It was a Saturday morning, January 19, around 9:00 am. The year was around 2002. I was ironing the shirt I had planned to wear to my co-worker’s engagement party that afternoon. Pattricia was engaged to her sweetheart from second grade. Her fiancé, Pattrick, befriended her when they first met at the ripe old age of seven. They felt a special bond because of the extra letter “t” in the middle of their names. It was an unusual spelling for both, and they thought it was a nice connection for them, placing them into a special club that only the two of them shared. Little did they know then that 23 years later, they would be getting married to one another.
I was listening to music while ironing, and thinking about all the things I needed to accomplish that morning. Steve, a fellow co-worker, offered to stop past and give me a ride. It wasn’t as though I needed one. I could have driven myself. But Steve lived near me and it actually made practical sense for us to carpool. Besides, parking at my high-rise apartment building was first-come, first-serve, and most people guarded the spaces near the building like Egyptian treasures. I’m no different. I was lucky enough to get a spot near the door, so I relished at the thought of keeping it. I didn’t want to walk clear to the other end of the parking lot like I have had to do on many occasions. I knew all too well how cold and windy it could be in the middle of January.
Steve and I weren’t really friends. In fact, I didn’t know Steve very well and had never ridden with him before. He often wanted to hang out, but I generally was always a homebody. Unless there was a specific event or activity planned, I seldom ever just wanted to hang out with anybody. This would be the first social event that I’d ever spent with Steve. I expected him around 11:30; the party was at noon. So, I continued listening to my music, ironing my clothes, and sipping on my green tea.
I went down to the lobby around 11:22, and there was Steve driving up. I began to smile inside. I never admonish people to be punctual, but I look for that in people. Always have. He scored tons of brownie points with me by being on time. When I opened the car door, I heard him playing one of my favorite female vocalists, Natalie Cole. It was music from her ‘Greatest Hits – Volume I’ collection. I was almost rude, giving my greetings to Natalie without regard to Steve.
“Oh, I’m sorry Steve,” I said as I closed the door, tapping my foot to This Will Be. Where are my manners? How are you this morning?”
“Good, real good Jevan. I see you’re a Natalie fan too,” Steve said, as he pealed away like a bank robber in the get-away car.
“Yeah boy. I am a long time fan,” I replied, holding tightly onto the door handle, feeling nervous about his NASCAR-like driving.
He was zipping in and around the other cars, speeding up, cutting people off, and displaying himself as the kind of driver that I am often criticizing. I tried to subtly tell him to quit driving like a damn fool.
“You can take your time getting there. You can slow down. That will save you some gas. We’re only a few miles from Pattricia’s place,” I said in a calm, non-confrontational tone.
“Huh? Oh, naw, Jevan. I drive this way all the time.”
“Yeah. And the cops love to harass me, giving me those expensive tickets for nothing.”
“Un huh. I have 8 points on my license, and my insurance more than doubled. I’m still fighting it. I go back to court in three weeks. But enough about my bad luck.”
I had heard enough and quickly changed the subject. If he could not see that his dilemma was due not to bad luck but to his bad driving, then there was no need to talk about it any further. We talked about Pattricia and Pattrick, that none of us had ever met, and what I got for a gift. I wanted to talk about anything I could think of to keep my mind off of Steve’s driving. What a maniac behind the wheel.
When we finally got there, I was so happy to make it there safely that I felt like getting down on my hands and knees and kissing the ground. I don’t know when I had been so grateful to get out of someone’s car. Pattricia saw us drive up and she had come out to the front lawn. Other guests were driving up around the same time. I hopped out and greeted everyone. I could hear voices coming from inside. More guests were already there.
The party was real jazzy, and the menu was diverse. They had stuffed mushrooms, buffalo chicken wings, hummus and cucumber wrapped pita strips, several fruit and veggie trays, and plenty of mimosas. There were two huge tables exclusively for desserts. Cakes, pies, cookies, and many French doohickeys. I call them doohickeys because I have no idea what they were. Some kind of pastry or Danish or whatnot. But they were delicious. There were even servants walking around with trays of food, fancy frilly toothpicks sticking out the top of the bit sized pieces, like you would expect to see at the White House for a State Dinner or a celebrity gala in Hollywood. Everything was nice. Pattricia and Pattrick made a nice couple. They had the right look. Some couples, when you see them together, you think it’s a mismatch. It’s all subjective, mind you, but people love to judge others. Those two actually looked like a match, a perfect match, and they made sure we all had a nice time. It was so nice, that I hadn’t realize 4 ½ hours had passed, and people were beginning to leave. I wasn’t ready to leave just yet. Of all the hired help that was there, nobody was collecting the trash. So, I thought I would hang around a bit and help out with that.
“You ready to jet, Jevan?” Steve asked, with a plate of rum balls in his hand, washing them down with a mimosa. I saw him drink three before that one. No telling the number he had that I didn’t see. If he thought I was going to ride home with him, he would have to be delirious. He’s a fool driver when sober. I can’t even imagine how he might drive after eating all those rum balls and gulping god knows how many mimosas.
“No, thanks Steve. You go on. I’ll be alright.”
“Come on, man. You need a ride home don’t you?”
“Nah, that’s okay,“ I responded, as I reached for the dirty dishes and glasses sitting on the end table near me, hauling them off to the kitchen.
“Well,” he continued, following me to the kitchen, “how will you get home then?”
“Don’t worry about that Steve. I’ll be fine. I’m good.” I placed the dishes in the sink and returned to the front room, looking for more dirty glasses and dishes, trying to avoid Steve. I tried hard to avoid his bothersome queries.
