Looking back on it now, I was always the first to arrive. Yet, at the time, I didn’t think anything about it – I was just living the single life and doing my own thing — until a random comment hit home.
I was meeting friends for drinks. Nothing more, nothing less. The type of thing you look forward to after a long week at work, but not the type of thing that required a lot of effort.
Or so I thought.
Everything that evening was pretty much status quo. I arrived at the restaurant, walked over to the bar and found a couple of unoccupied bar stools to claim for myself and my friends. Said friends had yet to materialize, so I ordered a glass of wine and devoted myself to the task of unwinding.
I earned it.
reality smacked me in the face, prompting the ego and the id to seriously go at it
It was Indian Summer, and the restaurant’s air conditioning was a welcoming respite from the heat. The flicker of candlelight provided by votives that paraded their way down the sleek mahogany bar created a zen-like atmosphere.
The single life was good.
Soon, my friends swooped in. A gaggle of women in various stages of singledom — the forever single, the divorcee, the separated and the man hater. How the latter made the team I’ll never quite know, but she was a goodhearted person in spite of the crack in her soul.
Amid the ‘hello’, the ‘how are you’ and the ‘you look great’ greetings, a bombshell was innocently dropped in my lap.
“We love when you meet up with us,” the stealth bomber voluntarily offered up in a cheery voice, “because none of us want to be the first to arrive.”
While everyone settled in to share tales of the week that was, those words hung in the air for me the rest of the evening.
I’d never thought twice about walking into a restaurant, either for a table or for a place at the bar. And I’d never thought about why I never thought about it. Until reality smacked me in the face, prompting the ego and the id to seriously go at it.
Truthfully, I was so wrapped up inside my head I did little more than smile and nod my way through the evening. The good news in all of this is that it’s actually pretty easy to get away with not being present when a gathering consists of people and alcohol.
The air was still hot and humid when I left the restaurant. Driving home in the darkness, my
CPU was generating long-forgotten childhood memories. Flashing before my eyes were scenes of my life, yet they seemed so distant, so remote that I barely recognized them.
A little girl, maybe six or seven years old, hiding her introverted nature behind long blonde hair. She was in a restaurant — no, wait. She was sitting atop a bar stool, right where her father had put her. He was behind the bar, mixing up a cherry coke for her.
Extra Maraschinos were a special request — three, to be exact — and he complied. While she drank her soda and nibbled on the sweet cherry stems, he was working hard.
Sterilizing glasses was a three-step process. Dusting the liquor bottles happened along the way. All the while, he was keeping an eye on her.
When she grew restless and climbed down off the stool, he gave her a job to keep her busy. Picking up the swizzle sticks that had fallen below the bar was easier done by hand than with a broom, and a little girl is much closer to the floor than a grown man.
It was a long bar that seemed endless to a child. It curved at both ends, to enclose the bartender and keep the patrons out of the way. All told, seating for 20, maybe. A brass rail along the bottom of the bar made it extra tricky to find those little white plastic straws with red stripes.
For her efforts, her father offered her a prize: Any coins found on the floor were hers to keep.
It was a game they played together on many Saturdays. Some weeks were richer than others.
But that’s life, isn’t it?
The look back was enriching in many ways, and not the least of which was the reminder not to let people around you hold you back from your future.
And that’s how I remember the last time we met for drinks.