Signs the Night has Ended

by Dan West

Published on December 31, 2019  9:05 AM 
DG Mag Issue 2

             Sometimes the universe wants you to call it a night. It gives you a sign that the night is over, and you should head home. Sometimes that sign is incredibly obvious even in the moment, much less in retrospect. And sometimes you ignore that sign. Maybe you’re in a great mood and want to keep it going. Maybe the night didn’t end the way you’d hoped, so you’re hoping to turn it around. Maybe you’re just dumb. In this story, I’m the last one.

             It was January 2007, and I was on leave after returning home from Iraq. I was visiting my father, who had recently moved to California, and having a blast. Newly 21, newly single, flush with cash from a deployment with hazard pay, I was living large. About halfway through, on my brand new Facebook account, I found out a girl I’d had a huge crush on in high school lived in San Francisco, a quick train ride across the Bay. We met up, we had a great time, and then I walked her back to the train. We agreed to meet up one more time before I went back to my duty station, and said our goodbyes. I watched her depart, feeling pretty great about myself. I saw that my train back to my dad’s was only 5 minutes away, and settled in to wait.

             The story should end here. That’s an obvious end to the evening. A very clear sign that I’m done, and should head home. The sign got even more obvious when the train that was 5 minutes away pulled in to the station 3 minutes early. But I feel like you’ve probably picked up on context clues enough to know that I most definitely did not get on that train. Instead I thought, “why go home now? I’m already out!” So those train doors closed without me getting on, and instead I walked up to the mall above the station to explore.

             The first person I met was at a kiosk. 12 years later, I’m not too proud to admit that I walked up to that kiosk because the girl running it was very, very pretty. We struck up a conversation, and as we reached a lull, I asked her if there was a music store nearby. She told me about the Tower Records down the street (remember, this was a long time ago), and then did something very unexpected. She asked if she could come with me. She was very enthusiastic about it, too.

“I’m off work in about ten minutes, I could come along if you want some company!”

             Now, I’m a man who appreciates a straightforward ask. If you’re interested in me, being subtle is not the way to go, because I will think you’re just being friendly 100% of the time. So when this pretty girl asks if I want some company after she’s off work, I think it’s possible she might be interested. I agree, and sit down nearby while she finishes the last ten minutes of her shift.

             Twenty minutes later, she’s finally off work, and I shake off the annoyance that built up at having to wait double the time I’d been asked to. I let her know that the music store was just an idea to pass the time, and I’m open to other ideas. I suggest finding a bar. She agrees, but says that if we’re going out, she needs to change first. So we head towards the train station to catch the train to her place so she can change, and as we walk down, she waves the first red flag.

“I can’t believe it, I never do this, and now I’m on a first date with a soldier!”

             I’m a big fan of dates, but first dates are a chore. First dates conjure up all kinds of imagery, like flowers and romance, and that is definitely not what this was supposed to be. But I went along with it, ignoring my growing discomfort as I learned that the place we were heading back to was not really her place, but her mom’s place. And her grandmother lived there too. She told me that due to a recent hip injury that left her unable to go upstairs, her grandmother stayed in the living room. This meant that I would need to wait outside while she changed.

             It is to this woman’s credit that, while all of this so far has been a little weird, none of it was outright scary. She saved the legitimately disconcerting detail until after we were on the train. She said that her grandmother is a very respected figure around town because of her status as a “living prophet” in their religion. She did not say what the religion was, but I don’t know of many religions that have living prophets that aren’t also cults. At this point, I decide that I’m going to leave while she’s inside changing. I know, it’s not a nice thing to do. But I’ve ignored enough signs from the universe already, and now I’m faced with what is very possibly a cult, and I don’t have time for politeness anymore. But it was too late. I’d ignored enough signs in advance that the universe wasn’t going to let me off this easily.

             She was inside less than a minute before she came back out and informed me that before we could go anywhere, her mother wanted to meet me. Years later, and after surviving this weirdness, I understand that this is a very smart safety measure. In the moment, however, all I could do is lament my missed opportunity to run, and hope to find another. Mom came outside with a man she introduced as my date’s uncle. He is visibly amused at this entire situation, which eases my mind a little. It’s possible that this isn’t a dangerous situation; it’s just a strange family being overprotective. I’m known for sometimes seeing a situation as awkward when it really isn’t, so maybe this is one of those situations.

