That summer, one of the exhibits at the sculpture garden was a palace of steel beams and translucent bead curtains. At night, they lit the beads from below so that the whole structure shimmered like costume jewelry.
My mother’s theory was that the man I met there was married. That’s why he stopped calling. He was tall and blonde and blue-eyed with meticulously ironed shirts, and our first date, after this meeting, was on the Fourth of July. In the first few minutes of our first date we realized we didn’t have any bug spray, so we stopped by a skyscraper in downtown Minneapolis and he placed his index finger in front of a sensor; that’s when the elevator shot us up to the eighteenth floor.
“I just work for a company that happens to makes bug spray,” he said, handing me a bottle with a gleaming smile. “OFF?” I read. “Seriously? What do you do for –” “We should go,” he said, ushering me back into the elevator. Wooosh.
Later we’d meet up at my parents’ house and walked to the Interlachen Country Club in a giant rowdy caravan of relatives and kids. He’d play leap-frog with the children and drape a crisp linen jacket over my shoulders. When we laid our heads onto the velvet green of the golf course, fireworks burst overhead like violent magnolias. That was our first date.
Don’t we sound rich?
Rich and beautiful?
I usually wore boys’ t-shirts (size medium, from the Goodwill) in those days, but that night I wore a pale blue skirt with pink flowers and a sweet-buttoned cardigan.
“He’s very handsome,” everyone said slyly. “Where’d you find this guy?”
“Oh, you know. In the sculpture garden at midnight,” I replied.
Now is when I will be honest with you. I could not pick this guy out of a lineup. His face has melded with every other blonde, blue-eyed model-type I’ve met. My brain just has a certain setting for this combination of features: not important.
Fact. He may have been married. I never found out what he did for Johnson & Johnson. I don’t even remember his first name. What did we even talk about? I think maybe the history of St. Paul? Is that him in my memory, placing a hand on my shoulder, pointing at the Pilsbury sign glowing against the skyline?
I didn’t care about details at the time. He could have been anyone. I just hoarded nice stories.
This is how I would find true love: I’d go places, alone. It was so incredibly easy. I bubbled over the top with love and it seemed to just hit whoever was standing in the way. Once when I was sixteen, I went to the movie theater. A boy came running into the lobby wearing a bear suit, pounding on glass, doing flips. He took off his mask and grinned at me. “Whatcha seein’?” he asked, gum clacking.
I have never had a one-night stand, but I was a real floozy when it came to hand-holding.
That summer I was nineteen, and I lived with my parents. It was an emotionally trying summer for many reasons: work-related, romance-related, complicated I’m-19-related. In the evenings, I’d try to get out of the house to sort things out, but I was also economically-challenged, and under twenty-one. So one night I went where we always went in high school: the sculpture garden.
It’s possible that the sculpture garden closes at some point during the night, but I’ve never stayed late enough to see it. It’s a maze of green rooms and open spaces with one main pathway leading to the cherry-balancing-on-top-of-a-spoon fountain. Towering twisted metal can be found along the way, words carved into marble, a large wooden swing. There are always others there, groups, wanderers.
That summer, one of the exhibits at the sculpture garden was a palace of steel beams and translucent bead curtains. At night, they lit the beads from below so that the whole structure shimmered like costume jewelry. The surrounding green grass buzzed with crickets and electric night things.
I parted a curtain like a spirit. Yes, I thought. This.
I ran my hands along the beads. They clacked gently against the night sky.
The beads were very bright; outside of them everything glowed amber. That’s how I saw his face. He was on the other side, smiling at me.
It was then all as if we’d rehearsed it. We played a silent sort of hide-and-go-seek in the glowing plastic palace. I shuffled to one room, him into another. One of us would reveal a hand or foot through the curtains and disappear again. Magic tricks.
Eventually, his friends called. I took my notebook and wandered to a park bench, where he would find me later, and sit down next to me.
“What are you writing about?” he asked.
I smiled evasively.
“I’d like to see you again,” he said.
The three or four dates we went on were unlike any other days I’d experienced thus far in my life; it was playing grown-up. I carried a purse. He took me to a restaurant on an island and ordered wine. He held open doors and pulled out my chair for me like it was 1920. We strolled the city for hours, talking, talking about what? I don’t remember.
He reached for my hand once and I thought “why does everyone say this is so difficult?” I leaned my head on his shoulder and glanced toward the skyline, everything falling into place.
“See that neon sign?” he asked.
Perhaps it’s odd for me to say when he didn’t call, it was also a very easy thing? I barely even noticed. Weeks went by. I decided to commit to someone else. I was going to move back to New York for school. I called him out of a vague sense of courtesy and when he didn’t pick up, I didn’t leave a message.
“I can’t believe that man never called you back,” my mom said, then. “You know, I think he was married. How old was he, anyway? Maybe just recently married. A little scared.”
“Meh,” I shrugged.
I packed my bags, threw on a t-shirt. Summers went by.