woman and man sitting on brown wooden bench

Denise and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Date (But A Lot of Great Stuff Too)

There’s a Bro Code among high school guys that if your really good guy friend asks for a favor so he can be with a girl he really likes, you do it. I didn’t write this code. I don’t necessarily approve of this code. I just know that it exists.

And so when my really good high school friend Keith told me that his girlfriend’s dad wouldn’t let the two of them go out together alone so would I please, just please double date with him and he know exactly who would go with me, there wasn’t really a thought to say “no.” Keith was my friend. The Bro Code existed. That was that.

“Denise wants to go out with you, so why don’t the four of us just go to a movie? All you have to do is ask,” Keith said, though I’m sure I’m paraphrasing here. It’s been quite awhile.

“But I don’t like Denise,” I replied, which wasn’t to imply that I didn’t think Denise was some horrible person or that we weren’t friends. We most definitely were friends and she most definitely wasn’t and isn’t a horrible person.

“Sure you do,” Keith retorted, calling me on my bullshit. “You two talk all the time.” And he was right. We did talk all the time. Denise was something of a like-soul for me. We both were writers and we both felt very big feelings. We would go on later in high school to start the creative writing club together, a club I’m reasonably sure doesn’t exist today.

But that wasn’t the point.

So I responded: “Well, of course I like her, but I don’t like her, like her.” And that much was true. I thought all sorts of amazing things about Denise. I thought she was a kind soul, a good friend, a great writer, and she delivered a line in high school that I use to this day when I have had enough of human beings: “I hate people. I like rocks.” Because she did. I’m not sure if it was because Denise was sorta New Agey at a time before New Age stuff like crystals was cool or if it was because she dug geology in science class, but Denise was far more comfortable digging around in the dirt for rocks than she was dealing with most people.

But I wasn’t one of those people she’d rather ditch for rocks. Denise liked me — and maybe even like me liked me — and I liked her. She was fun to be around. She was cool. She served such an amazing role in my life. Denise was the person who wouldn’t sugar coat things. She told it exactly as she saw it. Sometimes, that was infuriating, but only because being confronted with your own stupidity or absurdity is often hard.

Eventually, Keith won out. The Bro Code trumps just about any objection, and so I asked Denise if she’d double date with Keith and Catherine, and there we were, in the Mt. Kisco movie theater, seeing a movie I don’t remember but I’m pretty sure she might. The date had been fine to that point, but it wasn’t more than 20 minutes old. This was before any of us could drive, so my recollection is we all just met at the theater.

And then, the lights went down.

I don’t know what I expected to happen at this point. I don’t remember having thought too much about it. I was happy to be there, to a point, but I felt bad because I thought Denise might be misinterpreting the situation — and she had every reason to. High school girls know nothing of the Bro Code and, if she did, Denise would have told me directly to my face how incredibly stupid it was. She’s not wrong.

What I do know is that, regardless of what I did or didn’t expect to happen, before the previews were even done, Denise leaned her head on my shoulder. I believe I sort of shrugged it off, which was the ultimate in dick moves to make to someone you’d asked to be there with you on that night. But that’s what I did.

I remember turning to face her and her turning to face me, and I remember seeing the hurt in her eyes. And that was it. She turned to face the screen. I turned to face the screen. We watched the movie, but I remember not really watching it. I remember being somewhat pissed at Keith, who by then was in deep on a make-out session with his girlfriend. I remember being pissed at the Bro Code, though I didn’t know that’s what it was. I remember feeling like that one shrug, this one evening, had ruined what was a really valuable friendship.

The movie ended, we parted, I told Keith I would never do that for him again — a promise I, of course, violated, which led to what took the place of that night with Denise as the worst date I’ve ever been on.

What didn’t happen, though, is the end of my friendship with Denise. Of course it didn’t. Because that’s Denise. Denise is tough. Denise is resilient. Denise feels a lot of things more deeply than she lets on and hurts more deeply than she lets on, but she — kinda like me — always gets back up. That’s why she — and I — are still here on this planet, because the stupid bullshit that hurts us and knocks us down doesn’t knock us out, and that’s a really important distinction.

Denise was one of the few people from my early high school days who still was there in my life at the end of my high school days. There’s a photo floating around Facebook that has us on graduation day … there’s me, there’s my best friend, there’s my girlfriend, there’s my best friend’s girlfriend (who, incidentally, was the same girl Keith had taken on that date the very same girl mentioned as Craig’s date in my previous Living Eulogy) … and there’s Denise, our arms on each other’s shoulders, smiling.

A few months later, we’d all go our separate ways. I was first. My college in Iowa started before everyone else’s, most of whom stayed much closer to home. Eventually, Denise and I lost touch. My parents moved away from New York, and I had no reason to go back. No one who meant so goddamn much to me on that day that photo was taken on graduation day remained in my life. That makes me so, so sad.

Then, Facebook. Or maybe it was MySpace. Whatever it was, it brought Denise and I back into each other’s lives. Of course it did. Like-souls often find that happening to them. No, it’s not the same today as it was then. I don’t think we’ve spoken on the phone, and we haven’t seen each other. But of all the snarky, hopefully witty/funny or downright obnoxious things I post, Denise is the most frequent commenter, and I think I hold just such a distinction for her. It leads to these fun back-and-forth exchanges that, while playing out publicly in the comments sections of posts, really just make the most sense to us.

To me.

To Denise.

Because we know.

So yes, this Living Eulogy was at first entitled just “Denise and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Date,” but to try to reduce the relationship Denise and I had and have to that one night born out of some stupid Bro Code is so completely overly simplistic as to be the type of absurdity that Denise surely would have called me out on.

Because here’s the thing: Though Denise and I haven’t seen each other in person since a day in August right before I went to college in 1992, I know that, if I needed to talk to someone to give me a 100% completely honest opinion, there still would be very, very few people in line in front of Denise.

Those types of people are rare in life, and if you’ve ever found one, you know that. This world is so full of obfuscation and vagaries, but not with Denise. So, so much has changed since those days in high school, and yes, I know that, in many ways, Denise has, too. But of all the people I knew then, the person who seems the most similar to how they are now, it’s Denise.

And that’s something special.

Which is why I raise a glass and give three cheers to Denise. Yes, it was a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Date, and for that, I truly am sorry. But there was so much more to us. So much more. And for that, I will always be eternally grateful. Hear Hear!

One response to “Denise and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Date (But A Lot of Great Stuff Too)”

  1. You made me laugh, and then you made me cry. I’m at work damnit, I can’t be crying… The movie was “Look Who’s Talking”. I didn’t know if I like-liked you or not, but you were my first date ever and yes it was terrible LOL It’s interesting to find out that you have had an impact on someone like this. In my mind, I am forgettable. But here you are, 35 years or so later, still talking about that horrible date! Thank you, John. And I’d love to get together some time if our travels ever put us within range of each other.

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