NOTE: This story takes place before I ever met my wife Angie. It was after my fight with God and before I ever stepped foot on the Tree Farm.
There was a girl. There’s always a girl. Someone smiles across a room. You smile back. And a question is born. A “what if.”
She crossed the room to our corner. We were in the midst of reading our favorite passages aloud. William the Red was just finishing a stanza from Madame Bovary. She sat down just in time for my turn.
We were sitting in the apartment of Pastor Taylor. He was the young adults pastor at our church, as well as the worship leader. His apartment was too small for the gathering that night. But what the apartment lacked in space Taylor made up for in heart. The diversity in the room was impressive. Sporty types, nerds, young professionals, potheads, and more came every week to this apartment to share food and life. I happened to hang with the nerds. They have always been my people. The girl, she wandered over from the sporty crew to join us.
I read a passage from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I knew a smiling girl was sitting among us, so I didn’t so much read as I performed. And it played. The night went on, and we talked. The talking became an invitation for the morrow. The conversation continued. Coffee became a lunch, and then lunch turned into a dinner.
And then, one day, it just stopped. I never called her back. The roller coaster was slowly climbing the hill, but the chain that pulled us ever upward stopped clicking. I even stopped coming to Pastor Taylor’s. I effectively disappeared.
Months later, there I was, sitting on Taylor’s floor. I was once again with my crew, and we were talking about some aspect of nerd-dom that we held dear. And in walked the smiling girl. She came in on the arm of someone new. He was tall and fit and wore tear-away pants, a member of her own tribe. She saw me, and her easy smile flattened.
The night progressed. Mr. New Guy went outside to oogle a new Ducati. A little while later, we could hear someone burning rubber out in the parking lot. It was then that she came once again to our circle. She was a bold woman and had no time to wait for the right moment. So she interrupted our conversation.
“Why did you stop talking to me?”
The room went quiet. The question she asked had some hurt in it. And more than a little heat. A scene was happening, and all other conversations ceased to watch it play out.
“I just got busy,” I lied.
“No. I want a real reason.”
I looked down at the carpet and laughed a sad laugh. “Do you really want to know?”
“Yes, I really want to know.”
I raised up my head and looked her straight in the eyes. “It was the movie. You didn’t like the movie.”
She didn’t understand at first. I watched her searching for it.
“I told you about one of my favorite movies. You watched it and didn’t like it.”
She measured her response. “Are you telling me that you stopped talking to me because I didn’t like some dumb movie?” She was shocked.
I could feel the room picking sides. And it wasn’t mine.
She was strong. She held her cool. But I could see the real hurt there in her face. A softer girl would have shed a tear.
“I can’t believe you.”
The words hung out there, a condemnation. Mr. New Guy came in from his smoke and into a fog of an entirely different sort. He was smart enough to know something was going on, but not enough to decipher it.
The room was silent. He stood at the door wondering what he had walked into. She stared at me with eyes like daggers. I stood and made my way to the door. William the Red stood as well, for he was the best friend a guy could have. I slipped on my sandals and looked back at her. She still sat on the couch. She still couldn’t believe the answer.
“I’m sorry.” I said it. I meant it. I left.
Out by our cars, William the Red spoke. “What was the movie?”
"Life is Beautiful."
“Ah.” A pause. “You know, when you said you would never date someone who didn’t love your top three, I didn’t know you actually meant it.”
“Dude. That movie is the love story I am going to live someday. I am the fool of that film who bends the world to win the girl. Any girl who sees that movie and thinks it’s dumb is no girl that I can woo. For that is my ideal. That is who I am and who I am going to be. A girl who remains unmoved at the song of a hopeless romantic is a girl I cannot sing to.”
“What if the movie is just a story? What if such a girl does not exist?”
“Like the man says, ‘It’s okay to be lonely as long as you’re free’.”
“Big words, man.”
“Yeah. Maybe someday I will cave. But not today. Today I am content to be alone.”
William the Red looked up to Pastor Taylor’s apartment. Some people were milling around on his balcony. “I don’t think you can come back here, man.”
“So it goes.” I looked up at it for a long second. Nodded in acceptance. “See you tomorrow?”
I pulled out to the main road and came to a stop. The night was young, and my body was not tired. Where would I go? I looked to the west and the sun was setting there. Seemed as good a plan as any. I pulled out onto the empty road and chased the sunset. I didn’t know if I could catch it. But I had to try.