I see him from across the bar. He appears Irish — ruddy-faced, blue-eyed, dark-haired, likely drunk — or maybe it’s just I’m at The Blarney Stone Pub tickling my subconscious, as I’ve recently read Angela’s Ashes, which makes the truth of my full, green-blooded Irish heritage, despite distaste for soggy fish and chips, undeniable. Driven by subconscious after four vodka cranberries (Cape Cod at a more upscale locale) I am one spastic potent cocktail of Irish limerick want, sweating the Texas heat though the sun has been down for hours.
From evening’s beginning, Jessica is stunning, men surround like Pall Mall ad, keen and able, lighting her smoke. She is full feminine assurance, eye contact each contestant to goad competition, content in body summer fresh and slight even after two kids, one a fucking cesarean.
Me, tall, sweaty, Irish freckled; curly redhead outright oafish towering beside this pixie. She’s honey skin, ocean blue American eyes, spunky short hairdo like a JCrew model. Roll eyes to self and brood: “She’s the only woman in America that could pull off that hair all petite and spry, some graceful gamin deer. Anyone else (I include myself at the top of this list) would radiate bull dyke.” While my core drips effort, Jessica pops light like champagne bubbles.
I do not remember her being half this fetching in high school. What are old girlfriends for when they breeze through town on business but to commiserate over how shallow the Vogue anorexic statues are, how quality it is to be you, dunking a full pack of double-stuffed Oreos into a shared glass of non-fat milk? Yin and yang. Her play tonight defies the Irish rulebook. Back at St. Mary’s, Jessica’s hair was long, and she was pretty not perfect: poor grades worried her she might be stupid and kept her humble. High SATs and honor roll gave me relative status, so then we were equals; smoking pot behind the gym, bonding over matching sets of clueless parents recently divorced.
SAT now a distant memory, divorced at 30 and enjoying ample alimony, Jessica has developed her shtick flawlessly (which one of us turned out to be dumb anyway?). The resident doctor at our table is best buddies with Jessica’s porky boss Phil and his name is Jonathan: he wants to be a general practitioner and resembles the President of every Fraternity in America.
Short hair that could be equally described blond or brown parted neat and to the side; Abercrombie & Fitch in that beat up baseball cap way; he represents every boy who would never love me, and stubborn, I’m devoted to trying. Normalcy, if that exists, drives me crazy, because I’ll never own it, like the pink suede bell bottoms Gwyneth wore in Style. Almost ugly, and of course that’s part of the attraction. All evening I’ve been charming (or so I imagine) until I notice him beam at Jessica, laugh at her joke that wasn’t funny, and buy her another drink.
When he goes, she’s on me. “Hey, lets do the ‘we’ll all have breakfast tomorrow morning thing’ before we leave, okay?!” She says this while he’s taking a well-earned piss in the bathroom. “I know he likes you,” she assures me, “He’s just a little shy. Oh my God, you look so pretty!”
She wrinkles her adorable nose, reaches forever up in the direction of my huge oaf head, re-arranges a curl on my humidity terrorized frizz puff called hair that I usually pride as one of my lovelier features. Next to her, this big ass mane resembles an eighties Texas hair spray party gone horrible wrong.
“Use my lipstick,” she warns, shoving a MAC tube at me, and I smear it on right there at the table. Jonathan (not John, one of those) ambles out of the can all smiles, ready for round whatever. For reasons I cannot explain, I need him to like me. If he doesn’t like me, I’ll die, no question. I am seized by inspiration. Brilliance through which I can garner Jonathan’s attention. His positive regard will prove my worth as a human being.
“Hey, Jonathan! I can get us a free drink! I bet you. Wanna bet?” I boast, semi-yell, desperation glowing like the sweat on my upper lip. He laughs, looking game.
“Oh, yeah? How you gonna do that?” Amused, he lingers on me a second, then back to tiny elfin easy-do-in-five-seconds-just-ya-jump-right-out-the-shower and towel dry Jessica as she smiles up at him.
