For my first post, I thought I’d share a story about my first date in Chicago. I moved here for college when I was 17 from St. Paul, Minnesota. I wish I could say I’d put a lot of thought into my choice, but the truth was I wanted to get away from home and to a major city, and NYU cost way too much money (sorry Chicago, sorry). Read on for a story of indie rock, poor choices, and dudes — three things that defined a lot of what I did in the early 2000s. Trigger warnings for intense stupidity and uncomfortable social situations, but it’s not horrible in the way you think it’s going to be. Really.
“I hope he’s not some frat boy or something,” I said to my friend Brianna as I pulled down my ribbed black sweater, making sure the v-neck was low enough but not too low, the bottom aligned just so with my jeans. She nodded. Pedro the Lion played in the background as I squinted into her dorm room’s full-length mirror, dabbing concealer over discolorations left by acne scars, light pink remnants of high school bad skin. I slicked on another layer of Dangerous, a sheer dark reddish-fuschia, and turned around, facing this girl from Nebraska who’d helped introduce me to music beyond goth-industrial and Top 40.
“I’ll text you if it gets weird, okay? At 10 or something.”
Brianna nodded again then smiled, slightly sardonic in the manner she did most things — friendly and sarcastic and a little mean. “Have fun!”
She shut the door behind me and I walked out into the still-warm October night. It was 2003. I had turned 18 a few weeks ago. I was a freshman at Loyola University Chicago. I was going on my first date. I was excited. He liked me. We’d talked on the phone yesterday. I didn’t think much beyond that. I didn’t think much at all.
We’d met a week ago at The Metro. I was there with Brianna to see Death Cab for Cutie. It was different than the Postal Service album I’d listened to until I was sick of it, but I liked it. At one point I closed my eyes, letting Ben Gibbard’s voice crash around me while Brianna murmured something I couldn’t hear.
He caught me as I was walking out of the restroom, midway through the show. I don’t remember what it was. It was something kind of sweet and kind of dumb. I remember smiling awkwardly. We saw each other again as the crowd was filtering out. A few more words were exchanged, I said something about giving him my email address.
“…or maybe your number?” he said.
I wrote my number down on a scrap of paper. My stomach flipped. He was short and built with spiky blonde hair. Not my type, but I didn’t care.
He called me a few days later. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember it being off-putting in a way I couldn’t place. I shoved the feelings down, and agreed to meet him at Clarke’s at 7pm that Friday.
It was awkward but not terrible. We talked, mostly him, about how he’d just graduated from Western Illinois University. He had been a frat boy. He was close to his parents and sister. His sister was 15 and a cheerleader.
I dragged my french fry through ketchup and mumbled something high-level and vague about my family. I didn’t want to talk about that, I was here. I asked him what he wanted to do after this.
We paged through the Reader. “None of this interests me,” he said. “Okay,” I said, “Do you want to see a movie?” I was getting twitchy and bored. The queasy sensation that I’d caught on the phone a few days ago came back and once again, I pushed it down.
“No,” he said, “there’s nothing I want to see.” He paused. “But my roommates are having a party back at my apartment, do you want to go?”
Part of me knew this was stupid, but part of me relaxed. A party. Alcohol. Other people to provide a buffer if it kept being this uncomfortable, and okay, we didn’t have a lot to talk about so far. I could do this. He liked me, I should do this.
We got on the Belmont bus and headed west. I asked him what he’d been reading lately, trying to start conversation.
“How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
I had no response. I texted Brianna that it was fine. Lying. It wasn’t fine but it wasn’t not fine, and I didn’t want to go back to the dorm. I wanted to be outside and doing something, and beyond that didn’t think about much. Besides, I had my phone, and that made me feel safe. If something came up, I could call someone, although I wasn’t sure what I would say.
At 18, I was directed by impulse and sensation and not much else. I didn’t think much at all, and this time was no exception.
There was no party, only a dark, empty house in an unfamiliar neighborhood (months later, when I ventured west of Clark, I would recognize it as somewhere between Logan Square and Avondale). “They’ll be home soon,” he said, “They’re all working at a show right now. Want a beer?”
“Sure.” I was pretty sure I knew where this was going, and was neutral about it. I wasn’t against the idea of sleeping with him.
His bedroom was in the basement. We drank a six-pack and watched Catch Me if You Can. I liked the movie. I didn’t really like him. We started making out. Somewhere around third base I asked if he had a condom.
“Did you think we were going to have sex?”
I’m not sure who in the room looked more surprised.
“Uh. Yes.” My shirt was off. In my relatively limited experience, sex was something that would happen after that.
He leaned back, gave me a level look. “I don’t have sex.”
“Oh.” My mind raced. Casting around for a response, I quickly scanned the room. Desk, TV, small bookshelf with a book called “God’s Game Plan: Unleash the Power” placed front and center. Shit.
“Okay…why not?” I already knew half the answer but wanted to hear him say it.
He went into an explanation about how he didn’t do that, it was against his beliefs. I nodded and half-listened, most of my brain trying to figure out what to do next. Was the Belmont bus still running? What was I thinking that I got here?
“Have you…ever had sex?” I asked, trying to be delicate.
He glowered. “Yes. I did once and it got really messy and didn’t work out.”
I nodded slowly, buying myself more time to think of an appropriate response. I failed.
“So you just gave up after that?”
He stared at me. I backpedaled furiously.
“Okay well, we don’t have to do anything. I mean, um, I’m good just going back to sleep.” It was almost 3 in the morning. I was tired, and would rather be doing almost anything than what I was doing right now. The sooner I could sleep, the sooner I could leave, the sooner I could try to forget this ever happened.
He looked crushed. “You won’t make out with me if we don’t have sex?”
Oh God. “Yeah. Um. I know that sounds weird.” The truth was, I didn’t really want to make out with him either. I wasn’t that attracted to him to begin with, and God’s Game Plan had killed it. Our roles had been reversed: I felt like the creepy jock in a bad high school movie, pushing for more than the prom queen wanted to give, even though I wasn’t pushing and I sort of felt led on, or at the very least confused.
We went back and forth like this for a few minutes, any sexual tension dissipating and replaced with an anxiety far more unpleasant. I felt embarrassed. If I was into him, I might be into making out and stopping.
I did not tell him this. Instead, I kept repeating “I really just want to go to bed” until he gave up. I was lucky. He wasn’t dangerous.
Not dangerous, but definitely persistent. He woke me up about an hour later saying he’d changed his mind and was now totally okay with having sex. I told him to go away. He did. I was lucky.
I opened my eyes as the sky was beginning to lighten, dawning cool and gray over the three-flats and convenience store that I could see from the basement window. I wrote a note saying I wasn’t ready to date anyone right now, feeling as stupid and nerdy as it sounded but unable to stop myself from writing it. I wanted this loop closed.
I walked quietly upstairs and asked the obese Goth girl hanging out in the living room (his roommate, I guessed) how to get to the train. To her credit she asked no questions, and cheerfully gave me directions to the Logan Square Blue Line.
The sun was out in full force by the time I transferred to the Red. I closed my eyes and felt it shine hot on my face, willing away my headache and the events of a few hours ago. I would have to tell Brianna how it went, which meant I would have to make up something, but I didn’t think about that. Instead I focused on the motion of the train, the colors of the people and things passing by. I started to think of the places I could go before I had to be home.