By Donald McCarthy
I will admit up front that I omitted and exaggerated a couple of things on my online dating profile. For one, I touched up my pictures in Photoshop. I didn’t change anything drastic; I just made the pictures look a little cleaner. I also boosted my height by a few inches and listed myself at 6’3”.
And I left out that I’m not entirely human.
Don’t get any ideas. I’m not an alien or some sort of monstrous creature of the night. It’s just that something went wrong along the way. Maybe in the womb, maybe before that even, how would I know? Back in school I ran faster than everyone I met and thought faster than even those with the highest of IQs. I puzzled my doctor when he took my blood pressure. I think he went outside for a couple of cigarettes after he wrapped up with me. I also have an extraordinary ability to read others’ feelings. They leak out of them and if I’m paying attention I can understand what they’re feeling. I don’t experience it, that’d be intolerable, but I can sense them well enough.
But what makes me stand out most, the reason I tend to be avoided by most people, is my fingers. They’re long. About seven inches each. Not only that, if I’m not careful they wiggle like seaweed and I have to straighten them out. I left that off my profile, too.
One of the women I met online wrote well and seemed interested in me. We agreed to meet in a diner after messaging back and forth for a while. The diner wasn’t the most glamorous of locations but I think she wanted someplace close by and public. I had my hopes really high with her. She seemed so perfect even though we hadn’t actually met yet. It’d been years since I’d dated someone. Or maybe, if I’m being honest, I’d never really dated someone.
When I went to the diner I took a seat in the third booth from the door. I wore a button down shirt and a pair of black khakis that looked more expensive than they really were. I placed my hands on my lap so they wouldn’t be the first thing my date sees. I prayed she wasn’t planning on shaking hands.
I knew her when she walked in. She wore a red fedora and a black sweater like she said she would in our last email. I smiled instead of waved for obvious reasons.
“Hello,” she said tentatively, removing her hat and placing it on the seat. “I’m Sara.”
“I’m Zach,” I said. “It’s great to finally meet you. I’ve loved talking with you online but I’ve been really looking forward to talking to you in person.” I worried I might sound too eager but damn it I was eager.
“Same here,” she said. “How’d that night on the town go that you mentioned to me?”
Okay, so sometimes I lie, too, but they’re white lies. “Oh, great,” I said, hoping she wouldn’t ask for details. I’d have to start thinking ones up quickly, making sure they didn’t contradict each other. “Lots of fun, I guess. But I’ve been looking forward to this more.”
Sara had black hair that went just below her shoulders and a cute face with very deeply set dark brown eyes that looked almost black. “I’ve been thinking about it all week. It’s been a while since I’ve been out on a date. I hope it doesn’t show.”
“It doesn’t,” I said. But it sure as hell did. She kept pulling on the right side of her hair like an on the loose mental patient. Not that I cared, though. Like I said, she seemed pretty much perfect to me. “So how has your week been?”
“Good enough,” she said. “Nothing too exciting.”
The waiter brought us a pair of menus. I began to browse through mine but barely noticed anything in it. I only snuck part of my hand up so she wouldn’t notice my fingers. “So what made you sign up to a dating site?” I asked.
She shrugged as she paged through her menu. “I don’t know. It’s tough to find people who I’m not only interested in but who are also interested in me.”
I could relate. “Yeah, it’s a common problem.” I flipped the menu closed with only the tip of my finger.
The waiter returned and asked, “Are you ready to order?”
I ordered a hamburger and she ordered a grilled chicken sandwich. I almost asked if she liked chicken but what a stupid question that would’ve been. I had to be on top of my game. I couldn’t let her slip out of my grasp.
“What made you join the site?” she asked.
“Same as you. It’s tough to meet people nowadays. I work from home so there’s not much going on there.” My foot tapped nervously on the floor and I had to make a conscious effort to stop it. “I told you I edit an online journal but did I tell you I’ve sold a couple paintings?”
“Wow, that’s impressive. I wish I had that kind of talent.”
“I’m sure you do. You just haven’t found it yet.”
A feeling of mournfulness came off her but why she felt that I couldn’t tell. “Everyone has a talent. You ever consider writing? I think you might be good at it.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You wrote your emails well.”
She laughed. “Is that right?”
“Compared to some of the others I talked to online, absolutely.”
She winced when I mentioned I talked to others and I immediately regretted it. Jealously didn’t come off her; hurt did, as if I’d slapped her. “I talked to others but you were my favorite,” I said. “I just found you late.”
