I am not a stalker.
But in the 21st century, what is the difference between a stalker and a secret admirer?
The first time I saw Christina was on the first day of the fall semester. Like many men before me, and I’m sure many women as well, the first thing I did when I walked into a lecture hall for the first time was scan the faces and look for the prettiest girl. Then I would try to sit near her in the hope that lightning might strike.
It never did.
But Christina was different. For one thing, it was my last semester before graduation, and years of not doing anything about my crushes was taking its toll. Plus, it wasn’t just that she was cute, she had an air about her that made me think she was a caring person. Also, it was an 8am class and she didn’t bother to get all dressed up, a clear sign that she was low maintenance.
So I sat behind her.
(Fine, that was my first mistake. I should have just said hi and sat next to her, but I didn’t have any self-confidence then, as will shortly be made clear).
I don’t think I bothered to talk to her that first day, she was far too good looking for me to just say “hi.” Instead, when the professor sent a roll sheet around I noticed where she signed and learned her name. That night I looked her up in the online student directory to see what year she was. (This was before Facebook.) As it turned out she was a sophomore Film student. Also, as luck would have it, her listed e-mail address was for an @aol.com account, which meant that I now had her instant messenger screenname. For those of you too young to have experienced it, AIM was once the preferred method of communication amoung college students everywhere. And the way that AIM worked I could add her to my buddy list and read her profile and away messages without her ever knowing that I’d added her. (An away message was the pre-curser to a status update or tweet, and your friends could send you private comments about them.)
The first response I get when I tell people that I did this is: “You’re a stalker.”
I am not a stalker.
I think anyone would have done the same thing in my position. I did it simply because I had every intention of asking her out, but first I wanted to know if she had a boyfriend, and I figured reading her away messages would be easier than actually asking her.
I expected to read something like: “I’m out with the amazing Gary, who is 6’3” and a star on the football team. In fact, as you are reading this chances are we’re fooling around in the back of his Escalade.”
But to my amazement, no such message ever appeared. Instead, her Friday and Saturday aways always went something like: “I don’t have a date, again, so I’m home alone watching ‘Rear Window’ on DVD.” (I love ‘Rear Window.’)
So I knew she was single, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her in class, aside from asking to borrow the occasional pen (even when I had four pens in my bag). Then one Saturday I went down to volunteer at the animal shelter, and there she was. I didn’t try to hide from her, but I don’t think she noticed me. Now how perfect were we for each other? We were both film majors, we both loved animals, and we both sat at home alone on date nights watching old Alfred Hitchcock films staring Grace Kelly. I could see no reason we couldn’t start doing all those things together. (Apart from the fact that it required me to talk to her, which I obviously couldn’t do.)
And then there were our walks. The class I had directly after Gov 312L was five blocks down Speedway, the main road that cut through campus. Her next class was in the building across the street from mine. So every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we took a 10-minute walk together. Well, not together. Most of the time I was two steps behind her, but every once in a while I made sure I was in front. I did this because I didn’t want her to think I was following her, but also, because I clung to the silly hope that she might tap me on the shoulder to talk. She never did.
All of my friends knew about my plight, and those who didn’t think I was a stalker took great pleasure in hearing about each day’s events, which I would always write about in my own away messages: “Today I asked to borrow a piece of paper. She smiled at me.” And my friends would write in to tease me.
As the semester began to draw to a close I became more and more determined to make something happened.
Finally, it was the last day of regular class, and I was determined to be the one guy who asked out the pretty girl who sat next him. (Okay, in front of him.)
When the professor dismissed us I decided I shouldn’t ask her in class with everyone around, I should wait until we were on Speedway.
So there we were, standing at the light about to cross 26th St. It felt like the light took an hour to change. When we finally started walking the voice in my head went crazy:
“Do it. Ask her out. Come on, you have to. Just say excuse me and do it. It can’t be that bad. What’s the worst that can happen? She says she hates redheads and walks off, so what, at least you’d have done it. Come on, strap on a pair. What the hell is wrong with you? My God, if you don’t do it, in twenty years you are going to bring your son down to Austin to show him around and when you see Speedway you are going to think about the really, really, ridiculously good looking girl who sat in front of you in Gov 312L and how you didn’t have the guts to ask her out, and then you are going to look over at your wife, who probably won’t be very attractive and you’re going to think that you had to settle for her when this girl was out there, now just ask her out. Damn it, do it. You are never in your life going to get another chance like this. This is it. Your whole life has been leading up to this moment, now grow some balls and ask her out. Look we’re almost to the end of Speedway, if you don’t do it, I forbid you to ever cross this stretch of road ever again as long as you live, now do it!”
But by then it was too late. I watched her walk off and I did nothing about it.
When I got home there were four messages waiting for me wanting to know what had happened.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so lame in my life.
