and soon the room can’t tell you were here.

I hate the sound of my voice. Shocking, I know…especially when one considers my inability to keep my mouth shut. The magic of telephone wires only intensifies my voice’s 8-year- old-meets-Valley-Girl tone. So I hate talking on the phone. I avoid leaving voice mail messages. The very idea of someone having to hear my grating, hesitant speech on replay just pains me.

Nonetheless, I’m bored at work…so I invite Ryan’s answering machine to do something tonight.

I can’t stop wanting to hang out with Ryan. True…I’ve only known him for five days, but we’ve spent four of those nights together. I know I’m supposed to be aloof and mysterious. And even from a practical, non-game playing stance, my desk at home is overflowing with freelance work. I really should spend the night entangled in industrious solitude.

He gets home from work hours before me, so he calls me back while I’m still sitting at my desk killing time. Yes, he wants to see me. There is really nothing to do. It’s Tuesday, possibly the most boring day of the week. We decide that I will bring Scrabble over to his house.

The industrial strength fluorescent lighting in the office bathroom reveals an unsavory fact: it’s time to dye my hair. Blonde roots are creeping in, lending me a vaguely skunk-like appearance. One of my dirty non-secrets: my hair is naturally blonde. I realize this hair color is supposed to grant me a life of non-stop fun. But really, it just attracts more harassment on the street and an endless litany of blonde jokes from intellectually-challenged individuals. And I swear it matches the color of my skin so closely that I bear a slight resemblance to Maggie Simpson. So I’ve been dyeing my hair since high school. Sometimes it’s black (with blue streaks if I’m feeling punk), other times it’s dark brown (for bookish times), and for the first year I lived in Chicago, it was a weird burgundy red.

Back at my desk, my hair is bugging me. I pull a compact out of the drawer to examine the problem more closely. Yep, it’s terrible. I can’t go out like this. I’m pretty sure I have some dye stowed away in the bathroom closet at home. There is plenty of time to take care of this before I head over to Ryan’s place.

But when I get home, I realize that I was wrong. Fuck! I inspect my head closely in the bathroom mirror. All I can see is a hideous dirty blonde streak running through the center of my head. Yes, there is no way I can go on like this. I’m going to have to bike over to the beauty supply store near North and Clybourn. Time is running out.

I race out of the house without putting on my helmet. The store is only about ten blocks away, across the river. Frenzied pedaling. Flying through red lights. I swear I’m being carefully reckless.

I’m crossing the traffic to get into the left turn lane Clybourn.

And then I’m conscious of the left side of my body being hit by something. My bike disappears from under my legs and then I’m flying through the hair.

When I open my eyes, I realize that I’m lying on my back on the ground. I can see the white lines of the crosswalk on my left. Two people–I don’t know them–are looking down at me.

“Don’t worry, we’ve called an ambulance,” one of them says.

My face is wet. I feel really strange.

The other stranger is talking now. “He tried to drive away, but we stopped him. He was talking on a cell phone while he was driving!” This is accompanied by head shaking.

I manage to stand up. I feel like I’m standing on broken stilts.
I turn around to look for my bike. It’s a few feet away, in the middle of the crosswalk. It’s bent at the strangest angle. I start crying. “Oh my god…my bike is broken!”

A woman walks up to me. She is patting me on the back. “It’s okay…you’re just in shock. Do you want us to call someone for you? Your parents? Boyfriend?”

My mother is a thousand miles away. Nate is at work. There are only two people to call: Joan and Walter. I nannied for them when I first moved here. They became my Chicago parents. I rent my apartment from them! They live downstairs and I still drop by almost daily to eat free vegan food and get advice from them. In fact, my awesome bike was a gift from them for my 22nd birthday.

Walter is there within minutes. He’s a lawyer, so he is already dealing with the witnesses, getting contact information and statements. He loads my destroyed bike into his car.

“Listen, Amanda…I think you need to go to the hospital.”

I protest. “I’m fine. I swear. I have to dye my hair. I have a DATE tonight.”

He takes me by the hand and guides me into the passenger seat. He fastens my seat belt before I can make an escape.

He jumps in the driver’s seat and speeds away. “I’m taking you to Northwestern Hospital. It’s the closest decent emergency room.”

