My “Casual Hookup” on New Year’s Eve, 2005

5 months before I met my wife, this happened:


On New Year’s Eve, 2005, I descended into a new level of despair and desolation. Lost at the bottom of my own well of sadness, I found myself in a place that was (and still is) very uncommon for me. It was a bar. Not an upscale bar, either. No, this was a dive, a dank place, the kind of hole in the wall where cigarette smoke looms so thick you give up trying to see.

I’ve never been a social drinker. I can count on one hand the number of times my arse has graced a barstool. But on this cold night, I capped some aimless wandering by walking into a bar down the street from my home, one I’d passed every day for the last two years but had never once entered. I entered it now and lumbered my depressed self over to the bar counter. Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” was playing on the jukebox; it somehow seemed fitting.

I was so inexperienced with alcohol back then that I didn’t even know what to order. So when the barkeeper asked what I wanted, I just said, “Uh, give me something as tough as coffin nails.” (I’d heard that in a movie once and I always wanted to say it.) He eyed me suspiciously for a moment, then shrugged and reached under the counter, producing a stubby bottle of something that was very dark. I still don’t know what it was. He poured a glass, left the bottle, and walked away.

And so I sat there, trying on the alcoholic’s clothes for one night, sucking back glass after glass of that dark stuff. My virginal stomach should have thrown it all back up, but it didn’t. The alcohol remained and did its job. After only about twenty minutes, I was so shit-faced and giggly that I was beginning to irritate the barkeeper. He finally asked me to leave, and after some choice language on my part, I obliged.

That was when she made her move. She’d been sitting at a table near the door, watching me, or so she later confessed. She was young, maybe in her early 20s, and ridiculously attractive. Yet even in my inebriated state, I noted a sadness in her eyes that mirrored my own. She took my arm in her hands and we stood outside the bar in the falling snow.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “No, I’m not okay.”

“Do you live nearby?”

I stammered for a moment and then replied that I lived a few houses down the street.

“Point it out,” she said.

I did so, and that’s how, just a few minutes later, I found myself sitting in my living room with this girl. My alcohol high was beginning to wane, and I suddenly realized that I was at the center of a very strange and unexpected situation. I knew what she had in mind. Oh, I knew exactly what she was planning. And also I knew I wasn’t going to refuse. I was so lonely, so tired, so close to breaking, so utterly lost in the blackness of my own despair, so desperate for any kind of comfort. I wasn’t going to turn away what she was offering.

Was it wrong? I didn’t care anymore.

She leaned over to kiss me, and that’s when I started sobbing.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

I looked her in the eyes and said, “I just don’t want to hurt anymore.”

She watched me for a moment, considering this answer. Then she gave one of her own: “Me either.”

Now she was crying, too.

“What’s your name?” I sniffed.

“Sarah. What’s yours?”

“Michael.”

“Well, Michael, which way to the bedroom?”

I showed her. And as the fireworks outside announced the New Year, much as they had done nine years previously, Sarah and I made a kind of depressed but passionate love, comforting each other as much as two such people can. Shakespeare had hit the mark when he said, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” And even though Sarah was a complete stranger to me, our mutual pain made us one, on this night at least.

When I awoke the next morning, she was gone. A hastily scribbled note sat atop my dresser. I picked it up. It read, “For one night, neither of us hurt.” Smiling, I crumpled the note up and tossed it into the wastebasket beside my desk.


Taken from my book, Portrait of an Infidel.

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