I went out last night.
Five pleasantly innocuous words grouped together and spoken millions of times in a day. But when they’re applied to Sarge and I, it means something. Especially lately.
It might surprise you to know that I don’t talk much. People I went to school with might be peeing their pants and falling out of their chairs right now. People who first met me as an adult will be nodding their heads and smiling. I’m not antisocial, because the medical definition of antisocial is very different from the way most people use the word.
I’m just quiet. I watch. I listen. Believe me when I say I listen. I hear every conversation in the room. I know the guy sitting 5 feet to the right of me would rather suck someone’s dick than drink that tequila shot some mysterious bar patron bought for him. I know his girlfriend was none too impressed with his lack of fortitude.
I know the guy standing behind me was a medic in the Army. I’d never seen him before in my life, but he felt it necessary to massage my shoulder to the beat of his speech, squeezing harder when he was excited or serious, rubbing back and forth when he was listening intently.
I know the bar owner was a 17-year veteran and spent some time in Vietnam, and has some sort of deep-seated vendetta against Army officers. It was his birthday yesterday. His name was Steve. White hair. Striped shirt. I think he was in love with my husband’s friend’s wife, Virginia.
Virginia. What a woman. Her son is deathly allergic to shrimp. She has 3 kids. She took them to Olive Garden and the boy allergic to shrimp broke out in hives. She loves hanging out with Sarge and I because she doesn’t know anyone else who married so young and are still together. Her nostrils are perfect triangles. Her skin is flawless. And her hair was in some sort of a wicked up-do that left me tracing her curls with my eyes, trying to find where they began and ended, like an MC Escher drawing. Her parents came to town just to babysit the kids so they could go out for the night. She asked how old my boys were 6 times. I counted.
The bartender had trouble getting to work yesterday because her car battery was dead. She almost choked on her gum when I told her I had two children, and said I was “far too pretty” to be the mother of teenagers. Apparently, mothers of teenagers are supposed to be ugly. But it made me feel good.
The girl sitting beside me had a bottle of 8 mg Zofran in her purse. She used to work for a family practice clinic. Dr. David.
The girl sitting to the other side of me was still wearing her formal dress. She had stripper dust sprinkled on her shoulders that had rubbed off on her date, who was of Indian ethnicity (from India), yet had a southern accent.
When I’m in situations like this, I find myself sinking into some strange catatonic state. I try to look as see-through as possible. But it’s a catch-22. Because the less you want to talk, the more you’re talked to. The most basic questions are, “Are you bored?” and “Are you tired?” and “Are you okay?”
I’m fine. Just listening.
And then I feel obligated to apologize to Sarge for not being the pretty party girl I was once. But I just don’t have the energy for that game anymore. Or the desire. I’d prefer to nurse my screwdriver with grenadine slowly, rock it hardcore in my yoga pants and hoodie, and just listen.
But he never accepts the apology. Because it’s never necessary. “I know you.” He says. “You just roll with the punches.”
The punches. Yes. Perhaps that’s what I’m doing. Just rolling. One mouth to the next. Sizing up their noses to see if they’re proportionate. Wondering how hard they work to wash off their mascara before they lay down. Wondering how much weight he benches to maintain those biceps that are bigger than my head.
Saving to the 3.5 floppy diskette that is my brain things like the opened can of Sierra Mist and half-empty carton of Winston cigarettes sitting underneath the cash register. The red purse dropped underneath the table. The smattering of freckles on the boobs of the girl with stripper dust. The air of emasculation surrounding tequila boy. The my-last-name-is-not-Patel jokes from the Indian boy from Georgia.
And now I know all of these people that I didn’t know 24 hours ago. I know their fears. I know the things that make them smile for real and smile for fake. I know the things that make the man behind me excited or angry because I felt it in my shoulder. And I know that Steve has lived to see yet another year.
So when Sarge asks me whether or not I had fun, I say of course. Of course I had fun. Watching how humanity operates in its universal language of give and take. You say things to me, I say things to you, we laugh, we take a sip, and say something else.
And I find myself a little bit jealous of people who have so many words to waste.