by Angela Rapacz
I pulled off my wool hat and handed the doorman a ten dollar bill. Strand by strand, my hair succumbed to static electricity and floated toward the ceiling. My dry, cracked skin snagged the cotton fingers of my gloves. My raw lips cried out for Chapstick. I scoured the barroom, looking for my friend Jamie. I searched for her past empty cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, under mop top haircuts coiffed to perfection, and through skinny little hipster boys in skinny little hipster jeans.
There was a time, not long ago, when I scavenged thrift stores for vintage apparel, read Vice magazine, listened exclusively to music that no one else had heard of and wouldn’t have been caught dead in a Target. Not long ago, the Ten Bar was my home away from home, and my knack for punk rock trivia, collection of ironic t-shirts, and taste for Miller High Life got me into the beds of some notable drummers, bass players and even a couple of lead guitarists. I stood there in my North Face ski jacket and True Religion jeans and made peace with the fact that the new me wouldn’t be invited to any after-parties. I made my way around the bar three times, trudging slowly across the sticky floor. Just as I was about to give up and head home to brew a cup of Earl Grey and settle in with the latest Twilight novel, I saw Jamie headed in my direction, attempting to balance three pints in her small hands.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I ran into my friend David and I asked him to join us.” Jamie didn’t wait for a response before leading me to a high-top table tucked way back in the corner, the scent of Summit EPA trailing her. Truth be told, Jamie couldn’t care less whether or not anyone minded anything she did. This is what made her fun. I was about to make up some excuse about having to get up early, that I had just stopped by to say hello. Then I saw David’s friend.
I had always been an “it’s-what’s-inside-that-counts” kind of a girl, but this man was the reason women shove their fingers down their throats and augment their breasts. He should have been sitting poolside at Skybar getting bottle service, not drinking two dollar beers at a place that is only famous for not cleaning their taps. I wanted posters of his naked abs plastered across my bedroom ceiling. He sat up straight in his Diesel jeans and Cole Haan shoes, Blackberry blinking in front of him. He either didn’t know or didn’t care that this little blatant symbol of consumerism was like waving a confederate flag in front of this non-conformist crowd.
“Thank God you’re here,” he said, leaning toward me and whispering in my ear. “These assholes have helped redefine what it means to be the third wheel. I’m Keenan.” His biceps bulged beneath his cashmere sweater, and but he smelled absolutely fantastic. I quickly pulled away, not because I didn’t want to breathe him in, but because I had spent the last eight hours changing colostomy bags and drinking hospital coffee. I didn’t want him smelling me.
I excused myself to the ladies room to see if I could cover up the fact that I hadn’t brushed my teeth in fourteen hours. As I stared in the mirror, rubbing hand lotion on my wind burned face, I noticed that my eyes were so bloodshot it looked like I had been hitting the a crack pipe all day. I was so busy trying to revive my lips with ChapStick in order to attract Keenan, trying to forget about the man I had waiting for me at home.
I returned to the table to find Jamie and David so deep in conversation that I couldn’t see either of their faces. As soon as I sat down, Keenan jumped up. I felt a rush of relief, expecting him to make a hasty and ridiculous excuse for leaving early. It would quiet the guilt I felt for picturing him naked, while my boyfriend folded my laundry at home.
Keenan didn’t make an excuse, though. He offered to buy me a drink.
I have heard about cities where girls never buy their own drinks. Minneapolis is not one of those cities. In fact, such an event is so rare in Minneapolis that, the last time a man offered to buy me a drink, I let him put his hands up my shirt before I’d even finished it. As it turned out, that guy was from Boston.
What I really wanted was a martini with olives but, if I let him pump me full of vodka, hours later I’d be waking up in his room looking for my earrings. “I’ll have a soda water,” I said demurely.
As he headed to the bar I pictured my boyfriend sitting on the couch in his favorite pair of sweats, watching the Minnesota Wild lose to the Vancouver Canucks in the third period. My boyfriend was not the man I had in mind when I spent my twenties breaking up with great guys, holding out hope that there was someone better out there. A balding computer programmer, he was not the Doctor Without Borders I’d been dreaming of, but there was never a doubt in my mind that he was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. He was smart, generous, and—above all—trusting.
Keenan placed the soda water to my right, and rested his right hand on my left forearm. His hand was like a soft leather glove and it warmed my cold, dry skin.
“So, you’re a nurse,” he said, as if stroking a stranger’s arm was the most natural way to start a conversation. His skin felt so good on mine. I hadn’t been touched like that by anyone but my boyfriend in years.
If I obeyed my conscience and told him that I had a boyfriend, he would have stopped. I didn’t want him to stop. I wanted him to start. Had he placed the soda in front of me and backed away, I might have been able to blurt out something like, “My boyfriend and I just love this band. I went to high school with the lead vocalist.” I could have tactfully suggested that, if he was interested in me he was wasting his time. But now he was touching me and I started to wonder how it would feel with his hand was on my leg, with his lips on my neck. I felt so guilty just thinking these thoughts, it was like he was already pushing me up against the wall of the ladies room.
Keenan slid his soft palm ever so gently toward the crux of my elbow and said, “You’re gorgeous. And I like that you don’t drink.” This adorable, innocent man thought I was single and sober, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. I never had less than two liters of vodka in my home at any given time, and my boyfriend and I had just addressed forty-seven Christmas cards with a picture of us stretched out on the beach in Playa del Carmen.
I knew that I should have pulled my arm away and done something clever with it, like pull my hair behind my ear, but I didn’t want to. I allowed pent up feelings of anger toward my boyfriend to surface and excuse my less-than-trustworthy behavior. I had been with my boyfriend for more than two years. During that time, I had seen six friends get engaged to guys they started dating long after we had. If my boyfriend really intended to make an honest woman out of me, he should have done it by now. If I passed up the chance to have Keenan’s hands all over my body, only to spend the next two years waiting for a proposal that would never come, then I was a moron. It would serve him right if I went home with Keenan.
I was just about to place my hand on Keenan’s thigh, dangerously close to his groin, when my conscience kicked in and my boyfriend’s better moments started playing in my mind like an Academy Awards tribute. I pictured myself laying catatonic on his couch for two days, after suffering what I can only assume was a nervous breakdown. During that time, he called in sick to work and spent hours making rutabaga mashed potatoes and rolling sushi in an attempt to get me to eat. For two days he tried to get me to talk, move or even cry. In the end, I just sort of came out of it. We acted as if it hadn’t happened, and it hasn’t happened since. And here I was, entertaining the thought of performing unspeakable acts on a stranger who hadn’t even asked my name.
“Are you all right?” Keenan broke my trance with his deep, gentle voice.
I began to cry. My eyes welled up and forceful sobs pushed through my mouth and nose. The sobs were followed by snot and saliva mixed with the salty tears pouring down my cheeks: the emotional equivalent of projectile vomiting. I had spent the last fifteen years recycling clichés about how good men are hard to find, like I was the fifth friend on Sex and the City, and yet there I sat, wailing like a banshee.
Jamie, hearing my sobs over the drum solo, pulled herself away from David to ask me how much I’d had to drink. As if a liter of Grey Goose was all it took for an otherwise mild-mannered lady to act out such a melodramatic scene in public.
When I got home I crawled into bed, my face still hot from crying. My boyfriend took me into his big arms and held me tight.
Kissing the back of my neck, he asked, “Did you have a good time?”
Angela Rapacz is a psychiatric nurse and aspiring baker.