I was supposed to be on a date. Instead, I was riding the train, on a mission to find a guitar for my daughter for Christmas after a long day at work. I broke the heel off my shoe as I jumped through the closing Red Line doors, the train stuffed like a Christmas stocking. Balancing in the aisle, one hand holding the railing, I reached down to see if I could feel what happened to my heel. I realized what a bad idea this was as I ran my fingers across the tiny nails that had been holding the heel in place only moments before. I lifted my hand to see what happened, smearing blood across the front of my coat, and staining my grey backpack. I held my hand out to give myself time to think, blood dripping onto the floor of the train. The people lucky enough to get a seat stared, not one offering a tissue or napkin. That’s public transportation in Chicago. Getting off the train, I raced past an elderly man in my broken heel and slipped right in front of him. Alarmed, he asked, “Did someone hit you, young lady?” He pointed to my face, another place I’d smeared blood. I assured him it was just small cuts on my fingers, and he handed me a tissue.
I blamed Michael for all of it, as I limped across the icy street, freezing, hungry, and looking like a crime victim. If he hadn’t turned out to be such a creep, I’d have been in a warm restaurant, flirting over a wide-rimmed glass of cabernet.
I met Michael through Julia, one of my closest friends, my next-door neighbor since shortly before my divorce several years ago. Having Julia next door is like living in a college dorm again with friends just down the hall. Every few days she’ll text, “What are you up to?” I’ll respond, “Kids just left, come over!” and moments later she’s standing at the back door with a pot of turmeric-ginger tea, or a little contraband. She’s met everyone I’ve gone out with more than once, and she keeps my secrets. You know the friend you text before you meet a new person for the first time, so that someone knows where you are? Mine’s Julia.
When she first told me her friend, Michael, was interested in me, I immediately dismissed the idea. Too begin with, he was too young for me; I have a rule not to date someone I could have babysat. However, when he responded on Facebook to an article I had published, one I’d been feeling vulnerable about, I noticed. He responded to my post, “beautifully written” and to the next publication I posted, “wow.” Then he came with Julia to see me tell a story at Louder Than a Mom at Martyr’s, and I started to notice him. After an intense conversation at a party about his favorite photographer, where he showed me pictures on his phone and described the photos with a poetic passion, I started to wonder if I was being too strict about my age rule.
When he asked me out over messenger, I surprised myself. I said, “Yes.”
A few days later, two days before my scheduled date with Michael, Julia showed up at the back door with a pot of turmeric-ginger tea, but instead of the big tight hug she usually gave me as she entered, she was stiff, avoiding my gaze. “I have something to tell you.” Oh boy. I grabbed two mugs and we went to the living room.
Still stiff, Julia launched into her story. She and Michael had gone to a dive bar the night before for a few drinks. Though they’d been friends since high school, and Julia had always been clear she only wanted to be friends, he’d tried to kiss her when she was drunk. She pushed him away. On his way home, he texted her that he loved her. The next morning, he claimed he didn’t remember it. She finished with, “I’m afraid I’ll lose his friendship and yours, my two closest friends.”
We looked at each other, and it was clear what to do. I texted him, “I’m cancelling.” When he asked why, I responded, “I just talked to Julia.” That was it for me. Done.
Julia’s phone buzzed, “Can I talk to you,” he texted. Julia moved to the next room to talk to him, calling him out for kissing her while she was drunk. I heard, “I thought I was safe with you” and, “I thought you were my friend,” though I was trying not to listen.
When she was done, I moved the tea mugs to the side and pulled out the tequila. We toasted to our friendship.
As for what was supposed to be date night, my blood-stained, heel-less guitar-hunting trip was a huge success. I bought my daughter an almost new Art & Luther Canadian, hand-made guitar with a full, rich voice from one of the sellers I visited in my disheveled state. Priceless.