You remember the first time you laid eyes upon her, don’t you?
Maybe like 15 years ago, just before you were old enough to drive, all young and wild and innocent, this gal comes over to your house, knocks on your door and you answer.
“Hey there,” she says shyly as she twirls her hair, “I’m new to the neighborhood. I’m from San Antonio. Spurs country! Do you like basketball? I love it. I play it. I guess we’ll be going to school together. Ummm … I brought you some cookies? I baked them myself.”
You look her up and down, size her up, slowly check to make sure the cookies aren’t anthrax, and realize and she’s alright. A little nerdy, but cute enough. She seems smart, she seems nice … and she brought cookies!
“Cool,” you stutter back, “Well, it’s nice to meet you. Come by anytime, you know, if you wanna hang out or something.”
You find out she comes from a good home. Parents are nice. Dog’s friendly. Landscaping in the front of the house is pristine, like it popped out of a Lowe’s catalog.
She gets straight A’s. Doesn’t drink or smoke or drug it up. Plays soccer. Plays oboe. Hangs out at Applebee’s where, when she’s feeling really rebellious, she might order dessert after 10pm on a weeknight.
Then one year, like, junior year of high school, after a tornado blew through the cafeteria and cancelled the first semester of class, she shows up first day back and you realize she’s everywhere. She made honor roll. She’s captain of the soccer team. All-state band. Got an internship at a film company. Now she’s running for student council president. Against you. And she beat you to a pulp.
But she’s still always coming over, listening to your Dave Matthews Band live albums and falling asleep on your shoulder while you’re halfway through watching The Godfather. Your parents think you two should date. Hell, even the two of YOU think you should date. She’s going to Penn State in the fall to study chemical engineering. She’s got her act together.
So you ask her to prom and you two have the best time and you realize she’s a transcendentally great person – the type of gal you only meet once. You even steer clear of the beer at the after-party because she’s staying sober and she’s just such a great role model.
So one night, you take her to a restaurant a little nicer than normal, and you pop open a bottle of wine you stole from your uncle’s cellar and you lay the cards out on the table for her. And of course she accepts. She’s championship caliber and now she’s allowing you to love her without begging you to. Cute. Confident. Drama-free.
You promised you’d be together while the two of you went to different schools, but it’s starting to get a little dull and lonely. But your eyes start to wander and you ask yourself, “Is this it?”
Oh sure, you check in the other girl from time to time, and she’s doing just fine, but you’re into different things and she’s got her school going for her and a new boy she’s been hanging out with who looks like an Abercrombie model, and she’s loosened up a bit to where she drinks wine occasionally.
While you were at college you darted and dabbled and you met this smokin’ hot siren from Los Angeles with freaking DYNASTY potential, man. I mean, an all-timer both outside and inside. Intelligent, sexy, seductive, luxurious, wealthy, talented. But damn is she combustible. She smokes pot. Skips class. She argues with your folks a lot.
“Oh sure, a little drama is fine,” you tell yourself, as you watch her sing “Don’t Push” by Sublime while playing your guitar naked on your bed. “Yeah … totally fine.”
And for a while, maybe 3 years or so, it is totally fine. You’re fully enthralled and captivated.
But things with the siren you left the neighborhood girl for, they go south quickly. You bicker and fight over what happened to the drug money and your parents begin to question if she’s the right influence on you with her smoking and all-night partying and apparent lack of a long-term plan despite her prodigious talents, and so you split with her and call up the neighborhood girl again.
And you visit and drinks flow and sparks fly and you wake up in bed with her, she’s all petting your hair and saying, “I have a boyfriend … but I will always have a special place in my heart for you. Can you lock the door on your way out? I’m late to my kickboxing class.”
So you wander around. That ex-girl from LA got real interesting again before OD’ing within an inch of her life on painkillers and yo-yoing in-and-out of rehab. And there was that one week bender in the summer which you capped off by drunkenly hooking up with one of your really good friends from Detroit. Yeah, you try to forget that.
So you call the girl up again, and this time she’s graduated from college and her dad got her a solid job and she’s living with her parents to save up money for a car and a house and things like that. You arrange to meet her in and when she walks into the bar where you’re slinging drinks, you immediately remember all the nice moments you two shared. They’re always foggy at first (nothing remarkable), but then the more you think, the more think, “Hey, maybe we could work things out.”
But, of course, she brings a buttoned-up investment banker to the bar with her and introduces the two of you to each other. And, yeah, maybe when he briefly runs off to the bathroom, the two of you flirt and exchange a kiss or a moment or whatever but it’s totally meaningless. And when her boyfriend inevitably leaves her because “she’s boring” and she asks if she can stay at your place because she’s in town running a race and can’t stay with his parents anymore, you totally oblige and maybe possibly hook up.
Sure, she might be boring. But she’s great. She’s a charming kind of boring. And nobody appreciates her like you do. Haters gonna hate.
But it would never work. You’re both so much different now. You’re into going real fast. You live life Seven-Seconds-or-Less at a time. You thrive off drama, unpredictability and you feverishly thrill-seek with reckless abandon and tell incredible stories of scoring all night, breathtaking performances, and how everyone loves you and you’re totally rock star.
