01 November 2005

Eye Contact (intermezzo)

The break between spring and summer semesters arrived and the library was nearly empty again, the staff greatly outnumbering the patrons. As usual, the makeshift computer lab (not even run by library staff) was the busiest spot in the building. Students wandered in to finish papers, projects, and to play games on the lab’s decked out computers. For my part, this was the first downtime I’d had at the media center in months so once the daily paperwork was out of the way, I popped a movie into the media cart to "familiarize myself with the collection" as I told anyone who inquired, particularly the bunch of slackers upset by my good fortune. I had earned it and my supervisor concurred.

During breaks, the building was open fewer hours so only library staff were let in early to start computers and set up before patrons were allowed in. The computer lab staff had been arriving a few minutes after the building was officially open.

A short student approached my counter so I sat up, ready to help. "Is the computer lab open today?"

"Yes, it should be." I looked across the tables and media alcoves and saw that the lab monitor hadn’t arrived yet. "They’re sometimes a few minutes late since they can’t get into the building before it’s open to the public."


“They should be in shortly.”

The student looked confused as if she’d wanted a better reassurance from me, but after a moment, she turned and walked towards the lab without saying anything else. The lab staff arrived at the entrance just before her so I focused on my morning paperwork satisfied that the matter was resolved.

Three hours later, she returned striding across the long expanse purposefully. I lifted the VCR remote, paused the film I was watching, and turned to give her my full attention. From fifteen feet away, she hailed, “Working hard or hardly working?”

Original, I thought sarcastically to myself. Pleasantly, I replied, “I’m familiarizing myself with the collection so I can better help people.”

She smirked and rested her hands on the tall counter. “What are you doing tonight?”

Hunh? Is she asking me out? “Why?” I ventured cautiously.

“Because I haven’t been able to get what you said out of my head since I went into the lab.” That was three hours ago. I tried to remember what I’d said. She continued, slightly misquoting me, “’They should be here shortly,’ ‘Sometimes, they’re a few minutes late since they can’t get into the building.’ I’ve been hearing these over and over in my head. I can’t get the way you talk out of my head.” She looked away bashfully.

“Oh.” She sounded a little crazy to me.

“What?” she asked.

“I just said, ‘oh.’”

“So what are you doing tonight?”

She definitely is asking me out. It was Thursday, and I was thrilled to have a real excuse as I don’t often lie and only in the most extreme circumstances to a direct question. “A friend of mine is going to call so we can catch up.”

“Excuse me?” She looked away again and I noticed a clear plastic hearing aid protruding from one ear. Since I knew from experience that even unconscious lipreading improves comprehension, I repeated my answer addressing her directly.

Clearly, she thought it was a lie or at best, very flimsy. “Who’s your friend?”

“You wouldn’t know her,” I explained realizing that was the lamest thing I could’ve said. “She’s lives in LA.”

“Can’t you call her another night?” she persisted.

“She has a really hectic schedule and we arranged for her to call tonight. I haven’t talked to her in ages and am looking forward to catching up with her.”

She wasn’t buying it. “Really?”

Tired of being disbelieved, I stated firmly, “I don’t lie.”

“Neither do I. That’s so refreshing. How about tomorrow night?”

Oh brother. This was going to be a problem because I had no Friday night plans yet. “Uh...” My mind raced through ways to say I wasn’t interested without actually saying it. I wasn’t, right? I looked across at her: she was decent looking, but standing, she was only as tall as my seated height. No, not interested. Besides it’s weird being approached based on a 3 minute exchange; that means the attraction is based overwhelmingly on my looks. That’s it! “I don’t even know you.”

“That’s the point of going out.”

I glanced at the staff elevator and the open doors leading to the Documents department: no one was nearby. “I’m not a student and I look a lot younger than I am,” I stated carefully for emphasis. “I’m 28.”

“I’m 22 and I think maturity is a state of mind,” she countered. “I was married to an older woman for three years up until a few months ago.”

Multiple red flags popped up in my head: she’s on the rebound, she’s in to older women, and she equates marrying young with maturity even though her marriage didn’t work out. I wondered if they’d actually had a ceremony or if she just committed easily and quickly describing their relationship as marriage for effect. Distancing my argument from her personally, I rebutted, “Young couples have shotgun weddings all the time but that doesn’t mean they’re mature.” Though I continued looking at her when I spoke, she kept breaking eye contact, looking right, left, and coyly down which gave our conversation a stuttering comedy routine feel as I repeated fragments of what I’d just said. Clearly, my gaze was too intense to be met for long, but as she still had some difficulty understanding me, desisting (and thereby reducing the amount she understood) seemed impolite. Though it grated against my ingrained manners, I glanced away while she was talking to make her less self-conscious.

“It wasn’t like that at all. I met her at a club, we hung out all night, and I knew I wanted to be with her,” she expounded, “She was seeing other people at the time but I showed up every night and after three months, I moved in with her and we were married.”

