Crystal lights, glittering evergreens capped in dazzling, pointy stars: when Christmas peeks around the corner, dreams meet the world below.
Half past age sixteen, I was more anxious than excited for the best day of the year. Because in precedence to that, I'd have to haul myself over an unexpected challenge.
My first date. Ever.
I'd been asked out before: movies, restaurants, hanging out behind Walgreens. This was different.
In October, I'd met Ethan at a high school dance. Hazel eyes, a dinosaur obsession, freckles and meticulously combed hair -- he was a hit with the girls in my group. Somehow we became friends.
I'd been crushing on him ever since. I never expected that he had felt the same way. And here was my chance to do something right, like a normal teenager, not some weird nerd with frizzy curls and crimson-red acne.
That Saturday, I woke up bright and early with a hundred simultaneous emotions. My hormonal teenage brain was like Pandora’s box: ready to split open and release a nightmare of flighty responses.
Two hours later, I shaved everything. Everything. It took forever, because I was still relapsing from No-Shave November. Little did I know, there’s usually no reason to shave on a first date, specifically for a shy, inexperienced sixteen-year-old.
The hair on my head gobbled up hours of hard work. I fried it into submission, and poured in special Indian coconut oil for extra shine.
Underneath a million gleaming boxes laid my mother’s palette of blue eyeshadow. I whipped it out and tried to look like a Vogue model.
As a self-proclaimed “art kid”, how hard could it be?
The previous week, I'd gone shopping for a date outfit. Madeline, from eight houses down the street, strolled along. She gleaned racks of fashionable paradise and plucked a plain, dark V-neck. “Isn't this what you're looking for?”
“Madeline Schmidt, you genius!” I shrieked in pure bliss. Seconds later, the blouse disappeared from sight, hunkered safely in my plaid, turquoise purse.
At home, I examined the purchase carefully. It looked a whole lot like my six other black, long-sleeve shirts.
Shrugging, I pulled out baggy ripped jeans and big, gold hoops. They looked great with ratty old Converse, at least in my mind.
After a hasty stroke of glimmery watermelon gloss, I was ready to roll. With a nervous sigh, I climbed into the horrendous family minivan, a Toyota Sienna, and waited for disaster to strike.
My mom whistled the whole way. She had no clue I was approaching a night of sheer embarrassment. In fact, she didn't know about the date, oreven that I’d realized cooties aren’t real.
At the train station, I muttered encouraging words under my breath. Deep breath, one step. Deep breath, another step. I could see his fluffy blonde hair sticking up from half a mile away.
Then came the butterfly effect, quickly flying up to my throat. I didn't just have a frog in there. I had a zoo of fluttering creatures. Ethan turned and spotted me.
“Hey! I bought your ticket,” he grinned, perfect white smile and all.
I looked at the printed square, then at him. Then the square again.
“Thanks,” I stammered, shoving it into a pocket. The sound of a train taking off filled my ears. “Oh, we're gonna’ be late!”
Running to the platform, the wintry air no longer whispered through my bones. We'd missed the stop. I panicked. Had I ruined the date?
“The next one will be fine,” Ethan shrugged, calm as ever.
I smiled and started talking about my favourite nuclear apocalypse videogames.
At ZooLights, the Christmas “date place” for Portlanders, we stumbled into the longest line I’d ever seen.
Suddenly, my prince, in his fitting signature beige jacket, changed topics. He asked me what I liked to do in my free time.
Oh, boy. Here came the word-vomit I’d discussed with my friend Hannah the minute I was asked out. We’d been creeping down past Rock Creek Corner, clad in short-shorts and headed to the courts.
“Hannah, what if I don’t have anything to talk about?” I had complained, spinning stiff, hair-sprayed locks into a tangled bun. “What if I run out of stuff to say?”
“You’re the girl who wants to go to college in Alaska,” she chuckled. “Who wouldn’t want to hear about that?”
I’d been brought to peace then. This second, however, I was breaking down with the millions of spontaneous dialogue options to pick from.
“Well, I really want to do roller derby someday,” I began. “With pink roller skates, rainbow shoelaces... and I’ll play tennis with them, too.”
“That sounds amazing,” he replied with a laugh -- the genuine kind. Score! “I need to see that. Listen, my sister has roller skates. Maybe you could try them on.”
I blushed and pointed out that a sloth looks like the kind of animal that would kill you in your sleep. He giggled again, for whatever reason.
Through the decorative route, we found out that neither of us liked children, that both of us devoured comics like lunatics. We loved biology and soft music and cared about the environment. I was surprised at how much I'd opened up.
Afterwards, I convinced him to walk through downtown Portland to scour the famous food carts. He reached for my hand, which was cold and clammy. It was both awkward and comforting.
We sat in front of the mesmerizing city Christmas tree, his beloved coat strewn romantically over my shoulders.
It was fun, that scary first date. I think that boy taught me a lot of things, like how kisses aren't so frightening, how Orcas are actually dolphins. He convinced me to shed unpleasant blue eye shadow; he enjoyed my nerdy personality, explainable insecurities and unruly, frizzy curls.
We ended up together for eight happy months. I turned seventeen. He turned seventeen. In time, we applied to fancy colleges, flipped through shiny brochures of exaggerated dorms.
This holiday season, I’m still wondering what he's doing, where he is. I still wonder how you can call someone a stranger and then want to spend your life with them in a matter of months.
I still wonder how relationships are so funny: terrifying and petrifying and very, very lovely, all at the same time.