             Without actually introducing herself, Mom demands to see my ID. I laughed uneasily, and she stared at me completely straightfaced. As the seconds stretched on in what was definitely now awkwardness, I pulled out my military ID and handed it to her. She looked it over, then held it up and said “I notice you didn’t give me your California ID.” I replied that I don’t live in California, and therefore do not have a California ID. I further added that my civilian ID was from Illinois, but that it had expired while I was in Iraq and I had not yet had a chance to renew it. Mom again asked for my California ID, and I fully laughed, because at this point it had to be a joke, right? Nobody could hear that I don’t live in California, and then ask for a California ID for a second time.

             She wasn’t joking. I went through my entire explanation again, and she stared at me blankly. I reached out and took my military ID from her hand, while she tried to grip it against me taking it from her. She then insisted I show her an ID, stating that I had never showed her one in the first place. I responded that I had already showed her my military ID, which is the only ID I have. Her response? “Well I need to see a California ID.”

             Finally, her brother chimed in. “He showed you his ID, now let these kids go out.” Mom asks where we’re going, and before I can say anything, my date decides to tell her that we’re going to the beach. The beaches in San Francisco are pretty much always cold. Five pm in May? Three pm in October? Cold. Noon in August? Lukewarm. Nearly 11pm in January? I’ve never been, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s going to be pretty damn cold. Not to mention, at no point did this woman and I ever discuss going to the beach.

             Obviously, Mom objects. And I get it, her daughter just brought a stranger home, he refused to show his California ID, and now she wants to go to a cold beach in the dark with him. This is how people get murdered. The only difference here is that she thinks her daughter is getting murdered, and I’m pretty sure I’m the one who ends up dead tonight. I agree with Mom that the beach isn’t a good idea, and say that we’ll stay nearby instead. My date objects, and Mom glares at me, suspicious that we’re suddenly on the same side. What she doesn’t know is that I’ll say anything at this point to end this interaction so I can bail. My date continues to argue, but she eventually relents when faced with the supergroup combination of me and Mom. We decide that we’re just going to go for a walk in the neighborhood. It has now been nearly two hours since my childhood crush and I parted ways, and I truly hope the universe is done punishing me for my hubris in ignoring the signs.

             My date and her mom go inside so my date can change, but her uncle stays outside with me. I don’t know why he stayed, he didn’t say a word to me the entire time we were outside. But him staying does impact my plans, as I can’t just leave with him there. So I engage in a time honored method of bailing on a date gone wrong: I text a friend. I text my friend Rob that I need him to call me in ten minutes and say that he’s my father, and there’s an emergency. He didn’t even ask for an explanation, just agreed. Ten minutes later, when my phone rings, my date isn’t outside yet but her uncle is still standing there silently. I quietly tell Rob to call me back in ten more minutes, because I am stupid, and don’t take this opportunity to get away.

             A few minutes later, my date comes outside and we walk away. As we walk, she complains about her mother in a way that explains a lot. “I hate it, she treats me like such a child!” My date complains. “Why can’t she just let me live my life? I’m 18 years old!”            
             There it is. It’s the explanation for why she’s so awkward, and why her mom is protective to the point of insanity. Everything clicks into place, and I understand it now. But understanding it doesn’t suddenly mean I’m okay with sticking around. We’re standing next to a bus stop, and I’m waiting for Rob to call, when a bus pulls up. My date, with the first conspiratorial grin I’d ever seen in my life, says “well the bus is here, we might as well take it to the beach!” Rather than explain that this right here is why her mom can’t let her live her life, I agree. Who cares at this point? As we get on the bus, Rob calls. He plays his part perfectly, and I tell my date that unfortunately, I have to leave. She asks for my number, I instead offer to take hers. She gets off the bus, I stay on because it will take me to the train station.

             Ten minutes later, the bus pulls over to the side of the road and says “last stop, everyone off.” The universe has recognized how dumb I am, and is making sure to pile on the lessons so I don’t ever forget. The driver gives me directions to the train station, a quick two mile walk through late night San Francisco. As I walked the streets towards the station, I called Rob and told him the whole story.

             Years later, I moved to California and got a California ID. I never saw my date or her mom again, but the lessons they taught me have stayed with me for over a decade. When the universe gives you a way home, take it.

Dan West is a comedian and writer based out of Indianapolis. After injuries ended his military career, Dan began traveling with a message of overcoming adversity with humor. His cynical style of reference-heavy storytelling has made him a favorite from clubs to comic book conventions. Dan has been seen at Indiana Comic-Con and Gilda’s Laughfest, and can be found at his weekly bar blog Raising The Bar ( http://www.danwestcomedy.com) and @danwestcomedy on all social media platforms.

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