A Conversation With a Stranger | Blogs
A few years ago I moved out to Seattle with an old boyfriend. A week after we arrived, I got a job bartending at a wine bar three blocks from our downtown apartment. It was swanky during the day, but cavernous at night. As far as I know, it’s still there located in the Financial District. Godart paintings of martinis stain the walls, and a wrap-around teak bar takes up the majority of the dining room. The sliders are overpriced, but to die for.
A group of businessmen who were older, married, and bored visited me regularly. I grew to know them very well. Sometimes they’d ask me to stay and have a drink with them after my shift. Most days I did not because if I did, it meant that I had just worked the lunch shift, made zero money, and therefore, was sour. Also, if I stayed it would interfere with the time I spent at home with the one I loved. So, those were some days. Other days, I sat at the bar until well after dark, and my fellow bartender had to cut me off. I’d drink all the drinks the old men bought me. By the time anyone was home at my house I’d be cross-eyed, and stumbling up the hill home. I was lonely.
I started to identify myself in Seattle as someone from Maine. My cliché story was that I travelled out West to follow the one I loved. “Of course you moved out here for a man. You know how that story ends.” My regulars teased me, but it stung. I knew. I didn’t defend myself because I wanted to believe I was not the statistic they’d made me out to be. However, in their eyes, I don’t think any man would have ever been good enough for me. That was the sweet truth.
After working the dayshift, lunch-grind for six months, I proved my worth, and graduated to night shifts. This caused turmoil in my nearly non-existent relationship, however afforded me monetary comfort.
It was a quiet Thursday afternoon, my shift had just begun, and for some reason no one had arrived for happy hour. An older man, with silver hair walked into the bar and sat down. I always got a little funny when one man sat at the bar. It went one of two ways. Either it was when I did my deepest cleanings to avoid small conversation for the chance he might be a creep, or he quickly became my best friend and left me an unruly amount of money for the little time he spent with me. The second situation was clearly the ideal of the two.
I recommended some food for him to try, and we started talking, then before we knew it, we discovered we were from neighboring towns in Maine. He’s an attorney and happily married. We chatted for a long time about things that elude me, and I remember how good it felt to connect with someone who was going back to my home in just a few days. He temporarily bridged a gap between Washington and Maine and suddenly, I wasn’t so lonely.
After he left, I told my girlfriends that I had met a silver fox who was so charming, far out of my age bracket, and married nonetheless, but I was tickled. We laughed about it and they teased me. One girl claimed she had seen me speaking to him and he wasn’t cute at all. I laughed.
The following day he returned. When I saw him walk in my heart sunk. I wished he hadn’t come back. He pointed to the hotel kitty-cornered from the wine bar, and said something justifying why he was back in the restaurant for the second time in his three-day stay in Seattle.
I was a bit busier that day and I didn’t get the time to talk to him like I had the day before. I felt some relief for this. Although, he, like many men who came into the restaurant, was curious why I had moved to Seattle from Maine and why I was bartending and not doing something (according to him) more worthwhile. Between washing glassware, and making drinks, I told him I hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do, but certainly felt pressured because I had moved to Seattle for someone who knew what he wanted. Which left me supporting him, and with no idea of what I wanted to pursue.
He mentioned I should practice law. He told me how bright he thought I was and said if he could practice law, I certainly could do it too. That was the day everything in Seattle changed. When he left, I remember feeling awkward because the connection we had for me was because he was from my home and I missed it so tremendously, but for him, I think it could have been more. I did not know. Don’t get me wrong, I found him to be attractive, but he was married, older, and the relationship I was fighting for, diminished any thought.
The following day I went to borders on 3rd next to Macy’s, and I bought an LSAT book. I went home and flipped through it. I tried some of the problems without following any direction to feel out what I was getting myself into. It was only fifteen or twenty minutes until I went online and signed up to take the LSAT at the University of Washington.
Directly across from the wine bar is the Seattle Public Library. Architecturally, it is the most stunning library I have ever seen. The Seattle Public Library became my second home. I woke up in the morning, made tea in a thermos and gathered snacks like the old college days, and head to hit the books. It felt surprisingly good.
For the next several months, I spent at least one hour per day in the library before work. As I got closer to the date of the exam I spent five or six hours a day studying before my evening shift started.
