“So… I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” Sophie said.
“Yeah, see you tomorrow,” I answered. For a moment, she stood there, hesitant, and her eyes – blue as the sky on a clear summer day – stared at me, pleading like a dog would for a piece of chocolate. But nothing happened; the moment passed. She left.
And that was my first missed opportunity to ask Sophie out. Whenever I was with a girl and there was a possibility of going beyond a simple friendship, I always blacked out. My mind was like a computer. The problem was that the program GIRLS was never properly installed, and so when the time came to step up to the plate, as with Sophie, a pop-up flashed in my mind: ERROR! SYSTEM WILL SHUT DOWN IN 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … and fade to black. I became as incompetent as the veggies from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
After I left Sophie that afternoon, I wanted to be left alone, wanted to be in my room, the land of freedom, where I could ponder for hours on end and think of a plan to remedy my disease. Because that’s what I saw timidity as – a disease. And I wanted, like any scientist confronted with a newly discovered illness, to find a cure. So I raced to my room like a Formula 1 car would to the finishing line, only making a pit stop in the kitchen to refuel my stomach.
My hunger appeased, I listened to Led Zeppelin’s Since I’ve Been Loving You, the loud Jimmy Page guitar solos seeping through the paper-thin walls of my fort of freedom and invading the rest of the tranquil house. No one cared; the song is great. Although somewhat soothed, I was still furious with myself. If I didn’t act soon, I would become the laughing stock of the school. I decided I couldn’t endure letting this disease live in me like a parasite, taking away so much but giving me nothing in return. I would fight it and beat it, if that was the last thing I did.
The second missed opportunity came the very next day, in spite of my warrior-like determination to hunt the parasitical timidity and use it as a punching ball until it bled to death. I walked Sophie home after school, conversing with her while at the same time wishing we’d be attacked by Ted and Nelly, the school bullies, and that I would single-handedly defend Sophie and beat the two boys. But the only potential adversary that crossed our path was a cute rabbit. Sophie being an over-active member of PETA, I don’t think attacking it would have helped my cause. Upon reaching her house we both stopped, as if eternally immobilized, like statues. I knew she was waiting for me to act, but my mouth, desperately trying to emit any kind of intelligible sound, only shot blanks.
The moment was ephemeral. She turned away and walked the short path to her front door at the pace of a turtle, her slow stride tormenting me as I stared. I was weakened and disheartened by my new failure, but the predominant feeling, the one that flowed through every vein of my body, rapidly expanding from my heart to the tip of my toenails, was that of anger. I closed my eyes, took long heavy breaths, and waited. I thought my bones would grow, that my skin would turn cucumber green, that I would become the Incredible Hulk. But in the still darkness of my closed eyelids, I remained the simple, timid boy that I always had been. My head low, my eyes fixed on the pavement, I dragged my feet home.
On the way, for some inexplicable reason, I thought of the only Latin sentence I knew: Carpe Diem. Seize the day! A surprise attack by a faint smile victoriously battled sorrow off my face; I knew what I would do. If I couldn’t ask Sophie out face to face, I would cowardly hide behind technology to do so. I reached for my Nokia, proud and confident, but by the time I was dialing the number (this was before speed-dial, ladies and gents), my fingers were trembling. Still, I managed to finish it.
After the ring, a voice leapt out of the phone and into my ear. “Hello?” It was Sophie.
I still had the opportunity to hang up and run away to a distant country – the world’s a big place – but the ounce of bravery that had been successfully hiding in me thus far surged out of its hiding spot and usurped cowardice.
So I asked, “Sophie, will you go out with me?”
The God called for a time-out. My body became Niagara Falls as beads of nervous sweat poured down from all over. My hands quivered and I feared I would drop the phone, while my legs turned French on me and went on strike, so I sat down in the middle of the sidewalk, waiting.
Then an over-excited voice – Sophie’s voice – answered, “yes.”
And so that was all it took: gut. I was as excited as a Red Sox fan must have been when Boston broke the Curse of the Bambino and won the World Series. The fact that Sophie and I broke up only a week later doesn’t matter; the program GIRLS was finally installed. But then again, there are always computer bugs!