The Date

Did you ever walk down the street with your boyfriend and think, “I’ve got this figured out! I get it!”

I did! I had that feeling! N was back after a couple months away, and it was like we just picked up where we left off. This particular afternoon, I watched him pack his backpack with strawberries, whipped cream, brie, a baguette, a bottle of champagne and two champagne flutes. We held hands walking up the scenic, winding streets to Washington Park for Symphony in the park (I can’t make this shit up- it really happened). He spread out a light blue blanket on the ground in between two pink rose bushes and smiled as he sprawled across the grass. I stood there for a minute wondering if this was real life. The musicians started playing Mozart, and we ate our strawberries and drank our champagne, laughed as we shared stories about our lives. It was absolutely perfect. I truly thought to myself, “Wow, my life could not get any better than this moment.”

Around what I can only assume was the middle of the symphony’s set, we started to notice that a senior care home had brought some of their residents to enjoy the day as well. They had brought chairs and were setting them up wherever they could fit in the rose garden. Many of them looked tired from the trip, but eager to get settled and relax. Before we knew it, N and I were surrounded by wheelchairs. Not that it mattered. We had been there for well over an hour already, it was time to share the space. We pulled the blanked in and moved closer to each other so that more people could fit. A lot of these men and women thought N was military because he was sporting a buzz cut and was coming off of running season. He was telling them all that no, he was not in the military, he was here from Ireland. Loneliness is probably one of the worst things a person can experience, and some were felt so lonely. So we talked to all of them, listening to where they came from and finally wishing them well, as it was time to go. But just as N leaned in to kiss me over the last of the champagne, Fred, one of our new friends, leaned in to talk to us and tipped over sideways in his wheelchair, landing on top of me. He apologized profusely in my ear while he was trying to get up, pushing his hands into my back and through my hair, and though pinned to the ground, I appreciated the kindness. N helped him off of me and back into his chair. The aids checked to make sure he was okay, and I tried to play it as cool as a girl who just got unexpectedly crushed during one of the most romantic moments of her life.

N knelt down in front of me and said, “How’s your head?”

UGH!!!

All I could mutter was, “Fine.” I tried to smile but I wasn’t really fine, my head was killing me. I pushed myself up on to my knees, then made myself stand up. We had become the entertainment and much of the audience was now looking at us. N quietly packed up what remained of our picnic, I offered Fred the rest of our strawberries and then we bid him adieu. That was a long, awkward walk home.

The next day N took me for a walk downtown. He pulled me into a jewelry store and, nodding at the woman behind the counter, turned to me asked, “If you could choose any ring, which one would it be?”

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The Balloon

“Time to get up,” N whispered in her ear.

She didn’t move. He tried again.

“Babe, Hil, time to wake up.”

He kissed her cheek and wrapped his arm around her.

“What time is it?” she managed from the pillow.

“It’s 5 A.M. Taxi will be here in a half hour.”

She didn’t move.

“Come on.” He rubbed her back, making her want to stay there even more.

“I can’t. Just tell me what it is we’re doing and where we’re going and I’ll get up.”

Then it hit her- he had planned something!! He had actually made plans without her knowledge and wanted to surprise her. She was smiling now. But it was 5 A.M.

“I’m serious, you need to get up. If we miss this cab we could miss it all together.”

She moaned and rolled out of bed completely naked. She managed to make it to the bathroom and flinched as she adjusted to the bright, fluorescent lights. Maybe one drink too many last night. Her curly hair was everywhere. How could she possibly be ready in 30 minutes? She quickly showered, to get the bar smell off of her, and brushed on some mascara. She didn’t have time to wash her hair, so she just swooped half of it back with a clip. Not too bad. Not great, but not too bad either. Now clothes. It was early morning, so it was cool outside. N was already dressed and ready. He sat in a chair looking out the window at the city below. He looked so handsome. She felt an overwhelming urge to drag him back to bed. She walked over and sat on his lap and kissed him. A deep, open mouth kiss that would have normally lead to more. He moaned and grabbed both of her arms and stood her up. He was insistent on making this taxi. Who in their right mind plans something for 5:30 in the morning?

“Fine.”

She finally threw on her jeans and a white tee-shirt, grabbed a sweater as the clock turned to 5:30. They held hands down the hall, and he kissed her on the elevator. The taxi was waiting outside the apartment building. This is when H actually started to get excited. They drove through the city, got on the 405, and before they knew it, they were in Aurora, Oregon. As they pulled into a field, H read the words Portland Rose Hot Air Balloon on the side of a box truck.

