“Three to go”, I say to myself as I stare into the crystal I nestle between my palms. Like a ritual, since my early twenties, you could find me at this very barstool, every Wednesday night. The bartender and I had an understanding, some may even call it a relationship. You know the kind where she notices me, pours me a drink and walks over to greet me? I like her, she keeps me company till exactly halfway through my first drink. Leaving me to my thoughts, only returning to top me up.
Having known me longer than most of my coworkers, she knows to cut me off at two. My phone buzzes and I look down to receive a cake emoji from my girl group chat.
Seven sips into my second drink, exactly forty minutes after I take my spot by the wall, my reward seeps through my veins and I swim to the bottom of my glass. Viewing everything from behind a golden shimmer, I curl up at the bottom and look out to the world.
From where I sit now, the world no longer sees me, and nothing can touch me anymore. The murmur of conversation seeps through the cloud surrounding me. I can hear others at the bar engaging in heated gossip. “Perfect for down time after work” I think as I snicker, the glass still in my hands.
“No, I don’t reply to her texts anymore. Oho! I know she is married but you know, I think she’s secretly bisexual.” Cringing at the high-pitched voice infiltrating my bubble of blissful observance, the stranger’s words unlock chapters I had long left chained away.
I wonder if the woman being spoken of understands the events transpiring around her. If she advanced towards an unwelcoming audience or if she has fallen prey to the many stereotypes surrounding us. I wonder if she will suffer at work due to the inbuilt toxicity polluting our society, or if she was afraid trying to befriend someone new. I wonder if she knew what was happening now and felt afraid; I wonder if she knew what was happening while she grew up, if she ever felt safe.
The suitcase of pages discarded in the depths of my brain had now been dragged to the shore and lay open, exposed. I swam from the bottom of the yellow and hazy to the vibrant colours hiding behind the walls of my memories.
Diving into what once was, I recall the innocence and confusion of a time before certainty was a luxury I could afford. A time when my heart was heavy with betrayal, when at 12 I didn’t understand why my best friend would lie about our relationship. A time before I understood the kind of fear it takes to tell tales with the aim to hurt someone you once loved.
Swimming past the currents of betrayal, I threw myself into the flame of loss. The rising heat singeing everything around me, reminding me of the agony of losing company you once cherished to the fear of a tag. A tag so poorly phrased. Till date, I find myself amused at something coined “the batch lesbians”.
Everything around me shivers, the buzz of movement deafening. I’m either finally going completely crazy or the world is coming…oh never mind, that was my phone. The vibrations from my pocket alarm my anxiety. I check my phone and sigh in relief. “No cake yet?” the chat reads. I chuckle and admit to myself. Despite it all, I was surrounded by amazing women.
Losing track of my thoughts, I stumble over the suitcase in my mind, unravelling a series of bittersweet memories. Coming out to my friend for the first time ever; the nutcase responded with a sigh of relief, glad I wasn’t going to tell her I cracked open her fortune cookie again. The bruises from all the nudging it took from my friends to finally meet Her for breakfast. Sipping from my glass, I looked up to the distorted reflection bouncing off the ceiling, assessing where I stand today.
Today, after all this time of negotiating relationships to assure them I was just being friendly, not hitting on them. After all the years of avoiding being locked in a room with people like flies who are “just trying to live out their fantasy.”
Today, after years of finding solace in strange spaces, friends where I wouldn’t look, and dodging people who are trying to do little else than live out a porno they watched one lonely Monday night; I know that when all else fails, I know who I am.
Swirling the end of my drink, I await the arrival of my date. Dating, while at one point in my life would have infected my nerves with anxiety, but felt like a game of bingo today, a game I always enjoy. My belief is, if played well, you either leave the table with a friend or a date.
At 9 PM I walk away from the bar towards a table. Sitting down, I pull out my phone to check my messages. “Count to 10” reads my most recent text and I pull up the group chat to tell them the cake has arrived. Smiling as I put my phone down, I hear the chair next to me scrape the floor and a man with a familiar face searches mine. Before I know it, its game time.