And then you met this pretty girl from Miami who came out of nowhere to steal your heart for a while but then you grew to resent her because maybe you gave her too much credit and she ended up deleting all your phone contacts and leaving you with the cat.
Now you’re in your mid-20s, alone in a one-bedroom in your hometown and wondering what’s next, and you remember the girl from next door, but you don’t even have her number anymore, man. So you take a guess at it. Somehow, you crack the code. You leave her a message. And hope. Maybe she’d be down again.
A month goes by, and you’re out at a bar and you feel your phone ring, and it’s her. Suddenly, you’re chit-chatting again for hours on end. She’s the same. She always is. Consistent. Nice. Her family’s still great. You send your regards.
But now she’s a lead engineer at an amazing Fortune 500 company and has a spacious railroad apartment on the Upper West Side and pays more in taxes than you make in income. She’s closing on a high-rise condo. And just this past year she went to Paris and ran a half-marathon about 20 minutes faster than you ever could, and certainly couldn’t now, now that you’re up to a pack-a-day. But you still make plans to meet again.
And, like always, old habits die hard. Hell, when your ex calls during your visit, the girl from next door blows kisses in your other ear and takes matters into her own hands and lets you know which girl will always be your No. 1. And you realize she may be the one. And you’re ready to start a life with her. And, yeah, you could settle down.
But she was always too shy. She could never ask you to do that. And when you asked, she smiled and said, “No, it’s okay.” And, lo, another brush with greatness too great to be true.
So you let her do her own thing again. And your mind begins to wander and and now you start engaging in all these flings with these Superwoman-type goddesses.
There was the incredibly seductive cougar from Boston. Then a second go-around with the certifiably insane vixen from Los Angeles, who somehow drifted even farther off the rails as the years had not treated her cerebral cortex particularly well.
And then, this new girl from Miami shows up in your office with all this fanfare and every guy audibly loses their minds when they see her, like, “OH MY GOD. THIS IS THE HOTTEST GIRL I’VE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE” and she’s immediately promoted to Executive Vice-President despite being younger than you and having no experience in the industry.
But she seemed to be shallow and didn’t have much of an interest in winning your heart, so you ran off to Texas with a fun girl with a good soul, before age and lunacy and a Kardashian caught up with her.
And now you’re pushing 30. Reminiscing. And you see the neighborhood girl again. She’s the CIO of Multinational Awesome, Inc., a marathon runner, a proud suburban homeowner, and she traded in her Mini Cooper for a brand new Volkswagen Passat. And she looks SEXY, man. Alluring, stylish; she’s rocking that red cocktail dress like a runway model. You see the photos. Your eyes glaze over. And that’s when it hits you:
She’s your dream girl.
You think back: The “Small Town” Girl who did all the little things right: Put in the extra hours on the B-shift, stayed off the pole and out from behind bars, hooked herself up with a matching 401k, never curdled the Hollandaise sauce, always unlocked your door for you after you let her in your car, and – above all – had a good soul and aged gracefully. You’ve known her for 15 years. And you realize you never really knew her. Because if you did, you wouldn’t be having this inner monologue right now.
While you thought she was just a little OCD, quiet and boring, perhaps a little aloof and clueless, she knew EXACTLY what she was doing. She knew EXACTLY how to get to you. And she always timed it perfectly. Every time. She’s been holding a neon sign that says, “Over here!” How did you not notice?
It’s no accident that she’s been in the back of your mind this long. Hell, after a decade and a half there, you began to take her for greatness for granted.
The chemistry was a little TOO perfect. Sustained, superlative excellence with no tacit bugaboos. A personality that evolved with the times and the rules of the game. It’s a dream, right? It must be a dream.
But this can’t be happening, you tell yourself. So you chose to ignore her, and went and chased something harder to catch, because the the girl next door would always be there to welcome you back. You’d always have one last shot. And you’re single now, and you notice her, and you’re preening for and praying for it.
This is your time. You FINALLY appreciate everything she’s meant to you. You want to throw up your hands in surrender and scream it from the top of the Tower of the Americas:
“YOU WIN! I give up! You are amazing! You are everything I’ve ever wanted and I promise to never ever ever take you for granted ever again!”
And that’s when you realize … everyone else she’s shared drinks, classes, mixtapes and LOLcats with since you knew her first, everyone’s now screaming the same thing. Only louder. She did it to everyone – the long con of sustained excellence that ferments the unremarkable into the unparalleled.
So it should come as no surprise that this June, she’ll get married to a tall, dark and handsome CPA who’s an avid rock climber and moonlights as a volunteer firefighter. And they’ll have adorable, smart, spectacular, well-behaved kids who don’t cry, always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and will probably one day bring cookies over to your kids when they’re new to the neighborhood.
And when that day comes, you pull that youngin aside and you be sure to instruct them:
“Appreciate them now, while you can, kid. Hold on tight to them and forget the rest. Wandering eyes go blind to the beauty they look beyond, and one day you’ll look … and that beauty won’t be there anymore.
And all those times you saw them and said, ‘too old’, ‘too boring’, ‘not sexy enough’ … well, one day, that’ll be you. And you’ll be chasing young hipster chicks from Oklahoma City and asking yourself … how the hell did I get here?”