My hands are icicles. I’m in constant complaint about the frigid indoor temperatures of the law school. It seems impractical and environmentally irresponsible to fill 10,000 square feet of classrooms with freezing, artificial air when the outside temperature never exceeds 85 degrees Fahrenheit. On a day where I comfortably walked to campus in a tank top and cotton skirt, I shouldn’t have to bring a hoodie to sit inside.
It’s Wednesday and the last ten minutes of law and sexuality are dragging at an excruciating pace. I can’t focus on anything but getting to the patio to warm myself like a reptile at sunrise after a cold desert night.
When we’re finally dismissed I’m practically sprinting up the staircase, I’ve got pretty good speed and momentum when I’m abruptly stopped at the top by a human-body bottleneck. I’m temporarily detoured by the wave of movement generated by too many people trying to squeeze through too narrow a space.
It’s the hallmark of mobility in Los Angeles.
I get bumped and jostled in what feels like an upstream struggle until I’m coughed out into an open space between the student lounge and the women’s bathroom. I notice Nick and the beautiful Persian woman have caught up to me.
“So much for my sprint up the stairs.”
It’s week two of classes and I’ve yet to make any friends. My simple, predictable, life occurs through the repetition of solo routines. I wake up and go to class. I eat a peanut butter sandwich alone in the sunshine during the lunch hour before one or two more classes. I stay on campus to read for homework, then leave, go to yoga, then whole foods, then home.
I continue past my classmates when, from behind me, Nick grabs my attention and asks what I’m “up to” right now. I pause, nervously trying to think of something less pathetic than the ritual I just described.
Before I can respond, he’s telling me what a beautiful day it is and how he’s dying to spend the afternoon outside.
“I guess I can do my reading at home, for once.”
I suggest Sunset Rec, the campus-adjacent pool area that was the site of many irresponsible episodes of prolonged sun exposure during my years as an undergrad. I can barely remember how to get there from our current location but my memories of freshman year sand volleyball and UniCamp era BBQs are as sharp and vivid as what I had for lunch today.
Unexpectedly, he agrees, and we make our first, official plans together.
The big, grassy area by the upper pool is nearly empty. It’s still a few weeks before the undergrads swarm the campus common areas and the local members are all busily engaged in their children’s late summer after-school activities. We pull two off-white, plastic lawn chairs together and I’m suddenly aware of being alone with an almost total stranger.
I’m ostensibly social and outgoing but have a few, secret anxieties. One of the biggest is driving in a car for more than a mile and a half with anyone other than my mom and my closest friends.
The dried-out August lawn feels like a long, open road.
Luckily, Nick is a natural conversationalist. He’s one of those people who takes personal responsibility for other people’s experience in social situations. Later, I’ll wish he didn’t, but today, I’m grateful he does.
Small talk is easy and light between us. We grew up in the same town and before I was a future lawyer, I worked as a crisis counselor at his high school. Our moms stayed home with us as kids and our dads are practical and successful. My dad is an eccentric urologist and his is an affable orthodontist.
Twenty minutes into the conversation I’m wondering if he wants to trade.
Nothing about our time together felt flirtatious or sexy. Nick is attractive, but not really my type. After repeated failures of attempting to date them, I’ve sworn off short men. Besides, he’s probably too serious for me and he lacks that emotionally unavailable arrogance of a true alpha male. The kind I can’t ever resist.
This is the perfect first date I never wanted.
In hundreds of hours together over the next five years I would wonder what Nick thought about me. Am I pretty enough? Does he find me charming and charismatic? Does he wonder what I look like naked? Does he think about waking up on Saturdays and cooking breakfast together in our rustic, open kitchen? Am I too much ego or personality? Does he feel ashamed when I shout the “f” word in public?
That day though, my mind was clear and open as the sky and the grass and the deep end of the diving pool.
The ice had been broken into a million pieces of shared values and similar life experiences. The always uncomfortable edges of getting to know each other had softened and both of us found ourselves playfully in the company of a familiar friend.
And, because, as I would soon find out, he can’t help himself when in the company of new female, Nick taught me how to Dougie.
For years I’ve relied on my varied career and volunteer experiences working with young people to stay hip and relevant but I genuinely had no idea what he was talking about when Nick first made the reference. While it was happening, I felt resentful of my most recent summer camp staff for letting me dwell in already outdated (and age inappropriate) Justin Bieber fandom instead of teaching me how to Dougie themselves. But now, looking back, I appreciate the memory of Nick even more because I was so clueless and uncomfortable.
He was wearing a white cotton t-shirt, white basketball shorts and his trademark dance floor expression. In my first exposure to it, I didn’t realize the look on his face was typical of his commitment to the move. I remember wondering whether this was his one, goofy thing. Most law students I knew were as uptight as I had judged Nick to be, but the ones I got along with best, so far, had at least one or two behaviors that vaguely resembled my kind of sense of humor. I figured this was his.
Our day together ended as spontaneously as it started as we joined a nerdy group of summer school kids in a low-skill level game of sand volleyball.
Just like the old days.
When I finally got home that night it had been more than fourteen hours since I left my apartment-a new record. I was sticky from sweat and felt my favorite type of exhausted-the kind that comes from a full day of activities that are energetically demanding but spiritually filling.
I felt a sense of calm belonging that had been missing since my move back to L.A. Like maybe I didn’t have to be lonely forever.
Like I might make a friend, after all.