The Passenger Seat Decision, Day 600ish
The passenger seat: a place where a girl makes some of her most important dating decisions. Sometimes she decides what her first impression is. Sometimes she decides if she likes the conversation or the music or the way he smells. The most important decision seen by the passenger seat is the one made on the drive home. She thinks of the boy next to her, who will soon be walking her to her front door. She thinks of the couple with them in the backseat, who will soon be watching them walk to her front door. She thinks of the date, of all of the little occurrences, of the boy’s characteristics and how they make her feel and whether or not it all adds up to that kiss goodnight.
I’m new to the passenger seat decision. I’ve recently turned officially sixteen years old. That means I can officially go on official dates… as opposed to the unofficial ones I’ve pretty much already been going on. I don’t need to look to my left to see Ryan. I can look straight ahead and see him a thousand different places doing a thousand different things.
It’s Sadie Hawkins time and my first date has to be everything I’ve ever dreamed and more, beginning with the all-out creative, “Will you go to the dance with me?” tactics. My friends and I send our potential dates on a treasure hunt through the local grocery store. We decide we’ll be clever and watch from the window of a corner booth at the little fast food place next to the grocery store. I don’t know what we expect to see. We only want to be a part of it somehow. We perch ourselves on the windowsill, noses practically pressed to the glass, knees making the vinyl seats squeak beneath us. We watch our potential dates walk into the store together and we wait. We stare out at the store front imagining them running through the aisles trying to decipher clues like, “Pink hearts, yellow stars, and even red balloons- hurry up and get there and don’t forget your spoons.” We want to see them when they come out of the store, carrying the final clue that reveals our identities, and to watch their faces for what we hope will be smiles.
Suddenly, from across a quarter block of paved parking lot, we see Ryan come out of the store. It can’t have been long enough for them to finish the hunt already! We watch with utmost curiosity. He turns in the direction of the fast food place. He looks directly at the window, where our peering eyes must be only barely visible to him and he extends his arm, waving it back and forth with exaggeration. We gasp and fall from the window in complete surprise. We scream and we crouch and we giggle. How did he know we were here? A look of wonder comes over my face at his small action, extraordinary to me. What does it say about him? Does it mean that he’s that perceptive? That he’s that smart? That he’s that connected to me? The one thing I know for sure is that it means he looked past the clues, the little game, the people he was with, the commotion of the grocery store… to wonder where I was. In all of that, he was thinking of me.
On the date we go four wheeling. We eat a fancy picnic of fillet mignon. At the dance themed “Under the Sea” some teachers do a fundraiser where you pay a dollar and, in the name of King Neptune, they marry you to your date for the night.
With a sly smile, Ryan asks them if the marriage includes all of the married privileges. As prim and proper as I am, I can’t help but laugh at his easy way and his bold sense of humor. It’s that Ryan, with all of the confident mischief that makes me want to grab him by the shirt front and yank him toward my eager lips.
However it won’t be that Ryan on my front porch this evening. I know because Ryan has kissed me a couple of times. Just short, soft kisses. The kind that are the trepidatious beginning of something. There’s this new look that comes over his face. Attractive… but so different. It has this unfamiliar softness. It makes me step back. It makes me wonder if I’m trusting a stranger, or replacing a best friend with a possible traitor. Because he’s being careful, because he’s finessing me, sometimes the unfamiliar look is coupled with a look of uncertainty that I’ve never seen on Ryan’s face. It’s like that look doesn’t belong there. As I sit in this passenger seat, staring straight ahead and only seeing Ryan’s face with that terrible uncertainty on it, I feel panic rise in me. He’s the one who is so sure about us. If that’s doubt I see on his face, if it’s fear, it translates to my own terror. I can’t face that look. I can’t face that new person. I want to turn and run.
We pull up in front of my house, and that’s just what I do. A hurried thank you, a wave goodbye and I run to my house. I fling open the door, jump inside and close it behind me. I’m saved from the unfamiliar, from the uncertain.
That’s my passenger seat decision… the one I’ll have to find a way to explain, tomorrow.