I Saw You: The Girl in the Paule Attar Parking Lot

I was leaving the salon as you arrived. You were walking from your car in the parking lot as I walked to mine, and even from a distance, from across the lot, I knew there was something amazing about the moment we were walking into. It was obvious you were gorgeous, but as we approached each other it wasn’t your being generally beautiful that drew me – it was your smile. Our eyes locked, we smiled, we passed, and though you were gone I couldn’t stop smiling.

It wImageas the late nineties, when the Internet was just beginning to explode and I worked as a developer writing code for a news site. I worked hard, but I’d also take an occasional day off to go fishing or sailing or snowboarding. I drove a cool red Jeep. I was 30 and single and for the first time in my life I had extra money. Occasionally I’d spend a hundred bucks on a massage and a haircut at a nice downtown salon, and if the stars aligned (which they did exactly once), I’d share a smile with a beautiful girl in the parking lot. 

I couldn’t get your smile out of my head, but I kept on with my day – my next appointment being the blood bank just down the street. I told the nurse about you and how I regretted not saying something or stopping, using our smiles as  a conversation, maybe forgetting my blood-donating appointment altogether to ask you to put off your hair appointment for a drink or a cup of coffee. And the nurse said, “She’s probably still there, right?” Yes, girl hair takes a long time, I remembered. 

I’m blessed with huge veins for ease of blood-giving and a slow-beating but large and efficient heart. The greenest lab tech in the world can find the vein in my left arm and have a pint of my blood in about eight minutes, poke-to-cookie. In this case, I may have squeezed the ball extra hard to fill the bag in five. I got that blood out and wolfed down my cookie and glass of juice and was out the door before considering how little I’d eaten that day. But the situation called for an immediate gesture, and once the idea got into my head…. 

I sped to a grocery store that had a good floral department and had the girl arrange a spring bouquet, orchid-heavy, while I wrote. What did I say on the card? I have no idea. I suppose I would have said: 

Can’t get your incredible smile out of my head. I hope you’ll call. 

And my name and number. 

As I was writing the card I got dizzy and hot. I almost passed out from lack of blood, lack of food, dehydration and a rush of whatever other chemicals your smile had put into my system. The flower girl saw I’d turned white and had me sit on an upside-down bucket in the walk-in refrigerator for a few minutes to cool off, to get my head together. She and the manager brought me some water and asked me to stay longer, to be sure I was okay before driving, but I didn’t want to miss you. 

When I walked into the salon again, still a little dizzy, carrying the flowers, I think you were sitting there at the other end of the place but I didn’t know for sure, your hair in curlers or foil or something amongst five other girls in curlers or foil who also could have been you. You told me later on the phone that your heart skipped when I walked in. You thought I was bringing the flowers for someone else. You said to your stylist: “I wish those were for me.” I didn’t want to look right at you, didn’t want to give myself away or risk smiling again at the wrong girl. I made a quiet attempt to describe you to the girls at the front desk. I remember their blushes, their knowing, conspiratorial smiles when they knew for sure who you were. 

I wish I hadn’t been so eager to know you better. I wish I hadn’t known so much about the Internet. That night, after our nice talk on the phone, the short but perfect conversation of two people who don’t know each other but are willing to learn, I wanted to write you. I searched for your company, saw how they formatted their email addresses and guessed yours. I sent you a short note. Just a Hi, is this you? Looking forward to seeing you again. To you, this was invasive, creepy. Maybe it was; I was still a little off and lacking blood – the donated pint having been previously assigned to my brain. Your reply questioned how I’d gotten your email address, as if I’d hired a detective or something. And in the end you said you were getting back together with your ex boyfriend anyway. 

I think about you often, or at least sometimes a vague idea of you floats in and back out of my head, and I don’t think I’ll completely forget you or that day. Not just because I learned you can only push a romantic notion so far before it’s creepy, but because you represent what I think is greatest about being single: the opportunity for spontaneous infatuation, and having fun with life and maybe even the prospect of finding love. More than anything, though, you’re a reminder of what a beautiful smile can do.

Hurricane Kate

This is a vignette from a few years ago, but one of my favorites, and the idea of being loved… forever is something I’ve been thinking a lot about, lately.

I was stranded, waiting for better weather to cross the bar and make my way south around Cape Mendocino. Tired of my canned Costco boat food, I somehow found my way to Hurricane Kate’s (“Dining with a twist”) in downtown Eureka. It was an amazing lunch, and I was so immersed in my sweet potato fritters that I almost didn’t notice you come in, but the host and the chef made a show of welcoming you at the door, like they knew you well, saw you often.

You may have been a starlet in the fifties, and even at seventy, eighty, you carried yourself like a princess in the best sense of the simile – the Grace Kelly / Diana sense. Your hair was mostly white. You wore expensive gray pants and against the backdrop of a black turtleneck you wore delicate and sensible lunchtime pearls.

The host seemed to ask you with a look of concern: “Where is … today?” and you smiled sweetly, looked down a bit. You might have suggested that he was under the weather. But somewhere behind your smile there was a bit of sadness, like his weather was somehow, brutally, more permanent.

I couldn’t help thinking of a story from several years ago on This American Life: a couple is together for over fifty years, and when she dies he follows, naturally, the next day, exactly as he said he would. It’s hard to believe, sometimes, that sort of love exists.

The host seated you alone at a table by the window, and for several minutes I just watched you. You stared out the window as if you were waiting, and I wanted to join you or ask you to join me, to listen if you wanted to talk, even if not about him but about anything. I was sure you had stories to tell.

In the end, after all, you were joined by someone who must have been your daughter, and I stopped thinking about you as much and started considering what it would be like to be so loved, so taken care of, so fussed about before you dressed and reluctantly left my bedside to meet our daughter for lunch. And even if I only conjured him, creating the backstory of his sickness and inferring your concern, to be able to imagine the accomplishment of something like a lifetime of your love was well worth the walk from the marina and the price of a long, thoughtful lunch.