He showed up again a few days before Christmas dressed in his Johnny Cash black outfit, except this time he was clean shaven and a couple of pounds lighter than before.
Still wearing the same poker face as always he grabbed his usual seat and a beer. I watched him tilt the bottle back, take a swig and saw his eyes go somewhere far away. I couldn’t begin to tell you what or who he was thinking about, but then again I never could.
Don’t know why but something about that has always intrigued me and made me wonder what is going on inside. Maybe that is part of why I got involved in his story on more than a surface level. Maybe it is because I sense more depth to this than the normal crap people shovel here or maybe it is me who is full of it.
Or maybe it is because I relate to it more than I want to. Maybe I hear echoes of my past and part of me is touched by the hope he shows in his future. Maybe it is because I see a guy who has wandered through darkness and found a way out.
Or maybe I am the guy who is shoveling crap. Heck, that is just another part of being a good bartender. Sometimes you have to do more than just listen to appear to be sympathetic to the stories you hear.
This time around I was the guy who started the conversation. I asked him if he had reached out to his mystery girl.
He shook his head no. “I thought about it once or twice, played around with calling her but never picked up the phone. She left me. She walked away, closed the door and told me to find someone else.”
I shook my head at him. “Haven’t you noticed that women will say almost anything when they are hurt or angry. Maybe she didn’t mean it. Maybe she was just testing you. It wouldn’t be the first time.”
He smiled and a small chuckle slipped through his lips.
“Nah, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. She can be like a volcano and when she blows she let’s loose with all she has got. Used to tell me that I should just ignore that because she ‘calms down’ quickly.
Of course, that is not exactly how I operate. It takes me a bit longer to get angry, but when I do, well I hold onto it for a bit.”
That was probably the moment when I understood that my rule against not taking sides had been shattered. I didn’t call him a fool or yell at him, but I wanted to. A man who finds someone special doesn’t just let go of them. He doesn’t just walk when things get tough because you don’t get that many chances.
Yeah, I know that sounds like the sort of sickly sweet claptrap that Hollywood puts out every year but there is a reason for that. It is because romantic comedies, love stories and dramas are all based in bits and pieces of reality.
People are flawed, imperfect creatures and we make mistakes. We do stupid things and act foolish. Sometimes we cut off our noses to spite our faces and then pride leaves us wounded, alone and wondering what happened.
But it is not my job to fix people. I am not there to help others find their way or to fix broken marriages. I am there to pour drinks and look sympathetic.
The last time he was at the bar he had made it sound like there was some sort of communication between the two of them so I asked how he knew these things.
“Some of it is just stuff I know from having known her for a decade. Might not all be true or accurate, people change, but not everything. There are a lot of things that are different about me, but the core, well that is still there.
I suppose it is part of what intrigues me about her. Gut says that the girl who loved me is still there, just hiding behind whatever walls she built and whatever lists she has made.”
“We all have walls, you, me and her. Sometimes those walls are best left untouched because you can’t know what happens until after you knock it down.”
Got to admit that if I was a shrink that would be one of my ‘A game’ lines because it is always the one that makes people talk just a little bit more about whatever it is their sharing. Add some booze and their lips start flapping and all I have to do is look interested.
Except this time it didn’t work the way I wanted it to.
He just looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. I was a bit confused by it all. The last time he was here I had the feeling that he was thinking about reaching out to her. Maybe I had misread him.
Since I didn’t know all that much about him it shouldn’t surprise me to have missed something. He was a man who kept things close to the vest and worked hard not to reveal much of anything about himself.
When he opened the door just a crack I had tried to take the glimpse of what I saw and turn it into something deeper and fuller.
There is no crime or shame in doing that. We make split second judgments about people all day long, especially guys like me.
That sort of thing is important in this job and not just because we are trying to get people to buy another drink.
You have to learn how to recognize the hotheads and the silent troublemakers. You have to pay attention because those stories about barroom brawls don’t always happen in movies or to other guys.
Last year three guys got into it in the parking lot across the street and only one walked away. This isn’t one of those rough and tumble dive bars either, but alcohol does funny things to people.
“It is complicated. She still loves me, but she won’t say it. It is part of why years ago I dared her to sleep with me. I know it sounds juvenile but I was just trying to find a way around that wall. So I told her she has never had a better lover and never will. Reminded her that I don’t look at her as a mother but as a woman.”
“So you tried to manipulate her into sleeping with you by complimenting her and telling she is beautiful, sexy and all that other crap we say when we are trying to get in a woman’s pants.”
It wasn’t really a question or a statement. Call it more of a clarification.
He laughed again.
“Yep, but she knew exactly what it was and that is part of why she said no. She wanted to believe that I think of her as being sexy and that I wasn’t just horny, but she wasn’t going to give it up that easy. I told you, the history between us is why she didn’t say yes but never walked away either.”
I nodded my head again but said nothing. I didn’t have a clue what sort of history they had and I didn’t feel like playing guessing games. If he wasn’t going to volunteer than I wasn’t going to ask.
He laughed again and shared a few more thoughts.
“Maybe one day she and I will visit #1435 again or maybe not. I have enough on my plate now to keep me busy for a while and that is what I am focused on. It works both ways. She knows how to find me.”
He paused, took another drink and stood up.
“If you believe in astrology than we are the perfect match. We had this reading done a thousand years ago that said we could heal each other. If you believe in that kind of stuff than I guess all things are possible.”
He gave me a $5 tip, told me to take care and walked out the door.
I grabbed my tip, said thank you and wondered if I knew any more about him than I did before. He had done it again to me. I knew more but there was so much more lying beneath the surface and no promise of ever gaining access to it.