It was a Monday night in February. I stared anxiously at the clock above the bar, watching the little hand inch closer and closer to the nine. I spun my swizzle stick nervously between my fingers, faster and faster, until the olive dropped from the end, landing in my vodka martini with a plunk. I looked down, surprised.
“I think I’m going to be sick.”
“You’re going to be fine,” Sam said warmly, reaching across the table to squeeze my arm. “You’re just meeting someone.”
We were meeting at a bar across the street. It was six minutes ’til my date and the martini I’d bought for courage still sat before me, relatively untouched. I took an unladylike gulp, wincing at the taste.
“I can’t remember the last time I was this nervous,” I said, taking a deep breath and letting it out with a whoosh. The candle between us flickered and went dark. “First day of kindergarten?”
“Well, you’re twenty-six,” she pointed out, fishing a lighter from her bag and relighting the wick. “At this age, how often do you get the chance to do something you’ve never done?”
It’s true. Job interviews, plane rides, cross-country moves– at twenty-six, most of life’s scary firsts have already been dulled by seconds and thirds. Life sucks out the novelty and spits back the apathy— a line from a poem I wrote when I was too young to know what it meant.
At twenty-six, my life is woefully, thankfully void of the terrifying.
But this? This was terrifying. I didn’t know how to act, how to feel, what to expect. I had no instruction manual, not that I would have read it anyway.
I studied my martini in the dim light of the bar and debated the pros and cons of trying to drain the glass. My stomach lurched at the thought. Maybe if I call now, I can still cancel. Sam’s voice broke through my reverie–
“Is it time for you to go?” She smiled sympathetically.
I glanced at the clock. Three to nine.
I lifted my martini glass and took another sip.
“One more minute.”
The bar was nearly empty when I arrived. The room was small and dark; tea lights on the tables and a martini list longer than my senior thesis*. I scanned the scant crowd of middle-aged men in double-breasted suits and tried to look more confident than I felt.
I made my way to the back of the room and down the darkened stairway in search of a mirror and a safe haven. I locked myself in the single-stall restroom to ensure I hadn’t hopelessly disheveled my hair since parting ways with Sam a moment before.
I checked the time: a minute past nine. I gazed desperately at my reflection in the smudged bathroom mirror, wondering if my sallow pallor was caused by fluorescent lights or my nerves. I can’t hide in here forever.
I took a deep, steadying breath and stepped back into the hall.
I climbed the stairs to the bar above, my heeled boots wobbly on the plush gray carpet. I turned the corner at the top of the stairs; the bar was still empty. I glanced down and noticed someone new sitting at the table to my right. A woman with sparkling green eyes, a pixie hair cut, and a cardigan the color of my favorite syrah.
She looked up at me expectantly and I stopped in my tracks. We both laughed.
“Hi,” she said, smiling shyly.
I paused for a moment, then took a deep breath. I smiled.
This is Part I of a story. Part II is HERE.
For background on this story, read this post.
* I did not write a senior thesis, y’all. Let’s be real here.