Being a single woman in a big southern family is rather like those movies you see about being single in a Greek or Jewish family. All those romantic comedies show the woman being poked and prodded about her marital status, but for all their good intentions, they end up making her dating life more difficult.
The constant need to tell embarrassing stories, use embarrassing nicknames and point out all my character flaws . . . those things aren’t, technically, meant to scare off a man. They’re meant to test him. Is he worthy? Can he hack it in our gene pool? And, of course, it’s a warning of sorts. “If you didn’t know what you were getting into when you took her out the first time, we’re going to make damn sure you find out now, over pot roast. Hope you’re not squeamish.”
When I brought my first high school boyfriend home for dinner my father waxed poetic about his gun collection over the main course and mused that he could kill a man with his bare hands over dessert, if he felt so inclined. He hasn’t changed much in his old age, still uses the same old lines, but he’s more pragmatic about it. He knows that his unveiled threats of violence and dismemberment won’t keep a man from touching me, so he’s added a new tactic to his repertoire. He’s heard enough chatter from my cousins to make vague references about my sex life. This is, of course, completely inappropriate, which means he finds it endlessly amusing.
It was via one of these inappropriate references that Steve first met my father. At the time he was just a guy I’d met through work connections. A mutual friend invited him and his roommate to our after work bar hangout, we chatted, they expressed interest in spending time on the lake, and I invited them to come to one of our every weekend cookouts. I was unaware when I extended the invitation that half my family would show up. In particular, my father, who was working in Virginia and to my knowledge, safely out of embarrassment range. There’d been no time to develop any romantic interest in either of the roommates, but they were both single and that certainly hadn’t escaped my notice.
I was anxious all afternoon, which only made my cousins and everyone else more aware that there was potential for humiliating me later. I saw them pull into my driveway and, like a good hostess, made my way up the hill to escort them to the party. I should’ve warned them then about my father, my cousins, my brain damaged aunt, my papa and his Pilipino wife . . . but I didn’t know what to say. These were men I worked with, albeit indirectly, and who wants to announce all of that on the second meeting? They’d come for a party that had vastly changed direction and I was too chicken to mention it. I would brave it out and hope they didn’t notice anything was amiss.
But as we approached the gazebo, there stood my father front and center, grinning, tattooed arms flexed in a cut-off denim shirt, ready.
“So”, he bellowed, “which one of you is the booty call?”
They stood, looking at each other, clearly caught off guard. And I stood looking at them, wishing the ground would open up and swallow me whole, while everyone around us laughed and waited for their answer.
Finally the roommate jerked a thumb toward Steve and said, “Must be him”.
This awkward beginning was followed by several more awkward hours in which they learned far more about me than a coworker, or a prospective date, should ever know. Steve’s roommate was cornered by my Aunt who regaled him with stories of her brain injury and her 15 year long stretch of abstinence. And Steve? He was introduced to the more colorful aspects of my sexual appetite by my cousin Christine, who has always found it endlessly amusing to tell people that I like to beat my lovers. Despite the fact, of course, that because of my endorsement, she now enjoys a well-timed slap herself.
By the time the sun went down, the roommate was making none –to-subtle hints about leaving. I didn’t blame him at all. In fact, I was hoping they’d both go away and, when they saw me at work, pretend we didn’t know each other. But to mine, and his roommate’s surprise, Steve was reluctant to go. We’d managed to have a bit of interesting conversation in between my family’s well placed jabs, but apparently (as he later told me) I was so wrapped up in my own embarrassment that I’d failed to notice he was having a good time. Apparently his family is also large, loud, and a bit fucking nuts.
I offered my couch and a ride home the next day so he could stay and drink, and he accepted. His roommate left, looking a bit bewildered and relieved, and I finally relaxed. Steve and I spent the rest of the night, and well into the next morning, talking and laughing, singing and listening to music…all while getting absolutely hammered. It was when it was finally time for bed that I realized what I’d found: He was a gentleman, but not a pussy. A nice guy, but not a pushover. He was inappropriate, hilarious, intelligent, driven, and…most important, not at all phased by my father or the rest of the family.
There was flirting, of course, but he didn’t make a move at all. He slept on the couch and I lay awake in my bed, fighting my destructive baser instinct to make a move myself. It’s what I’d always done in the past – make everything sexual so it didn’t have to be real. Except that somehow, without even touching him, having only spent about 15 hours total in his company, I knew I had to do things differently.
It took him two more weeks to work up his nerve. I’d begun to think that we were just going to be friends, that he wasn’t interested.
We’d just come back from a party at the neighbor’s and he was staying over to go camping with us the next day. I walked in the door, threw my purse on the counter, turned around and found him staring at me. He smiled and announced, “I’m going to kiss you now.”
I grinned back and, before I could respond, he closed the space between us and grabbed me.
He kissed me like we were in a Nicholas Sparks novel, like we were being broadcast on a screen at a sporting event…like it was the last kiss either of us would ever have. It was corny. It was perfect. It was the end of who I used to be.