April 13, 2007

She was simply stunning. I couldn’t believe the tall, slender, beautiful woman who had just walked into the room, mere moments before I was scheduled to deliver a talk. In my field, there is a heavy male bias, such that the male:female ratio is 9:1, perhaps worse. In some settings, including this small tutorial group, it’s somewhat surprising to see a woman in the room at all. Obviously, if we are to be totally unbiased when it comes to race, religion, sex, then we shouldn’t even notice in the first place. But to see someone as perfectly defined as she, well, took my breath away. I watch as she takes her seat.

While I’m talking, I notice her ‘concentrating’ face. People have different concentrating faces; some people look confused, some people look passive, some people look intrigued, etc. I realised long ago that these facial expressions mean nothing other than “listening.” It’s when expressions change abruptly you have to worry. It’s sort of like sex faces; you’re seldom aware of your own, but you are aware of other’s. It’s just that abrupt facial changes are often accompanied by fingernails, and perhaps a scream (“not that hole“). The difference in this sort of arena is that here I’m fucking 20 people rather than one. Hmm. Anyway, she had a ‘confused’ listening face, but never looked to be surprised by what I had to say.

I completed my talk, and the next speaker continued to finish off the day. I had hoped to catch this woman on the close of proceedings, but she efficiently made her way out the door before I had even stood up. Oh well. There’s always tomorrow.

The following morning, the conference continued. This was a mid-sized conference, and it took me a couple of hours to spot her, but spot her I did. My heart must have literally jumped. I was apprehensive. I was just out of a relationship, and I didn’t know if I should approach. I didn’t know if it was fair to approach. I retreat for now. This wasn’t a natural situation to approach for any reason other than a professional one. There was always the reception in the evening, which would be much more relaxed. Surely, she’d be at that.

I go back to my hotel room. I shower, relax, and get ready for the night out. I prepare, find the location of the reception on my map, and make my way there via the Metro with plenty of time to spare. I enter the spacious room within which the reception is being held. I’m looking good. I’m the young, slim, attractive Scot. The dashing young man with the distinctive accent. The young guy who really knows what he’s talking about. The man who somehow managed to find a beer when everybody else was on the cheap plonk. My hair’s short, and the small amount of sun tan oil makes my hair, swept back, look darker than it really is. My fair skin had not yet burned, but I didn’t look any whiter than anyone else in the room. I look around, sincerely hoping to see this woman, but she was not there. I talk to some others, have a decent night comparing cultures, and retreat back to my hotel room slightly disheartened.

The following morning, I head to the conference slightly worse for wear and rather tired. I don’t see her until later in the day, when I’m feeling much better. In one of the last talks of the day, I sit down in the centre of the hall. I scan my surroundings. There she is; I spot her sitting in the back corner of the room. Inwardly, I debate: Should I talk to her? Should I forget about it? She’s driving me crazy, and I haven’t even spoken to her yet.

Fuck it.

I get up, and start moving toward her. As I approach, I see her smile while she tilts her laptop screen away (this is not unusual, as people have all sorts of contractual obligations which require them to keep business secrets). She looks to me as I sit down and say “Hi.” She says she thought I would be in one of the other sessions, based on the talk I gave the other day. This is good — she’s at least listened to my talk, and remembered not only what it was about, but who I was. I explain why I’m at this session instead. I introduce myself, and we shake hands. All very formal, and also all very pleasant.

We leave the conference for the day, and continue to chat. The banquet is that evening, and allows for a natural and unassuming invitation of company to dinner that evening, which we both grab enthusiastically.

I walk casually back to my hotel, immediately freaking out when I got to my room. You know the drill, jumping, singing into my air-microphone, breaking into air-guitar, dancing, generally feeling excited about going on a date. There’s nothing quite like that thrill.

I meet her at the pre-arranged location. We find our way to the banquet, and have the most excellent of meals. Certainly one of the finest I’ve ever had, and likely ever will have. We chat, we drink, we eat. We realise while chatting that our looks deceive us — she’s 29, and I’m 23, but we both seem to have pegged each other at around 26. She’s even hotter if she’s 29. Perhaps I’m even hotter at 23. We chat so long that suddenly we realise that we’re the only people left out of hundreds. We complete the evening by walking back, after which I thank her for a wonderful evening, and go back to my hotel room.

I was still apprehensive. The perfect end to this most perfect of evenings may have been that first kiss, but it didn’t happen. Perhaps the fact that I was in a foreign land with a foreign woman was also intimidating. I could have embraced the moment and gone for the one-night stand, but this girl was fiddling with my heart way too much for anything so immature as that.

I see her at the conference the next day. We go to similar talks, we have lunch together. Things are good, and conversation is easy. At the end of the day, we decide to retreat to our hotels, and meet up for dinner and drinks later.

I meet her on common ground, as planned. The sun was beating down from a cloudless sky; she looks up at me through her shades and smiles the most beautiful of smiles. If there ever was a perfect moment in time, that may have been it. I wish I could print pictures from my mind.

Dinner was gorgeous. The wine was perfect. The steak was cooked to perfection (I expect the middle of my steak to be red, and I like a little red left on the plate when I’m done; I don’t like charred meat on the outside, nor do I like blood pouring from flesh either). We continue for drinks, bar hopping. We get horrendously drunk, and I’m aware of my flight the following morning. I figure it’s time for us to leave.

We stand, awaiting a taxi. I was still apprehensive, not an attractive quality. She takes the lead, and suggests that we should say goodbye properly just now. We did. An hour later, after kissing on the street like schoolkids, we make our way back to our own hotels. I could have suggested that we choose one room or another, but that seemed unfair. We were both taken by each other, but knew fine well that we lived too far apart; there seemed to be too many strings to pull by sleeping with each other based on two evenings together and too much alcohol imbibed. We say goodbye and goodnight.

I traipsed back to Glasgow, somewhat excited about the last couple of days, but also somewhat downbeat at the end result.

This all happened roughly a year ago, and yet the thoughts are fresh in my mind. Those two nights were perhaps the highlight of 2006, and every so often my mind wanders back there. I never did see her again.

However, we have kept in touch in some small way. I might be able to catch up with her this summer. I like to tell myself that I’m not holding onto any silly ideas, but sometimes we can’t let go of the little fantasies we each harbour. That little island of perfected happiness in our minds that keeps us going.

After all, who knows?