“N, you wouldn’t actually book a hot air balloon ride, would you? After I told you I’m deathly afraid of heights? You wouldn’t do that, right?”

“Surprise.” He was very excited and it showed all over his smiling face.

They paid for the cab, walked out into the field and were instructed to take a piece of colored fabric from the truck, and walk until it was stretched across what looked like an acre of land. H saw a man pull out a wicker basket from the back of the truck. Other couples were doing what they were told, helping to put this monstrosity together, but she stood shaking.

Her chest was tight, her legs were numb. She could feel herself getting lightheaded. She started having flashbacks to those red-eye flights from Portland to Dallas, Dallas to Pittsburgh; Portland to San Francisco, San Francisco to Dallas, Dallas to Pittsburgh; Portland to Chicago, Chicago to St. Louis; Portland to Denver; all alone and absolutely terrified as the plane shook over the Rocky Mountain Range. She looked at N. He was beaming. She cringed. She was sick to her stomach. The entire field started to spin. She started to think about possibly placing one foot in the weaved basket, and then the other. If she could just visualize herself there, getting off the ground with N by her side, and landing safely, maybe she would be okay. But there was the whole, what’s going to happen once the balloon is off the ground? She started to feel the sick rising in her stomach. Her palms were sweaty. Her forehead was starting to pound. The field was spinning faster and faster. She looked at N.

“N, I’m not doing this. I’m telling you, I’m not going up in that thing. I can see through the freaking basket. I’m not going.”

“Relax, it’s supposed to look like that. It’s fine. You’re going.” He smiled. But the look on her face made him think she might not go.

In a matter of minutes, everything was together- the fabric, the nuts and bolts, the basket- and the balloon was standing tall, heat being thrust into it, ready for passengers.

“Okay everyone, it’s time to load up! You’re about to become members of a very special club!” Our balloon crew man, Derek, was eager to get in the air.

“Okay, well, I’m not going,” H said. Everyone just stared at her from inside the balloon. They had all crawled over the side and into the basket. Derek looked at her incredulously and said, “I’ve been doing this for over 15 years and I’ve never had anyone not go! Hop in, you’ll love it!”

“No.”

All eyes on her, even N.

“No, I’m not going in that thing.”

You could have heard a pin drop in the middle of that grass.

“Well, what do you want to do?” Asked Derrick, “You can’t stay here.”

“She can come with me! If she doesn’t want to go, she can come with me,” a woman driving a ford pick-up yelled from the truck window behind her. “I follow the balloon and pick them up when they land. If you want, you can ride with me.” The woman was talking directly to H, and she was very grateful.

H looked N. He was furious. But that didn’t stop her from running to the truck, opening the passenger side door, and climbing in.

“Wait, you’re going?” N asked incredulously.

He ran after her in the silver pick-up.

“Yeah, I’m not going up in that thing.” She felt better just saying it! Whew. Now she felt guilt. “You go, you’ll love it. You love flying. I’ll see you back on the ground.”

His face fell even further as he realized she wasn’t going to be persuaded. Then he got mad. He had spent an obscene amount of money on what he thought was a once in a lifetime surprise for the woman he loved, and it had backfired. Maybe she really did hate flying. I guess this was one of the downfalls of only knowing each other for two months.

Derek stood in the middle of the two of them, watching this girl drive away with Sarah, and her poor guy climb into the basket of Derek’s favorite balloon, alone. I’ll let him pull the cord, he thought to himself.

H had a great time talking with Nancy, the woman who drove the truck. She thought it was great that H didn’t go up in the balloon, and H was happy to see some of the Oregon landscape outside the city. They went to a couple farms and enjoyed a coffee. And the entire time, she could look up and see N in the clouds above.

N was in the sky by himself, pulling the cord that pushes heat into the enormous balloon above. He was angry with himself for thinking this would be a more romantic morning, but he couldn’t deny the spectacular views. He would certainly never forget the day.

An hour later they were back on the ground. Once the trucks had been loaded up with everything (including the balloon), they headed to Derek’s farm. There waiting for them was a champagne brunch. Derek, who had done this at least 100 times before, made a toast to the new members of the balloon club, and to the one person who defied 15 years of reason. H raised her glass and smiled. She had shown N that she wasn’t perfect, and allowed herself forgiveness for her fault. If this relationship was going to last, they needed to truly know each other. Flying was H’s deal breaker. At the very least, today had shown N the truth about herself. They were both better for it.