Matt-ers Of The Heart: Chapter 2

Matters of the Heart: A fictionalized tale of a truly concerning romantic phenomenon.

By Cakey Hankerson

Chapter 2: Close Call with a Matt-a Hari?

When people introduce themselves and find out my name is Annie, they usually associate me directly with that cute little gingery orphan girl, sprinkled with freckles, who has never-ending pep and vim. Just in case you grew up under a rock and don’t know this story, Annie is basically the American dream, going from stubbornly optimistic orphan girl to billionaire tycoon’s adopted daughter during the Great Depression. While not ginger, not an orphan, not freckled, and living a life completely devoid of my own personal Daddy Warbucks, I guess I manage a decent representation of that plucky American spirit that so enchants foreigners.  Which might be the reason why my travels abroad wound up liberally sprinkled with bizarre encounters with foreign men. Thankfully, I am a smart girl, most of the time. Situation upon situation, I managed to sneak through, side-stepping most awkwardness with ease. From Guillaume (who followed me around) to Étienne (who asked me to pretend to be his late night study partner, I’m still not sure exactly all that that entailed) to Paul (who had a bizarre obsession with trying to grab me by the waist), I managed to evade all advances without mishap. It really just figures that my one and only stupid-girl traveler moment involved the Matt-a Hari.

It seems like a long time ago that my much-relied-upon sources at Wikipedia taught me about the Mata Hari. After a vague reference from my (required attendance) College symposium speaker one fine day during my freshmen year, I did what any inquisitive college student would do, and I googled it. Which is why I am familiar with the violent story of the beautifully scandalous Dutch exotic dancer who was accused of being a spy in France during World War Two, and subsequently executed mercilessly by firing squad. Quite a brutal story, really.  My own Matt-a Hari story didn’t end with a firing squad (Merci, Dieu), but the point is that it very nearly could have.

I was living in southern France, in a town called Thollon most of the year I studied abroad, but it was on a week’s excursion to Paris that Matt Deux came on the scene.  Called Mathieu by fellow francophone friends, this forward garcon entered the scene of my life with all the panache of a courtesan and no small amount of suspect behavior either.

It was a perfect night, almost balmy, and most decidedly the best kind of night to be visiting Paris.  It was the kind of night when you feel naturally beautiful, like you’ve been transformed into a well-groomed, raven-haired beauty and you’re the protagonist in a story that will someday become a popular romantic movie. (One with a happy ending and a decided lack of cancer or heartbreak.) It was a night when every color was more vivid, every light glimmered with magic, and the whole world had that happy feeling that makes you want to organize a flash-mob, just so you can dance your heart out in the streets. If you have ever been to Paris, you know precisely what I mean, and if you have not had the pleasure, well, you should probably find out first-hand.  These are the best kind of nights, and they become even more perfect when flavored with a heady dose of nostalgia.

I felt untouchable, invincible; nothing could dim the sparkle of my magical French evening as I flitted from the hotel to a nearby restaurant in a lacey peach-pink sundress. A day of whirling between sculptures and monuments, browsing consignment shops and soaking in the beautiful cadence of native French speakers had left me a little too pink to be called sun-kissed, and ravenous. Thankfully, the restaurant was quite close! Audrey, an old friend of my parents, was in town on business for the day, and since she barely managed bonjour, she’d asked me along for moral and linguistic support.

Audrey is a quirky, daring, pipsqueak of a woman. That year she was 54 . . . going on 21, and it was her first trip to Paris, too. Like I said, Audrey barely knew a word in French, but tried to compensate by smiling liberally at everyone, which is decidedly un-French. Either the smiles were more flirtatious than we knew or we really had become raven-haired beauties, because we were greeted with a glass of champagne and a whole host of servers, delighted to see to our every need. As soon as we were seated, my would-be-courtesan arrived promptly beside me.

Matt Deux, our waiter, was tall, tan, blonde, and decidedly French. By “decidedly French” I mean unbelievably forward. Oh it started out innocent enough . . . but after plying us with wine and more free champagne for the next few hours, he realized that Audrey spoke no French, and before you knew it, this sultry French Matt-a Hari was watching me eat crème brûlée and murmuring that he wished he could have been my dessert. Quite scandalous, if you ask me. Unfortunately, the champagne (added to the fact that we were in Paris) transformed the entire situation into what felt like another scene in that romantic movie I mentioned earlier. I smiled shyly, but it must have come off as coy, because Matt Deux just amped up the effort.  When I got up to find the toilettes, he swooped.

