Our dating relationship started and ended on a motorcycle. The end was on May 17th, our wedding day. We hopped on a motorcycle and rode off (well, as far as we could get before we ran out of gas) as husband and wife for the first time. The beginning was three years ago today: September 26th. On the Thursday before our first date, I’d spent the entire night at the Girl Talk concert. In the process of dancing (and, okay, elbowing) my way to the front row, I had been happily drenched with water bottles and tangled in toilet paper that had blown in ribbons by a leaf blower. Finally home and ready to collapse on my bed, I noticed a plain white envelope propped on the keyboard of my computer. My name was written on the outside in blue ink, but I couldn’t tell who it was from or where it had come from. I tore it open with a gulp. Inside was a card that read, “Would you like to go to dinner on Monday night at 5:30?” It was signed Thomas. I stared at it for a moment then let out a single, sustained scream until my roommate rushed in to see what was wrong. I showed her the note. She raised one eyebrow and pointed to the wall of advisory sticky notes we kept on our bathroom wall. Most of them were practical bits of wisdom like, ‘Always relay a compliment but never an insult’ and ‘Expect to have your cigarette lit.’ But down at the very bottom, I had written ‘The first date is free.’ It was our policy to give courageous boys one chance. I knew what I had to do.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like Thomas. Actually, I adored him. It was my sophomore year. With him, those first months of fall semester had been filled with endless adventure: skipped classes, road trips, late nights and live music. My freshman year had left me exhausted from spending time in the wrong places and with the wrong people. Sophomore year felt like a fresh start. I had a group of three close friends and I finally felt like I had things figured out. The four of us would cut class early every Friday afternoon, meet in the parking lot, and crowd into the car bound for Columbus or Atlanta or Birmingham. Traveling across state lines with them gave me the most peculiar feeling of having become the person I wanted to be. Those wild weeks of early fall fit so perfectly with what I wanted to next three years to look like. I didn’t want to risk losing them by taking a chance on Thomas. I don’t think I fully believed that things could get better than that. Three years and two wedding rings later, I’m so glad I was wrong. Fortunately, I wasn’t able to let my hesitation get the best of me: I had to yield my personal feelings to the authority of the Post-It Note. So, I said yes to September 26th.
At 5:33 on the Monday of the date, I was still waiting on Thomas. I tapped my foot in the courtyard. In the window above me, my roommate Victoria scanned the horizon with her binoculars from our second-story window. I heard her pounding on the window behind me before I even heard the purr of the engine. When I looked out at the street, I saw Thomas pulling up on a motorcycle. I heard muffled screaming from the building behind me. I didn’t know where Thomas had gotten his hands on a motorcycle. I didn’t even know he could even operate one. But I did know that Thomas was prone to extravagant gestures when he really wanted something. I could tell he was relishing my confusion as he strutted up to me with an enormous grin on his face. I tried not to let mine show. Handing me a pink helmet, he helped me onto the back of the bike and revved the engine for effect. It stalled out. He started it up again with a bashful look back at me and we rode off. As we shot across a two-lane road that ran parallel to a stretch of farmland, I wrapped my arms tighter around him, leaned forward and whispered, “You know you need a license for this, right?” He laughed it off and never gave me an answer.
Thomas slowed the bike down and turned to our surprise destination: a park situated in the middle of rolling pastures. Leading me a along a path, he settled at the base of a tree overlooking a field where people were walking their dogs. He pulled out a quilt, picnic dinner, and a dozen misshapen cookies he’d made himself and we sat down to eat. I had always enjoyed being around Thomas. Usually first dates put a stranglehold on my nerves but with him, conversation was easy and enjoyable. We lounged there in the grass, nibbling our cookies and telling each other stories. There was an ease between us that felt strange on a first date. My previous boyfriends and crushes had been only that. I’d never experienced friendship blossoming into romance before. All my past relationships had been either short-lived or painfully dragged out. I knew that something wasn’t working, but I didn’t know what. Sitting there with Thomas in the park, amazed at how natural it felt to be on a date with my best friend, I thought I might have figured it out. A couple bites into our sandwiches, a dog came bounding up to us. Delighted, and hoping to demonstrate the chemistry I had with children and small animals, I opened by arms to let it adore me. Instead, it swallowed my sandwich in one gulp and sprinted away.
It was the best first date I’d ever been on. And the last.