So after so much of this, for so long, I find myself forced to ask: Is there something about me that simply invites a certain kind of chaos?
I went out early tonight to a concert, 18th-century European chamber music on period instruments, at a local gem called The Music House, on 5th Street just over the line into West Greenville. The owner of the venue, which is basically one spacious room in a historic home that alternates as a bed-and-breakfast, had dedicated the evening’s music in honor of my dad, who loved the charming little place, with its rows of individual chairs of all stripes, and the opportunities it provided for intimate listening to fine music. Indeed, the music was wonderful, a glass of wine bolstered the ambience, and in all the evening reminded me, in the very best ways, of my old man.
So I decided then was the perfect time to try to finally dive into writing the newspaper obituary for my father, something the ugly whirlwind of my previous weeks had routinely prevented. I figured I’d go somewhere quiet, grab another glass of wine and a late dinner, and start writing, a task I had come to regret more with every passing day, as time itself was beginning to imbue the effort with the air of the impossible.
I ended up at a nice local Italian place I had never been to before. There was a fire pit on the patio, the air outside cool and pleasant, and only one other patio table had people seated at it, mostly out of my view. So I sat down, placed my order, and cranked up the laptop. The service was attentive, the food arrived, and was very good, and the glass of wine was excellent. My mood for the task at hand was as close to right as I figure you can get.
Then a slight disruption from the nearby table. Two female voices started to wind around each other in anger, though the sniping seemed to be more or less contained. I could see both women from where I sat, one bottle-blonde in her 30s, I’m guessing; the other a 20-something brunette. A third voice, that of an older man hidden from my view, was getting a few words in here and there, but really not saying all that much.
Things pretty quickly leveled off, and I tuned the trio back out, starting to make some notes about my dad’s parents, the classic American immigrant story, and like that.
And then. And then all hell breaks loose at that other table. The two women’s voices shoot up from contained anger to snake-poison fury, the kind of human sound that ends in things you can never take back. Silverware is banged against plates. They are soon screaming at each other across the table. Inside the restaurant, the smattering of customers is none the wiser; they can’t hear any of this. It’s just me. Lucky me.
They are sisters, these two, and both begrudge the other for monumental failings in each other’s lives. The younger one devolves into a howling wind of anger: You were never there for me. You never helped me. You abandoned me. How dare you. How fucking dare you! I hate you! I fucking hate you!
The older man’s voice is still muted, as if he thinks somehow being calm now will help. I’m utterly aghast. What’s with these goddamn people?
At this point, I am kinda past wanting to eat, or drink, another thing; I look at my meal, and my computer, and I’m all at once pissed off myself. What is this rude Jerry Springer shit? Where the hell did my quiet evening go?
Before I can think to contain myself, out it comes: “What the fuck is wrong with you people? Do you seriously think this is the place for this shit? Take your little drama somewhere else. Go home, for fuck’s sake!”
The man starts mumbling at them to quiet down. But no. The blonde woman jerks herself upright, hurling her napkin down, her chair scraping the patio tile. “I’m done with you!” she screams at the other woman. “I’m fucking finished! Do you hear me?” She storms away, to a nearby dark-colored SUV, furiously fighting the door to get inside.
The younger woman, screaming after her: “I hate you! I fucking hate you! You slut! You whore!”
The man, white-haired and overweight, as I can see him now, is trying to catch up with the blonde, who pulls her vehicle out and away. The man gets into another nearby car and follows her, while the brunette just continues sitting there, vaguely staring after them, looking lost, and numb.
I start searching for someone to come box up my food. I’ve had it. In the meantime, the woman turns to me. “I’m sorry,” she says. Her voice is hollow. “Can I come over there and talk to you?”
“What?” I sputter. “You wanna come talk to me? Seriously? You people have already ruined my evening with this ridiculous shit.” She looks back in the direction she’d been staring before, and seems to zone out again.
Then the wait staff is there, one after another, questioning me, and apologizing profusely, and damn, what the hell just happened here? They go to get a box for my food. By then, I’m feeling plenty bad for how I’ve acted. The woman at the other table is clearly a mess, and whatever just happened has hurt her feelings pretty badly.
“I’m sorry,” she says again, not looking at me. “I’m sorry we ruined your evening.”
And then, and I shouldn’t have, but I said: “You can come over,” I say. “I’m glad to talk with you.”
