Door #8 had a doorknob in the middle. It seemed like the sort of place that’s been there forever, where not a lot of light enters. The sort of place to go when you wanted to forget. Of course, as the door to a bar, it probably makes leaving after a few drinks a bit of a challenge.
JANUARY 12, OR THURSDAY
For the rest of humanity, January 12 was just a day.
I opened the door of mottled blue and green with its funny central doorknob, located in the basement of the building next door to my apartment, lured by the possibility of oblivion.
A seat opened up at the bar next to a blonde woman staring into her glass of white wine. I swung a hip on to the stool. The bartender handed a margarita off to a nearby server and then stood in front of me. “What’ll you have?”
“Glenfiddich on the rocks.”
The conversational heavy lifting over with, I scanned the rest of the room. People were laughing. Laughing, like today didn’t mean anything, because to them it didn’t. After three years, it shouldn’t have mattered to me, either. When someone dumps you, his birthday should cease to mean anything. Normal people don’t stare at their cell phones all day, wondering if they should send a quick “Happy birthday” text, because that would be the grown-up thing to do, or if that would just let on that they still cared, which despite all of their best intentions, they still did.
A few more hours and the day would end, and I could stop flashing back to birthdays past and wondering why I couldn’t move on.
Drinking generally made me sleepy than happy, but that worked for me. Fall into a deep and preferably dreamless sleep, and wake up on a day that did not bring back bittersweet memories, heavy on the bitter. I had faith in my ability to resist sending a “Hey, it was your birthday yesterday!” message. I just needed every receipt and LED screen to stop spouting the date at me.
The bartender placed the glass in front of me. “That’ll be $12.00.”
I handed him my platinum Visa. “Start a tab for me, would you?”
The bartender nodded and headed off to take care of someone else’s liquid refreshment. I should’ve brought cash, I realized. Now, when my credit card bill came in, I’d get a reminder that I couldn’t get through January 12 without thinking about Zack.
I pulled my cell phone out. It was 9:15. Small chance I’d make it till midnight so the receipt would be dated tomorrow.
What did it matter? I’d still know.
“Crap.” I threw my phone back in my purse with savagery enough to propel the small clutch out of my hands and into the lap of my neighbor, who spilled her wine down the side of her leg.
“Oh, hell. I’m sorry.” I picked up my cocktail napkin, the only absorbent item I could find.
The blonde woman shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. This day wasn’t going to get any better.” She dug a wad of napkins out of her purse and blotted up what she could. “Two kids. I always carry something to clean up a mess.” Settled the bundle of sog on the counter, she handed me back my purse. “I’m Andie.”
“Tamara.” I set the clutch safely on the counter, signaling the waiter. “More wine? The least I can do is buy you another drink.”
“Make it a dirty martini. The chardonnay isn’t cutting it.”
I gave the order to the bartender and inclined my drink toward Andie. “Sorry to add to your bad day.”
“Trust me, this doesn’t even measure on today’s radar.” She stared at the nearly empty wine glass as though sheer intensity might cause it to refill itself. “Have you ever had someone in your life you just couldn’t let go? Even when you knew you had to?”
I winced. “Yeah.” I took a swig of scotch and savored the burn on the back of my throat.
“I can’t keep going like this.” She continued so quickly, I didn’t think she’d actually expected me to respond. “It isn’t good for me or the kids. I know that, in my head.”
“Just can’t get your heart to play along?”
She blinked a tear back. “You know.”
I nodded. “It’s a stupid game, but for some reason I can’t stop playing.”
“How long has it been for you?”
“Three years since he stopped answering my calls.” I looked quickly at the television, wishing like hell I cared about college football so that I could concentrate on something besides the pity that probably covered Andie’s face. “Pathetic, isn’t it?”
“I’ve got you beat. My husband left the picture six and a half years ago.”
I looked back at her, taking longer to mask the shock than was at all polite. She just laughed, without any sign of joy. The bartender handed her the martini, and she toasted me with it.
“If you married him, you probably had a longer history than Zack and I did. We were only together for a year.” Eleven months, actually, that played in my head on endless loop.
“Eight years almost to the day, before he left.”
“And he left you with two kids? I’d be pissed at him, too.”
She knocked back a healthy swig. “We fell in love so fast. We got married and had kids right away and I didn’t think twice about it. Marco was the one. We had the rest of our lives together. It would just give us more time to enjoy after the girls grew up. God, what a sucker I was.”
I drained the last of my scotch. He was the one. “I know how you feel.” I signaled to the bartender to bring me a replacement. “Does everyone keep telling you that you need to get over it? Like you haven’t been trying?”
“Yes!” She slapped her martini on the bar, spilling a few drops. “It’s so easy for them to say, sitting there with their relationships alive and well.”
“Exactly! And they always say it two minutes before complaining about something stupid their husbands did. Seriously? I’m supposed to get over being dumped like yesterday’s trash, but you’re allowed to complain because the hubby didn’t buy you a present for St. Patrick’s Day?”
Genuine amusement flooded Andie’s face for a second before melancholy and anger took up residence again. “The worst part of it is that I actually thought I was getting over it. The past year or two, I’ve started to feel more positive. Marco’s gone, but I have my two beautiful girls, I got a promotion at work last year…it’s not all bad. Then today happened, and now I feel like I’m back at square one again.”
I sipped the second Glenfiddich more slowly. “What happened today?”
“Julia’s birthday. My oldest daughter.”
“She missed her dad?”
Andie shook her head. “She was fine. I’ve always tried really hard to make birthdays special, you know? The three of us together, everything else gets cancelled. This year she says she wants to spend the day with her boyfriend. She’s thirteen, she’s been dating him for all of three weeks, but now he’s more important than anything else. I told her I thought she should stay home with me and Selena, and she tells me just because I have no life, that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have one.”
I patted her arm. “She’s thirteen. Everyone says stupid things to their parents at that age.”
“Trouble is, she’s kind of right. I’ve only been on two dates in the last year.”
“You’re doing better than I am.” I stared at my scotch. “If he just would have said good-bye, you know? He just stopped answering my calls. I feel like any day Zack’s going to call and tell me that his phone was out of order and he just got my messages.”
Andie nodded. “One day I’m at the pharmacy, learning how to administer all fifteen of his medications so he wouldn’t be in such awful pain, and the next day he’s gone and my living room still looks like a very special episode of Grey’s Anatomy.” She drank her martini fast enough to spill some of it down her chin.
I stared at her. “Oh, God…Marco didn’t leave you, did he?”
She leaned on the bar, eyes hollow. “No.”
“Oh, Andie…I’m so sorry…and here I’ve been whining about this idiot that walked out, while you’re – “
“Don’t. Please?” She held up a hand. “Don’t start with the sympathy. I really don’t want to hear the Poor Widow talk tonight. It feels really good right now to just be mad at him for leaving me. He didn’t walk out, but he still left, and some days I feel just as abandoned as if he made the choice.” She grabbed my hand. “Let’s just be two pissed off women tonight, okay?”
I met her gaze. “Okay.”
She let go of my hand and turned her shoulders toward me. “Tell me about Zack. What made today so bad for you?”
“It’s his birthday today.”
“And you felt like you were supposed to do something, even though he walked out of your life?”
I nodded. She told me about how her mother-in-law wanted to know why they weren’t celebrating Marco’s birthday. On the sly, I deleted Zack’s number.
The voluntarily dead didn’t deserve to be mourned.