Twelve years ago, Tyler and I had our first "date" at the County Fair Demolition Derby. That same derby was held again last weekend, and though we didn't get to go, it stirred up a world of memories for me.
It was 2001, a week and a half after 9/11. I was 14 years old, and my mom dropped me off at the Epitome of Redneck Entertainment, where I was to meet up with my crush. It wasn't the most romantic of environments, but it was the first time I'd attended an event with a boy that liked me. It was a date in my book.
It was four days after the Fair Rodeo, held earlier that week and still fresh on my mind. I sat at that rodeo with my friends, a few rows behind Tyler and his, and watched him stand and cheer in his baby blue "Among Thorns" T-shirt. I didn't know what (if anything) he thought about me. In fact, he probably had no idea that while he spent two hours glued to the roping and riding in front of him, he was the subject of his own show to an admirer a few rows back.
Somehow, though, as fate would have it, there I sat at the fair's next big event, right beside the boy I'd been thinking about all week.
We sat at the top of rickety bleachers, used once a year for these elaborate shindigs. My hands sweated in the lingering September humidity, as I tried to find the right place to put them. In my lap? At my sides? God forbid on his.
Just down from us sat three of the prettiest, most-popular girls I knew. I couldn't stop the smile on my face when I heard them ask my best friend, who was also sitting near us, "Are they together?!?" My friend smiled and nodded enthusiastically for me, and I felt like "Miss It" as they and others around us noticed me with this overly handsome boy.
After watching brightly painted, banged up cars crash into each other for a while, my 16-year-old crush turned to me and said, "I'm gonna go to the concession stand. Can I get you anything?"
I wasn't hungry at all. And I wasn't thirsty. I was too nervous to do anything but sit polite and pretty. But here a boy was offering to buy me something, and I felt compelled to accept. After all, he might be offended if I didn't, and letting him buy me something would make us a little more "official," right? I told myself "yes" and asked for a water -- the only reasonable option.
For the rest of the derby, I sipped my water -- the first purchase a boy had ever made for me. It cooled my hands, and my nerves were dulled by the crashing and banging in front of us.
After every car had been devastated and the event came to a close, we rode a few fair rides and called it a night. Whether Tyler took me home or my mom picked me up, I can't remember, but I know that one week later, he officially asked me "to be his girlfriend." So from all indications, he thought the derby night went well. And despite my nervousness, I did too.
It's a night etched so deep in my memory that even 12 years of dating, marriage and kids haven't repressed it. All it takes is for the month of September to roll around and someone to say they're "headed to the derby," and I'm right there with them, vivid memories, sweaty hands, and all.