January 13, 2023
I had an interview yesterday. I got the job. It will be 10 hours a week, flexible schedule, perfect in conjunction with school. It will get me out, I’ll learn new things, and I’ll make a few hundred extra bucks a month. That will be good. I’m living on the edge now. I have put a few hundred on my credit card this first month in the new apartment, which is something I didn’t want to do. I won’t have to do that anymore, assuming the job works out. This job is another miracle in my life full of tiny miracles. (And sometimes big miracles.)
After the interview was over, I drove around for a while, trying to get that map of the city built in my mind. My end goal was to visit the Hawthorn Liquor Store. I’d been there with David last spring, and they had a large selection of locally distilled vodka’s. But I was hungry; I needed lunch. And I wanted a lemon drop.
I parked in front of BOG, Bar of the Gods. It was 2:30, the bar wasn’t open. I looked across the street and saw a big sign: Space Room. From the outside, it looked like an arcade. Oh my God, a bunch of lanky nerdy greasy teens playing pinball, I thought. I Googled Space Room and learned it was a lounge — with food. Cool.
I crossed the street and entered. It was very dark. The décor was mid-century modern, there were lights that looked like spaceships hanging over the bar. I later learned they were original from the 1950s. I loved it. It was charming. Just my kind of place.
I ordered a French dip and a lemon drop and waited while the bartender made my drink, credit card in hand as I readied to pay.
“Are you getting our drinks young lady?” a pleasant looking man sitting just to my left asked.
I smiled, looking into his eyes briefly, then I did a quick eval of all three men sitting together at the end of the bar. They were three solid average looking guys. From right to left, an old one (about my age), an even older one, and a younger one. Ordinary.
I looked back down at my check just as a rush of adrenalin hit me hard. I did a double take. The old one (the one my age), the one who’d joked about me buying them drinks, he looked just like Jeff. I looked hard at him, and everything around me fell away for just a moment and all I felt was Jeff. I gasped inaudibly (I hope inaudibly) and held my breath, suspended, my heart pounding. But I had to respond. What snappy comeback could I pull out of the hat for this one?
“I don’t know. Are you guys single? I don’t buy drinks for married men!” I quipped over my shoulder as I slowly and carefully, oh so carefully, carried my lemon drop martini over to a table. (Those martini glasses. Man. Impossible to walk around with. But so lovely. So sexy.)
I slid into a booth, still flushed through hot as I thought of Jeff. No married men, I kept saying in my head. No married men. No married men. Did I say no married men? No married men.
It’s not Jeff, don’t be weird, don’t be silly, I told myself. After a few seconds, my visceral reaction subsided. I let it go, I put it away and out of my mind. It was a brief encounter, nothing more. It would be nothing more. I wasn’t interested. Maybe I wasn’t interested. Was I interested? Ah hell, I don’t know. I pushed the thought far away and I put on my headphones and continued listening to the podcast I’d begun in the car. Another political podcast. Fuck.
My food came out, I ate. I finished the podcast, I finished my lunch, I finished my martini. It was time for another. I left my table and walked up to the bar. I saw there was another chair at the bar, next to Jeff’s Doppelganger, whom I dubbed Mr. Unremarkable II in my head. Wow. Well shit. Well fuck.
“I didn’t know there was a chair here, I’m moving up next to you guys,” I said. I go to bars specifically to meet people. And many of my closest friends can attest to the fact I meet really cool people in bars that often become my closest friends.
As I returned to the table to gather my things, I heard them mumbling that would be just fine, young lady. Ha! Cracks me up when people call me young lady. Although I routinely use the same quip when I’m directing a snarky comment to an old man (meaning a man my age). It really is funny. And quite charming. I love to be charming but I love to be charmed even more.
I walked back and climbed onto the stool next to Mr. Unremarkable II just as the bartender set my lemon drop before me.
“So, are you guys all single?” I asked, holding my breath, hoping for the best. The best being no married men.
“We’re all single,” the oldest one in the middle said. They all started fingering their left ring fingers, making sure I could see none of them was wearing a ring. I breathed an inaudible sigh of relief (I hope inaudible). Thank God. Thank the Lord God Almighty Above, I thought, smiling wide at those spaceships hovering over my head.
A pleasant, relaxed conversation ensued. I told them I was new to Portland, and when they asked me what I did, I lied my usual lie and said I was retired.
We talked about my oil leak, how much it might cost, and were there any shops they could recommend? It was just like the day I met Jeff, when I asked him and his buddies where was a good place to buy tires? I needed new tires. Déjà vu. Life is so weird. So fucking weird. Things repeat. They’re different, but they’re the same, but they’re different. To everything, turn, turn, turn.
The conversation continued, easy and casual. After a short while, I trained my attention full on to Mr. Unremarkable II. I felt Jeff all over again, in my stomach, in my heart, inside of me filling me up all inside. I tried not to hold his gaze uncomfortably long, but it was hard not to stare. I tried to quell my butterflies, I tried to slow my breathing. It’s not Jeff, I kept telling myself. It’s not Jeff.
“You look so much like a man I knew in Louisville,” I said. And I said it a couple more times over the next while.
