He is the kind of guy that should be my type. Through the window I see him in his Hawaiian shirt and chunky cardigan — the same Hawaiian shirt and chunky cardigan he donned in 3/4 of his profile pictures on the Tinder dating app. I regret my curatorial efforts, glancing down at my grey sweater the shade of a millennial’s ceiling. I proceed with caution. Once in front of him, I see his jeans that, I, along with many other women, would simply — and without much thought — deem weird. The jeans were not a full on JNCO jean, but they were the kind that scream, “my fabric keeps four inches of clearance from the ankle at all times, and I’m definitely not made after 2005.” Standing in front of him, I take a whiff of the pheromones and know it is off.
No amount of blaring Princess Nokia’s Tomboy in the shower during what is my standard pre-date ritual could have prepared me for this moment, the first date after a brief hiatus precipitated by a breakup (read: a hard dump resulting from some severely unreciprocated feelings). I take one look at this man in his Hawaiian shirt and fast forward six weeks or so — or however long it takes for one person to demonstrate their general distaste for the essence of the other’s being. I realize that I don’t want to be there; not based on the fault of my date or his penchant for tropical patterned menswear but because of my own profound flaws. My face starts to tingle, and I can tell that this is the all too familiar and unpleasant feeling of a panic attack imposing its presence on what is supposed to be my debut as a calm and breezy chick in the middle of this restaurant.
“Is it hot in here?” I ask. Even I am shocked by my asking such a superfluous question.
“Yeah it is.” Hawaiian shirt nods emphatically.
I think, “This guy will agree to anything I say.” I decide to unfairly judge this man in a haphazard attempt to stave off my own anxieties for the remainder of the date. God forbid I develop healthy coping mechanisms.
We find our way to a table, and I leaf through the menu approximately twenty-six times front to back. I had apparently lost the ability to disambiguate letters and discern what I might find edible. We chat a bit about this and that, and I feel like I have at least hit my stride.
As Hawaiian Shirt shares in sorely misjudged detail how much money his company made the previous year, I start to doze off. I focus what’s left of my attention toward my shredded beef soup. Without much thought, I swallow a bite. I soon realize what I originally assumed was one piece of beef, was actually two disparate chunks, wherein chunk one — in my mouth — is tethered to chunk two — In my throat — by what I can only presume is a meat string.
I think, “Oh god. The meat is in two parts of my body at once.” Hawaiian Shirt, happily entertained by his personal finances, doesn’t notice my distress at first. I think, “We have to make a game time decision with this beef, Alexandra; is it going up or down.” With certitude, like the lady I am, I decide, It’s coming up. What I had intended to be a gentle cough, perhaps a dainty belch, the kind that might make me seem relatable, manifests as a heave in the style of a cat coming off a 30-day hair-only cleanse. It doesn’t dislodge; it only further occludes my airway. Hawaiian Shirt notices something is off — probably from the tears welling up in my eyes and the pigment of my face that I’m sure is now a decided shade of aubergine.
“Oh my god. Are you okay?” he asks, half starting to get up. The energy at the table noticeably changes.
I resign myself to swallowing the beef and its counterparts, throwing my hand up to gesture: “I got this.” While taking five hard gulps of my fine Canadian Pilsner, I manage to accomplish a feat of esophageal gymnastics, making the beef begrudgingly tumble down my throat.
In that moment, my life did not flash before my eyes, my future did, and it was Hawaiian Shirt calling my mother to say, “Lisa? Hi. I don’t know how to say this, but your daughter died on our Tinder date choking on a piece of beef.” I could see the obituary, “Pittsburgh woman, survived by cat and low maintenance houseplant, passes away unexpectedly in Chengdu Gourmet. She died doing what she loved: Meeting strangers from the internet and hoping things would go differently this time.”