“Jonathan,” I slur, “I will win. I’m fucking Irish. These are my people.” I tug at my curly red brillo pad by way of explanation. For an aspiring doctor, I note he is not particularly perceptive; I sense he will be the type who nods and “mmhhmm’s” when patients list symptoms looking for answers while he’s contemplating what to make the blond girl order from the deli for lunch.
“Okay,” he smiles, “I’m in.”
“We have to shake on it.”
He puts out his hand, takes mine, and we shake to make it official.
Goal in reach, I am unstoppable. A charge to the bar, I land in a stool, fold one leg under, the other leg up and bent at the knee, elbows resting on the bar.
Now I should mention I’m wearing a skort, so this pose is appropriate, but a skort could easily be mistaken for a skirt — if you don’t know what a skort is, you’re probably a guy, and won’t get this story anyway, and if you do know the word skort and you’re a guy, you’re most likely gay, but regardless of gender or sexual preference — for your information, a skort is combination skirt and shorts, built in crotch, the look of a skirt in front, shorts in back, hence, skort.
Some slug unaware of skort existence at the bar ogles my position and warns, “Hey, man, you can’t sit like that!” “It’s a skort!” I volley, and he stares at me incompetent, but as he’s unworthy of skort explanation, I turn quick and tilt my head in the direction of the bartender. He’s chubby, sweaty, sweet, freckled Irish, total manipulation material. He feels my gaze and glances over as I motion him toward me.
“Whatcha need?” Bartender approaches, smile crooked.
“What’s your name?” I feign interest.
“Seamus!” I clap my hands. “I’m Moira. We’re both Irish!”
“Imagine that,” his smile is slow. “What can I get ya?”
“Seamus, I have a problem,” I beckon him forward to share privately my plight. “See that guy over there?” I point in the vicinity of our table. Jonathan and Amanda are watching and he waves at Seamus. It’s actually. working.
“He bet me I couldn’t score two free beers from you. Now we can’t let him get away with that, can we?” I smile and he shakes his head.
“My youngest sister is Moira,” he says, wiping the bar. “I wonder if she pulls this shit.”
“You’d love it if she did.”
He looks at me, sighs. “Just put something in there, okay?” he points to the TIP jar and pops open two Buds off the edge of the bar. Not my beer of choice obviously, but as mom was wont to say, beggars can’t be choosers. It’s always been a life philosophy. I shove a five-dollar bill into the tip jar. “Thanks, Seamus.”
“Go get em’,” he smiles.
I turn triumphant only to find Jonathan (not John) not even watching. Engrossed instead with what Bambi is saying. And then there’s my stomach and the room that seems to be spinning.
“Here’s your beer,” I say rougher than I mean to when I get to the table, shove a Bud at each of them and head to the bathroom where I keep my head between my knees and feel the cubicle spin like a seat on the Cyclone at Astroworld for what has to be twenty minutes.
I push out of the stall, splash pale freckles with cool water, attempt to wipe my face with a paper towel and smear mascara across my cheek. I wish for a moist towelette and accept I’m out of my element. But like they say, and I hang onto this in times of deep despair, things get worse before they get better. The darkest hour is before the dawn. These are phrases I cling to in crowded bathrooms when I need to puke.
“You blow chunks?” A concerned blonde next to me asks, applying kissing potion. “Not yet,” I report, arranging my hair half hopeful before giving up.
You know that feeling sweaty but clammy cold? Sick and shivers and someone nice makes soup and all you are required to do is watch re-runs? Recall it, feel it. Do you have it? You are now me, just add dipshit drunk, 1:35 AM, the embodiment embarrassment, total loser without a friend in the universe. Got it? It’s important to identify with the protagonist.
I stumble out of the bathroom, attempting to focus, but all I can see is a huddle of rowdy blokes wailing “Free Fallin” with Tom Petty on the jukebox. Even when I navigate past their revelry, I don’t see Jessica the cute, John the dick, or what’s his name the boss at our table and become alarmed. I have no clue where my purse is, which contains my wallet and keys.
