The conversation I will recount here probably takes the cake, though. It happened seven years ago, in July of 2001.
The van was chock full of students returning from a networking social. As a Ronald E. McNair Research Scholar, I and a number of my university peers were taken to a conference in Knoxville, Tennessee. The final event, which took place on the University of Tennessee’s campus as much of the conference had, was designed to allow us to, well obviously, network with people who were in other similar programs all over the United States.
I don't know what gave me the impression that only those from my university were on this particular trip back to our hotel, but I felt pretty certain in my assumption therein. I could smell the delicious scent wafting off of the woman seated directly to my left, and I tried not to smile as she seemed intent on working that poor, unsuspecting piece of gum into submission. "Pop! Pop! Pop!"
(Hmmm, I wonder who this is. Maybe I'll just lean in real close and make some pointless statement, so that I might hear her voice.)
"Those bugs are sure biting tonight?" "Uh, no kidding! Got bumps all down my arm."
(Ah, ok. She's the one with whom I spoke last week. Suggested that we might go shopping together when we return from this excursion, because she doesn't like my clothes! Why does no one like my clothes?)
“So, did you enjoy yourself at the social?” “Sure did, even though nobody really talked to me” she replied. “Well now, why’s that?” “Probably because I stood on the wall the whole night with a drink in my hand. I guess I just didn’t feel like talking to any of those nuts.” “I see.”
(Ok, a little standoffish, but she’s talking to me at least. I guess I’m doing something right.)
“Well I had a good night,” I went on. “My only regret was not getting to meet the girl I was talking to earlier this week.” Remember, this is someone I felt pretty sure I knew. I thought, therefore, that she was already aware of my having attempted to connect with someone else.
“So,” she asked, “what do you plan to do once you get back home?” “I don’t know; probably just spend the rest of my summer running around North Carolina. You know I gotta catch up with the scattered family.” “Oh, is that where you’re from?” “Uh, yeah. Aren’t you?” “No, I’m from Miami.” (Uh oh, what’s going on here!) “Really? What’s your name?” “Moniqua. Pleasure to meet you.”
I had to admire her. She just stuck out her hand as if nothing strange had happened. I know the look on my face at that moment was priceless, and I regret I couldn’t register the expression that must have at least flickered across hers. (Oh my goodness, I’m talking to a complete stranger!)
We went on in that vain, chattering and joking about sports, the need to get to bed early, and other such small talk. We all had carried business cards to that event to make it easier to swap information, but after what had occurred previously I was too shell-shocked to ask for hers. I suppose that in retrospect, it really didn’t matter that I had made such an error. I’m sure she could tell that I was blind, and thus she probably found it mildly amusing that I seemed unaware of whom I was speaking to.
Once I’d returned to the room with the other four guys who were bunking there also, I turned on them. “Why didn’t ya’ll help me out with that girl!” “What girl?” they asked in unison. “The one I was talking to in the van.” “Ah, we didn’t notice.” “Yeah well I’m kind of glad you didn’t, because I pretty much made a fool of myself.”
I actually wish I had connected with her. The other individual, whose information I did get, wouldn’t even respond to my phone calls or e-mails once I returned home. I just got a better vibe from Moniqua. But as I always end up saying, so goes my life.