Friday, November 25, 2016

Kissing Frogs - Submitted by Stephanie Blackburn


“So I decided to go to law school.”

“And how is that working out? Do you like being a lawyer?” I asked.

“Well I’m unemployed so it’s hard to say.”

I took a sip of wine and openly stared at the guy sitting across from me. He wasn’t necessarily handsome, but there was something about him that bordered on cute. From what I could tell, an hour into our date, he seemed like a decent guy, the kind to pull out your chair before sitting or hold a door for you or maybe even ask for permission to kiss you before doing so. But he also seemed nervous, uneasily shifting in his chair, and I felt like I was asking all of the questions because he couldn’t come up with ones of his own.

“What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for fun?” I asked, trying to change topics and get into the juicy stuff. So far, all I knew about this guy was that he was an unemployed lawyer who liked steak tips. We seemed to have hit a road block and I much preferred to lighten the mood and get on to better topics besides being broke and living with his sister. I also started to wonder if I’d be paying for the meal since I was the only one employed.

“For fun?” He mulled the question over while he chewed on his well-done steak and I wondered not for the first time why my coworker had thought we’d be a good match. Maybe this was some sort of social experiment and I was being studied right this very moment.

“Ok, well, I’ll tell you but you have to promise you won’t judge me.”

I hesitated at those words. I now felt certain that I was being set up.

“I’ll try my best not to.” I peered around the room for familiar faces.

“This might sound crazy to you, but I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to get tasered. You know, like in action movies or comedies how someone gets tasered by the cops.”

“Okay,” I said more to myself than to my date. I wasn’t sure where this was going but I had a weird feeling that we’d come to a juncture where the date was going to begin slip-sliding downhill.
“So I bought a taser gun and tried it. I stuck it against my stomach and pulled the trigger.”

I nearly choked. “You tasered yourself? Like, actually tasered yourself… on purpose?”

“Haven’t you ever wondered what it feels like to have that many volts going through your body?”
I shook my head and tried desperately to keep all judgment off my face, but it was taking all of my focus and I was also trying to chew.

“It’s pretty intense. I couldn’t move for a couple of minutes, until the spasms worked their way out of my body. But man, what a rush.” The look on his face gave me the feeling he’d probably try it again sometime, if he hadn’t already.
I focused on the bowl of mussels drowning in a sea of spicy tomato broth in front of me. I knew if I met his eyes I would either burst into laughter or make a dash for the door and I knew neither was very lady-like. So I studied my dinner.
“That was… for fun.” I plucked a mussel from its shell and popped it in my mouth. I chewed and swallowed before finally looking him in the eye.
“I don’t know if fun is the right term, but you know what I mean.”

In fact, I had no clue what he meant. I thought going out dancing with my girlfriends or sipping cocktails on a patio onNewbury Street was fun, and neither of those included mixing high voltage with my body.

“I’ve also been sky diving, so I guess maybe it’s an adrenaline thing. I don’t know. Being tasered was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It was such a rush. I think it’d be cool see what pepper spray feels like. To see if it’s as bad as they say. It couldn’t be that bad, right?”
He picked a handful of fries off his plate and smiled at me before sticking them in his mouth and beginning to chew.
“Wouldn’t you want to know what it feels like?”
“Pepper spray in my eyeballs?” I waited for him to nod. “No, not really.”
And with that, I mentally checked out of the date.
To be fair, I really did give him a shot. My mother couldn’t begrudge me for that. And even after the talk of tasers and pepper spray I still walked with him to the closest subway stop (affectionately know as the “T” to us Bostonians) and made conversation along the way. But while he was nice to talk to and seemed like a decent guy, I just wasn’t into him. I’d given it a try and I could say without any hesitation that it had not worked out. I wished him the best of luck finding someone with similar interests, but I knew without any shadow of a doubt that he was not me.