This was the part where things got sketchy and Annie should’ve gotten savvy . . . but didn’t. Matt Deux just whispered that he wanted to show me something, something special. I figured Hey; we’re in a public place, right? Nothing crazy’s going to happen. Then he pulled me out of the restaurant and over to the tall shadowy building next door.

To give me some credit, I must’ve pulled back and looked a little sketched out at this point, because he said something along the lines of “Don’t be afraid!” as he pocketed the key and tugged me through the now-open doorway and into the pitch-black entryway. For a moment, I felt exceptionally nervous . . . was my romantic classic turning into some kind of nightmare horror flick? As scenes from the movie Taken chased through my mind, we walked through what I can only assume was the lobby, since it was too dark to actually tell. A moment later, Matt Deux was crowding me into the world’s smallest elevator, where he solicitously (read: sketchily) left his hand on the small of my back, stroking it slowly, likely thinking something a lot like bow chicka wow wow!

As the elevator reached the 7th floor, it slowed.  This was it, I was either about to get some serious moves put on me, or I was really in trouble. Thankfully, Matt Deux was no axe-murderer. He ushered me to the window where he pointed out the sparkling well-lit view of the Sacré-Coeur that glimmered white in the night. Then he put his arms around me and, judging by the way he was murmuring French-nothings and kissing my neck, Matt Deux thought he was about to get at least a little lucky. Lots of girls probably would have gone for it, but I am not one of those girls.

It’s funny, I actually thought about it. While he was trying to convince me that I should do “what felt right” (a.k.a. make out, at the very least), I had this moment of detached logical processing – like a cartoon where everything freezes for a second so the protagonist can monologue. My little conscience-angel and I had a speedy internal heart-to-heart and I decided that Matt Deux was not the mec for me. After a little evasive maneuvering (he had to kiss my forehead and cheek a lot), I told him I really had to get back to my friend. While definitely disappointed, Matt Deux had not given up all hope. He was doing a good impression of that espionage-driven courtesan I named him after – keeping his eyes on the prize . . . but instead of government information, the prize was me. Before we left the creepy building, he squeezed the promise of a date out of me for the next evening. I was to meet him at the restaurant at seven for a night out on the town.

In the light of the following day, as the sketch-factor ramped up, and the realization that attending this little soirée would probably constitute a second mistake with a man named matt, I did the only thing I could do.  The date plans got the proverbial firing squad, and I stood the poor guy up. I almost felt bad, but then I remembered that he was either trying to kidnap me to sell on the sex-slave market, or he was just some horny sketch-ball who wanted some. So, I congratulated myself on my narrow escape and called it a day.

In the end, the whole silly interlude wound up feeling like an adventure, actually.  But then, that’s probably because it was Paris, and my first trip to Paris was nothing if not cinematically ideal. It’s strange, there’s something about Paris where you can recall only perfection after you’ve left.  Even my Matt-a Hari adventure has become just another anecdotal facet on the glittering face of Exploring Paris.

Matt-ers of the Heart: Chapter 1

Matters of the Heart: A fictionalized tale of a truly concerning romantic phenomenon.

By Cakey Hankerson

Chapter 1: Matt-riculation

As first kisses go, it was not at all what I expected. Not that I knew what to expect; it was the first time I’d kissed someone. Later, I spent a decent amount of time considering my, well, indecent amount of time spent with that first Matt. How did I wind up spending my older brother’s 20th birthday not watching I am Legend at the rinky-dink local movie theater while Matt, who I’d known for a grand total of 12 hours, whispered scandalous propositions before backing me into the faded red plush movie theater seat for some seriously tongue-tangling?

