I met a woman once.
Yeah, I know. What’s so unusual about that? Normally I’d agree. It’s a pretty common occurrence. But there was one woman, an extraordinary woman, that I met many years ago. About thirty or so. You can stop doing the math in your head, yup, I’m that old. Anyway this was a circumstance so exceptional it still haunts me to this day. In a good way.
When I lived in Las Vegas there was a period of time when I was somewhat unsettled. I was up and down, happy and sad. Sometimes all at once. I’d been through a few things that I let drag me to the very bottom and I navigated the depths of quasi-despair for a few years. I drank a lot. And I drank often. I wasn’t quite a major league drinker but I was playing AAA ball at a variety of bars.
One of my frequent hangouts was Sidelines located on the outskirts of Henderson, Nevada. Great little place. Of course it’s gone now. Had to make way for bigger and better money-suckers. One of the bartenders, Melissa, was a good friend. We dated a bit, off and on. Never seriously. She was always waiting for the right firefighter to come along. Hope she found him.
One evening I dropped in after work and saw Melissa behind the bar with another young lady whose back was to me. Then I remembered she told me her sister was in town visiting prior to going back to Ohio to get married. Ohio, four letters. Tim’s number three rule of dating is never date anyone from a state with four letters in its name. This whole evening was one of the reasons for the evolution of rule number three.
I walked towards the two of them. About the same height. Melissa’s hair was longer and a little lighter than the sister’s. It took me a moment to navigate though the usual patrons who had to say high, give me a slap on the back, tell me how great it was to see me. Bar regulars are a chummy bunch. I was almost to the end of the bar when Melissa waved and her sister turned. Our eyes met and it was one of those moments you see in corny romance flicks when they do the slo-mo and the woman’s hair does this twirly flip thing as she turned my way. To this day I think everyone in the bar stopped talking at once. The music that was annoyingly loud faded away. My heart seized up. Literally. I felt my stomach tighten. I must have taken the last few steps but I don’t remember them. I’m sure Melissa introduced us. Her name was Trish. Patricia, actually. I could see a resemblance but they were also very different people. Trish was softer. Years of bartending can do that to you, I guess. I reached across the bar to shake her hand and I felt as if the very essence of life flowed through our fingers. I could tell she felt it, too. A slight widening of her eyes and a brief intake of breath. It seemed as if we stared at each other for an hour while Melissa continued to talk, telling me all about her not a word of which I can remember. I finally came around enough to look at Melissa who was telling me she’d been holding Trish hostage behind the bar to keep her from being hounded by all the drunken males in the place. On any other day I would have been part of that group but Melissa trusted me. Still don’t know why.
She asked me to keep an eye on Trish and keep her entertained until her shift was over. I must have agreed because I found myself holding a chair while Trish sat. That’s when I caught the first whiff of her perfume. Don’t ask me what it was. I didn’t ask and I still don’t want to know. I’d probably have a nostalgic bottle stashed away somewhere that I’d drag out and snarfle after a few shots of Irish whiskey.
People use the word intoxicating to describe such a moment. Though trite and over-used that is the best description I can muster. I sat and asked her what she’d like to drink while Melissa stood by and answered ‘Oh, she doesn’t drink alcohol’. My rule of thumb is when I am with a lady who does not imbibe neither do I so we opted for club soda and lime on the rocks. Yeah, really original. Melissa left and the two of us sat silently for a moment and continued the unabashedly shameful staring. I could barely breathe. My heart had started up again but was fluttering at a frightful pace. I have no idea how words started between us but they did. We talked and laughed. And talked some more. We found out we had almost zero interests in common. Different tastes in everything. But she graciously listened to my stories and I was enraptured by her charming discourse. Twice she reached across the table to touch my arm and she withdrew suddenly when she realized what she’d done but not before that little bolt of electricity passed between us. Our legs would occasionally touch and I’d start back embarrassed. It was the most amazing two hours I’ve ever spent with a woman I’d just met. About an hour in I realized I’d fallen completely in love with her. Don’t ask me how I knew. If you’ve ever fallen hard for someone you know what I’m talking about. And I could feel the same emotions coming from the other side of the table. Never had something felt so completely right that was utterly, completely, hopelessly wrong.
I’ll digress from my tale for a moment to tell you I haven’t fallen like that again. I’ve had some lady friends, known some wonderful women. But that singular moment has been missing from every encounter. I don’t mind being alone. It doesn’t make me unhappy and I don’t miss being in love all that much. But when I think about Trish I know that what I miss is falling in love. That marvelous free-fall into a stomach churning stupidly blissful abyss. Once again if you don’t know that feeling it hasn’t really happened to you. Yet. When it does you’ll know. It’s not lust, it’s not obsession. It’s driving fast with the top down in the springtime with the wind in your hair and the smell of a new summer coming and not giving a damn where you’re going but just enjoying the ride. I love falling in love. Hopelessly in love.
And so I did that evening with Trish. All the time feeling the growing ache inside that this would be over in an instant with no hope for the future.
Melissa’s shift ended and she came to the table and said they’d better get going because Trish had an early flight and they wanted to spend a little time together. I was dying inside. A little voice in my head was screaming ‘Tell her not to go!’ and without the benefit of inhibition lowering alcohol flowing through my bloodstream my sober, logical mind was getting the upper hand. ‘Thanks, Timmy’ Melissa offered and leaned in to give me a kiss on the cheek. Trish stepped toward me, paused and stood back a little. She reached out both hands and grasped mine. Tightly. I don’t think Melissa noticed. She held my hands for a moment and said ‘Thanks, Tim’ and said goodbye and turned. They were gone before I could blink, or breathe or yell ‘Don’t go!’. Gone forever.
I never saw her again. Melissa told me Trish got married and was expecting a little girl the last time I spoke with her.
I kinda got over bars after that. At least on a daily basis. It was a seismic event in my life.
Every now and then I wonder what would happen if I were to hear a door open, look up and see her walk in. I’m pretty sure the effect would be exactly the same as the first time our eyes met. I don’t miss being in a relationship. I don’t miss being in love. Every now and then when I feel nostalgic and think back to those days I really miss falling in love.
It still hurts a little. Less than it used to but it never goes away completely. So I’m probably done falling in love. That rocket ship ride to the moon and back in the blink of an eye. Yeah, I’m done falling in love.
Unless I hear that door open.