My nose runs when I get nervous. I'm rarely ever congested, but if I have to speak in front of a crowded, or if I have to go to the doctor, a tap of thick mucus streams from my nose. I have to snort back clots that later slide down my throat into my butterfly tummy.
And I was nervous when I had my first "real" date with craigslist Ben. We had been emailing back and forth for months. We were shy, we had things in common, and we both agreed that meeting up irl was not in the stars due to other things going on in our lives. But one day after my first marathon run, I sent him a string of pestering, flirtatious texts. It was probably the runner's high. "I bet you're a hipster!" I typed with giddy, inserting random emoticons, "Wearing glasses with no lenses! I want to see that. I want to see you!" He replied after an hour of silence, something I interpreted as sweet hesitancy and awe. "Do you really want to meet?" he asked. An hour later, my runner's high had fled, leaving behind a hot anxiety. But I felt compelled to reply "yes." I wanted to take those "dumb risks" that people always refer to when talking about their college years.
We decided to meet at Target in our most hipster gear. I channeled my anxiety into a meticulously-planned outfit. Belted moo-moo, head band, and scarf placed in tasteful disarray, I drove to the Target.
My nose started leaking thick goo about 10 minutes before his arrival. I was in the makeup aisle, trying to distract myself from the cold sweat patches forming under the polyester arms of my moomoo. I cursed my luck and searched the crowded shelves for travel-sized tissue packets. But then, my phone pinged. "I'm at the starbucks," he typed from his iphone. In a flurry of panic, I snorted as hard as I could, wiped my nose with the edge of my sleeve, and shuffled toward the starbucks.
Ben wore suspenders and a fake mustache. When he saw me, he theatrically held his arm out for me to take, without saying a word. I would have found it adorable, had I not been occupied with discreetly sniffing away snot.
We wondered around the Target playing the part of a hipster couple for about an hour. He was a nervous rambler who made bad jokes about organic shoes and vegan-friendly glass. I chuckled here and there, pointing out hipster-friendly objects just out of his line of vision. "Look, look! More owl stuff!" I'd gesture grandly to a bird tote bag to the far left. He'd turn his head, and I'd duck down to wipe my nose raw with my purple scarf, praying I didn't leave a trail of stringy boogers behind.
He suggested we go to a cafe next door for a late lunch. I deflected by launching into a rant about men paying for dinners, feminism, and sexpectations. He nodded in solemn agreement, and I knew I had to have lunch with him. A little snot couldn't stop me. I'd just go to the cafe's bathroom and blow my nose until the cows came home.
And that's just what I did. I hurried to the bathroom after making a joke about fair trade coffee. The waiter was just bringing over my po'boy when the coughing started. Hacking, wet, losing-a-lung coughs. The kind that stop conversations in a half-empty cafe and lead the waitress to whisper "ma'am, are you all right?" The kind that make a cute hispter boy stare with wide-eyed perplexity. I made a dismissing motion with my hand and attempted to excuse myself - "Excu*wheezegurgglecoughcough*..sorry." I stumbled off into the tiny bathroom. Were these walls soundproof? Could I cough with relative privacy? I decided it was too risky, and tried to cough softly.
I returned to the table and claimed the coughs were simple allergies. Ben nodded, but looked down at his plate nervously. I swallowed continuously to prevent coughs from spilling out and asked obligatory questions about his family. He smiled the cutest smile and began talking about his little sister. Halfway through a heartfelt story about a bat mitzvah, I felt a tickle at the back of my throat. I drank copious amounts of diet coke, hoping to drown any cough trying to crawl out of my mouth. I didn't want to ruin the moment.
But I suddenly swallowed wrong, and fell into a series of short, bitter coughs, which quickly devolved into sticky hurling sounds. A plug of mustard colored mucus landed onto my plate. "Are you throwing up?" he asked eyebrows raised, taking out his phone. I shook my head vigorously, hoping he wasn't about to call 9/11...or the cops. He looked over my shoulder, and shouted over my coughs "I just got a text, and it looks like I have to go. I hope you get better soon."
And with that, Ben slid out of the cozy cafe booth, left a 20 on the table, and walked out. My coughing subsided and I peered through the cafe windows looking for him. I caught the eye of our waitress. "He was a dick anyway," she said in a sympathetic voice. But he wasn't a dick. He was just weirded out.