You Are Always Being Judged

It was the first date I would be going on in over a year. After the break up of my second girlfriend, I felt that it would be a decent amount of time before I ever started dating again. Here I was, about to go to one of my favorite coffee places on campus to have a first date with a lovely lady. Nothing could go wrong.

I showed up at the shop early, and went through the pre first date ritual of picking a table, sitting alone, and nervously wondering when my date would show up. I glanced around the room taking in details of the different people and catching random blurbs of their conversations. I always liked this place, it was a peaceful little coffee shop nestled among the bars and shops in Ball State’s village. The perfect date spot.

Finally she arrived. My heart skipped a beat, she was just as beautiful as pictures, even more so. The lighting radiated around her, her smile lit up the room. Her slender frame silhouetted in front of me. By the time she sat down and we actually started talking I was completely enraptured by her charm and wit. I was in a state of heaven, she was perfect so far.

Then I glanced around the corner and saw him.

I saw Brad King.

Brad was only a few tables from me. He didn’t notice me yet but I was certain he would soon. We were close enough that with a simple glimpse there was no way he could miss me. I did another quick glance, trying to stay as low and against the wall as possible. He stared back at his laptop screen, typing at a rapid pace and sipping on his coffee. His face in a semi frown, his eyes furrowed at the screen. He looked like he was not in a good mood. He could have been grading, the mediocre results of one student’s work causing him to have a bitter mood.

Suddenly a chilling thought hit me. What if he was reading my Invictus story? It was still in an early draft but it was available for him to view online. My palms started to sweat, my throat gaining a huge lump. What if he saw me, came over and started talking to about the surely numerous changes that had to be made and how my writing was god awful? He wasn’t afraid to call me out in front of a class of twenty, surely one other person wouldn’t scare him away from telling me about the long list of things wrong with my story.

Suddenly I became cautious, I stared choosing my words and responses carefully, afraid of facing the result of some failure that he would surely find and tell me. Afraid of him hearing my voice.

“Are you ok?” asked my date. “You seem a little nervous.”

“Yes, I’m fine,” I said as I nervously glanced over her shoulder, as Brad still typing away, his scowl slightly more pronounced then before. “I uh, I have to use the bathroom for a minute,” I said as I hurriedly excused myself away from the table.

Once I was in the bathroom I splashed cold water on my face and stared in the mirror.

“Son of a bitch, why did he have to be here?” I asked myself. Angry that my perfect date had been ruined by the man who had the power to reduce me to a whimpering writer desperately scurrying to the corner to write another draft.

I started talking myself down. Started telling myself that if he knew you were here that he wouldn’t mind and wouldn’t embarrass you in front of everyone.

“He’s a hardass, but he’s not here to humiliate you,” I said suddenly feeling silly that I got so nervous over something so foolish. I regained my composure and returned to my date.

Now that I stopped worrying about the humiliation from my teaching instructor I was free to talk a little more about myself rather than be a passive listener, afraid to speak up in fear of him hearing my voice. I was almost back to enjoying myself again until she asked the fateful question:

“So you said you’re a writer? What do you write about?”

My mind once again began to frantically think of the correct answer.

“There’s no way he doesn’t know I’m here. I have to give the right answer,” I thought to myself, sweat breaking out once again. “He’s been writing for years, for major publications. If I pretend to be this hot shot writer, he’s going to come over and chew me out for sure,” I thought quickly glancing over to see if he was paying attention. “If I down play it though, she’ll think I’m just some wannabe writer.”

Cursing my situation and cursing Brad for choosing this time and this place to carry out his nightly activities, I did one last quick glance before giving a muddled response:

“Um, its a student book project and we write about traveling and struggle, but its no big deal,” I said in almost a whisper.

“You’re writing a book?!” my date exclaimed. A smile grew on her face, she leaned forward, eyes wide and hands clenched in front of her chest. “You have to tell me more.”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Brad stir in his seat. It looked like he was going to get up and set this lady straight. I could see it playing out in my mind. Brad King, waltzing over to our table. Laughing at my feeble attempts to impress this young lady.

“Sure he’s a writer, if you mean someone who haphazardly throws together a story with a weak third act and horrible grammatical errors, then he’s a writer, just not a good one.”

It was too much to bear and in the heat of the moment I excused myself for a second time, heading to the bathroom and attempting to remain as inconspicuous as possible.

Less time was spent in the bathroom this time. I was certain that he had heard me. In fact I was certain he was already at the table talking to her about the project and making sure to explain in detail where I was “wrong” on the facts. Even when on a date, I couldn’t get a break.

I returned to the table for the last time. We talked a a little more before she had to go. I smiled and waved goodbye. Before she left she turned to me, smiled and whispered in my ear:

“You don’t have to be nervous around me, I’m just a normal girl like everyone else. You don’t have to be shy you know,” she said before leaving the coffee shop, leaving me sitting there in an embarrassed heap. First date, and I was already defeated.

I figured at this point there was no point in trying to hide anything anymore. I got up and walked over to Brad’s table.

“So, how’s everything going?” I asked, awaiting a sarcastic comment about my lack of knowledge in writing and the topics I discussed.

“Oh hey there sir, I didn’t notice you there,” he said as he glanced up from his computer.

“Really? I was sitting only two tables down from you. You didn’t see me?” I said in disbelief.

“Um, no I didn’t,” he said.

I felt like I was going to cry.

It was several months later that I told Brad and the other writers this story. We joked that even when we were not in class or not working on the book, Brad had a way of becoming part of our lives and thoughts. Nerve wracking back then but now makes for a funny story and reminds me of what he told us when he first started teaching at BSU, when I was just a young naive student:

“You are always being judged. Always.”

Thank you Brad, by simply being in the room, you had taught me a powerful reminder that I should choose my words wisely and say them wisely to the right people, both in writing and in real life.