* * * * *

“How’d the date go?” Dylan asked when I walked up the stairs into our apartment. She and Sasha were sitting on the couch watching television.
“He likes to taser himself and one day dreams of giving pepper spray a try. How do you think it went?” I said, not even attempting to hid my disappointment, and continued down the hall towards my bedroom.
“Wait, what?” Sasha jumped up off the couch and followed me into my room. “You know how much I love a good story, but you’re making that up, right?”
I shook my head and began rifling through my closet for sweatpants. I couldn’t wait to get out of my pencil skirt and blouse. It had been a really long day, between work and a not-so-awesome date, and the thought of plopping down on the couch in my oldest, most worn-in pair of sweatpants was about as appealing as a date with Ryan Gosling right now.
“I wish I could say I was lying, but it’s one hundred percent true. No exaggeration.”
“Wow.” Sasha climbed onto my bed. “That’s a new one.”
“He wasn’t so bad, really. I mean he was kind of nerdy and seemed like a nice guy, even paid for our meal, which was impressive considering he doesn’t currently have a job. But I wasn’t attracted to him. Couldn’t fathom kissing him. And that whole tasering thing… it’s weird, right?”
“It’s a little weird. But tasering aside, maybe if you gave him a second chance he’d present better? Maybe he was nervous. It was a blind date, after all, and look at you. Maybe if you hadn’t worn that outfit he would have been more relaxed and had less diarrhea of the mouth. You look like cat woman got lawyered up in that skirt. So… you should probably give him a second chance.”
This was exactly what my mother would say, that every guy deserved a second date no matter how poorly the first date went. She also was under the impression that even if you weren’t attracted to a guy at first, you could grow to find them attractive. It takes time, she was fond of saying. But I’d never found that to be true for me. I was either attracted to a guy or not and spending more time with him didn’t change that.
“I think it was his level of awkwardness. He just wasn’t confident at all. And I felt like I had to encourage him. Do you know what I mean? And as much as I enjoy talking, I just wasn’t in the mindset to ask him all the questions. It felt like a straight up interview.”
Sasha nodded. “Yeah, I get it. Do what you want, go on a second date or not. It’s your love life. I’m proud of you for going on the date in the first place. I know how scary blind dates can be.”
Since meeting Sasha in college, I had never known her to date anyone seriously. I don’t think it was for lack of trying, because she did flirt easily and often with guys. But flirtation aside, I couldn’t tell if that upset her or if she was okay with being single. Our third roommate, Dylan, seemed to be going on a date every other night. But where Sasha and I were content spending Thursday evenings on the couch with a pizza split between us, Dylan was always on the go. I swear her mission in life was to meet a man and fall in love and she was going to search all of Boston to find him. Which I guess made me the Goldilocks of our trio – dating just often enough to keep my mother off my back, but not so often that it took time away from the really important things (like drinks with the girls and movie marathons in my favorite sweats).
“Thanks,” I said and pulled a sweatshirt over my head. “Anything exciting happen while I was out with Taserman?”
“Not really. Dylan was telling me about having to deal with a kid at school today who thought it was appropriate to play pocket pool with himself in class. So, you know, just a typical day.”
“Lovely,” I said and struggled to get out of my pencil skirt. “Sounds like everyone’s had a fantastic day.”
“Yeah, well, the week’s almost over.” Sasha stood up and paused at my bedroom door. “Are you going to your grandmother’s on Sunday?”
I nodded and gingerly pulled the small gold hoop from my earlobe.
“Ok, just checking. We have a softball game at two and then we’ll probably head to the bar after if you want to swing by.”
I pulled my hair out of its bun and let my hair fall around my shoulders. There was something about coming home at the end of a rough day, putting on comfy clothes and letting my hair down that just made everything seem like it was going to be okay.
“There’s leftover Chinese food in the fridge if you’re hungry,” Sasha added as an afterthought and headed back down the hall towards the living room.
“I’m full, but thanks. I’ll be out in a minute.” I headed across the hall to the bathroom to wash the day’s grime off my face.


My grandmother and I had a long-standing Sunday date, starting shortly after I graduated from NYU. When the weather permitted, we met at The Four Seasons downtown, along the Common. During the cooler months, basically whenever it rained or snowed, we would have brunch at her house in Charlestown. Sundays were our days to catch up, forget about whatever was going on in the world, and talk about food, friends and family. It was the day I looked forward to most, even if it often meant missing out on softball games and drinking with friends.
The Red Line was running infrequently, it being Sunday, so I was ten minutes late by the time I arrived at the Park Streetstop. I climbed the stairs to the exit two at a time and then took one of the paths through the Common to the hotel. The leaves were just beginning to change and a few had already fallen onto the path. A mother and child passed me in the opposite direction, the little girl pedaling on her tricycle as fast as her legs would allow. Her squeals of delight echoed in my ears long after they disappeared behind me.

