After 6 months of talking online, a few months of phone calls and one brief encounter, we agree to a first date. Your first "online" encounter. My second. We're nervous.
I pick you up and we go to the "fancy" Italian restaurant in your neighborhood. It's not easy to find *anything* fancy in Metuchen, NJ. But we find it.
It's a hot summer and entering the restaurant is like being wrapped in a damp, frigid blanket. It is FREEZING in here. The air conditioner is set at 11. Maybe the lobsters in the tank of murky green water need these conditions; I don't know, but I'm cold.
I'm further chilled by the upscale clientele. I don't remember what we were wearing, but a 20-year old nanny and a 22-year old bartender probably looked a tad conspicuous in this place of white tablecloths and tuxedoed staff.
Inside, I'm wishing we were at a diner. Outside, I'm Mr. Casual: I oft dine in this manner.
I stand up straight and attempt to exude sophistication. I'm certain that I failed.
Soft piano music plays as the host seats us in a corner booth. Conversations are hushed and the clinking of silverware is an elegant wind chime. I'm *so* out of my league.
You hop on the bench and shimmy against the wall until you come to rest at our corner. After the host leaves I think, "Should I have tipped him?" Everyone tipped in Goodfellas and this was that sorta place, but I had never tipped a maitre'd before. What if I did it wrong? How much? Ah well, the moment passed.
I choose "sparkling" water because I think it sounds classy. I'll probably ordered a "Coke" with my dinner. For every classy move I made, there was an inelegant one waiting to take its place. But I was *trying* so hard.
The waiter drops a basket of warm bread, fills our water glasses and leaves two heavy, vinyl-clad menus. The gold tassel from my menu falls into my water glass with a "bloop" and we laugh.
We're starting to relax now.
We playfully bicker over who's going to get the heel of the bread as it's both our favorite. After some faux-pouting, I acquiesce.
A perfect gentleman, I butter your [my] heel of bread, and offer it to you very formally. You giggle and smile and over-dramatize how wonderful it tastes.
We peruse the menu and you quickly decide on Manicotti. I remember teasing you for calling it "man ah cot ee" when it's *obviously* pronounced "mah nee got." I still remember what I said, "You're half Irish, half Mexican. How the hell would you know? If there were Corned Beef Burritos on the menu, I'm sure you could have said *that* properly."
You giggle again, but the giggle is stifled by small cough. I'm scanning the menu now, thinking… "Veal Scaloppini? No veal. Don't they stuff them in little boxes, or something? I thought I read that. Chicken Pecata… Naah… too much lemon. I'm not crazy about lemon in my food. Gee, she's quiet." I look up and…
Your mouth is open but: no sound. Your chest is heaving. You're trying to cough, but… nothing. Your left hand clutches your throat while the right flails violently before striking the table with a *CRASH!*
Oh my God. You look like you're…
"Are you choking??" I blurt out, doing my best to thwart the panic that desperately wants to seize control of the situation.
You nod wildly. I'm watching you turn deep red as carbon dioxide builds up in your lungs. In kind, I feel my face flush as adrenaline courses through my body. Again you slam the table. *WHAM!* Your water glass capsizes, tumbles to the ground and shatters.
I can't believe this is happening! You are BLUE!
How much time has passed? One second? Two? It's slow motion. Hours. A day.
I jump up from the table, but I can't get to you. I can't get around the…
I throw our table aside with a bone-shattering CRASH. Drinks and bread and a half-order of Clams Casino scatter and crash across the crowded restaurant. I grab you by the waist and spin you around.
It is surreal. It's happening, but it's as if I'm watching from a distance.
I make a fist; bury it in your abdomen. Doing my best to imitate an eighth-grade safety video, forcefully and yank my fist in and up.
Oh my GOD. Did I do it right?? Heimlich Maneuver. I can't do it harder, I'm sure I'll break your ribs.
You are flailing in my arms now; feet dangling in mid air.
I suck in a deep breath and hold it. I set your feet flat on the ground, regain my balance and steady my grip. I let my arms go slack for just a moment, but I keep you close. Your body is a puppet.
With all the force I can muster, I tighten my arms, pull you to me and jerk my fist through your diaphragm in the hopes of pushing air up and out.
With that, you spit food about four feet from the pile of silverware and stained white linen and dishes and broken glass; all of which had once been our quiet first date.
You collapse into my chair coughing, head buried in your hands.
In seconds, I feel my body convulsing: shaking itself back to reality and realtime. My hands tremble visibly.
For 10 seconds, there is no sound. I only hear the tympanic rumble of blood rushing through my ears. Slowly the rumbled fades into…
We slowly look around. The restaurant is cheering and clapping and laughing.
A woman rushes over and kneels beside you. "I'm an EMT", she says frantically, "I can have an ambulance here in 30 seconds. Do you need one?"
I look at you. You shake your head "no."
"No, thank you", I pant, "I just need a minute."
Both women laugh. I couldn't help myself.
"I'm ok", you say, "Just scared."
"Ok," says our EMT gently, "But I'm sitting right over there if you need me."
We thank her and she scurries off.
"Come on, let's get out of here", I offer.
"But, what about dinner?"
"What? You want to stay? We just trashed this place. Everyone is staring at us. I'm mortified."
You ask our waiter, who is standing by, "Can we stay?"
"Of course!" he laughs, "We'll set you up over here. A hero's table."
We're given another table and finally served our food. Over the course of the meal, patrons pat me on the back and check on you. I make the "dinner and a show" joke at least twice to concerned customers.
I'm still shaken: astounded at the events over the past hour, embarrassed at ransacking the restaurant. But you… you seem fine. As if it never happened.
I can hardly speak.
I drink two glasses of sparkling water, but hardly touch my food.
You clean your plate of Manicotti and ask for the dessert menu.