Double-dating was invented for a variety of reasons. First, most guys are afraid to go out on a date with a girl by themselves, so double-dating solves that problem. Second, guys still want to keep their “guy friend” relationships intact and double-dating allows those relationships to continue. Even though we had all vowed that no girl would ever come between our friendships, we were a bit naive and didn’t realize the power and lure of the opposite sex. We would find out, however, that double-dating could be a nightmare; literally.
Jim noticed that I wasn’t going out on any dates [only fifteen, I didn’t have a driver’s license or vehicle] and decided to set me up with someone (the third reason double-dating was invented was for guys who wouldn’t date otherwise) and promptly arranged for me to join him on a double-date. He picked the girl, told her that I would be her date, and all that remained was for me to formally ask her out. Even with that easy lay-up, I was a wreck. What if she said no? One such date was with Colleen (this wasn’t my preferred arrangement, and much to my chagrin, I went along nevertheless). Jim was dating her best friend and my former crush at the time, so it was a natural: best friends dating best friends. What could go wrong?
The usual dating ritual incorporated two things: dinner and a movie. There was nothing groundbreaking in this setup. Carthage didn’t have a theater, and the dinner choices were slim at best, so it was off to Joplin, the “big town” down the road. The dinner that night was uneventful, however, the movie we were going to see would be anything but.
On the way from dinner to the movie, I was busy thinking about the actual dating process. My date and I sat in the backseat of the car, and whereas the two in the front seat were sitting rather close, the two of us were on opposite sides of the car, planted firmly up against the door. I wasn’t sure, but I began to wonder if this date was going to turn out well. I had yet to experience the sparks that can fly when two people hit it off, so at this point, I didn’t know what I was missing. There was plenty of conversation going on in the vehicle, but not between me and my date; all of the conversation was being initiated from the front seat.
Once we got into the theater and found our seats, the arrangement was not what I had envisioned. The two girls sat next to each other, book-ended by Jim and me. It soon became evident that she only intended to talk with her friend, and the two girls became rather gabby, but only with each other. Jim got a few words in, but I sat on the side, presumably watching the movie, but my mind raced, wondering whether or not I was missing something. Should I try to put my arm around her? I noticed Jim hadn’t put his arm around his date, and they liked each other. Based on the evening to this point, the reality was slowly creeping in. This was not going to be the date that I had hoped for, or one that I would fondly recall years later. Maybe it would be a good movie.
I’m not sure who picked the movie, I sure didn’t, but we were sitting in the theater about to watch The Exorcist. I’m not necessarily a chicken, but scary movies scare me. This one would prove to not only scare me that night, but would come back to haunt me for days. When the really scary parts came on featuring green vomit, a spinning head, flying dresser drawers, and strange noises, rather than grab my date for comfort, I was left to close my eyes and hope for the best. One might assume that these scary parts would lead to snuggling, but since she wasn’t even talking to me, one would be wrong. When the movie finally ended, we went back to Carthage and dropped the girls off at Gloria’s. “Don’t worry, Ronnie, all your dates won’t be like that one,” Jim tried to console me. “Besides, we got to see a really good movie.”
“Yeah, a really good movie,” was my less than enthusiastic reply.
The next morning I had to get up and go to my job downtown rolling newspapers. At three o’clock in the morning, the movie was still fresh in my mind, and being alone in the office was a little unnerving. Quiet little Carthage in Small Town USA suddenly turned into the set of a creepy Dracula movie. Looking out the window onto Main Street, I could have sworn I saw a fog rolling down the middle of the street. Every sound caused my heart to jump. As I rolled newspapers, I had trouble concentrating on the job at hand. I kept imagining someone standing outside the front or back doors, standing in the darkness; watching me and waiting for the right moment to come in and do who knows what to me. Every so often, I would go to the door and cautiously peer out into the darkness, looking for, but hoping not to find someone out there. I avoided going into the next room, even to the point of forgoing the urge to urinate, thinking there just might be someone hiding in one of the dark corners or closet. The Exorcist had the same traumatic effect on me that Jaws would two years later; only instead of being afraid to go swimming, I was afraid to go anywhere alone.
A few weeks later I stopped having nightmares. After that double-date, it’s a wonder I went on anymore.