I asked my father to write the story about how he met Colly, the pretty girl who has been his loving consort for the past decade. The following is the recollection the two of them put together with a loving daughter's editing. My husband helped me publish this about a year ago on another site too, so some of you may have read it there before this edited and cleaned up version here.
The mall is a place to see people – mostly happy people. I put them into five categories. First were the speed shoppers; they knew exactly what they wanted and where to get it, and time was of the essence. Next were the window shoppers, probably with some money burning a hole in their pocket; they hit every store until they found the perfect 'thing' to take home. Third were comparison shoppers; they'd have a specific item in mind, and they'd go to each store that carried it and compared deals. The fourth group comprised kids who wanted to meet other kids and hang out. The mall was better for them because they could talk and even occasionally scream at each other and not have some librarian go ballistic.
I'm in the fifth group – people that need to get out of their homes just to remember that there is a civilization out there, and that they're not the only ones on the planet. I needed to see people, and maybe interact with a few. Were it not for the mall and a few shopping trips I could probably go a month or more without conversing with a single individual. I'm an old fart and a widower. I've been in this sad state for eight months since my Alice died from the 'Big C'. I've had time to get used to the idea that she's gone, although we'd been together nearly forty years – getting married in our early-twenties and thinking we knew everything there was to know.
Alice was the social one. Her friends became our friends, but after her passing, there was no her, so I became superfluous. Oh, a few called for a while to see how I was getting on, but after my one word answers – like fine – they gradually gave up and the calls almost stopped. Oddly, I didn't miss seeing a single one of them maybe because they all now seemed to think they had to fix me up with some other widow or divorcee. The few dates I got trapped into were pleasant, but I had no chemistry with any of the women. More than that though, I looked for a spiritual connection with love deep inside it, the same kind of connection I'd had with Alice. I knew when I met the right person that I'd soon see that connection between our souls – mind, body, and spirit.
The best bench in the mall sat at the bottom of an escalator just outside an entrance to J. C. Penny. On one side was a music store with everything from CDs to instruments, and even lessons for the inspired; beside that store there were a Radio Shack and a Brookstone's gadget shop. On the other side of the wide concourse were a Starbucks and a Victoria's Secret. From 'my' bench, I could watch people come down the escalator, select their store, read the look in their eye, and categorize them.
I commanded my bench. The general rule at the malls I'd been to seemed to be that if you had a bench you got all of it; no one would join you. No one would come and pass the day, or ask whether they could glance at your newspaper, or inquire where the computer store was, or complain about how long their wife or girlfriend was taking to shop.
I confess a lifelong affinity for girl watching. This mall had the prettiest women in town, a point my careful research had confirmed after only a few weeks of study. My ogling had amused Alice. She not only tolerated it, but as I got older she'd nudge her elbow into my ribs to be sure I saw some babe walking by, usually with a pair of unnatural tits; Alice was nice like that. She knew that I liked big tits. Alice didn't have big tits. That one afternoon, however, things on the babe front were a little slow.
I had drifted into my mid-afternoon daze – a glassy-eyed substitute for a nap for people my age – when I felt my bench seat shift with someone's weight. I woke up.
Beside me sat a teenage girl. I tried to guess her age but gave up – somewhere between fourteen and thirty was as close as I could get. I'd always been terrible about guessing women's ages. She was pretty but had done a dozen things to detract from her natural beauty. The most obvious detractors were her piercings: garish nose stud, eyebrow ring, lip ring, and a dozen ear piercings spread out on either ear. She wore makeup that made her skin look pale and pasty, almost like a cadaver on a bad day. Her cropped brunette hair that dipped over her right eye had broad stripes of bright red and blue luminescent paint in it. Partly visible on her right shoulder under the short-sleeve shirt she wore was a tattoo of some kind. She had a dozen bracelets on her right wrist, and an oversize watch on her left. I could see a scroll letter 'C' tattooed on the back of a finger on her left hand.