Maybe to some 17-year-old girls, this is typical behavior. In fact, most people wouldn’t bat an eye-lash at making out in a movie theater on your brother’s birthday . . . with your brother’s best friend . . . twelve hours after meeting him for the first time. “Most people” of course refers to the immensely over-sexualized teenagers of today. Oh, don’t tell me I am stereotyping. Whatever crazy sexual shenanigans you used to hear about in high school are still around, only now it’s worse. They have smart phones. Anyhow, to some, my breach of good sense is just your average Tuesday. “Hey, let’s go see bad movies and make out with strangers” they might say, and everyone would roll their eyes because that’s what they all did last Tuesday, right? But for me, this was definitely out of character.

Backtrack. It’s the year 2000 and I am a freshman in small town high school, USA. As a soft-spoken (aka socially awkward) 13-year-old entering a new school after 8 years homeschooled in a highly traditional home, I had progressed beyond the sew-your-own-clothing stage, but I was far from comfortable in my own skin. I was quickly cast in the role of “Smart Kid Who (as one teacher so thoughtfully put it) ‘Was Brainwashed Into Conservative Values By Her Parents.’” (Side note: that teacher was later fired for having sex with one of her students. Suffice it to say, I feel okay about rejecting her judgment of my values, just in case you were wondering if I’m still holding onto that as an adult!)

Just to put this into perspective a little more, I began my public schooling testing into all honors courses, and was immediately immersed in a group of highly competitive teenagers who had been fast friends, frenemies, or even arch nemeses, since they were all in diapers together. As if all of this weren’t enough to lodge me solidly in the smattering of stereotypical fringe-girls on the social scene, the teachers of Small Town America High School (STA High, for short) would occasionally provide their own unique (and public) commentary on student social lives, a soap opera they all followed avidly, some more conspicuously than others. Unfortunately, a few teachers chose the wrong audience with which to share their perspective, and the Freshmen Honors English Teacher was Exhibit A.

Mr. B was a strange little man, taller than most of his freshmen students, but only because they had yet to reach puberty. He stayed in his classroom most of the time, probably because walking out into the hallway was like watching a weird episode of “Honey, I Shrunk the Teacher”, as upperclassmen, teachers, and staff all towered over him. Mr. B’s thin gray hair lay permanently flaccid above his rounded face, and the resulting effect, combined with his diminutive height and just a touch of true social awkwardness, completed the look of a slightly-pervy old hobbit, perpetually trying to disguise himself in pastel polos and the ever-present khaki pants. Mr. B was nothing if not a creature of habit.

In fact, his habits were so ingrained that we got to hear every strange joke he told in Freshman English twice, once when the second-period students spilled out of his classroom to gossip their way through our fifteen-minutes of midmorning break, and then, for a second time, during our own class. It never failed; like clockwork the jokes were recycled.  Soon we found that sophomores and upperclassmen were also familiar with the repertoire, and we deduced that he must have a calendar of jokes and comments planned ahead; perfected throughout his 20 years as a teacher at STA High.

As you might expect from so scheduled a teacher, every Monday, during Mr. B’s 8th period class, we received 10 new vocabulary words for the week, which he would test us on every Friday. Usually this meant that, after diligently writing down the succinct definitions provided, we all wound up studying them during 7th period lunch on Fridays, usually with great success (Hooray for short-term memory!). Every once in a while, though, we would remember the words without studying, because Mr. B had an appallingly unique way of introducing certain words. Every week, he chose a student (read: victim) who he believed best represented a given vocabulary word, and used them as an example.  For example, the week we learned “utilitarian” and “aesthetic”, Mr. B’s vocabulary example was, “My, Nikki, that backpack of yours is so aesthetically pleasing, but it doesn’t look very utilitarian since it cannot hold all of your books.” Or that week we had “effervescent” and “taciturn” on our list, and he said, “Tamara is an excellent example of an effervescent personality, since she is always talking with others, but poor Ty is so taciturn that we barely know what he sounds like.” You get the picture.  Usually the examples were at least attempted complements, but his poor social skills usually rendered them, at best, backhanded. Some weeks were better than others, but mine, well; I think mine took the cake. What word did Mr. Stage-1-Hobbit-Sex-Offender associate with me?

Prudish

Part of Speech? Adjective.

Mr. B’s Definition?  Exceedingly proper; modest in speech, conduct, dress, etc.