I was late before I’d even had to wait for the T. I’d overslept and had trouble figuring out what to wear and I cursed myself now for forgetting a scarf. The weather was changing, Summer a not too distant memory, but the oncoming chill had me wishing for an extra layer of clothing.

I made it to the Four Seasons twenty minutes late. The door slid closed behind me and it was like being transported. If I closed my eyes and just listened to the whisper of music I might think I had traveled back in time to when Bing Crosby was a major crooner. I spotted my grandmother sitting at the lobby bar and quickly made my way over.
“I’m sorry that I’m late, Gram.” I kissed her on the cheek. Her skin was warm and slightly wrinkled from having spent so much time in the sun as a child. Her hair was in its usual French twist, pinned up with a seashell clip, every hair in its proper place.
“You are never late.” She smoothed the stray hairs from my face and tucked them behind my ear. “You arrive when you means to, no matter what that time may be.”
I smiled and nodded. “Well, I’m here now.”
“Then we’re all set, aren’t we? I was just having a lovely conversation with Edward here.” She gestured to the young man behind the bar who stood a little taller and smiled at us. I had seen him working behind the bar a few weeks earlier when I’d come in to meet Gram. He looked like he might be in his early thirties, with a clean-shaven face and neatly cropped hair. He was good looking in an unremarkable way, so that if someone had asked me to describe him later I probably would have drawn a blank.
“Thank you for the drink, young man.”
Edward nodded once and lifted a wicker basket from behind the bar. He handed it over to me and I held it in one hand while helping my grandmother off her stool with the other.
“Thank you.”

We headed toward the hotel’s front door.
On the nice days, days when the weather was nice enough to sit outside without Gram either catching a chill or melting from the August heat, we met at The Four Seasons to pick up a picnic lunch packed by the hotel’s head chef. The items were always different, depending on what was in season. There’d always be two bottles of water and two bottles of sparkling lemonade, but sometimes there would be lobster rolls, Greek salad, grilled sandwiches or gazpacho. It changed every week and kept us guessing. My favorite part was always dessert. Biscotti, cupcakes, a slice of key lime pie or Boston Crème. The entire meal was always outstanding, but waiting for the dessert was what excited me the most, almost holding my breath to see what was packed at the bottom of the basket.
“Shall we?” My grandmother tucked her hand into my elbow and we walked across the street and into the Public Garden. Our favorite spot, if unoccupied, was a bench beneath a weeping willow by the pond. From that bench we could watch the swan boats float in lazy circles and enjoy the tree’s shade. It was near the bridge so we had plenty of people watching, but it was far enough away that we could have a quiet conversation and not be interrupted by the noise of passersby.
“That blind date you had planned for this past week, did it end up happening?” Gram asked as we walked to our empty bench.

It was a sunny, clear-blue sky day though a bit on the cool side, it being early October. Autumn was, in my opinion, the best time for tourists to visit Boston because of the foliage, the crisp air, and the food. Apple crisp, apple pie, apple cider, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin lattes. Like my grandmother, the heat of July in the city made me wilt, so when Autumn came around I was happy to be outside.

“It was okay, I guess.” I shrugged and waited for Gram to sit down before I set the basket between us. I let her do the honors of opening it and pulling out a drink for each of us.

“Dates should never be okay. They are either worthy of a second date or not.” She handed me my bundle of silverware wrapped in a napkin and tied with string before peeking into each container to 
see what we’d been given.

“Well, if I’m being honest, it wasn’t good.”

“Elliott, sometimes you make me feel dreadfully old.”

“Sorry, Gram.” I frowned.

“It’s been so long since I’ve been on a date. The last time I got gussied up for a man… it wasn’t even in this century! Imagine that.”

“I thought Mr. Arnold from Children’s took you to that gala a couple of years ago.”

“That wasn’t a date, dear. That was business.”

