“Are you using that ashtray?” asks the nondescript blonde sporting a conservative short haircut and so-so highlights.
I reach over my glass of wine and place the dirty glass bowl in front of her. I am not really annoyed, but I know I come across that way. “Sure. All yours.”
Because it is past midnight and the boy called me a half hour ago after wining and dining clients all night and asked me to meet him at this place. Because it is after midnight and I have watched “The Kite Runner” via On Demand, and I am not feeling so very jovial. Because it is after midnight, and I am so sober and no one else is.
“Drink a shot and then a glass of your wine,” advises my bartender friend with the curly hair, when I walk over to her service bar to chat.
“Nah, I am good with just the wine. Although it may take another 10 glasses to catch up with these people!”
“Red Headed Slut, that’s what you need,” she laughs, even though we both know there is no way I am drinking one.
I regard the boy who had called me here. So cute. So sweet to have called after texting all evening with status reports: “Last bottle of wine, I promise!” And so engaged with all the ladies surrounding the one who has asked me for the ashtray.
At that moment, I admit it, I feel it–a twinge of, “I kind of care that you made friends with them so fast, so easily, while I was at home watching a sad movie with my pup.”
I take a huge gulp of wine, literally shaking my head to clear my stupid high school thoughts, and I regard the boy again, but this time from the perspective of the woman who has just asked me for an ashtray. My boy is her fantasy. My boy is the beginning of a way out her way her life that she will never leave, despite her stray thoughts. Almost as quickly as I have thought them, I am done with my high school stupid thoughts, and I just want to chat with her.
“Are you a local?” she asks.
“Kind of,” I answer. “Where are you all from?” I ask, because I know anyone who is not from here loves to answer that question.
“D.C. area. Northern Virginia.”
“That’s where she’s from,” says the boy.
I glance at him. I sort of smile. I silently tell him, I will take it from here. And he reads that. Hey, he may be “that boy,” but he gets this.
“Really?” two of the women ask in unison.
“Yep,” I reply.
One of the women smiles, her braces glimmering in the light of the candle’s light. God, braces, at her age. Means only one thing–great health insurance plan. Which, I learn, because I am that good at finding out, is her husband’s plan. For only a second, the phrase “golden handcuffs” comes to mind. I quickly dismiss it.
The short-haired woman and I hit it off. She asks where I grew up, what I have done up until now, how have I landed here. I tell her, and she is somewhat shocked: “You were a journalist? You just gave it up? You were married for how long? You just left?”
I am grateful, at this point, for the generous pour the bartenders have allowed my second glass of wine.
And now the others chime in, noticing me for the first time, once they have sipped their pink cocktails. “Did you have a job?” “Did you know anyone?” “Were you really all alone?” “Weren’t you scared?”
Yes. No. Yes. I still am. I am scared to death. But I don’t tell them that.
Instead, I turn my sole attention to the short-haired one. Because at this moment, I am sure she is the only one who will hear me.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” I tell her.
“What has been the biggest challenge?” she asks.
“Knowing the difference between lonely and alone. Accepting both.”
She looks at me, draws on her cigarette, before saying, “Between you and me, a couple of these girls here should do what you have done.”
I look at her and say, “Don’t ever say that to them.”
She nods. She knows. But she really doesn’t.
But she does know the private high school I attended. She tells me she “knew” I had to have gone to a place “like that.” She cannot believe my age, but when she finally does, she begs me to give her insight and wisdom because I have ten years on her.
“You can afford a lot of mistakes with a lot of love,” I tell her, repeating the phrase a terrible shrink told me when I first gained custody of my then-12-year-old sister, when I was but 24 and newly married.
But I am not thinking of those times. I am thinking of my own beautiful, successful kids who have given me pause through the years, but whom have always given me pride. Always. Love definitely won out with them.
“Can you repeat that?” she asks. “I think I might need to remember that in the next few years.”
So I do. Twice. It is an important phrase to share, even as I drink my second very full glass of wine and touch the boy’s arm to remind him I am still aware he is there.
They say they will go dance at the Elbo Room before they leave town. I tell them to dance and dance and dance, if they do go there. I tell them to dance like there is no other day to do so. Because there will never be another day to dance like that for them, this I know.
And then they are gone.
Today, while taking my dog for a walk, another dog owner unexpectedly asked us to come into her enclosed pool area, “To let the dogs play together.” For the first time since I adopted her, Rouletta knew what playtime felt like outside, off a leash. She ran, she played, she bounded about.
Then she ran, without hesitation, toward the pool. And she jumped in. And she sank. Quickly.
I panicked, and I was about to jump in after her, when I noticed her frantically paddling her way to the surface, her face suddenly at the edge of the pool. I reached in and grabbed her soaking, heavy harness and pulled her to safety.
But I was going to be okay, she told me with her damp eyes. I came back to the surface, didn’t I? she silently asked.
You are. You did, I told her, hugging her shaking wet form to my T-shirt, knowing I would have jumped in to get her. Knowing she was going to be okay.
God, what a couple of days.