I make a point to visit my bartender girlfriend whenever I go up to Fort Lauderdale. I don’t go too often, for many reasons, not the least of which is that getting there is a schlep and, beyond my bartender girlfriend and my pilot girlfriend, I have a lot of reasons to steer clear of the place.
I had only intended to go up for the day to get my hair cut and to have the straightening glop put on my hair so it would not look like the poodle’s that my hair tends to emulate in the humid Florida climate. The straightening glop is just that–glop–and it has to remain in one’s hair for three days. It makes one’s hair flat and greasy as it bonds over 72 hours. Then, after one washing–poof!–shiny, smooth, beautiful hair. Getting there, however, is a long stretch in beauty hell.
The day the straightening glop is put on one’s hair is also not the day to plan a big night out afterward–or for the next three nights. (An aside–I never last longer than 48 hours with the glop on my hair, yet the results last for plenty of months.) Hence, for me, this was not the day to see anyone beyond my bartender girlfriend in her own home. It most certainly was not the day to run into my Day-At-A-Time boy at my former dive bar.
But crazy drama unfolds when and where it wants to. And my version of drama apparently does not care whether I am having a good hair day or simply have glop glistening in my tresses.
My bartender girlfriend and her boy have had a tough time of it. They care much for each other, and he even moved in with her after more than a year of dating, but their struggle to stay happy in love seemed to be a daily one.
On the day I was supposed to be in town only for the day to have the straightening glop put on my hair, their relationship entirely collapsed. This directly led to my traveling overnight along an emotional side road. By the end of it, I couldn’t wait to zoom down the Turnpike and turn left onto Card Sound Road, where I could finally breathe again.
“Stay over,” urged my bartender girlfriend after I had sipped a glass of wine with her and her boyfriend in their apartment. “We’re headed out to dinner, but we’ll be back early. Stay!”
“No, not this trip,” I said, wanting to enjoy my day off the following day doing nothing more than snoozing in the sun on my little beach. But maybe I would stop by my former dive bar and say hi to the owner, glop in my hair be damned. My Day-At-A-Time boy, I knew, would be working elsewhere, and thus, he would be nowhere near the place at such an early hour in the evening. Then I would head home.
“Okay, well, we’ll call you when we’re done and see if you want to change your mind,” she said. All good, and off we all went.
My former dive bar was moderately full when I walked in. Not bad for a weeknight. The owner immediately saw me and called me over to sit at the bar with him. And as weird coincidence would have it, he introduced me to a cute couple sitting on the other side of him–adding how the boy lived not two blocks from my Keys house. His girl was moving down in a week. Wow.
I talked and laughed with this couple for hours, telling the girl my Keys girlfriends and I would love to have her join us for our weekly happy hours, maybe even our book club that no one ever reads the books for. “I cannot believe I will have a friend when I move down,” she smiled, raising her beer bottle in a toast.
“I have a French Bulldog that looks a lot like Rouletta,” said her boy, patting my standoffish pup’s head. “Here, look at her picture.” Displayed on his phone screen was a black-and-white Frenchie wrapped up in a red blanket.
“Rouletta is obsessed with her red blanket,” I said, sharing my own photos. “My God, they must be meant to be…”
“Married,” laughed the boy. Ha!
A first blind date was planned at the perfect dog-friendly bar, a bride price of unlimited happy hour drinks was negotiated, and a color scheme for the flowers and dresses was decided upon. The dive bar owner would be the best man. Yes, it seems kind of stupid now, but the conversation was hilarious at the time.
The best friend of my Day-At-A-Time boy wandered in at that point, saw me, did a double take, then came over to give me a huge bear hug that startled as much as pleased me. “How the hell are you? How are the Keys?” he asked, clearly happy to see me. Go figure.
“It’s great. I love it there,” I told him. A short, almost awkward moment followed.
“Does he know you’re here?” my Day-At-A-Time boy’s best friend asked.
“No, and he doesn’t need to know,” I said, feeling a slight flutter of emotions well up that I quickly quashed. “I’ll be gone long before he comes in later on, so no worries, okay?”
He stared at me in his intense way. “What the hell even happened?” he asked.
I took a deep breath and didn’t answer right away. Then, “He broke my heart, you know. But really? I think I just liked him far more than he liked me. I got crazy over that. He couldn’t stand crazy. I think it is just that simple.”
