“We met a few weeks ago. I’m a friend of Mark’s. Let me know if you want to hang out some evening. It would be fun.”
This in an email to me a little less than two weeks after I moved here. We had met on one of my nights off, when I forced myself to go out and at least talk to the bartender at the cozy local bar, so I would not talk solely to myself that evening. It was not a great night, as I recall. I was sad and lonely, even as I laughed and talked to so many people on that night out.
And no, this email was not from a guy. Actually, the message came from a single woman close to my age. And I answered with a vague answer like, “Sure, sounds good,” but I never contacted her again. And then, out of the blue, she emailed again this past weekend, so many weeks later, when I returned from my road trip: “Did you move back to D.C.?” she asked. “No one has seen you around.”
Now, the fact that she emailed me again was a pleasant surprise. The idea that others were wondering why I had not been “seen around” was mildly astonishing. I honestly still don’t know a soul here beyond my co-workers. And I am fine with that. In fact, I am feeling rather comfortable.
Because I now have a very pleasant routine: Get up. Go for a walk or run. Eat. Go to the beach and just sit. Shower. Run necessary and unnecessary errands. Eat. Go to work. Come home. Drink a glass or two or three of wine. Write. Listen to music or read or keep writing. Go to sleep. My mental health prescription to myself reads: “Repeat every day for the foreseeable future.”
But then this contemporary of mine emailed again. And this time her email seemed to demand a real answer. I could say yes to “hanging out” and break out of my carefully crafted schedule, or I could say no and continue to be comfortable in my solitude. As much as I relish the Walden Pond oasis I have built for myself here in South Florida, and as much as I didn’t want to commit to going out, I decided to respond in the affirmative, because that’s what seemed like the right thing to do.
“Sure, I think I am getting off early this Thursday,” I emailed back.
Thursday. Usually a double for me. Always, for no apparent reason, the day of the damned during the lunch shift. Has been, since I started here. You know those days. Micros goes down and you and the staff revive the old-school art of writing tickets and shoving plastic and carbon paper in awkward swipers. Then someone on staff has a meltdown to add drama to the shift. Then the dishwasher breaks down. Then you wonder how it is you have a double on this damned day. Then you just have to laugh.
Being off season in these parts, I knew I had a better than 50-50 shot of getting off by 9 p.m. I texted this new non-friend and told her where I’d be, which is the only place I ever go here by myself, which would be where I know the lady bartenders, where I have offered to help the Monday night bartender with her college writing assignments.
But today was Thursday. And out I went.
I don’t think my new not-quite friend has ever been married, and I am sure she has no kids. She is in sales but is changing jobs. She is hyper and a little crazy, but very nice, and she is very used to doing the single woman going-out thing. She is not like me at all, and yet we have a lot in common, it seemed.
I was surprised when she met up with me, since I got off later than I thought. We chatted at the bar, and she and another woman counseled me on how to protect myself and my drinks from date-rape drugs, and how to listen to my internal alert voice and stay safe.
Which reminded me of a regular guest at my restaurant whom I always see walking two tiny dogs in the neighborhood, who told me to get a huge, ferocious dog for a pet, because, he said, “You need it for protection here.”
Which reminded me that I don’t know all the dangers here. I thought I knew the bad places and the bad guys in D.C. Here in paradise, it’s hard to know the good areas from the bad when palm trees are everywhere and the sky is azure blue and filled with puffy white clouds.
“You drove WHERE?” asked the assistant manager today on this damned Thursday. “Don’t do that again!” Well, okay, now I know not to.
And so I chatted with this woman and the other woman I had never meet before, and learned that one loves to gamble at the high stakes tables and that the other loves her church retreats.
Which only reminded me of the friends I left behind in D.C., and my best sister friend in Montana, and how different and distant I feel from them, and how unrelated I felt to the women I was talking to on this evening.
As nice as they were. As nice as it was to be asked to hang out. As much as I wish I could just embrace the potential of new friends with whom I have little, actually, in common.
As much as I don’t think I will be hanging out with either in the near future.
Sometimes, I am sure my version of Walden Pond, the one that beckons me to relax and recharge at the edge of the warm ocean waters, is all I need. Maybe for a long time. Maybe only for the foreseeable future. I am not sure I am ready to add talk and getting-to-know-you chatter and hanging out with more strangers to the mix.
Or at least that’s how I felt on this one night out.