“I know. I’m being silly.”
The waiter came with our food and I knew she’d have to see my fingers now. A small, stupid part of me hoped she wouldn’t see them but I knew that was ridiculous. I very slowly took my hamburger in my hands as she took a healthy bite out of her sandwich. “This is good,” she said.
I took a bite of my own. “So is this,” I said.
She noticed then. She hid it well but I saw it. She let off surprise but thankfully no repulsion, at least not yet.
“I know,” I said. “They’re weird. I’m sorry.”
“You don’t need to be sorry.”
“They’re weird like that.”
“That’s okay. I’m weird in some ways, too.”
“Not to me.”
“I appreciate that. Did your parents have hands like that, too?”
“No. Just me.”
“I’m not asking too much, am I?”
I shook my head. “Not at all. So long as you don’t leave the table screaming it’s fine.” I half expected her to do that. I don’t even want to think about how I’d feel if that happened. I’d probably just sit there and sob.
“I’m not going to leave the table screaming. That’d be horrible. Have people done that to you?”
“Not exactly but close to it.”
“Hey, you know what they say about people with big hands, right?”
She smiled. “Touché.” She lifted her sandwich again and the sleeve of her sweater fell back a little. I saw a scar on her wrist for just a second. She knew I noticed. “Like I said, I’m weird, too.”
I didn’t say anything for a moment and realized that was a mistake. Sitting there in silence sent the wrong message. “It’s okay. I’m not going to run away screaming either.”
“I’m glad,” she said. She gave off intense anxiety. So intense that I started to get anxious which was an unusual reaction to another person’s feelings. My heart beat slightly faster and I worried she might see a bead of sweat trickle down my forehead.
“It was a mistake,” she said. “I learned.”
“Great,” I said. What else could I say?
“You don’t think I’m crazy, do you?”
I shook my head. I didn’t think she was crazy, I’ve thought about ending it a few times myself. “I think you’re perfect,” I said. Okay, now that was probably a little too strong but she didn’t seem to mind.
I didn’t finish my whole hamburger because of nerves and she didn’t finish her chicken for presumably the same reason. Or at least I hoped.
We talked a little more and I kept my hands once again under the table. I sensed her mood lightning and watched her open up a little more. When the check came she insisted on paying for her own meal.
“I’m quite the feminist in that regard,” she said.
“Do you want to take a walk?” I asked her.
It was chilly outside but not that nasty cold where you can’t even walk around the block. I guided us to the park nearby while she talked a little about her family. To be honest, I only caught half of it because I desperately thought of things I could say that might be witty or interesting. I reached that moment where my brain was frozen after being anxious for a while. Not good, to say the least.
“You okay?” Sara asked me.
“I’m fine.” I clasped my hands behind my back because I didn’t want her to see my fingers getting tangled up as they moved about thanks to my nerves. “So how’s work?”
“It’s good, I guess,” she said. She gave a sad smile from underneath her fedora.
“Do you have a lot of friends there?”
“Not really. Not too many friends in general.”
“Why not?” I asked. Probably too personal a question for the first date but I sensed nothing close to offense from her.
“I don’t know,” she said softly. “I wish I did, I guess. I just don’t. Do you?”
“No,” I said.
“Because either I freak others out or they freak me out. It’s a tough situation to be in. I’m judged by most everyone I meet and, if I’m being honest, I’m a bit judgmental myself.”
“It’s not always bad to be judgmental,” she said.
“God, I hope not.” We laughed together and my anxiety dripped away.
We reached the park at twilight and chose a bench to sit on near the lake. The leaves were colored and drooping, preparing to soon depart their branches. One fell on my head and I brushed it off, still not liking her seeing my hands. “Your fingers really don’t bother me,” she said.
“Just a habit to hide them,” I replied.
“I’m going to ask you a question and it’s going to sound rude but I don’t mean it like that at all. Okay?”
“What, uh, what are you, exactly?” She put her hand through her hair and I caught a glimpse of scars yet again. “I mean you’re not quite the same as other people. You operate differently. I can tell that having only met you an hour ago. Physically, too, and I don’t just mean your fingers. You’re just so different.”
“Does that bother you?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “It intrigues me.”
I chuckled and smiled. “Really? First time someone has said that about me.”
“You don’t think you’re intriguing?”
“Well, I think I’m intriguing but no one else has told me that before. But I suppose you want an answer to your original question.”
“Yeah, kind of.”