After a time, I found Jeff’s picture in my phone and showed it to Mr. Unremarkable II. They really don’t look that much alike, I was surprised to see. Mr. Unremarkable II is older than Jeff but looks younger. He has more hair than Jeff and he’s better looking. But he reminded me so much of Jeff when I first met him seven years ago, when I was just 53 and Jeff was just 50. So long ago. So fucking long ago.
“He was a Great Love,” I said dreamily, staring at the picture on my phone, then remembering to pull out of my reverie and re-engage with Mr. Unremarkable II.
Very soon, Mr. Unremarkable II and I were leaning in towards one another, our heads very close. It felt like it was just the two of us in all the bar, in all the world. And then the conversation took a serious turn.
He told me about his three grown children. His middle daughter, she would be 31 now, he said, she had been killed in a drunk driving accident. It was just her, he said. No one else. She was an alcoholic, he explained.
Then he told me he was an alcoholic, something he told me several more times during our lengthy conversation. He told me about the guilt and shame he held close inside for having passed that on to his children. He’s in torment. I know that feeling. He’s very sad, and he’s very lonely. I know all those things, intimately.
He told me about the woman he’d loved who he’d left in Minnesota four years ago. She still owned his heart.
“Do you talk to her? Talk to her! Tell her how you feel!” I urged. I’m all about reconciliation. I’m all about fighting for your Great Love.
“I can’t,” he said. “It’s done. Scorched earth.”
“I get it,” I said, touching his arm gently, briefly.
Then things lightened a bit, and he showed me way too many pictures of his chubby-cheeked grandson. Oh my God, babies all look the same. All chubby and cherubic. So sweet. But they all look exactly the same. I always try to appear engaged and entranced when people show me their grandbaby pictures, but they all look exactly the same. I’m always so relieved when the show and tell is over.
Mr. Unremarkable II wasn’t Jeff any longer. He had taken on an identity of his own. I knew it wasn’t Jeff because the butterflies were gone. Since it wasn’t Jeff, I didn’t have to feel that longing. I didn’t have to revisit that exquisite pain. I didn’t have to hold back the panic thinking he might not stay in my life.
I’ll switch to calling Mr. Unremarkable II “Mr. O.”, short for Mr. Ordinary, now that he has an identity separate from Jeff’s.
After a long while, it was apparent Mr. O. was drunk. He wasn’t slurring or wobbly, nothing like that, because alcoholics know how to maintain. But then, all of a sudden, he got it in his head to drive home in his 55 Chevy. I told him he shouldn’t drive. I told him I’d take him home; he only lived a half mile away. I explained I was on my third martini, though, and really needed to sit for a bit, drink some water, and hang out for a half hour longer, and then I’d take him home.
The younger one furthest away jumped in on that exchange. “Just wait a bit, Mr. O. (only he didn’t call him Mr. O.) and I’ll drive you home,” he said. But Mr. O. had it in his mind to leave. You can’t change the mind of a drunk once his mind is set. So, he left.
I was quiet for a bit, thinking, my eyes resting on those spaceships. And then the oldest one and the younger one brought me back into the moment, back into the discussion. Everything picked up again, very easy and calm and pleasant.
And then all of a sudden Mr. O. was standing next to me. It was just like when Jeff came back for me that day in the bar. My stomach leapt. But it wasn’t Jeff. And it really wasn’t like that day at all. Mr. O. is really not like Jeff at all.
“My locks are frozen,” he said.
I worried mine might be, but I have a 2016 with keyless entry, and Mr. O. has a 55 Chevy. Of course his locks were frozen. The storm had begun, the temperature had dropped into the 20s.
The younger one continued to urge Mr. O. not to drive. I offered again to drive him home if he’d wait just a bit. But he left again, and this time he didn’t come back. Maybe he got his truck door opened, maybe he walked home.
There was another hour of simple yet engaging conversation. The fellows were just regular guys. Ordinary. I make it sound like ordinary is a bad thing. It’s not. Calm, predictable, safe, ordinary — those are the things I seek. And then there’s kind and funny, my two non-negotiables. All three men were all of those things. And none of them made my stomach be weird. That’s a good thing. Calm, predictable, safe, ordinary. No drama, no trauma. That’s what I need most in my life right now.
After I’d finished a full glass of water, I got up and readied to leave.
“Come and see us again, young lady,” the oldest one urged.
“What days are you here?” I asked, pretty much knowing what the answer would be.
“Oh, you’ll find us here most days,” he said, laughing. Ha ha ha. Yuck yuck yuck. “Isn’t that funny that we’re alcoholics and we hang out at the bar every afternoon?” That was the part he didn’t say out loud. Eh, I get it. No judgment. No judgment at all. It’s loneliness. There’s the booze, of course, but mostly it’s just plain loneliness.
As I walked to my car, I wondered if I’d go back. Yes, of course I will. And I’ll make sure it’s right around 2:30. And hopefully there will be that extra seat right next to Mr. O. I imagine the three of them always sit in the same order. Mr. O., then the oldest one, then the younger one. Routine is a very soothing thing, especially when you’re an alcoholic.
I drove home and it was very cold. I worried there’d be ice and I’d fall. I fall all the time. All the fucking time. But there wasn’t ice. It was a dry dry cold. And I didn’t fall. Tabitha scolded me for a good 15 minutes for having been gone so long.
I Persevere. We Persevere. And life goes on.