I don’t understand why we are going.

“Look at yourself in the mirror,” he advises.

I’m shocked by what I see. My face is covered with dried blood and gravel. As far as I can tell, the blood is coming from my head. I remember all of the tiny clips in my hair. Closer inspection reveals that they are now embedded in my scalp. This realization almost makes me woozy.

I guess I’m going to the hospital. “I have to call Ryan. We have plans.”

Walter hands me his phone. Somehow I have his number memorized. I don’t remember leaving a message for Ryan, but later he tells me that I said something like, “Oh, hi, Ryan…I’m going to the hospital right now. I was hit by a car. I’m fine, though. So I’ll probably be over later. We’re going to Northwestern Hospital. I’m not sure how will get to your house, though, because my bike is really broken. I guess I could take the bus. Anyway, I’ll probably want to take a shower before I come over. I’ll call later.” All of this was delivered in a voice unlike my own.

Walter charms the triage nurse into taking me directly back to a bed. No waiting for me. Within minutes, I am being whisked off for x-rays. And then I spend the next hour having bits of plastic and gravel cleaned out of my scalp. I try to pretend that the doctor isn’t cutting chunks of my hair off before he stitches up the little gashes. I find that sitting up during this procedure requires all of my concentration The Novocain is not helping. When the doctor is finished, a nurse wipes the dried blood off my voice with alcohol pads.

Walter and I are alone in the little curtained-off room awaiting the results of the x-rays. I realize that I smell really, really bad.

“Oh my god, Walter…I smell like a teenage boy! I’m so embarrassed.”

He laughs. Like a true gentleman he says, “Oh, I didn’t even notice.”

He’s lying. In my mind, I still think I’m going to go over to Ryan’s apartment after this. It can’t be that late. I’m going to have to take a really serious shower before I do anything else. And I’m going to have to cover my head with a hat. The bruises forming along the left side of my face…I’m not sure what I will do about those.

I’m thinking about this while Walter assures me that I don’t “look THAT bad, especially considering what happened.”

And then the nurse sticks her head through the curtains. “Your brother is here,” she cheerfully announces.

I look at Walter in confusion. My brother Jerad lives in Pennsylvania. And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know my phone number, much less the events of the last few hours of my life.

The curtain moves aside and Ryan walks in!

“Your message confused and worried me. I had to come to save you!”

I’m secretly thrilled. But then I remember that I’m smelly and bloody…not to mention the hideous bald spots on my head. I fall back on the bed and pull the sheet up over my head. Oh god, I’m also wearing one of those awful hospital gowns. My clothes are pretty shredded.

“Oh, Ryan,” I say, still hidden under the sheet. “I think you should go home. I’m not feeling like myself right now.”

Now he and Walter are both laughing at me. One of them says, “You still look lovely” while the other says “That gown is really your color.”

Ryan hands me his beanie. “Maybe this will help?” I gingerly pull the hat over my head. It does not feel like a good idea, but I will do anything in the name of vanity.

Walter decides to leave us alone after Ryan promises to drive me home. “I’m going to put your bike in the garage. Tomorrow I’ll go with you to the shop to see what they can do with it.”

Ryan climbs on to the bed with me. “Don’t get too close! I smell REALLY bad!” I am so mortified by this entire situation. And then we’re both laughing, because, well, this is kind of hilarious. I’m on a date in the emergency room. I’m stinky and covered with dried blood and every part of my body hurts. And I have a concussion.

Of course he has a lot of questions.
How did this happen?
–Um, because I was biking really recklessly and the guy went through a red light.

Why were you over there in the first place?
–I’m just really vain.

Why weren’t you wearing a helmet?
–Because I’m reckless. Did I mention that?

And so on.

My x-rays are fine. The doctor hands me several bottles of pills, after the nurse gives me a tetanus shot. Somehow Ryan helps me into my ripped, extra-smelly clothes. I can’t stop laughing as I hobble out of the hospital. This is all too ridiculous.

He takes me home, makes soup, and even helps me take a shower. I’m wondering how someone this amazing wants to hang out with a neurotic, reckless, and apparently shockingly vain individual like me.

It’s really hard to follow up a third date like this.

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