I'd belonged to various dating sites off and on for years, meeting a higher percentage of men who looked nothing like their profile pics than men who did. But most of the time, the guys never even arrived. Expecting a no-show again, I sat at a coffee shop table typing on my brand new, expensive Mac laptop -- a purchase I'd made by dipping into my savings.
I'd bought it after my entire division was hit with a layoff -- before then, I only owned my work computer. Freelancing and Uncle Sam served as my only sources of income, so I needed a computer to work. I tried using the public library rather than buying something pricey, but computer usage was limited to one hour per day. I needed to work more than that.
Glancing at my watch, I figured Mark -- my date -- wouldn’t show as it was well past our scheduled meeting time. I shut my computer and searched for my keys when a man looking exactly like his profile pic stood at the head of the table. Startled by the fact that he showed up and looked like his picture, I smiled and thought, “Finally.” I felt an easiness run through my body and I relaxed back into my chair.
Mark carried a cup of tea without a lid and slid into the seat in front of me, setting his cup down and then immediately knocking it over. I watched in horror as the hot liquid spread across the table and dripped down my pants, scalding my legs. I screamed and every patron turned to look at me with shocked faces that quickly morphed into sympathetic ones. I made a grab for my laptop and shook the water off. The computer started gurgling and then made electricity sounds like the ones you hear coming from haunted houses at Halloween. The power light flickered a few times and then shut off.
I ran to the bathroom to splash cold water on my third-degree burned legs as I kept hitting every button on the laptop multiple times thinking if I pressed it enough, it would magically come back to life. It did not.
Feeling despondent and in physical pain, I left the bathroom and noticed Mark waiting for me. “Go to the Apple store and have them fix it. Text me what happens,” he said. This gave me a little relief; he was on my side.
I whipped through the streets and sprinted to the store. Out of breath, I explained to the employee about the water damage, even showing the tea stain lingering on my clothes. Either feeling sorry for me or scared of my panicked demeanor, he let me bypass the busy weekend line of customers and called for assistance right away to whisk my laptop to the backroom for examination.
Sitting in one of the chairs, I clasped my hands together and prayed for good news. I needed my computer for the little source of income I generated, but I had a sixth sense that another man was going to further ruin my day.
Sure enough, the Apple employee pulled up a chair, bowed his head and asked in a hushed tone, “Do you want the good news or the bad news?”
“I don’t want any bad news.”
He sighed. “Well, the good news is we can fix your computer. The bad news is it will take a week.”
A week with no computer? That was a lot of library visits.
“But even worse news, you lost everything. I hope you backed up. And,” he paused. “It’s going to cost $900.”
My eyes moistened; my heart beat with such intensity it caused my shirt to move. I had now broken the record for the most expensive coffee date in history. Without a choice, I said okay to the $900, which incidentally, was the exact amount I currently had on my unemployment card.
I texted Mark the cost and he texted back, “I’ll pay for half. I promise. Just text me your address.”
I let out a small amount of air from my tightened belly; $450 was still a lot of money, but it wasn’t $900.
I picked up my computer seven days later and paid with my unemployment card, rendering my balance $0. That week I ate peanut butter and jelly with an occasional homemade hot chocolate to excite my palate. I avoided my favorite coffee house not only to save money, but to avoid bad tea memories from resurfacing.
But days passed with no word from Mark. I tried emailing and texting with no response. Finally, I received a tiny peep and a text that said, “If you want my money, sue me.”
As a backstory, my brother works as a corporate lawyer and my mother serves as a paralegal to a named partner in a high-power law firm, making my access to attorneys easy and free. I'd never took advantage of this perk because I was not the litigious type. Even when a tenant skipped out on rent on a home I owned or when I received a large bill for healthcare services never rendered, I chose never to sue. In school, my shyness made me a straightforward target for constant bullying. In short, I never defended myself -- a fact I hated.
But when I received that text, all those non-confrontational memories flooded my brain and I felt like smacking myself and yelling, “Not this time!” No, not this time.
Game on, Mark.
As someone experienced in Googling exes, I conducted a little reconnaissance on Mark. In a few short clicks, I was surprised to discover Mark was a seven-figure-a-year dentist in an exclusive area of town with four different malpractice suits filed against him. I shrugged; at least this wouldn’t be his first rodeo.
My friend served him the papers with our court date typed in big, black letters. This, obviously, did not go over well. He texted saying he would hire 12 lawyers to “get me” and would countersue for any lost income on our court date. Take note, he said: “I make lots and lots of money and will sue you for lots and lots of money.” I offered a number of times to settle, but he returned with more threats. The old me would have felt scared off and canceled the lawsuit, but I stood firm. I needed the money, but I needed to feel powerful more.
Because cases are public information, television producers often scour the courts for funny reasons people are suing -- and my case made every producer’s list. While waiting for our day in court to arrive, I received several phone calls from various reality court television executives asking me to take my case to the small screen. Even a well-known female talk show host asked her producer to call me to say she found my story hilarious and would I be willing to appear on her show for a dating boot camp segment. (I said no to the offers because I didn’t want my dating life to become entertainment for the masses and live on via YouTube for eternity.)
Soon enough, our court date arrived and as much as I hoped Mark wouldn’t show and I’d win everything by default, he came dressed in a pressed Hugo Boss suit and tie with a Mercedes key chain dangling from his tight fists.
Feeling nervous and watching little beads of sweat develop on my hands, I asked for arbitration as one last ditch effort to come to a peaceful conclusion. Mark agreed after rolling his eyes and asking me “to be reasonable.”
We met in a trailer behind the courthouse and both delivered our testimonies of how it went down. My brother wrote my testimony, using fancy words like “repudiate” and “a priori.” I sounded book smart, even though I needed Google translate to understand it. I stated we had a written contract and presented evidence Mark did indeed write (aka text) he’ll pay for half. He promised.
Mark said coffee house tables weren’t made for laptops; I shouldn’t have had a computer there in the first place. He also never admitted any wrongdoing; he said he never spilled the tea in the first place. He was just being a nice gentleman by offering to pay.
The arbitrator looked up at the ceiling and scratched his neck. “You mean to tell me you just offered a complete stranger hundreds of dollars for something you weren’t involved in?”
Mark nodded his head yes and I pursed my lips together to keep from chuckling. Even the arbitrator could see through the BS.
In the end, I got my half and we split the $30 court fee down the middle -- after arguing over the $15 for 45 minutes.
Suing an Internet date wasn’t my finest moment, but I felt lighter and happier for it. I stood up for myself and I know I can do it again.