"How in the world did that happen?" I said. "The last time I checked it was 10 after 9."
It was a hot, dry, early-summer day, where the clear waters of a small, northern Ontario lake beckoned only meters away, when I stumbled into one of those shin-barking traps adults have set for their young'uns since time immemorial.
I was 16 or, just possibly, 17. School was out and I had come north from my new home in Toronto, for the old one of Sudbury. I was at my great uncle Al's camp ("cottage", for you southerners), where a sort of family reunion was in progress and I was being grilled about what I had been up to since the last one.
Trying to express the essence of my experiences - the changes wrought in my becoming a part of a (mostly older) group, rather than a geeky loner, nose ever-immersed in a book - I referred to the people I had come to know as "men and women", rather than "boys and girls".
Not quite a humiliation to match that I received when (much younger and showing off my knowledge of Canada's provincial capitals) I referred to Regina as Vagina, the titters that ensued after I used the M and W words still made me blush.
The arrogant swine thought I was ever so cute.
Why am I telling you this?
I had a "date" tonight (all right. Yesterday, for the chrono-retentive among you). I place the word, date, in quotation marks because I neither hoped for, nor expected, either sex or romance to ensue.
J (we'll call her J), you see, is 15 years old. I am 38. And before all you (3? 4?) judgemental bastards start typing out "pedophile", she asked me whether I'd be interested in going out for a coffee.
We "met" via one of those rating/dating sites (she lied about her age, god bless her) some months ago and ended up chatting for a bit. J was articulate and curious; she'd gone through some seriously rough times but didn't whine about them; and we had enough in common - art, books, writing - as well as some signigicant differences - religion, generations - to make things interesting, despite my misgivings.
Then, as often happens on the internet, we didn't connect for a while. A couple of days ago, she saw me online and messaged me, "hey".
We caught each other more or less up on our lives, than she typed, "i know this sounds kinda random, but do you feel like goin for coffee
sometime? lol you seem cool so i think itd be neat to meet you".
I was, yes, taken aback. "Holy moly," I typed back. "I really didn't expect that. I've thought of suggesting it, but the age-gap stopped me."
To make a long story short, I said yes, let's meet.
So, last night, I made my way to Osgoode Station. I was a little early, she a little late. I had enough time to stumble across a feature on a Kensington Market denizen who fixes my bike in the Globe before I caught the eye of a pretty, long-haired and very pierced young woman emerging from the depths of the subway system.
We smiled, shook hands and she told me she had to call her parents, to let them know she was all right. That done, we ascended to rain-drenched Queen Street and made our way to Amatos to refresh ourselves. She had earlier suggested a falafel joint, but on the spur of the moment I'd counter-suggested Amatos, not knowing she was a vegan. But she agreed, and we kept walking.
Amatos was fine. I had a coffee, J swore up and down she wasn't hungry and I mostly believed her. In any case, I was and ordered a pesto chicken linguini, followed by a beer (natch).
And we talked. And talked. And talked.
Family histories. Relationships. Music. Books. Famous people - I am now only 2 degrees of separation from Joni Mitchel and David Cronenberg. Politics (with some hesitation, she said that, yes, she is a feminist). Piercings (she showed me her tools). Age (how could we not?).
And before we knew it, it was late and she had to go. I walked her to the subway, then hopped on a streetcar and headed towards home, bemused, a little confused and very pleased.
Before we parted, we talked about spending some time in High Park one of these days, and I'm thinking about saddling her with some books (Alice In Wonderland and Dhalgren for starters.
So. I seem to have made a new friend. A 15 year-old friend. Why does this feel so strange?
I went into it thinking it might (at best) turn into an uncle/niece sort of thing, but that didn't happen. For one thing, she listened in a way that kids usually don't do - she asked as many questions as she answered (or close to it) - and she was observant, analytical and funny.
So. Did I go out with a woman or a girl? If, the next time we meet, she refers to herself as a woman, I won't titter. But what in the world is the definition?