I just had another bizarre encounter, here on my next to last day in Florida.
I wasn’t quite ready for bed, so I stopped at a small bar on the way home, figuring to listen to some music and relax for 30 minutes. I was sipping my orange juice like I do whenever I’m on two wheels. One of those wandering hostesses stopped by the lone male and offered me shots (I presume of tequila) and I waved her off. We both made fun of my “virgin screwdriver”. Business was slow, real slow, (and the music bad). Even I was about to sip that little bit left in my glass and scamper home.
She climbed up and sat down on the bar stool next to me, kinda sighed, and introduced herself. She weighed easily 90 pounds soaking wet, with a trusting, cherubic face. Her name was Ally and it seems every barfly comedian tried to score a hit with a play on “alley-cat”. I neither made fun of nor hit on her which, in retrospect, was probably the first time in a month for both and must have sent my stock skyrocketing.
She asked what was on my mind. We looked around the near empty bar and chuckled (nobody to buy those shots). I said I was leaving back out on vacation in a couple days. We searched for things in common. “I’m heading to New Jersey”, “my boyfriend is from New Jersey”. “Do you have any kids”, “Just one”, “I have two”. “How old is yours?” “He’s 28” … “I’m 31 (me:double-take & stare). I know, everyone thinks I look 21, maybe 23. No, I’m honestly 31”. “Well bless your heart, sweetie, you take good care of yourself …”.
“… and you know, I’m starting to take care of myself, no smoking and drinking (thumbs up), hitting the gym, losing weight (more smiles), motorcycle and fresh air (grin). … (long pause … sigh) … because I’m going though a transition … (pause) … I’m divorcing my wife, that’s why I’m going out of town.
I know, she replied, my dad divorced my mom … when I was 28.
“Three year’s ago?”
“Yeah, and I had been telling him to do it for years, but he wouldn’t listen. He’s fine, and you’ll be fine, too. I told him to do it fast, before everyone gets old and ill and everything gets harder to do. When you’re younger you can remarry, or get a different job, or move. But he waited and waited.”
I gave her the whole speech about our parents, the pressure of the church, marrying for life; sickness or health, happy or miserable. It was just what you did … you just stayed married… “So you mean to say you told your dad to divorce you mom? That’s dangerous ground.”
“Nobody remembers. But I was right. I said it when I was like 13, 15, back in high school. But he waited and waited until us kids were all grown. That’s how men think. They worry about stuff like that.”
I said that’s not a bad thing, worrying about your children…..
Men and women are different (I burst out laughing). Men don’t understand … and men don’t change, no matter how much they say they will. (“Women do?”) That’s why I told my new boyfriend just tell me what you intend to do. Tell me now, don’t wait. Are you going to cheat, or be true? Be a bum, a hero? Do you need 3-ways to be happy? Let me know now, before we get married because the truth will come out later, and it will be a catastrophe then.
I disagreed with her. I don’t know about other men, but I had changed a lot. (“no you didn’t”). Twenty plus years of marriage counseling, to learn about myself.
“There you go right there, that’s a waste of time. After a year if you don’t know whats wrong just call it quits. My parents did the same thing, for years.”
“That’s not fair. I learned how to communicate, how to listen, how to talk. I took notes and practiced. I learned that I was bi-polar, and I worked on medications … it took years to balance them.”
She waved me off. “And where did it get you? My dad did all that, but my mom wouldn’t help. She makes herself sick and it won’t change.”
“My ex- has health problems, but not like that …”
“Don’t worry, she’ll get better, once she starts taking better care of herself. (ouch!). I love my mom for all the world but I had to hang up on her just last week. Mom, I said, I love you and I’ll talk to you after you decide to take your health seriously. My mom’s killing herself with her own decisions, and its just to get attention from us kids…”
— Then it got personal, and spooky, but the conversation, and the parallels, went on and on for about 5 minutes …but I felt compelled to stop her in the middle: “Sweetie, are you pulling my leg? Is this some kind of put on? You keep telling me bits of my own story, out of thin air. Just who are you?”
She shrugged. “I’m spiritual … and I just felt I needed to talk to you, that there was something I needed to say to you”.
(The conversation went on, and this was no fortune teller’s trick, no fishing for me to fill in mystical blanks for her)
“You did the right thing, Jim (my “stranger in a bar” name). Don’t worry about it. Go ride your motorcycle, go see the country. … But be careful with women … you don’t know what you’re doing. Go live some life.”
Then she excused herself to the rest room, taking with her little tray of fluorescent tequilas, all full.
Now all summer long I’ve been teaching myself the skill of picking up signals; eyebrows, nervous hands; when its time to confront, console or just shut up. It struck me it was time to make an exit. I left a tip on the bar, and walked to the door, standing to listen to the music. She returned from her break, spotted me and stopped to thank me for paying for a shot that I didn’t drink, and to say once again to “go live your life, Jim, everything is going to work out ok”.
We hugged, I left. Life is just getting weird.