I met this girl on the ferry headed toward Camden. New Jersey, that is. Her name was Donna, or Dana, or Denise. We were both headed somewhere that would be loud, on a ship with a couple hundred people we didn’t know who were going for the same reason. There was this band. There was always this band, at least back then. We met quite by accident, as I was looking over the side of the ferry trying to determine if I should have even come, and she was looking over probably deciding what she was going to do once we first landed. When I glanced over at her she looked like she was thinking about whether or not mermaids were real, but in that moment I felt a connection. I had to talk to her.
Why do most of my stories from long ago begin with “I met this girl…”? Probably because I met a lot of girls back then. Those are what I call my bachelor days, even though there were a few years of them. It was the same story back then, the chasing of the girl, or the meeting of the girl, or the rejection of the girl for whatever stupid reason. To hear me tell it I was meeting girls all day every day, on the street, on public transportation, at church, in coffeehouses, and in bars. But the truth was I met a few girls here and there over long stretches of time, even though they moved in and out of my field of vision constantly, a neverending line of possibility. At least that’s what I told myself.
It wasn’t because I wanted to play the field, either. I just wanted one of them to decide I was worthwhile, to say that I was the one, that I wasn’t just “friend” material, that I was suitable for dating and such. It was a battle between myself and me to see how long it would take for one of them to realize it. So, when I stood at that railing, looking over the edge of the ferry into the abyss, plucking up my nerve to talk to Donna, or Dana, or Denise, I just wanted to turn to her and say, “Let’s cut the bullshit. I’m Sam. Want to grab a bite to eat after the show?” And in my perfect scenario she would answer, “I’m Dana, and yes, I would absolutely love to get something to eat with you.”
Then we would sail off into the sunset. Figuratively and literally. Although it would have probably cost a lot of money for us to ride the ferry further than Camden. And my problem was always starting the conversation without seeming like some weirdo who starts conversations with strangers on ferries. It was a delicate line to walk, and I was still recovering from being a shy teenager, having not yet grown into the man I would become. But she seemed like someone who would understand, this girl. She seemed just as shy and detached as I was then, like we would make great babies if given the chance.
That was my other problem — thinking ahead. Way ahead. I wasn’t just planning a simple meal at a low-cost Camden restaurant after the show. I was thinking white picket fence, house in the suburbs, children on the way, and if I knew anything back then it was that I could NEVER LET HER KNOW THAT. If I wanted to scare her away all I had to say was that she had nice breasts (and even though she did, that’s not quite the way to start a conversation with a girl). Stick with complements of body parts that you both share. Nice legs. Pretty eyes.
We stood there for what seemed like forever, but could realistically only have been a couple of minutes, she lost in her little world, me caught like a deer in the headlights trying to summon up the courage to say even two words to her. I came up with and eliminated at least a dozen ways to make my presence known, from suitably suave to nerdy but lovable. And everything in between. But my mouth was sewed shut, which might have been my saving grace, because when she did look up from her contemplation of the sea she looked right at me. And smiled. I smiled back.
And I opened my mouth.