An Infrequent Occurrence

Two weeks after David asked me to prom I was leaving school early for badminton practice. My car was stuck waiting behind a line of senior cars to exit the school parking lot. In those days I drove a Toyota Land Cruiser, a massive SUV that could seat seven which often made me the designated driver to many badminton tournaments. I hated the car, but my father loved and refused to part with it (except that when I started driving he bought himself a new car and passed the Land Cruiser down to me). It was a boxy, unwieldy thing, raised considerably higher than a sedan. My father said he liked to drive with the view above other cars, though when I heard a loud rapping on my side of the car I turned but didn’t see anyone.

“Hi Betty.”

I looked down and saw David looking up at me. He had come to my window and was motioning for me to roll the window down. I looked ahead – there were still a few cars ahead of me that did not appear to be leaving the parking lot anytime soon because of the busy street traffic.

I rolled the window down and gave him a surprised look.

“Hey David, what’s up.”

“You leaving school right now?”

I thought it was obvious, but decided to be nice. I nodded, “Yup.”

“Cool, I thought so. Me too.”

“Great.” I looked at the cars ahead of me, willing them to roll off the driveway. One car pulled out and the one behind it was about to as well, but the light ahead turned red. He was leaning on my door now, alternating between gripping it and tapping idly, which would have made it dangerous and a bit rude for me to pull forward. I gave him a questioning look tinged with what I hoped was visible impatience.

“Well,” he said, “I was thinking we could go get a cup of coffee?”

In movies, which informed most of my ideas about romance, this is usually the point when the girl who is also attracted to the guy asks coyly, “Are you asking me out?” But I was not in the movies. I was in high school and in love with many people in the movies (this was the heyday of my infatuation with Edward Norton) and did not drink coffee because I read somewhere that it stunted your growth and made your bones weak (though I’d already hit puberty I was still hoping to grow another inch or two, much to my mother’s bewilderment. At 5’7” she was tall for an Asian woman and during her girlhood back in Taipei, had been teased and called an elephant. “Why not a giraffe?” I’d asked. My mother replied, “Giraffes are thin. I was not.” She seemed to believe, from empirical observations that tall girls stayed single much longer than short girls).

The cars ahead began to pull off the parking lot. I summoned the most regretful look I could muster.

“Ah, I can’t David, sorry. I’m going home to nap before I head to badminton practice.”

In the history of terribly transparent excuses, that one doesn’t quite take first place, but it was transparent enough. David tried again to summon the sad smile he’d given me two weeks before and backed away slowly before turning. He shoved his hands in his pockets, looking left and right though all around us were the gleaming cars of other students. 

He never talked to me again after that. Occasionally, when we passed each other in the hallway, he would give me a forced half-smile, the kind where the eyes assumed a certain dullness to glaze over past hurt. He graduated and I became a junior. I never thought of him again until about five or six years later, when I was in college it seemed everyone around me was going out in earnest, if not on actual dates at least to random, poorly-defined invitations from the opposite sex. I floated from school to school, country to country, never once kissing or even holding hands with male peers. I began to feel something was amiss. It occurred to me that David the short Vietnamese guy was the first and might possibly be the last person ever to ask me out.

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