My stalker red flag wagged violently at me. The more she tried to prove her maturity, the crazier she sounded. “Ok,” I conceded to keep her calm. “I’m just really anti-social.”

“That’s ok.”

WHAT? I clarified, “I don’t like people. My life’s motto is: People suck.”

“I’m an introvert too,” she said.

Aside from some nervous behavior, nothing about her announced: introvert. I wondered what else she would say to ingratiate herself. “I’m sorry, I’m just not interested.”

“Why not?”

In no particular order the following came to mind: you’re short, intimidated by my eye contact which I’m only doing to help you understand me, stalker crazy, and I can’t stand the name Brenda. She was watching me carefully as I replied, “There’s someone else I’m interested in.”

“Oh yeah? Who?”

Not again. “I met him at a wedding a few months ago.”

“Where does he live?” she said, emphasizing the male pronoun. Simply saying I was straight would put a quick end to this while preserving her feelings, but I couldn’t bring myself to lie after proclaiming my honesty.

Barney came to mind. We’d worked together on a terrible low budget movie in LA a couple of years before. As I was the gaffer (head of the electric department) and he was a 2nd 2nd assistant director (glorified production assistant), it would be more accurate to say we both worked on the same film as opposed to worked together. Many friends of mine were also on the production, and they laughed mercilessly as Barney relentlessly hit on me 6 days a week. I told him I wasn’t interested, but he persisted anyway. He was friendly and kind, but his constant advances annoyed me and precluded any interest I might’ve developed. During our third week of shooting, he hedged around waiting for me to reveal my sexual preference. I told him if he had something to ask, he should just ask. (It’s my opinion that if a person can’t ask you if you’re gay to your face, they’re not ready to hear the answer.) He explained that he’d previously been attracted to another strong woman who shared many of my qualities, but she wasn’t interested in him because she was gay. “Is that the case with you?”

I could’ve said yes and spared his feelings, but I had no compulsion to lie with all the times he’d unwelcomely hit on me. “No, I’m bi.”

Across the media counter, Brenda rephrased her question, “Are you really interested in someone else?”

“Yes, he lives in San Francisco.”

“San Francisco? How often do you see him?"

“Not since the wedding, but we’ve exchanged some great letters.”

“So are you dating long-distance?”

She was trying to sniff out a lie, but it was true: talking to her had clarified my feelings for Ted. “No, but he’s the one I want to be with. That’s just how I feel, and it wouldn’t be fair to string someone else along,” I concluded. Feelings you can’t control were something she understood.

“I never should’ve come over here.” She looked crushed, as if this one experience would discolor everything to follow.

I tried to lessen the importance of my rejection, “It took a lot of courage to approach someone you don’t know. I admire that. Don’t let my reaction discourage you. I’m sure there’s someone else out there who’ll be a great match for you.”

“I could’ve been the best thing that ever happened to you, but you wouldn’t give me a chance, so you’ll have to live with that.” She hoisted her backpack on her shoulder and walked away.

I shrugged and said, “Yup.” She was going to be fine. And I was going to be stalker-free.

(NB: names changed.)


  1. That was an intense little moment there. I would have been freaking out if someone came on so strong to me. I don't particularly find it very attractive. Like you said -- you met for only three minutes!

    If you don't mind me asking -- how did she know that you would be interested in another woman? Do you wear a t-shirt that reads "I'm bi and lovin' it!"?

  2. Damn, what a story!
    You know, I believe in being honest, but surely you're allowed to say: "Thank you for asking but, I think I'll pass". Hell, you shouldn't have to explain why.

    Neil, ha ha do those shirts really exist?

  3. Imagine what life with her would be like -
    'Are you really working late?'
    'Is he just a friend?'

    Anyone else probably a better bet..

  4. Neil- At the time (a few years ago), I was living in the South and wasn't out at work, so that added that extra something to the encounter. And no, no t-shirt: not my style, so it was a guess on her part. I'd chalk it up to gaydar and just taking a shot. She called me at work the next day to ask if she'd totally freaked me out, so by then I'm sure she was assuming I was straight. Given that I was captive at work and have never been into the bar scene, I thought I handled it well.

    Also, I checked out your blog yesterday and really liked it. I'll be back. I left a comment, but there are so many, it may have been lost in the shuffle.

    Rarity- Thank you- yes, you should be able to say no without explaining or defending yourself. She wasn't accepting it though... And yes, though I haven't seen that exact tee, I know many others exist.

    Scholiast- So true! I never doubted for a moment that I made the right decision as I wasn't exaggerating when I thought she had a stalker personality.

    Also, I condensed the timeline some. When I protested we didn't know each other at all, she came back after lunch for another hour and a half or so regaling me with other tales, so that we'd know each other enough to go out. All it did was make me certain I shouldn't.