Wednesday, September 13, 2006

table for three.

I quietly swore under my breath as I placed the phone back down onto its receiver. I had to be careful because my three-year old son Brendan was nearby in his room, but after receiving the same bad news repeatedly after several phone calls, my situation had started to become seriously desperate. I wracked my brain trying to come up with some option that I hadn't considered yet, but with a growing feeling of resignation I knew there was only one choice remaining to be made.

Brendan was sitting quietly at his desk drawing in a coloring book when I walked in. I went over to his closet and tried to pick out his nicest outfit. My eyes fell upon the light blue seersucker suit jacket and short pants that his grandmother had recently bought for him to wear at Easter. That would have to do. I reached into his closet to grab the new saddleshoes that went with his ensemble and called to him over my shoulder:

Hey, buddy--how about you run into the bathroom and brush your teeth extra quick.

You and Daddy need to be downtown for a date in an hour...
* * * * * * * *
Eight hours earlier that day I had been in the Criminal Justice Center prosecuting cases as an assistant district attorney. A witness who had flown up from Nashville was in my courtroom to testify against a person who robbed her before she had relocated for her job over a year ago. Another colleague of mine had been specially assigned to try her case.

Her name was Gretchen and throughout the morning we talked during the brief breaks between trials. She was naturally beautiful and had a very down-to-earth way about her. I found myself more and more attracted to her the longer we spoke. On an impulse I asked her to get something to eat with me when the judge announced a one-hour lunch recess.

The fact that I was feeling attracted towards anyone at that point was a new thing for me. In the year since my wife had passed away, my focus had been fixed squarely forward as I tried to balance the demands of a full-time job with my new role as a single parent. I hadn't even been remotely thinking about meeting someone during that time, but I had definitely begun to feel the beginning of an interest again that morning.

At lunch the conversation continued to flow easily back and forth between us. I hadn't mentioned anything yet about being a widower with a young son because in my experience, a lot of people's initial reaction to hearing about that was usually very emotional. I didn't think it was fair to drop something like that on Gretchen right before she was about to take the stand to testify about the night she had been robbed at gunpoint.

After the trial ended with a guilty verdict, we made plans to meet for dinner later that evening at a restaurant in Center City. She headed back to her parents' home in New Jersey, where she was staying until her flight back to Tennessee the next morning. We exchanged phone numbers and I spent the rest of the day in the courtroom trying the remaining cases on the list.

I hadn't been concerned about a babysitter because Brendan's grandmother was always glad to watch him anytime, even on a moment's notice. Except on this night she had tickets to go to the theater with a friend. It turned out that all of the babysitters I had called around our neighborhood had plans of one form or another as well. I ran through every conceivable person I could think of, and then reluctantly tried to reach Gretchen at her parents' house to explain why I needed to cancel our dinner for the evening.

Her mother answered the phone and explained that Gretchen had already left for the restaurant a little early just in case there was heavy traffic. She didn't have a cell phone, so I had no way to reach her enroute. I tried calling the restaurant to leave a message for her, but the hostess had too much trouble hearing me over all of the noise and activity during the dinner rush.

So at that point I was faced with two equally unpleasant options. Either I remained home with Brendan while Gretchen waited all alone in the restaurant, thinking I had simply blown her off after she drove for over an hour and paid money for tolls and parking to get there. Or I could just show up for our date at this intimate restaurant with a previously unmentioned three-year boy dressed like Richie Rich in tow.

This was not exactly how I had pictured my very first return to the dating scene. But I was the one who had set these events in motion, so there really was only one choice to be made. I buckled Brendan into his carseat and we headed off for the 8 pm reservation at The Astral Plane as 'The Farmer in the Dell' began to play on the car stereo. The thought occurred to me that while it was somewhat comforting to have a wingman along for my first date with anyone in over six years, ideally it would have preferable to have one along that didn't require the use of a booster seat...