So she does. With her wine. And I quickly realize she’s soused to the gills. She is barely sitting before she starts telling me that her boyfriend of seven months just left, and her sister’s husband left, and her mom is dead, and was killed when she was only 2, and a third sister blamed herself for the death, and then two years later walked in front of a car to take her own life …
So this has become immediately, and wildly, intimate, and the young woman is looking at me with a warmth that says I’ve become somebody to her I clearly don’t need to be. So I say, stumbling blindly to put a cork in her wine-drunk abandon: “You sound like you really have too much on your plate to deal with. Like you need to maybe talk with someone about all this.” At which point her face flushes, and she snaps at me angrily.
“I’m fine!” she says. “I’m fine!”
OK, I say. Calm down. Just a friendly suggestion. And like that.
But she’s already over it. “Are you a counselor?” she asks. Her look tells me she wants me to say yes.
I’m not, I say. But this, too, doesn’t slow her down, at all.
“When were you born?” she asks. “What month?”
My mouth fell open at this point. This was not going to get any better, that much was clear.
But I tell her anyway. And of course, she asks the day.
“A Taurus,” she declares to my answer, as if this explains something. “My two kids are Tauruses also. I’m an Aries. That” — she lets a huge sigh escape — “that is our problem.”
The waitress is boxing up my food now, and the manager is hovering nearby, looking concerned; the young lady’s party is apparently well known at the restaurant. I direct the manager to my credit card with the bill, assuring him the food and service were excellent; life happens, I say. Whadaya do, right? I down my wine, which I’ve until then barely sipped.
As the manager goes to run my card, the young woman asks me what I’m working on, and I tell her, mostly out of annoyance over my ruined evening and missed opportunity.
“I can help you with that,” she says. “I’m a writer.”
That’s right. She wants to help me with my dad’s obit.
“I am, too,” I say, letting my irritation get the best of me again. “So I’m good, but thanks.”
She will not be dissuaded. “Can I read what you’ve written?” she asks.
By this point, I’m out to sea, entirely. “Really,” I say, trying just to shut this down, “I haven’t gotten anywhere on it. That was my plan for tonight, to write the thing.”
“Oh,” she says. “Oh.” Then: “Really, I can help. I’m published. I’m a published author.”
“That’s wonderful,” I say. “Really. I appreciate it. But I am, too. So, we’re fine.”
But as I’ve already proven, I just can’t leave well enough alone. I’m trying to get the hell out of there, but leaving means this mess of pinballing emotions is then gonna be there alone. And I fear she may try to drive somewhere. She is way too blotto to drive.
“Do you have somebody to get you home?” I ask, quickly regretting how that may have sounded.
“Oh, my publisher will give me a ride,” she says. “Or else I can walk. I can use the walk.” She is wearing heels. Wide heels, but heels just the same. I point this out. She declares, all evidence to the contrary, that her shoes are like sneakers. They’ll be fine to walk in. Anyway, she’s not too far from where she lives.
About then, thank fucking all, the older man — her publisher? — reappears. He puts his arm on her shoulder and says they should go; not a word yet to me. She gets up, and wobbles a little in the direction of the parking lot. He starts to follow her, then turns toward me for a second.
“Sisters,” he says mildly. “What are you gonna do?”
Just then, she turns back to me as well. “Do you have your card on you?” She means my business card.
When I tell her no, she looks offended, like I’ve just lied to her, like I don’t want her to have it. The fact is, I don’t have one on me, though I wouldn’t have wanted her to have one, regardless.
“Seriously,” I say. “I just don’t carry them.”
“Oh,” she responds brightly. “I don’t have mine either.”
By the time I’m finally collecting my stuff to leave, they are instead sitting beside the fire pit, her “publisher” and her. They have the rest of their bottle of wine from dinner in a brown paper bag beside them. They seem to have forgotten me, and I am glad for it.
Yet before I can quite make my exit, the waitress, a really pleasant young lady who has done an especially solid job under the circumstances, declares to me that I have done good this night, and while she doesn’t know how I personally believe, and all that, I am clearly still a part of God’s plan, even if I may not be aware of it.
I must have looked as dumbfounded as I felt.
“You helped diffuse the situation, y’know?” she says.
“Ah,” I respond. “Right.”
I smile at her. I say thank you. And I nearly run for my car.