I sighed, searching for a decent answer but I’d never found one so far in my life and had little hope I’d find one now. “I’m not sure. I’m not an alien or something. I’m just not exactly human, you know? Sometimes there’s just not an explanation for things.” I debated reaching over, putting my arm on the bench and just touching her shoulder. I wanted to, I really, really wanted. She was just so perfect and after years of having no one to be with I felt an overwhelming need to hug her and thank her for being alive. But I have enough self-awareness to know that anything more than putting my arm around her would be odd. I almost chickened out but I did it. My hand briefly touched the back of her neck and something very horrible happened.
I saw Sara try to commit suicide.
I saw her in her empty apartment with a knife, slicing into her wrists, blood squirting out. This wasn’t a call for help suicide; this was the action of a woman who wanted out of life. The feeling came more intensely than anything I’ve experienced before then and since. My own wrists ached, as if they had been cut. After dissecting her wrists, Sara fell to the floor, bleeding out.
On the bench beside me she met my gaze. She knew what I saw.
“How’d you survive?” I asked her.
“I was talking to a friend on the phone beforehand and she thought I sounded suicidal so called the police. A good thing, I suppose.”
“Wow, I’m glad you survived,” I said. I realized I’d pulled my arm back so I put it around her again. The vision returned. The knife, the slicing, the blood and the pain. It was so real, so vivid that I almost jumped up.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said. But I knew what this meant. I didn’t want to because this was supposed to be perfect. This date was supposed to go perfect. We were supposed to be perfect together. We’d make each other happy and finally I’d have someone.
Yet it’d be impossible for me to see this woman again. I knew that. The feelings she brought to me were so painfully vivid and self-destructive. She was different from everyone else. She affected me on a level I didn’t know anyone had the ability to reach.
“You saw it all, didn’t you?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“I’m sorry. Will you see it whenever you touch me?”
“I think so.”
Her face shivered in despair. “God. I…”
“I don’t think about it anymore. I’m not suicidal.”
“You came close to dying,” I said to her. “Maybe you were almost dead and that left an imprint on you. I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
“Me, too,” she said. “I think you don’t want to see me again, though.”
“I want to but I can’t.”
She tilted her head to the side and her eyes closed. “I wanted you to fall in love with me.”
“You don’t even know me.” But I wanted her to.
“It’s not really rational, is it?”
“No. But I understand why you feel like that.” I paused and then said, “I wanted to fall in love with you, too.”
I thought she might cry but she didn’t. I thought I might cry but I didn’t. She said, “I’m still glad I met you. I had a really nice time.”
“So did I,” I said. “You’re a great person. You’ll find someone spectacular.”
“So will you,” she said.
We both stood up, uncertain who should walk away first. Eventually, I decided it should be me but before I did I grabbed her wrist and placed my fingers on her scars. The images came back to me again, made me feel ill but I did my best to ignore them and said, “Never do this to yourself again.”
“I won’t,” she said. “So long as you won’t.”
At the time I was confused by that but said, “I won’t either.”
“Bye,” she said.
“Bye,” I said. I walked away and didn’t look back. That would’ve been too painful.
I hoped she looked back, though.
The walk to my car was not fun. At first I tried to say to myself that everything was okay. Then, my eyes started to water even though I begged them not to. My throat tightened and my nose ran. “Shit,” I muttered as I walked, wiping at my eyes.
When I got into my car I knew I couldn’t drive yet; my eyes were too moist. I’d built those hopes up way too high. I should’ve known better. I shouldn’t have been so stupid.
I slammed my fist into the dashboard. “I wanted this!” I screamed. “Why won’t you let me have it?!” I have no idea who I screamed to. Finally, I just sobbed, covering my face with my hands in case anyone walked by my car. I went on for quite some time but eventually I just didn’t have any strength left.
Driving home, I wondered if Sara felt like this, too. Had she thought we’d be perfect together? Did she think I was perfect? Did she go back to her car and cry? She walked in the opposite direction so maybe she went further into the park to ruminate. I hoped I didn’t make her do anything stupid.
I still hope that. I’ve never seen her again. It’d be too painful for the both of us. I continue to use the dating site but with much more of a cynical eye. None of the women last beyond a date or two. None of them have been like Sara but I hold out hope that someone soon will be. It seems so stupid that a woman I spent only one night with would affect me like this and yet I find her cropping up in my mind seemingly at random. I just hope I can meet someone like her again. Someone so perfect.But I shouldn’t say that. I’ve learned to not use the word perfect again. A worthy lesson, I suppose. But not one worth the pain of knowing and leaving Sara.
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