This post is the first in a series on relationships called #LiveTogether (and if you followed up with "Die Alone," then you have watched Lost and are my best friend) which will cover all kinds of relationships--romantic, platonic, familial. I hope it'll be fun, funny, heart-wrenching, hope-giving, and eye-opening.
On our first date, we played Hide and Seek in a Super Walmart.
I was nineteen and didn't have a car. She picked me up in her dad's worn down, small-size Chevy S10 pickup. As soon as I shut the rusting door, her perfume danced around my head and slipped smoothly into my nostrils down past my lungs, spun circles around my nerve endings to the soles of my feet and floated all the way back up to the hair follicles on the top of my head.
She looked at me and smiled. Even in the dim orange tint of my apartment's parking lot lights, she lit up in my mind like a hungry fire and burned an image there--long, feather-like earrings and waterfall bangs framed her face. In the dark, brief gleams of light flashed from the middle of her shadowy eyes, her speck of a nose ring, her unbalanced smile, and the metal loop in her lip.
The air was no warmer than 40 degrees, but all she was wearing to guard herself from the cold was a thin, black blazer. Its sleeves stopped just below her elbows, which made sure I could see the large, turquoise beads shaking and rattling around her wrists. I had stepped through the crusty, outer crust of a country pickup truck and found a rich, elegant, caramel center inside.
It was like happily drowning in a pool of rare, century-old wine.
And then we headed to Walmart.
To play hide and seek. Because that's what kids in a college town do. (To my credit, it wasn't the only place we'd go that night--there would be dinner, there would be music, and there would be a drunk guy mooning us. What a night.)
As we walked through the wide, toothless mouth of Walmart's automatic double doors, I was ready for what my wiry, circus-like body was born to do--hide in really weird places.
I hid first. I felt good about it--I could set the bar high, leave a good impression. My clearly yet-to-be-developed brain was convinced a girl could be wow'ed by my hiding skills. She had trash talked me earlier, bragging about how awesome she was at this game.
Nonsense, I thought.
I left her, with the smug smile of arrogance on my face, to count to sixty somewhere between the racks of extra-large men's camo gear and the wall of Hanes socks. I jogged down the aisles, snapped my head from side to side, my eyes pinging in every direction, zipping like hummingbirds, looking for the spot.
I don't remember exactly where I hid. It doesn't matter--she found me faster than a mom of four could find the Snack Packs on sale. For years, as I investigated the mystery of how she found me so quickly, she would only say, "I'm that good."
Now came her chance to hide, and mine to redeem myself. Each second I counted, my body temperature seemed to rise. By being found so quickly, I identified with my Korean ancestors' shame when they tarnished the honor of their families. I gathered myself and narrowed my eyes with determination as I rattled off the final seconds before my hunt began.
I marched in swift strides, moving quickly underneath the fluorescent lights and spherical cameras hanging from the ceiling. Toys aisle. Not there. Bikes. Not there. Baby stuff. Not there. Electronics section. Not there.
Of course--the garbage bins! So easy.
I looked behind them, inside them, around them. Not there.
The sweat of pressure began to seep over the lip of my forehead. Oh no. This can't be happening. Everything would have been fine had we simply gone to dinner and started our night there. But no--I just had to agree to begin our night in the land of broken dreams: Walmart. Minutes disguised themselves as hours in my head passed as I poked my head in between shelves and ripped open racks of clothing. Exasperated, panicked, and desperate, I started to backtrack my route through the store. Still nothing.
I heard her voice ring out. I spun around. And there she was.
The baby stuff. The baby section where I had already looked--she was crammed on the bottom shelf behind some cribs. That I missed her on my first pass, I’ll never forgive myself. She shimmied out, and I thought her head might be cocked to one side permanently from having held it in that position for the eons of my fruitless search.
“You suck at this,” she said. “I told you I’m the best.”
After that, we left. We ate. We listened to music. We began. We kissed. We fought. We strayed. We came together. We journeyed for a long time. We parted ways.
As I look back on it all, I'm not sure that I ever really found her that night in Walmart. I'm not sure that our game of Hide and Seek ever ended.
For years, I traced and retraced the same steps through those scuffed aisles. I called, "Olly olly oxen free." I sat down on the floor to wait.
I was forever found, but never finding.