I remember the scene vividly: my freshman orientation group was sitting around the lunch table in a semi-awkward, kind-of-eager silence. One of the girls had brought her friend. Her friend was cute. So cute, that in my mind I was fantasizing about all our future adventures as a dating couple. We were a fantastic couple.
Someone mentioned a game called “Salt or Sugar” — one of those boredom-fixer games you only play as a student and makes you think of retreats and basements and laughing with other students, some of whose names you’ve forgotten. There was no sugar though. We needed to get creative.
“What about ketchup or blood?” I said.
My future girlfriend laughed. After that, I probably didn’t say anything for the rest of the time at the table. I had peaked with that joke, already canonized in my head, replaying it over and over in my mind. (“But…we don’t have any sugar.” “What about ketchup or blood?” She had laughed and repeated my “ketchup or blood” line out loud to herself.)Fantastic.
I didn’t see her for the rest of the semester, aside from on the paths between classes. It wasn’t until next semester that finally, thank God, we had a class together. Statistics. I saw her face on the class roster, and I was pretty sure this was God working tangibly in my life, because he knew what I knew, that me and — the roster said her name was “Tricia” — that Tricia and I were perfect for each other.
I didn’t sit next to her, obviously. That would be awkward. So instead I sat in the back with my friend and stared at her head.
“Will,” said my sister over the phone two weeks later, “you should go sit next to her!”
“But Katie, it’s been two weeks. People already have their established seats. And I’m sitting next to my friend…wouldn’t it be weird if I just didn’t sit next to him? She’d know!”
“Who cares! Don’t you want her to know?” She said this with her heart full of stories, because her heart is always full of stories, mostly ones of whimsy. I could almost see her excited, bouncy smile right next to me as we talked.
“…yeah. Yeah! I do want her to know.”
“Then go for it. Be confident! Girls like confident.”
Oh gosh. Confidence. My confidence comes and goes as it pleases, and I have very little say about it. Especially when I’m infatuated. Then I’m timid and shy, and my already rosy cheeks grow even rosier, and words don’t form in my head and the ones that do come out as questions.
Not this time, though. I was going to be suave as hell. I’d wait until the 10-minute break in the middle of class. Then I’d lean over and say “remember that guy that told the ketchup and blood joke? Yeah? That was me.” God, that would make her heart melt.
I walked into class the next day and we sat in silence for five minutes. Those five minutes were not taken into account during my planning. Then the professor came in and started class.
While the professor spoke, my heart had unlatched and was beating wildly about my whole body, till it made its way in to my head and beat around in there for a while. What was I going to say? Oh yeah — ketchup and blood, ketchup and blood.
After an hour of repeating ketchup and blood over and over again, for fear it would leave my brain, our professor finally said it was time for the 10-minute break.
Oh my God.
We sat in silence for another five minutes. I was afraid she could see my hands twitching from the blood violently pulsing through it like tidal waves. Say it. Say it! Stop shaking and say it!
Now, first, keep in mind that I hadn’t introduced myself, or asked her who she was. Those things don’t matter in the face of such burning passion, I suppose.
I muster up all of my courage and turn towards her, propping my chin up with my fist. Confidence. I imagine I looked like a shriveled turnip, my face blushing with such an aching throb she could probably feel its heat, and my hunched posture, weary with the weight of fear and self-doubt. She didn’t notice the posturing next to her, however, and kept staring at the doodle on her notebook.
“So,” I said, quivering.
The startled look I received in response, her head tilted towards me with shocked wide eyes, almost audibly made clear her thought — “WTF did he just talk?”
“So,” I said again, “Do you remember…” there was a pause here, because I was having the hardest time catching my breath, “do you remember…that time we sat at lunch together? During orientation?”
“No, I don’t.”