Sweaty screaming and dance fast to Tom Petty moving at the good ol’ Irish Blarney. Insert a tall, thin, big haired, skort-crumpled ass way too old to be pulling this shit (two months shy of thirty, by this time mom had two kids already, no wonder she was cranky) invisible to everyone as I push my way through the crowd. Some grab ass runs directly into me, like I’m literally not there, sloshing beer on my pink cashmere sweater set, the one I fancy myself Mary Tyler Moore-ish on good days. A sweater saved in tissue paper for special occasions. I have no idea why I wore it tonight.
I see him across the bar. Sipping Guinness, clearly Irish, dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt. His stare helps stop the room from spinning, fast motion surrounding, our eyes on each other and both of us still. His head nods almost imperceptible when I feel Jessica tap my shoulder, hand me up my purse.
“Hey,” she yells over the music, “We went across the street to The Pit.” Wishing she had fallen in, I smile wanly.
“Hey,” I mimic. “I’m going home.”
“What? You sure?” I look back to the bar, half expecting him to be gone, but still he’s there.
“But don’t you wanna do breakfast?” she asks. “I know Jonathan’s going to ask for your number — ” As much as everything changes, some things stay the same.
Jessica adores her status as the more desirable friend, the one who procures the most drinks and phone numbers scribbled in hopeful drunken scrawls on napkins, hurried strips of paper. This in itself is fairly forgivable.
That she finds gratification in egging on her less attractive purported pal, encouraging her to dream, and indulges in the inevitable humiliation is indefensible. She’s been that way since 7th grade. She looks proud of her relative status. And I hate her.
“The next time you’re in town, don’t call me.”
“What?” She looks stunned.
My response is not to respond and to walk straight as possible across the room to the bar. He’s still there. I motion for his ear and he leans forward.
“6219 Lawson” I whisper and walk straight (well kinda) out the bar. Driving home is terrifically stupid, but I go slow, stopping at 7–11 for another pack of smokes, king size Snickers, Millionaire bar, and plain not peanut M&M’s. You know, the essentials.
When I get home, I barely have time to pee before I hear a knock at the door.
He drags his feet polite on the doormat, making no move to come in.
“Patrick,” he says finally. His Irishness comforts the hell out of me.
I gesture towards the plaque on the door that says “Welcome” as if I’m Helen Keller and find it challenging to form words. He walks through and I close the door, lean my back against the solid wood. “How’d you find it?” I locate my voice, walking past him to fix a gin and tonic we both don’t want or need.
“I’ve got a good sense of direction,” he tells me, sitting on the couch. I walk from the kitchen with the drink and wonder, gee, what does that feel like? To ever have any idea where the hell you’re going? I never have a clue.
I lead him to the porch and we share the drink (just enough flat tonic for one) and time for Confession. Like this is what we’ve been waiting all night for. He’s forty-one, twice-divorced, only son, works at a computer company, makes a little less than he used to. And me? Let’s see, got my heart broke recently and it feels like the yesterday blues. The advantage of telling the story of an ex is casting yourself as victim or wrongfully accused. Reporting his mistakes makes me miss him less, at least for a little while.
I can’t say what exactly Patrick and I said and it doesn’t matter; only that it feels close as if we know each other even though we don’t. Not corny or romantic, just sad and true, like the glass I break on the way back into the house when I stumble getting up too quickly — usually that would cut me but tonight my toes are lucky.
And when we go to bed in the dark he says I’m fragile. I think of Jessica, sweet and feather delicate face, and decide he means it that way: beautiful glass that must be handled with care, tended to closely with strong sure fingers, sheltered with love, so it won’t get broke.
When I wake up, he’s gone, only trace skort abandoned by the side of my queen-size bed, reeking smoke and shame.
It should be on the six o’clock news but goes sadly unreported: an Irishman named Patrick for whom I got no last name or number knows my address and he’s out there somewhere, face I barely remember, voice distinct spoke in twilight fragility, screwed me, then left before I woke up.
The Blarney Stone I imagine is locked cold and empty as I make jet-black coffee. I wouldn’t kiss it if you paid me. It’s Sunday, day of our Lord, Father forgiver of sin, rosary bead hands, Catholic on the dole Confession, beg forgiveness your weakness, shower Holy water trying again to scrub your brain clean.
Ah, the luck of the Irish.
Previously published on Medium