did, I felt weightless.