Because I didn’t know how to say no to people when I was young, I got myself into awkward situations. Programmed to always worry about appearances, what other people would think, my choices were based on ridiculous things like comfort in the moment or avoiding anything unpleasant. I was ill-equipped to know how to deal with real life. One time I was “schooled” in a way that began to teach me it is better to deal with something up front with a no than to face the unpleasant circumstances or regrets that come after.
In Anatomy and Physiology at CSU—unlike my chemistry class—I did have a lab. At the first few meetings, the same guy sat at my table. We chatted a little and worked on our lab assignments. Then he asked me out on a date. I didn’t want to go, but being afraid I’d insult him or hurt his feelings, I thought I needed to accept. He said he’d come get me at my dorm. (I also didn’t know about meeting somewhere neutral and not telling where I lived. That hadn’t been developed yet as a safe dating practice.) I felt sick about it as soon as it was arranged. It was not what I wanted to do. But I didn’t know how to say it.
As the day approached, I got more and more anxious. So much so, that I even got to the point that I was willing to call him and cancel. Unprecedented! Unfortunately, I didn’t have his phone number and knew no way of contacting him. I went to my friends’ dorm room, Lee and Nathan, and told them my plight, moaning and groaning about how much I did not want to go. I begged them to tie me up or lock me in a closet—basically kidnap me—so I would have a legitimate excuse for not being there when he arrived at my door. I still didn’t know I had options, that I could just say I wouldn’t be going. Though I tried desperately to talk them into the kidnapping, Lee and Nathan declined. I don’t even remember if they suggested I just tell the guy that I’d changed my mind when he came. I might have dismissed that out of hand, because if he’d already come to pick me up, that meant he’d made some effort and so I couldn’t impose on him by cancelling.
Finally giving up on Lee and Nathan to rescue me, I moped back to my room and awaited the hour of doom. When the guy came, I wasn’t quite ready yet, so I answered the door but said I’d be a minute. I closed my door all but an inch, because of course I was afraid I’d appear rude if I shut it all the way, and went to my closet. When I turned around, he’d come into my room and was standing over by my roommate’s desk. In shock at finding him there, I just wanted to get out. It felt way too intimate and close to have him in my room. So I said Let’s go, and abandoned any more preparation and left as I was. Though a little baffled at the sudden departure, he followed me out. Oh if only I’d been able to say never mind right then, I would have saved myself a lot of stress.
We went to the student union to watch a movie playing there. We stood in a long line, waiting for tickets. While we waited, my contact slipped and went up into my eye. I was working on getting it back down when the guy grabbed my arm and directed me how to do it and told me everything I was doing wrong. I’d worn contacts for several years, so I didn’t need him, a guy wearing thick glasses, to tell me how to manage them. His bossy, aggressive demeanor added to the tension. Once the movie started, THX 1138—an ugly, horrible, and oppressive dystopian film that’s a cross between 1984 and Brave New World--and one of the worst choices for a date already fraught with discomfort, all I wanted was to get out of there. The air was thick, the theater was claustrophobic, my skin was crawling, my mind was racing. I thought I might suddenly go berserk and scream. Breaking all social conventions that bound me, I turned to the guy and said I don’t like this. He didn’t say anything. A few minutes later, I repeated it louder. He finally asked if I wanted to leave. Somehow, I found the ability to say Yes. Yes, I want to leave. Right there, in the middle of the theater where anyone could have seen me, we got up and left. We walked around campus a few minutes with the guy suggesting places to go and eat. Finally, finally, I said I’d really just like to go home. He said okay and we headed back to my dorm. By the time we reached the outside door onto my wing, I was a half a step ahead of him. He followed me onto my dorm hall, and I picked up the pace. I bounded down the hallway, my key out and ready to unlock the way into my safe haven. When I got the door unlocked and opened, he tried to follow me in. Still in the bondage of convention, I tossed out a quick Thanks over my shoulder. But then I slipped inside through the slim few inches I let the door open. I slammed the door shut and threw the bolt. Though I tried to count to five, I only got to about two before I wailed into my hands, a scream I’m sure reached through my door and to his ears on the other side. Everything about it felt awful, but at least I was back safely in my locked dorm room.
And he never came to class again.
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