Somehow, saying these words aloud to this best friend mitigated the power of what they meant. Maybe, in the end, it was really just that simple. And that had simply made us over several months before.
“Well, you look great,” said the best friend, oblivious to the glop in my hair. “Do you want me to pass along a message to him, like ‘Kiss my ass!’ or anything?” he laughed.
I wasn’t sure what to say. “No, please just tell him…just say…yeah, I don’t know,” I ended quietly.
“I’ll say it right, okay?” he said, putting an arm around my shoulders.
Okay. All okay.
I looked at my watch. Uh oh. Way later than I had intended to be there. Maybe I should just stay overnight with my bartender girlfriend after all, I thought.
I said goodbye to the dive bar owner, my new Keys friends, and my Day-At-A-Time boy’s best friend. I collected a now treat-stuffed Rouletta and headed out to the parking lot.
My phone rang just as I was putting my car in reverse. “Where are you?” asked my breathless bartender girlfriend. She sounded upset and a little frantic.
“Just leaving the dive bar,” I told her. “Are you at home?”
As it turned out, she was very far from home but very close to where I was, having been unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend from her boyfriend’s car in a deserted, unlit parking lot several blocks away from the dive bar. And all I could think of, as she told me this, was, Are you serious? Grownups really pull that kind of crap with each other? I guess they did. Because my bartender girlfriend was hiking the multiple blocks in very high heels to meet me back inside the dive bar because, as she put it, “I need a drink!” An understatement, to be sure.
She cried. I listened. She drank vodka. I drank water. She laughed and called other girlfriends to celebrate her new singleness. I shrugged at the dive bar owner who offered us both a place to stay if my bartender girlfriend and I felt uneasy going back to her place. She drank another vodka. I drank some more water. She cried some more. I listened and listened.
But what I really wanted to do was pack her up and whisk her away to the Keys and be gone from it all. Done with it all.
“Hey, how are you?” smiled my Day-At-A-Time boy who was standing at my side.
I think I smiled. I am pretty sure I said I was fine. He hugged me, and I know I wondered if he noticed the glop in my hair.
“Keys treating you well?” he asked.
“Sure, great,” I said, then turned toward my friend. “You remember my bartender girlfriend, right?”
He knew she was upset. He knew enough to say hello to her and head over to another part of the bar to talk to his other friends. If he knew I had glop in my hair, he didn’t show it.
“Let’s get out of here,” said my bartender girlfriend, nodding at him as he walked away from us.
“No, we’ll leave in a minute or so. I really don’t need to be the dumb-ass broken-hearted former girlfriend running from a bar under a fit of teenage-like emotional duress just because a former boyfriend walks in.”
“Oh, okay,” said my bartender girlfriend, a little surprised. “But please tell me you don’t still like him.”
“You know, it’s not so much him,” I lied a little to her. “I just would love to have that feeling for someone again, and have it be reciprocated and be very, very real. It was all so new and wonderful for me, the feelings I had toward him. I couldn’t believe how great it all felt. And then it just wasn’t at all real, and since then, well, it’s been pretty awful.”
“I know,” was all she said. It was all she could say about it, because there was nothing more to say.
We left ten minutes later, but not before my Day-At-A-Time boy came over to give me a last hug goodbye. And as much as I wanted to feel happy or sad or angry–to feel anything, for that matter–I didn’t. Feel anything.
My bartender girlfriend’s boyfriend left early the next morning while I pretended to sleep on the living room sofa. He returned with a rented trailer several hours later, which gave my bartender girlfriend and I plenty of time to gather his belongings and line them all up at the front door. He loaded up his stuff and drove away, the drama of the night before quietly bundled up in trash bags and laundry baskets and assorted suitcases.
I drove away, too, not long afterward. It’s for the best, my bartender girlfriend and I agreed through a hug and final tears before I left. My bartender girlfriend is tough. She’ll be fine. She already is.
I am mostly fine, too. I’m just not as tough. I think too much, and that often gets in the way of being tough, of feeling fine.
But hey, my hair looks great now that I have washed away all the glop. Rouletta is engaged. And no place has ever felt like home as much as the one in which I have landed–so many miles and a lifestyle away from Fort Lauderdale.