Do you remember being a kid, there was a little game you played right before you played the real game? One two three NOT IT!
You'd all yell that. And once it was decided who the last one to say "not it" was, then the real game could start.
That's what I'm thinking about as I look at her.
Back when I was a kid, you never wanted to be "it." Hide-and-Go-Seek, or Tag, or whatever the game was, you never wanted to be "it."
One two three NOT IT!
You had to wait for the counter to say three before you could say not it, and if you jumped the gun, it meant you were either "it," or it meant that everyone sighed and got disgusted and you had to do the count all over again. And come on man, we have things to do, we can't be standing around counting all day, so straighten up, okay?
Somewhere along the way, "it" changes. You grow up a little, and one day, you realize that you want to be "it." Not "it" in games, though. Not childhood games, anyway.
There are new, confusing, grown-up games to play, and in order to win, you have to be "it." Sometimes people say you're "the one" instead of "it," but it amounts to the same thing.
You want to be "it," although you're not entirely sure what that means. It.
You want to be the best thing that's ever happened to her, that's one "it." You want to be the most special, just like she's the most special. You want to be her "it" just like she's yours.
Just like in childhood, though, you don't always win when you want to, no matter how hard you try, and no matter that you've already lost several times. When you're a kid, you don't want to be the last one to call not it. When you're an adult, you want to be the last one. Which means you don't generally want to be the first, because that's not really how these things work, not in the land of grown-up.
You can't just call "it", though. You can't huddle in a group and count down and say one two three IT!
Grown up games are a lot more intricate, a lot more confusing. The rules aren't as clear, and half the time, you don't even know if you won or lost. Not until you're out of the game, and then it's too late to do anything about it.
This is what I think about as I look at her.
I should be listening, I know I should, but my mind's all over. Thinking about childhood games, thinking about childhood in general. I can imagine it a million different ways, just as when I was a child, I could imagine adulthood in a million different ways.
Did I ever imagine it like this? Probably not. The thing about imagination is that it's never all that accurate. I was wrong about so much. By now, I guess I was supposed to have a house. I was supposed to have some fantastic job, something that I loved doing, something where I made a ton of money. Successful, I guess that's the way you'd describe it.
One two three, NOT IT!
Dead-end job full of stress and problems, and instead of being the guy in charge, I'm the guy at the bottom, struggling to prove that I'm worth holding onto. There's no do-overs in adult games--once you lose, you lose, and it takes a lot more work to get back in the game than a kid could ever realize.
I stare into her eyes, and that's all there is for a moment.
How many times have I looked into those eyes?
My mind's wandering again before I realize, thinking about the many ways I've looked into her eyes. While trying to prove myself, while trying to show her that I'm "it." There's no easy countdown, until you think about it later.
The first date, when you try to dazzle her with your smile, and hope she doesn't notice the insecurity in your eyes. Or in the park, when you're no longer insecure, but just as scared, looking at each other over a mostly-uneaten lunch. Or the first time you make love, when no matter how confident you act, there's always that look in your eye proclaiming that really you're just trying not to fail too bad. So many other times, and I think about them all.
And now. She's looking at me expectantly, and I realize it's my turn to talk.
I open my mouth, and for a single, horrifying second, I think I might yell, "One two three NOT IT!"
But instead, I hear myself speak the right words.