“Man. Sorry. That really sucks.”
I already knew that. One of those things people say when there’s nothing to say and only the grossly obvious comes out. But he means well. It’s an empathy statement, and I know this, so I do a little tilt-nod half frown thing.
“Yeah. It is what it is.” Obviously I suffer from the same symptoms. Dumb. Everything is what it is.
In my peripheral I know he is looking at me and you can almost hear the gears grinding in his head frantically furiously working to churn out something more than trite nonsense.
“Listen, it sounds super-cheesy, but there’s a reason for this. Everything happens for a reason.”
Another nod. His gaze is unwavering, but I can’t bring myself to stare at anything other than my beer, the bar top, the dampening weakening coaster. I’m picking at it with my thumb, shredding the pieces that are already peeling off like old wallpaper in an abandoned house. There is a pile of casualties lying around my glass, balled up crumpled up shreds of brightly colored paper. The coaster had a picture of a glorious smiling blonde in a red evening gown, hoisting a martini to no one. I’ve ripped off most of her face at this point. The beer is mostly untouched. Doesn’t appeal to me too much. Nothing down that road but more of the same, more bar tops, more coasters, more evenings staring at nothing and no one and thinking how much the girl on the coaster looks like my wife. I will have to go home soon and break the news to her. I don’t expect positive results.
The music here is hardly audible, which is fine by me. Typical stuff, really. Classic rock. Eagles. Beatles. Stones. Zeppelin. Crowd is the kind of crowd you’d find at a place whose best whiskey offering is Jack, best wine is house, and best food is chili cheese fries. Not eating anything now though. Not too hungry.
Suddenly my reply juts out, heavy and cold, like throwing frozen cinder blocks. “Yeah, no, I know, there’s something better around the corner and blah blah blah.” He looks sheepish. “Look, I know you mean well, but let’s just talk about something else. I’m obviously not going to get over it today.”
“Sure, yeah, of course, I’m sorry. Listen, drink up, its on me.” Good. Without a job, hard to pay for drinks. Third job in a row I’ve lost. Hard to see how things are going to look much better in the future. Starting to render myself unhireable at this point.
“What’s going on with you?” I just want to hear something good. Or maybe I’m secretly hoping things are starting to suck for him. I don’t know which would make me feel better.
“Oh, you know, same old. Not much new. Job’s been pretty hectic lately but good.” He pauses. Something’s not right. He’s not looking up anymore. We’ve traded roles.
“Actually…” He pauses again. Something’s really not right. “Well, I didn’t want to say anything but…Susan left me. For another guy.”
How selfish am I? “Holy crap! When?”
“About two weeks ago, now,” he mutters, and suddenly he is bursting into tears. I feel like crap. Ramble ramble about my stupid job.
I throw my arm around his shoulders, and he sniffs. I try to backpedal a bit, saying, “I’m really sorry man. I had no idea, or I wouldn’t have been going on…”
“No, man, you didn’t know,” he is waving off my apology with the non-drinking hand.
For a minute, there is just silence. Seems dumb to say to him the things he just said to me. Maybe that’s what he wants to hear, I don’t know. I let it hang for a minute.
“Now I don’t know who should buy the beers,” I mumble out after a second, and we both have a tiny chuckle, then a bit more silence. “Why didn’t you tell me before this?”
He sighs. “I don’t know. I guess I was hoping that it wasn’t true? That she was coming back, that she would, you know, realize her mistake and…just come back. Then I’d forgive her, and we’d never have to tell anyone.” He is shaking his head ever so gingerly. “And I guess I was just a bit embarrassed.”
And the bug has got me and I’m shaking my head along with him. “Nothing to be embarrassed about, man. That really sucks.”
He knew that already. One of those things people say when there’s nothing to say and only the grossly, sadly obvious comes out. I mean well, and he know this, so he’s doing the little tilt-nod half frown thing.
A thought occurs to me then. And maybe it’s as senseless and trite as everything else, or maybe I’ve clumsily stumbled upon just an inkling of the meaning, just a smattering of purpose in all of this wreckage. If nothing else, I’m just seeing the bright side, something I wouldn’t have done a year ago when I got canned.
“At least it got us hanging out again. That’s gotta be worth something.”
He nods, a full-on genuine nod, and smiles a little, and raises his glass to me. I tap my glass to his, and the sound that resonates somehow reminds me that even broke and jobless I have a friend, and though he does not say so I know it sings to him that he is not alone.
For the first time all evening, neither of us stares at the bar top. Instead we look up at the TV. Our team is on. They’re down right now in the late innings, and they’re a pretty sucky team, but we root for them anyway. And who knows? Maybe they’ll surprise us and pull a victory out in the last inning. Wouldn’t that be something?