We double-date the first time, Elvira and I, with her friends Diane and Carmen. We hit a restaurant in New York City's Little Italy, Puglia's on Hester Street. Fettucine, garlic bread, the whole nine yards.
Immediately I'm taken with Elvira. She's adorable, but she's also got a good heart, and she's smart, too. Naturally, she makes me nervous.
So I do what a guy in that situation might do -- I clam up, too jittery to say anything. I also drink too much red wine, the house red -- much too much -- all without eating.
Afterwards, we head back uptown, to the apartment building in the Chelsea neighborhood where I live on the third floor and her Diane and Carmen on the first. We're all saying goodnight, and then Elvira and I are alone.
"Would you like to come up?" I ask, feeling pretty frisky.
"No, thank you," she says gently.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. I'm going to stay here tonight, with my friends."
And then I say something I never should have said. Something that I find it hard to believe I said. Something that I'm still sorry and embarrassed and ashamed I said.
"What are you," I say, "a lesbian or something?"
Now, you're welcome to chalk up this remark to all the red wine I had drunk, or to this being 1976, or to rank immaturity, or to a guy being a guy, taking the only recourse left to his manly pride after seeing his advance rebuffed -- questioning a woman about her sexual preferences -- or just garden-variety idiocy. Or all of the above.
Whatever my motivation, I know instantly I've made a major mistake. Surely Elvira will now react in kind. She'll slap my face or call me rude or walk away or challenge me to do something anatomically impossible to myself. Or all of the above. No matter what happens, I suspect, I will somehow have to pay the consequences.
But no. The 23-year-old Italian girl from Brooklyn with the doe-like brown eyes and cute bangs never blinks or balks. Instead, she laughs it off and looks me right in the eyes.
"You've had too much to drink," Elvira says to me. "It's late at night and you have no idea what you're saying. So let's just ignore it and wish each other good night."
Well, I think as we part company, that is certainly going to be that. Under no circumstances will I ever get to see this girl again. I've blown it. Our first date is going to be our last.
But that, too, proves untrue. I call Elvira the next day to apologize, and she accepts. I then invite her out again, and she takes me up on that, too.
Elvira and I keep going out together, seeing no one else. The next year, we move in together in Queens. Two years later we become engaged. The following year we get married. Before a decade passes, we have two children, a son and a daughter. Next month we'll mark our 34th wedding anniversary.
Talk about close calls. Our romance almost ended before it began -- one blind date, over and out, all thanks to a comment that showed my judgment to be highly suspect at best. It haunts me to consider all the opportunities we would have missed, the wedding never held, the love never gained, the children never born.
I used to think this story was all about me, about my desperately obnoxious remark. But again, I've turned out to be off-base. This story is about Elvira, about her response and how she cut me some slack.
Luckily, she gave me that second chance. She saw something redeemable in me, whatever it might be, and bet the house. And I've made it my business ever since then to try to live up to her belief.
Happy Valentine's Day, my dear.
Bob Brody, an executive and essayist in New York City, blogs at letterstomykids.org. .