But then I realized there was still the final exam.
I had five days to grow some balls.
And in those five days I had to go to campus three times, and each time I refused to cross that five block stretch of Speedway. I walked all the way around.
The night before the final I sat down to study. When I looked over the review sheet I realized that while I went to class every day I didn’t know a single term on it because all I ever did was look at the back of Christina’s head and fantasize about our life together. And the thing is, my fantasies were always pure and chaste. I had actually seen the picket fence and the cats and the kids.
I put that up as an away message and started studying.
When I came back to my computer there was a message from someone I didn’t know. It read, and I remember it word for word: “If you don’t ask this girl out tomorrow I’m going to hunt you down and draw little vaginas all over your face with a sharpie because you will be the biggest pussy on campus.”
I was shocked. I asked who this person was, and she told me that her name was Ashley and that she’d been following my story all semester. I asked how she found out about it and she told me that one of her friends mentioned my little saga. But I didn’t know the friend either. So I wrote an away message asking if there was anyone else out in cyber space who’d been reading along. Within five minutes I had four more responses from girls I’d never met before. They’d all heard about me from different people and had spent most of the semester reading my away messages. One of them told me that I had to ask Christina out because it was so romantic, it was something every girl dreamt about she said, it was like something out of a movie she said, Christina had to say yes.
The next morning I woke up early and drove to campus.
On the drive in I thought about how things would play out. It was an essay exam, and my whole life I had been a slow writer. I knew if she finished first and left I’d be screwed. I decided in that case I’d just have to turn my blue book in unfinished and take the F. I figured it would be worth it.
Regardless, I’d have to write as fast as possible. Also, we were going to be in a different classroom, so we wouldn’t sit in the same place. I figured I’d just sit as far in the back as possible so I could keep an eye on her. Then I wondered what I’d do when I finished and decided since there were five different exits I’d have to sit and wait for her to finish so that I could go out the same way.
And it was as I realized this, that I rear-ended the car in front of me.
It wasn’t that bad, thankfully. The guy was driving a small pickup truck with the tailgate down, so I just slightly dented the top of the gate, while breaking my headlight. The guy was cool about it, I ended up telling him the entire story about the girl I was going to ask out and after we exchanged info he wished me luck and I was on my way.
I got to the room and found a seat with a good viewpoint. My knees shook as I watched everyone pour in. Christina finally showed up and sat way off to the right, but I’d be able to see her when she stood up.
We were given the essay prompt and I flew through it as fast as I could, and for the first time in my life I was the first one finished.
Then I waited.
I actually reread my essay several times and made quite a few improvements, but the professor noticed me and had to know I was done. I can’t imagine what she thought I was doing and am surprised she didn’t accuse me of cheating.
Finally, forty-five minutes after I finished, when there were only about five people left in the auditorium, Christina stood up. I quickly gathered my things and made sure to drop my paper off first, again so she wouldn’t think I was following her. Then the professor started talking to me as Christina passed behind me and walked out a side door.
I left the professor in mid-sentence.
So there I stood, at the top of the stairs watching her walk away. The voice in my head came on again: “All you have to do is say excuse me, and then it’s all down hill.”
I called out, “Excuse me.”
She turned around and looked up at me.
This was it.
Now I just had to ask her out.
So I ran down the steps and walked up to her.
“Hi, my name’s Scott, and I realize that you don’t know me from Adam, but I was wondering…”
Wait, what’s your name?
“No one’s Adam.”
You just said Adam.
“I said you didn’t know me from Adam.”
What does that mean?
“It means that you don’t know me at all.”
“Yeah, so, I realize that you don’t know me at all, but I was wondering if you’d like to get a coffee sometime.”
I’m sorry, but I don’t go out with guys I don’t know.
But thank you for asking.
“I had to try.”
And then I walked back towards my car with quite a smile on my face. My friends all told me they were sorry it didn’t work out, but the truth is I wasn’t sad she’d said no. I was just happy that I’d actually done it. It turned out that rejection wasn’t nearly as bad as the shame of doing nothing.
That happened ten years ago today. And all this time later, it still brings a smile to my face.
As an epilogue, I ended up having a date with Ashley, my own cyber stalker. We didn’t hit it off though. I took two final classes over the following summer, and to get from one to the other, I passed Christina on the street every day in the same spot. Apparently she was embarrassed because every time she saw me she’d look away. Yet even though we always passed at the same point, she never took a different path.
We saw each other a few other random times around town and I always saw her flinch when our eyes met. I don’t know if it was just embarrassment, or if she thought it was odd how often we ran into each other and might have thought that I actually was stalking her, but on my honor I never followed her anywhere, and never went out of my way to try and bump into her. I simply admired her from afar and thought it might have been nice if we’d had a chance to get to know each other.
I only checked her away messages a few times after that, and she never did get a boyfriend.