Theo walked into the office of his job fifteen minutes early and approached his cubicle. He saw his boss out of the corner of his eye, standing beside the coffee maker, and decided that he would say something. Everyone in the office was constantly remarking on the fact that Theo rarely talked, but today he would change that. But what to say.
“Hi Mr. Peters.” No, Mr. Peters had told him that he could address him as Gerald. Still the idea of calling his boss by his first name made him uncomfortable. Fine, he would forego saying the name and simply say, “Good morning, how are you doing today?” Nope that sounded too fake. Who actually asked someone how they were doing and meant it? You know what, he would simply say, “Good morning.” Yep, short and simply, yet for Theo, it showed effort on his part.
He looked back over, preparing his speech, albeit a small one, but his boss had already walked away into his own office.
Oh well, Theo thought, he would just have to try again tomorrow.
At his lunch break, Theo had a chance to redeem himself. He was sitting at a table in the break room along with three of his other coworkers, Cody, Tom, and Nicholas. He sat down two chairs away from them and waited for his opportunity.
“Did you see the game last night?” Nicholas asked, opening his ham and cheese sandwich.
Theo looked up, but Nick wasn’t addressing him. Still, he had to be ready to enter into the conversation. He just had to figure out what game they were talking about. Not that it mattered since the only game he cared about was Uno, and occasionally a good old game of monopoly.
“Yeah, my team smoked yours. 15-0.” Cody laughed and Tom, who must have also been rooting for the winning team, joined in.
Nicholas shrugged good naturedly and then turned to Theo. “Are you into sports?”
This was his chance to show his coworkers that he could have a conversation. Sure, they had heard him say a few words, but that was rare. Even his work presentations were displayed more through his charts and graphs rather them him explaining.
But what should he say? He was by no means into sports, but if he just said no, the conversation would be over in a second and they would forget about him. But he couldn’t lie and say he was. He had to say something in the middle. Perhaps, “Not really, but I know a few things.” No, definitely not that. How about, “Not really, but I do know my way around a board game.” Stupid, that made him sound like…like a boring person. He looked back at them and realized they were all waiting for him to give an answer. Just say something. “No.”
Dang it. His one chance and he blew it. They nodded and returned to their conversation, leaving him to face the rest of his lunch break alone. Still, on the bright side, the day was not over yet, which meant he still had a chance to have a conversation.
This was his last chance. He’d had one more opportunity to talk since his lunch, but had failed again. It had been during a meeting about how they could better their marketing campaign. Theo, who had a journal—yes, a full journal of ideas—could have told even one of his ideas, but no. Instead, he had sat in complete silent. Only nodded and responding when a question was pointed at him.
Then after the meeting, his boss had taken him aside to see if he had any other ideas his coworkers had not mentioned. Theo had thought it was the perfect way to make up for his past conversation failings. He had taken a moment to ponder what ideas he would share, and had concocted a mini speech to explain each one. But rather than gather the courage to say what he needed to say, he had simply handed over the journal.
It was a step closer to actually having a conversation, but it was still a complete failure in his eyes.
Still, tonight was his chance to redeem himself once and for all, at least for the day. Tonight, he was having dinner at a restaurant with his family. His family. Surely, he could make conversation with his parents and siblings. There would be no coworkers, no bosses, and no awkward interactions. If he couldn’t even talk to his family, his conversation skills were hopelessly doomed.
He arrived at the restaurant, his fragile confidence in place. He could do this. It would not be that hard. Except when he met up with his family inside, he saw not only his family, but their next-door neighbors who were also friends. Their daughter being a young lady who Theo had liked since she had moved next door.
Of course, he should have never expected to have it easy. He had failed with every conversation placed before him, so why would his last chance be easy?
Just greet them. That’s all you have to do. Greet them and then take your seat. Your parents and hers will probably take over most of the conversation and you will barely have to do anything. With those thoughts in mind, he walked over Anne—the young lady in question—and nodded to her. Nodded. He did not say hi or how are you, he just nodded.
Say something, idiot. Just say anything at this point. “Hi.”
She turned to him and smiled that beautiful smile that always seemed to light up her face. “Hi Theo.”
She looked at him expectantly, probably waiting for him to say something else. Something he was completely incapable of doing. So instead, he simply pulled out her seat which—thanks to both of their parents and his siblings—was next to his.
Once the waiter had taken their orders and their small party had begun having their own conversations, Theo turned to Anne. He could do this. He knew Anne so he should be able to talk to her. He grabbed his glass of water and took a sip, giving himself a moment to think. He had to plan what he was going to say so that he had a successful conversation. Not that his prior planning had helped him earlier in the day, but this time he would just plan better.
Alright, first he had to say something to start off the question. Something like, “How are you?” No, that was too basic, plus he had already established that “how are you” was something you say to someone to be polite. He could say, “How was your day?” Or should he forgo the pleasantries all together. He could ask her about her job or bring up a random topic, but his mind was blank as far as topics went.
Forget it, he would not plan his conversation. He would just say the first thing that popped into his head. His head went blank. Well, that would not work. Maybe he should just come out and say how he felt about her. He looked around. His parents and her parents were deep in conversation. And siblings, both younger than him, were focused on their appetizers.
He would say, “Hey Anne, I know this may come out of nowhere, but this has been on my mind for a while. We have known each other since you moved next door, and I have always seen you as a friend even though I may not seem like it. Talking is hard for me…but that is beside the point. I really like you, Anne. I have for a long time and I was wondering if you would like to go on a date with me?”
Yes, it was perfect or as close to perfect as he could get. He turned over to her and met her green eyes. She seemed to notice that he wanted to say something and smiled.
This was it. All he had to do was say it. But as she continued to look at him, his thread of confidence fled and his mouth felt sealed shut. So instead of taking a chance. Instead of finally asking her the question he had wanted to ask since they were in middle school. Instead of succeeding in a conversation for once, he simply smiled at her and turned to face his food.
For the rest of the meal, he sat in silence as the rest of his party talked and laughed. He wished to his very core that he could be talking and laughing with them, but he could not.
Once they left the restaurant and Theo was back to his quiet apartment, he walked over to his calendar and wrote a big F over the day. He studied the Fs that covered the page and the pages before it. All failures. How was it that he could have a whole conversation in his head or to himself, but when he was with people, he could never say the words he wanted to? At this point, he felt that he should just give up and concede defeat. Admit that Theo Limner could not hold a conversation, not even a simple one. But he knew he couldn’t give up. If he had to live the rest of his life with only his mind as a companion, he would go mad.
He looked again at his calendar, the next day was unmarked, untouched by the red sharpie. That day, signified a new chance, A chance to write a big triumphant S instead of an F. And you know what, tomorrow he might just succeed at that. And if he didn’t, he could always just get a dog instead.