Walking on Ice

Where I come from, a pop is something you get on your ass—not something you order at a restaurant. This and other lessons mark a boy from the South transplanted to the Midwest.

Exhibit A: my first date in Minneapolis.

I wanted so desperately to impress him. I’d met him only once before, but he was handsome, intelligent, and sweet. Prince Charming, at last!

I spray on some cologne—my best—and out the door I go. I spot him waiting for me in a pickup truck. He rolls down his window, and calls, “Over here, sexy!”

I blush—and, as I’m making my way down the sidewalk, I bust my ass. Hard. In front of my building, in front of Mr. Charming, my foot finds a sliver of ice, and off my balance I go.

It takes a moment to register I’ve fallen. I sit up. My jeans convey every grain of the cold concrete beneath. I don’t care. I think of nothing else but running back to my apartment, and never showing my face in Minneapolis again.

Before I escape, he’s at my side. “Awwww,” he says, as he helps me to my feet like I’m a handicapped puppy dog. Of course, I slip getting up, and nearly pull him down with me. We’re off to a fabulous start.

On the way to dinner, I learn that the cold on my ass isn’t just cold. It’s snow. (Aside: If you want to know embarrassment, let a puddle of water accumulate under you on the passenger seat of Prince Charming’s car.) He isn’t mad, though. He lets me clean up my puddle with the towel he keeps for his dog in the back seat. Cringe.

At dinner, determined I’m not going to make any unnecessary mistakes driven by alcohol (I can do that all by myself), I order a Diet Coke, he orders beer, and our server recaps: “All right, one pop and a Miller Light.”

My face goes blank. Where I come from, a “pop” is something you get when you misbehave. It’s a slap on your ass, just shy of a full-fledged spanking. Of course, on date night, seemingly-trivial knowledge like “pop” also means “soda” becomes paramount—and, for me, goes out the door. Mr. Doesn’t Slip on Ice notes my confusion, and laughs.

I flush red with embarrassment, and I look down.

Un-f***ing-believable, Justin, I scold myself. He thinks you’re a complete klutz; he thinks you’re ridiculously oblivious; he thinks you’re an idiot; oh, and he probably thinks you’re insecure.

This will be the last time I see him, I decide—or any public place in Minneapolis. I’m trapped in an episode of Seinfeld, and I suddenly feel empathy for George.

“Hey,” my date pulls back my attention.

I look at him without raising my head.

“I like your accent,” he says.

His eyes are honest. Damn eyes.

He smiles at me in a way that erases my self-consciousness, and I realize he doesn’t find my quirks amusing. He finds them endearing.

The rest of our date is perfect. We talk about growing up in dysfunction, about other cultural differences I might find, about how nervous we both were for the evening. He makes me feel as if I’ve known him forever.

When we get home, he walks me to my door, advising I may otherwise injure myself—and under the street lamp in that frigid air, he wraps his arms around me, and he kisses me.

It’s one of those moments that takes 10 seconds, but lasts forever.

Things didn’t work out with him, but this is how I think of Minnesota, through the lens of this memory: standing in the snow, a boy from the South yet to find friends, all my insecurities on display, in the embrace of a charming, wonderfully-real person.

A year later, I’m still learning to walk on ice—but I’ve since made lifelong friends, memories on lakeside summer nights, and some unforgettable first dates.

My friends from home often call me on winter nights to remind me of the weather I’m missing. They regale me with memories I’m not a part of. They try eagerly to make me jealous—but their efforts always fall flat, because they haven’t experienced Minnesota as we do.

Minnesota is a place that has it all without acting like it. It’s a fusion of beauty, truth, humility, and tolerance—the opportunities here to be oneself are rarely more plentiful or so authentic—and if learning to walk on ice is what I have to do to stay, count me in.

I love it here, and I’ve never looked back.

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