“Joe died. Just an hour ago,” said one of my regulars as he placed an empty Miller Lite bottle on the bar. “I wasn’t sure if you’d heard.”
Joe? Joe who always called me “pretty lady”? Whiskey and water, “Mist is fine” Joe? Joe who came in to my bar with his pal and sort-of caretaker every shift I worked?
No. No. And no. No more. No more loss.
“He was really sick, RG. You knew that,” said the regular as he watched my stunned expression crumple slightly as I fought the urge to cry. Again. I’d cried so much already this past weekend. And still the salty tears seemed in ample supply, always just a blink away.
“I know, but he was just here, my last day before I left for Montana,” I told him.
I didn’t tell him that on that day I knew Joe’s time was as close as the wisp of breeze on the ocean. How he lay his head on my bar, not from too much Mist, but because his body was shutting down, wracked with a pain the Mist could only soothe so much.
I didn’t tell him how an angry, mean local bastard had teased Joe on that day about not downing his whiskey fast enough, and how he’d probably “die trying.” And how Joe responded, “That’ll be sooner than you think,” but to himself and not the mean bastard. Until our eyes met and he knew he’d told me, too.
I didn’t tell him how difficult it was for him to finish one Mist, but how he always ordered two and left me $5 for “the trouble.” And how it was so far from any trouble at all.
I didn’t tell him about how I’d just spent the saddest three days of my life traveling to, spending a day in, and returning from Montana. How I wasn’t sure anyone in my life beyond my immediate family and my best sister friend understood this. How I tried to be happy about a friend’s vacation that included a school reunion about which he still can’t stop talking, how I tried to cheer a dart game at my bar today and just could not, how I feel like I am living in the surreal and the tears just won’t stop coming, even though I can’t cry at work or in the car or at the bank or anywhere. Ever. Here. Except with the pup. Alone.
I didn’t tell him how the bittersweet time en route to Montana included one of the best moments with RG daughter ever, albeit in condensed time as she worked.
I didn’t tell him how all of this made me miss all of my D.C. life more than ever, even though I never see myself living it again. How the circles of life and death and life and more death just keep forming and happening and nothing I can do or say or feel or write changes that.
I didn’t tell him, or tell the nice boys who are a part of my life in the most non-needy way, or tell my close Keys girlfriends whom I adore and who will never text me hateful high school crap out of the blue like the Fort Lauderdale girls do when they are drunk and bored, just how sad, so sad, I am by so much loss.
“No, I hadn’t heard. Thanks for letting me know,” I told him.