Roberta “Bobbie” Whittemore was a staple in Boston society, VP of The Esteemed Ladies of the Hill (what I secretly referred to as the old fart’s club for Boston’s wealthiest ladies), associated with a handful of charities and an avid animal lover. She had never, so she told me, appreciated being named after her father, and donned the name “Bobbie” at a young age to set herself apart. She was the kind of woman who never took no for an answer and I admired her for that. She was a fierce personality, strong in her opinions and determined to make something work once she set her mind to it, and I often wondered how a woman as independent and strong-willed as she was had given birth to my mother, who seemed dependent upon every single person around her.

On our first picnic lunch, shortly after my high school graduation, Gram had stopped me mid-conversation. If we’re to be friends, and now that you’re a young woman I sincerely hope we are, you’re allowed to start calling me Bobbie. Gram is a name for dowdy old women who’ve gone gray and lost their spunk.  Since I am neither of those you can call me by my name, darling. I had assured her that was never going to happen. I loved that she was my grandmother and I refused to call her anything but what she was to me – my Gram. But I also promised her that we were and would continue to be the best of friends. There was no one like her, of that I was sure.

“So what wasn’t good about this date?” She opened a container of what looked to be some sort of spinach and fruit salad, pierced a few leaves with her fork and elegantly took a bite. A smile appeared on her lips after some chewing and she handed me the open container.

“It’s delicious. Some sort of balsamic dressing, I think.”

“The guy was just a dud,” I said and stuck my own fork into the salad. “He told me, without any sort of prodding on my part, that he tasered himself once to see what it felt like and someday wants to try pepper spray to see if it will make him cry.”

“Oh dear,” Gram said and frowned. “Elliott, how do you find these men?”

I sighed. “He was a blind date that my coworker set up. I don’t intentionally go looking for crazies, I swear.”

Gram pursed her lips. “I should hope not. There’s got to be a way to find out about their issues before agreeing to a date, don’t you think? So you’d be able to stop yourself before stepping in the muck.”
I laughed. “There is, Gram. It’s called online dating.”

She shook her head. “No, no. You’re much too young to subject yourself to that. In my day you met men at social clubs and dances. Or at church events. There were no computers to calculate your perfect mate and look how we all turned out. I had forty-two wonderful years with your grandfather and we met the old fashioned way. You have plenty of time to meet a wonderful man, but more importantly, you have plenty of time to discover who you are.”

I wasn’t worried. I mean, I hadn’t been in a relationship since graduating college, but I was only twenty-four. I didn’t see myself getting married for at least another five years and that would give me plenty of time to date a couple of guys and find the right one. So for now I was okay with dating, even if it meant a crazy or two found their way into the shuffle.

“I’m working on that.” I took a sip of my water.

A swan boat was slowly turning at the edge of the pond. The seats were filled with families gazing at the yellow and red trees around the pond and pointing at the ducks. I wasn’t quite sure why people waited in line to take a turn on the boats when it was just as relaxing to sit on a bench along the pond’s edge. Cheaper, too.

“Here, try some of this. Barley salad I think.” Gram handed me an open mason jar, this one filled with small chunks of vegetables mixed into a grain of some sort. I could taste a hint of lemon when I took a bite.

“Cous cous, maybe?” I offered.

Gram shrugged. It wasn’t important.

“The Sanctuary is having an event next weekend in the South End if you’re available. There are going to be a handful of vendors, a food truck, I think, though I don’t really understand the appeal of eating food cooked inside of a truck but you young people seem to enjoy it.” She waved the tangent away. “We need volunteers to help out with the adoptions. We could certainly use your help, if you don’t already have plans.”

Gram’s eyes widened in her typical I want something and I’m going to wait right here until you say yes way and I couldn’t help but laugh.

“I’m sure I’m free. Especially if there are puppies involved.”

“Lovely,” she said and smiled over her lemonade. “You know, being a grandmother is such a pleasure when you have a granddaughter as special as you.”

She reached out and squeezed my hand across the picnic basket.

“I bet you say that to all your grandchildren,” I said and squeezed back.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Stephanie Blackburn lives in Boston, Massachusetts with her two cats, Bug and Beans. She has a borderline unhealthy relationship with good quality chocolate and her favorite method of procrastination is baking. She is the author of YA novels I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND and SUMMER AT 19. 


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