“We might say Annie is a great example of a prudish person, don’t you all think?” Now, this was an honors class; we may not all have been genius material, but we were far from vocab virgins. Anyone worth their salt knows that calling someone a prude usually means that they’re of the stuck up and holier-than-thou ilk, particularly with regards to sex. It might have been true, but it was never a truly nice thing to say about a person.

To their credit, my classmates did not laugh. Instead, they unanimously shot extremely shocked looks in Mr. B’s direction. Even Collette and Tammy, who I overheard one day gleefully bashing both my wardrobe and my character in the girls’ locker room, looked respectably taken aback. Our facial expressions, along with the stunned silence following his bizarre question, must have clued Mr. B in to the awkward-factor of calling a freshman girl a prude, because he immediately followed up with “ . . . which is a positive thing! Right? I mean, it just means that she is, you know, really proper  . . . and . . . modest?” He floundered to the dubious end of his statement, coughed, and quickly changed the subject.

Needless to say, my reputation was pretty clear to me from the get-go. Not that I did a whole lot to change it for the next few years. Now, don’t get me wrong; high school was not a miserable time for me, at least, not after the first adjustment year. This is not the sassy new memoir version of Stephen King’s Carrie. I may not have dated, but my level of accepted-ness, thankfully, did grow over the course of my four years at STA high. This surge in popularity was partially because I was friendly, partially thanks to my increasingly popular older brother Neil, and partially because I was relatively smart, which made me a great candidate for homework help (read: attempts to copy).  Thanks to this trifecta of marketable qualities, I wound up on Prom Court junior year, and I happen to know that I got beat out for “Nicest To Know” by one vote in our Senior Yearbook, but my dating scene never improved. Between my shyness around the opposite sex and the fact that my older brother took umbrage to the slightest hint that someone found me attractive, it is not surprising that I remained completely sans relationship experience through my graduation from good old Small Town America High School at the ripe old age of 17. And so it might have remained, if it wasn’t for my best-friend-of-all-time-at-the-time, Katelyn.

I met Katelyn while she was dating my brother’s friend Rob. It was a quintessential high school summer, and those were the years when the whole football team would pile into the junk cars belonging to whoever had a license at the time and race out to “Jason’s Pond” for bonfires, swimming, and whatever dangerous games they could think of. Since my older brother Neil and I have always been close, I got to know a few of his friends, and after a while I became part of the crew invited to these pond shindigs. Ever nervous around the attractive jocks (*cough* Jason *cough*), and a little resentful of being a little sister tag-along, I usually declined. The summer before my senior year, however, I finally accepted an invitation. It was perhaps my second trip to Jason’s pond when Rob decided to bring his girlfriend. As the associated younger sister and girlfriend, neither of whom quite fit in with the rest of the crowd, Katelyn and I bonded quickly. Or, as we later would say, we ponded. Before you knew it, we were inseparable.

Aside from teenaged-girl slumber parties, which would not be complete without lots of Screw-Marry-Kill, Would You Rather, and the occasional viewing of Cruel Intentions, Katelyn fast became my best source for all relationship advice. This should probably have been concerning since she was from a highly broken home, moving from one boyfriend to the next as she slowly dealt with a truly heartbreaking family situation and a history of paternal abuse. The poor girl couldn’t have recognized a functional relationship in a line-up if it had mugged her in broad daylight, but teenagers just don’t think about functionality when it comes to relationships. She had a boyfriend, so she was qualified.

Although I have many flaws, I am nothing if not loyal. So I threw all of my loyalty into our friendship, doing my best to help mitigate some of Katelyn’s sad circumstances through a metaphoric attachment at the hip. Our friendship outlasted the He’s-Going-To-College-Breakup with Rob, flourishing as I went into full supportive mode through her emotional roller-coasters. Since her family was such a disaster, I made her part of my family that year. Deserved or not, Katelyn had my trust and, as someone who had been in several relationships (however dysfunctional), she became my love guru. What I didn’t foresee was that, soon after arriving home from his Freshman Year at College, she also became Neil’s friend with benefits.