“Yeah, but I brought you here. I just want to see to it that you get home safely. That’s the gallant thing to do.”
Gallant? I thought to myself, “I know he didn’t just say gallant?” Gallant makes me think of a noble gesture of Sir Lancelot or Sir Galahad from King Arthur’s court. Steve didn’t need to be gallant for me. I was beginning to think something wasn’t right with that man. I don’t normally think of people as weird, but this whole thing was really bordering on major weirdness.
“Naw breh, no thanks,” I said again, beginning to become a little agitated at his refusal to accept my no response, and making myself clear that I didn’t need a ride. “I appreciate it Steve, but no. I do not need a ride home.”
Pattricia chimed in, trying to change the focus, realizing I was getting upset. “Here Steve, have a slice of this homemade lemon cake. You said you love lemon cake. My sister baked it.”
“Thank you,” Steve took the cake from Pattricia’s hand, setting in on his lap. He returned his focus back to me.
“How come you don’t wanna ride with me,” he continued to press in an annoying manner, “because you know I don’t mind right? We’re neighbors, and friends.”
I had gotten so very irritated by that point. We were hardly friends – acquaintances or associates at best – and neighbors? Not even. In one sense everybody is our neighbor if you’re in a religious state-of-mind. But physically, Steve and I were not neighbors. We lived three miles apart. I was getting so riled that I couldn’t hold back any longer. I let it pour out. I finally had to let him have it.
“Look Steve,” I said, without any doubt that I was fed up. You could hear it in my voice. You could see it in my face. My stance, gestures, and demeanor all said, “I’ve had enough from you.” A few people standing nearby inched closer to us, the way high schoolers might do trying to get to a good spot to see their classmates have a fist fight. Anybody knows when people address someone, preceded with the word Look, it’s an indication that verbal fireworks are about to begin. My tone became very animated.
“I’m not your date. Don’t worry about seeing to it I get home, Steve. Gallant? No, you don’t need be gallant for me in anything that you do. Furthermore, I don’t like the way you drive. You drive too fast, you zoom around cars in and out of lanes. You’re scary to me. You dive like a damn fool. Your driving is what they call aggressive driving. And even with your driving aside, you’re too tipsy to be driving anyhow. How many mimosas have you had? Five? Six? I don’t know. I prefer not to ride with you. I’m 32 years old and I know how to find my way home.”
I should have left that last part off but I just couldn’t stop it. I should also have left off that part about not being his date, especially since finding out later that Steve was gay and his constant pressure to drive me home was to give him more alone time with me. But I ruined him of that desire. Even as those hurtful words formed and were passing through my lips, I couldn’t keep them in. I saw right away that my words cut him like a knife with a serrated blade. His face became flush, his eyes turned candy apple red, and he began to breathe heavily, hyperventilating. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. I saw his lips quiver. I thought he was going to cry. Then, it looked as if he wanted to explode.
By that time, everyone had taken their attention away from whatever it was they were doing and focused on Steven and me. The banter back and forth – him asking to drive me home and me declining his offer continued in real time for about 20 minutes. My leaving the room didn’t clue him in. It was then that I realized why I had never spent time hanging out with him. It’s because of situations like that keep me as a homebody, not hanging out with anybody. I’d probably have strangled that man if it was just he and I alone in a room. One good thing I can is Steve has perseverance, a good trait to have. But I wish he’d use it on someone else. I wasn’t the one.
“Uhh,” Steve, paused a minute then continued. “Go to hell, asshole. Go right to hell and don’t even pass Go.”
He put down his champagne flute, grabbed his coat, and ran for the door. I couldn’t help but wonder to myself why people ask you things then get mad at you if they don’t like your responses. He all but got down on his hands and knees, begging me to tell him why I wouldn’t ride with him, then when I finally told him, he copped an attitude. Was he mad at my delivery, or was the message itself the thing that was hurtful? Telling someone no hurts in itself. But the way I did it likely magnified the pain. I suppose I should have told him when I first got in his car that I didn’t like his driving. I also should have said something about all the mimosas he had at the party. But I didn’t. I hardly knew him, but I take responsibility for my part.
Trying to salvage any bit of dignity Steve had remaining, I called out to him before he reached the door, thinking I could perhaps diffuse the way he was feeling. But it was too late. Steve wasn’t interested in talking or staying at the party any longer.
“Steve, wait a minute. Steve,” I called to him several times. I know I offended him. He looked back, but kept on walking saying not a word, letting the door slam behind him.
I rushed over to Pattricia and Pattick apologizing for the outburst. “I do not know why he was so obsessed with driving me home. I just don’t like the way he drives.
“We thought you knew, Jevan.”
“That he likes you. Not that plutonic sort of like. But he likes you in a romantic way. He wanted you to ride with him so he could have some private time to talk with you and get to know you better.”
“Oh boy. I wish someone had told me. Now, I feel bad,” I said in a mournful way, picking up the loose dishes and trash, carting them to the kitchen.
I didn’t know what to say at that point. What was most puzzling is that everyone knew all about him yet I knew nothing about it, especially the way news spreads around that office? But, looking back, I always wondered why he was so willing to go the extra mile for me at work, assisting me with projects, lightening my workload, taking on tasks that obviously were not his to take on, and offering to be my chauffeur. It all began to make sense. I’m glad I found out when I did. Not that I would have been interested, but it’s too bad people don’t have enough self-courage and confidence to tell their love interests how they really feel. I know fear of rejection is a big deterrent. But they’ll never know when they will get that requited love they have desired for so long.