She was dressed in black from head to toe, an oversized black t-shirt for a band I'd never heard of, atop black pants that overlay some kind of black ankle high boots. One silver waist chain offset the starkness of her style. She had a black shoulder bag that she dropped in front of her with a resounding thud.
Despite the detractions, I thought she was kind of cute. A screwed up pixie with a pretty face and a curvy shape, I thought. I felt friendly, so I made eye contact and nodded with a smile. As usual, I gave her my brief but secret ogle, trying to assess her shape beneath the bulky black clothing.
I got an insolent frown back, but didn't let that deter me.
"Care to look at the newspaper," I offered the well-read edition of the daily paper that I'd had with me since late morning. I smiled and held out the paper to her. "Sorry, but I've already done the crossword puzzle and the Sudoku."
'No," and after a long pause, "but thank you." The scowling behavior evaporated behind a friendly voice and a partial smile. The part grin made my whole day; a pretty girl had smiled at me and even talked to me – four words; I counted them.
I went back to minding my own business, and cataloged the young woman as belonging in my Category 4 – kids coming to the mall to hang out, although she seemed a little on the old side to be a teeny-bopper. I remembered reading somewhere about 'emo girls' – young women who jive on a certain kind of punk music, have that pixie haircut with dark hair but colors in it, cover part of their face with a wave of their colored hair, use lots of dark eyeliner, and indulge in lots of pins, piercings, and jewelry. Their image verges on Goth, but they apparently don't like that descriptor. A few of them even cut their wrists or post racy pictures of themselves on the Internet since they're supposed to be emotional. Many have inferiority complexes. The article I'd read said most of them were misunderstood, and generally nice kids.
Emo Girl sat beside me for a while, studied the other people, checked her large black and white watch several times, and appeared impatient. After ten minutes, she left without saying a word by flouncing off towards the other end of the mall. I watched her stomp off, apparently angry. I guessed that a friend had not shown up as promised.
I saw Emo Girl the next day, and she came and sat with me again the day after that too. Other than nodding at each other we said nothing on those two occasions.
The fourth time I saw her I was the paragon of conversationalists. I smiled at her and said, "Hi."
She nodded back and smiled. I didn't think emo girls were allowed to smile. She had a pretty smile with straight pearly teeth. She checked her watch, pulled out her cell phone, and did that magic typing with her two thumbs that probably would outpace a stenographer of old. After a minute, she uttered, "Shit!" She stood up and stomped away again.
Emo Girl became a regular at my bench at three o'clock every day. I got so that I eagerly awaited her appearance. On more than half her visits, she appeared to have been stood up. I wasn't sure about the rest. I felt sorry for her, and that her friends thought so little of her. I never saw her meet anybody.
After a week of this, and having missed seeing her on the weekend, I expanded my witty conversation. "Hi. You still waiting for someone to show up?"
"Yeah. I meet these guys on the Internet, and they're supposed to meet me here. I think they come by, take one look at me, gag, and then I'm toast. They won't even answer my texts after that."
"Sort of. It's just a way to meet people to see whether you like them. We swap instant messages around and decide if we want to meet." She posited, "Am I really that bad looking?" She looked at me as though she expected an answer.
I decided honesty was the best policy; I'd always had a blunt streak that Alice tolerated. "It's taken me a week to get used to your look. I'm on the much older side of things from you, and I know it's a fashion statement, but I've never known anybody with so many piercings or such ... pretty body art. Please show me your right arm."
Emo Girl held out her arm and pulled up the short sleeve to her shoulder. The arm had a colorful wrap-around design from her shoulder to just above her elbow – reds, blacks, and greens. The more I looked; the more I deciphered what it was.
I exclaimed, "Ah, I've met a girl with a dragon tattoo." I said it in a nice way, not to tease but to acknowledge.
Emo Girl said, "Yeah. I couldn't afford the whole body dragon. I've got a couple of others too, but they're much smaller." She showed me her left hand. As if to read my mind, she said, "I've got a few other piercings too, but like the other tats, they don't show."
.... There is more of this story ...