You probably have realized that ours was not a healthy friendship, which I was on my way to discovering, not to worry. Loyalty, however, comes fully equipped with excellent blinders, and mine were still firmly in place when the month of July rolled around. There I was, a high school graduate, my best friend and my brother hooking up on the sly, and I had never even been kissed. Katelyn was concerned, as any good Love Guru would be.  So, she took matters into her own hands and decided it was time to be my matchmaker.

The scene was set with care . . . literally. It was the day before my brother’s birthday and there were streamers, balloons, and even a snazzy cookout setup. His closest college friends were driving up the following day as a surprise and then he, with his posse 19-year-old boys, was off to adventures unknown, road-tripping to Canada.  With the skillful prep work almost complete (unbeknownst to me), Katelyn played her gold card. With all the skill of a 17-year-old Yenta playing the game of Telephone in some bastardized version of Fiddler on the Roof I hope they never make, she told me that she had heard that my brother had been talking with his college-best-friend Matt, and that Matt had said to my brother, who then relayed this information to Katelyn, that I was really attractive. (Did you follow that?) She proceeded to tell me that she thought it might be a good idea for me to know this highly privileged information so that I might kiss Matt, you know, if the opportunity arose. Nervous, but spurred on by un-kissed curiosity and my Love Guru, I kept an open mind.

Onto this intricate scene entered First Matt. He was not the teenage-heartthrob chiseled chunk of man-meat that every girl hopes for, but he had something that I would soon realize was far more potent: a heady combination of sexual experience and confidence. Two things I lacked entirely, and this kid had them in spades. Wink upon glance, he laid it on thick all day long, giving me what all teen girls really want; attention. When the party wound down and all other guests had dwindled, Neil (with some urging from my love guru) decided that he, Katelyn, Matt, and I should all go to the movies. I had already seen I am Legend twice that summer (What can I say? My hometown wasn’t exactly a hub of metropolitan delights!), but it sounded like a good plan. Once we sat, Matt and I flirted; he kept up an endless stream of outrageous lines, while I shyly tested the waters. As if planned (imagine that!) Neil and Katelyn fell into one of the frequent spats to which they were prone. Deciding they needed to “work it out”, the two co-conspirators left, and Matt knew that his time had come.

It started with tickling. Juvenile really, but I guess what they say about the shoe fitting really does apply.  I am extremely ticklish, and grabbed Matt’s hand as he went for the one place I cannot handle being tickled; my knees. Grabbing someone’s hand might seem relatively innocent. Do not underestimate the power of handholding, young people. Handholding is the path to slutty behavior. I feel a little like Yoda, here, but trust me when I say that handholding leads to hand-caressing, hand caressing-leads to general caressing, and before you know it you’re acting like a little trollop while Will Smith tries desperately to keep zombies from destroying the world.

Looking back, I sometimes still try to figure out how on earth First Matt got me to go along with some of the forward shenanigans he pulled that night. It all comes back to that double whammy of confidence and sexual experience. My untried principles never knew what hit them, and as a chronic people-pleaser newly infused with a whole lot of sexual awakening, my befuddled little mind could only think “Well, if he’s doing it, too, then it must be okay.”  Hey, they don’t call kids young and foolish for no reason. When First-Matt started to propose we go a whole lot further than just kissing, I nervously felt like a little compromise was in order, and, not wanting to infuse the rest of the evening with awkwardness, I met him partway (read: appeasement). By the end of the movie, we were beyond my comfort zone, and both decidedly hot and bothered – which was a first, for me.

That night was the first night I was kissed. I don’t really know what I expected, but the reality was quite a bit racier then I had anticipated. Movies do a great job depicting the sweet innocence of a first kiss; quite the far cry from my experience. While still highly innocent compared to the typical middle schooler or your average Reality Show star, my horizons were much broader by the end of the evening, and I was quite disappointed in myself, actually. If any truly good thing came from my evening of uncharacteristically scandalous behavior, it was the realization that (A) Being scandalous was easy, and I could be just as slutty as the next girl, and (B) my single status was not because nobody was interested, but because a girl had to have her standards. As I got ready to go to college over the next month, I decided that the next boy I kissed would be one with whom I actually wanted a relationship.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t just graduate from high school that summer.

Well, there you have it! This is the first chapter in my very first Blog Book (Blook?), Matt-ers of the Heart . . . what do you think?

Too hokey for anyone yet?