I was 38 years old, separated from my second (and last and best) husband for more than a year, awaiting final divorce papers, newly promoted into a mid-level management position at work. The company I worked for hosted an annual crawfish boil for customers, and on that occasion we traded in our business attire for jeans and T-shirts, let our '80s hair down and danced the night away under a tent erected on the back lot. Employee attendance was mandatory, but I wouldn't have wanted to miss it anyway.
That's me in the turquoise shirt at the
far end of the guest-registration table.
That year a couple of contract employees had spent a week or two rewiring some equipment in our plant, and they were invited to attend the crawfish boil. One of them, whom I'd seen only from a distance, asked me to dance. I hadn't dated or otherwise been in the company of a man socially since separating from my husband, and that first dance reminded me how much I'd missed it.
My new dance partner--I'll call him PJ--was tall, lean and broad-shouldered. In the style of the early '80s, his brown hair touched his ears and his collar and swept across his forehead. A carefully tended handlebar mustache perched on his upper lip. His light-colored eyes were as pretty as any I've ever seen.
We danced again, talking and getting acquainted. By the end of our second dance I knew he was nine years younger than I. By the end of our third, he'd asked me for a date. Flattered as I was, I declined, explaining that the age difference was too great and he'd do better finding a girl his own age. "I'm not asking you to marry me," he replied, those pale eyes twinkling. "I'm only asking you to dinner." All of a sudden that sounded reasonable to me. I accepted his invitation for the following Saturday at seven.
Mid-morning on the next day, a co-worker I'll call Sally came into my office. "PJ told me he has a date with you. Is that true?"
"Yes," I said. "I know he's too young for me, but it's only a dinner."
"Ohmigod!" Sally's eyes grew big. "It's not about the age difference. Did you know PJ's been in prison?" My own eyes grew bigger than Sally's as she continued: "I mean, I think he's probably a nice guy now and all, but I thought you should know what happened when he was younger."
My thoughts were running all over the place as Sally related that PJ had served time for attempted bank robbery. My god, I thought, not only is he a criminal, he isn't even very good at it! I did not need to get involved with somebody who had a bad reputation. I was a nice person, a business professional who participated in charitable events with the local Woman's Club in her spare time. I tried to imagine myself in gun-moll clothing as opposed to the plaid wool skirts and blazers that had become my normal attire; my brain wouldn't go there.
Me in typical work clothes (with my '80s dog, Radar).
I figured Sally had given PJ as much of a rundown on my life as she was giving me about his. If so, if she'd told him I'd never go out with a bank robber in a million years, then I had to do it, didn't I? Because what if he'd completely reformed? What if he'd paid his debt to society and done nothing since then but go to work and try to be an upstanding citizen? How could I, a human-resources person who worked diligently to keep discrimination out of the workplace, shut him down so heartlessly? No, I'd do it gently. I'd buck up and go out to dinner with him. One time. That's all it would be. If he happened to ask me out again, I'd decline for some reason that would seem acceptable to him, a reason that allowed him to save face.
I fretted about that upcoming date for the rest of the week. PJ was there only a couple more days before the work he was doing was completed. I didn't see him during those days, but our paths didn't cross at work naturally. I'd seen him only a time or two before the crawfish boil.
On Saturday evening I dressed carefully, choosing an outfit that was attractive but somewhat matronly, not at all provocative, and waited nervously for seven o'clock. Then I waited for seven-thirty. Then eight. By nine o'clock I accepted the fact that PJ wasn't coming. I had been stood up by a wannabe bank robber--no phone call, no nothing. For the most part, I felt immense relief. But another little part of me? That little part was offended. How dare he? Didn't he have a clue how charitable I was being by going out with him?
More than my decision not to break the date (perhaps a well-meaning breach of good judgment), more than being stood up, what embarrasses me most in this story is my own sanctimonious attitude, the faux-virtuous BS I fed myself that night. I don't like snobbery and am ashamed to have seen that side of myself.
This would be a good place to end the story; however, there is a brief epilogue. I never saw or heard from PJ again, but a few short months after our non-date, his handsome mugshot appeared in the newspaper. The article that accompanied it stated that law-enforcement officers had entered his home with a search warrant and recovered an enormous cache of assault weapons, enough to arm a small militia.
I've changed the names in this story so PJ won't come across it if he Googles himself. Wherever he is, he's over 60 now. I hope his failures at bank robbery and white supremacy, along with his years in prison, haven't damaged his psyche. Lord knows I was willing to help preserve his self-respect.