Monday, May 30, 2011

A Real Life Ugly Duckling Story

Over the years, when I was still living in Montreal, I bumped into many of my childhood friends. Most of them recognized and remembered me, and most of the time I recognized and remembered them – unless they had changed drastically, which isn’t often the case since many of us don’t change all that much, we just become older versions of ourselves. But once in awhile a person’s appearance changes so much as the years pass that you would never be able to link the two versions (child and adult) together. Such is the case of one of my childhood friends that I did not see until I was in my late 20s. When he was a kid, he was a scrawny, buck-toothed, silly and awkward boy who didn’t rate anywhere on the ‘cute kid’ radar. He was a lot of fun, and one of my favourite friends, but hardly adorable. He wasn’t one of the little boys you would expect to grow up to be a handsome man.

But oh my...

One day while I was scanning items in a supermarket aisle - near my 30th birthday – I felt eyes upon me. Moving my head back and forth while pretending to check out items, and hoping that my peripheral vision would catch a glimpse of the gawker, I noticed a man had stopped a few feet away, just staring at me. It was early afternoon on a weekday, a time where most stores are quiet, so it was just the two of us in that aisle. There was no doubt his eyes were fixed on me; I felt my cheeks getting very hot as I became self-conscious of his blatant gazing.

I wanted to move out of that aisle but I wanted to move out with poise, slowly, calmly, without showing any sign that he had in fact intimidated me. I had no idea what had possessed him to stop and stare. Was he some guy who routinely tried to meet women in a supermarket? Was he a creepy character that I should be concerned about? Would he follow me around the store? To the cash? Into the parking lot? I didn’t know. What I did know is that he was making me nervous. Still, I wasn’t going to grant him the satisfaction of watching me flee in fear. I decided I’d turn around and look at him straight in the eyes as I walked right past him. And when I did turn to look at him as I moved past him with my shopping cart, I found myself face to face with one of the handsomest faces I’d ever seen. My heart skipped a beat (or two or three...), my eyes got big and round and my legs turned to jelly. I could hardly breathe. Or move. Or take my eyes off him. Now I was staring.

That’s when he said my name.

“Martha?”

Huh? He. Knows. Me. ! This gorgeous hunk of a man knows me? ! How? From where? And how could I not know him? Who could possibly forget someone who looks like this?

“Do I know you?” I asked.

“Yes” He smiled. And the universe shook. I swear there was a halo around his head. “From a long time ago.”

Oh, how blessed those days must have been...

When he told me who he was, I had to remember to put my jaw - that had nearly dropped to the floor - back in place. This dazzling, tall, dark, eye-catcher was the same scrawny, buck-toothed, corny boy that I had spent many days playing with as a child. The ugly duckling story that I had read as a child sprung to mind. Here I was standing before a classic example of a complete – and stunning - me-ta-mor-pho-sis.

Reduced to the awkwardness of an adolescent, I nonetheless tried to retain my composure and make casual – and coherent - conversation. It took tremendous effort to stay focused. As he spoke, telling me a little bit about himself and his news, my mind wandered off and I could barely make out what he was saying; I was too preoccupied, wondering if I looked okay, chastising myself for not having taken more time to fix my hair or polish my make-up or dress nicer. What was I thinking coming here without making more of an effort on my appearance? A girl should be prepared at all times; you never know who you’ll bump into at the supermarket, right? I was even filled with anxiety when I couldn’t remember whether I had any pimples on my face or if I had recently plucked my eyebrows or shaved my legs or put on deodorant.

Well.

It turned out he was still single and lived close to my home in the same neighborhood. OHMYGOD. Then he asked about my situation by using three words that had never sounded so obscene in my life: “Are you married?” No? Maybe? Kind of? Sigh… Yes. (Damn it) I was incredibly alarmed to find myself more annoyed at having to admit I had a husband – what kind of person was I? - even though the marriage was a fiasco and a terribly unhappy one. So instead of speaking about a husband that was obviously more of a nuisance in my life than a source of happiness, I focused on my daughter instead, chatting away, hoping to direct the conversation away from the ‘man’ in my life. If I could avoid answering questions about my partner, I wouldn’t have to deal with saying wonderful things about him that I didn’t feel, and I wouldn’t have to concentrate on making sure my eyes and facial expression were up to par with my lies.

After we said good-bye, wishing each other well, I floated through the rest of my shopping spree, imagining all kinds of scenarios that were not appropriate of a married woman, feeling tingling sensations that screamed x-rated. I never saw him after that, which was for the better, but I think about him now and then, and hope he is doing well.

So while some of us do not change all that much as we age, others go through a complete transformation, the man in the supermarket being a fine (oh so fine…) example of that. I would never have recognized him had he not recognized me, and I figure he knew who I was because I was still quite recognizable, albeit an older version of myself. I just hope I made as much an impression on him as he had made on me. One can only hope.

(And just for the record, my second marriage is a match made in heaven because I'm with the most amazing man in the world, so I wouldn’t hesitate to answer that I’m married if I bumped into this man now. Just sayin')

3 comments:

  1. Great story! The heady feeling of running into a potential flame, or an old flame or a 'metamorphosised' friend is truly one of life's greatest pleasures.

    Of course the flip side sometimes happens of running into a friend that has totally gone to pot, and is balding with a belly, or the formerly gorgeous girl that gained sixty pounds and needs a haircut and better clothes. And then we either sigh in disappointment, or indulge in some schadenfreude, as the occasion requires. :)

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  2. Haha, I enjoyed your descriptions of all the crazy thoughts that bounced around in your head! How are my eyebrows, did I put on deodorant? I recently saw a pic of my boyfriend from highschool. We went out for 3 years - I hate to admit it, but he looks great - he's barely aged a day. I'm glad I was the one who broke things off and not him!

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  3. @Tatiana - It is always fun to bump into people from the past. And yes, we can be disappointed...or thrilled at the results. Sometimes the karma balances out :)

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    @Jane - It's funny how all those crazy thoughts go through our mind when we bump into people. We figure they'll go blabbing about us, so we want to leave them with a good impression.

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