The morning of the LSAT my boyfriend drove me to U.W. I had directions printed, but I was so nervous that I got us lost. He had already delayed going to work to drive me to the exam, and if I could guess, with my attitude at 6:30 am and my lack of knowledge as to where the heck we were going, he was frustrated. We fought and just as the argument was winding down, we pulled onto campus. I stepped out onto the wet curb and walked into the first building I saw with lights on. The woman behind the counter told me the building I was looking for was at least a mile away. I ran outside into the Seattle drizzle to see if I could catch him before he was totally gone, but it was too late. I knew no else was going to carry my butt to this exam, and if I missed it, I could only blame myself for throwing away both the opportunity and the $250.00 it cost me to take it.
Apparently, they were administering several exams that day, and by the time I made it, the lobby was crowded with hundreds of people. Plainly, I was overwhelmed, soaking wet, and on the verge of tears.
I finished the four-hour exam, and felt a sense of relief. My clothes were still damp, and everything at that point was out of my hands.
I went to a little bar down the street in the University District. I sat down and realized it was a sports bar because everyone was dressed in purple and had just come from the UW game. They were drunk and throwing shots around like water in a pool. I took comfort in the noise. A few tequila shots and beers later, I discovered a couple of other young people who had just come from the LSAT. They were adamant about getting into Miami Law and other top law schools in the nation. They asked where I was trying to get in and I had decided, nowhere. I didn’t share with them, but I wasn’t sure I was actually capable of getting into any law school, and therefore, I wasn’t about to name one.
A few months went by and I got my scores back. They were on the lower end of getting into Maine Law. Doable.
Things worsened in my relationship, and the words his grandmother had said to me before we left for Seattle, replayed in my mind. “He’s got his road and now you’ve got to find yours, just in case.” Because hindsight is 20/20 and this is a story, that’s the goddamned foreshadowing I wasn’t quite catching onto. I hope I didn’t ruin it for you, but that’s the end of that part of the story.
I returned to Maine several months later. Law was in the back of my mind, however I had taken on other hobbies, like writing more. I got a job bartending at the airport, my old stomping grounds after the many summers I bartended throughout college.
I was there for only a couple weeks when I saw the back of a silver fox. My heart palpitated, and I immediately pushed the thought out of my mind. Then, I realized I was not crazy. He was away on business when I met him, he travels a lot for work, and so, it must be him. He was pacing on the phone near the kiosk right outside the Shipyard Pub. I broke into a cold sweat.
Without thinking, I flung my apron off, and briskly walked to the back of the silver fox. I danced around him just a little bit until I jumped in front of him, and said “Hi!” in an overly enthusiastic tone of voice. There was sweat on my upper lip, and I couldn’t see it, but the vein in my forehead was definitely popping out.
He smiled immediately. I didn’t ask him if he remembered me, but instead I started rambling on about the LSAT, and our conversation that had changed the last year of my life. I wanted to tell him he believed in me and that’s why I did it. I didn’t. Instead we exchanged some awkward words and he forced his business card upon me.
I walked away feeling less than satisfied. Had he known who I was? Did he forget that we met in Seattle? I should have said something more.
I ran back behind the bar. The old lady I worked with had stepped in for me when she realized I was gone, poked fun, and asked who the silver fox was. I blushed and bit my lip. “A family friend,” is all I said. Where was I going to start that story anyway?
One day my ex-boyfriend called me months after we had broken up. He said he had a story to tell me, something bizarre. He had a client at work whom he had formed a business relationship with over the previous few months. On his desk, he had portfolio with photographs for his clients to look at while he was processing paperwork. Apparently, he still had some of my photographs in it. (I couldn’t tell you why.) The client started flipping through the book and said he recognized me. He said his friend had met me in Seattle. The ex asked how he knew it was me he had met, and the man said he had been in the airport just a few weeks before with a friend who ran into me. He was waiting for his friend to get off the phone, when I stepped in and starting talking to him. He said he was sure it was me. He told him that afterwards, the silver fox went on to say he met me in Seattle and that he’d told me I should practice law. He said we had a connection and he felt that running into me was a sign. Later that night after running into me, he told the story to his business partners at dinner. I imagine he probably told it much like I tell it now.