Once upon a time I would spend a lot of time in one bar I know. Some weeks, I would show there every evening. Others, once or twice. There would be weeks when I couldn’t make it to the bar once. But I never stayed away for long.
In that bar, I would meet a stranger. And a stranger they would be, always, no matter how many times I had met them before.
There was no knowing how the night would go. On some nights, we would make each other laugh, or try to outwit each other in cheesy banter. On some nights, we would stare into each other’s eyes – in confusion, in understanding, in anger when the understanding went too far, revealing things we were not prepared to know about the other and ourselves.
On some nights, we could dance like a perfectly choreographed musical troupe; on others, we stepped on each other’s toes, slipped, tripped, laughed in amusement, groaned in frustration, left in a huff. Some nights, we would be all over each other for hours; on some, a five-minute talk would make it clear that neither was in the mood.
Ultimately, I didn’t mind how the night would go. I would just be glad to be there. To have shown up, be it for five minutes or five hours, be it for a dance, a chat, a kiss, or a fight.
Then, one day, the stranger wasn’t there. I wasn’t sure what to do. It felt so sudden. It seemed to have come out of nowhere. I took it personally. I left the bar, and didn’t go back.
I told myself it was for the best. Looking back, I could see that my stranger’s disappearance had not come out of nowhere after all. In the weeks preceding it, there were many more fights than kisses, and the dances felt stiff, half-hearted, the definition of going through the motions. I had stopped showing up at the bar in wonder, in preconceived acceptance of whatever the night would bring. I had begun showing up with expectations, or in anticipation of disappointment. My expectations would be disappointed. My anticipation of disappointment, fulfilled.
For a while after that, I would shun all bars of the kind where I could meet my stranger, or someone like them. I had taken a turn towards fear. I didn’t want us to fight anymore, but saw no way through. I wanted things to go back to the way they were, but saw no way back.
So I stayed away, opting for a perfect never-was instead of a messy up-and-down. An easy no instead of a hard-won maybe.
For a while, that was enough. Right up until the one day when it wasn’t.
I’m going back to the bar. Because I miss my stranger. I miss the dancing, elegant and awkward alike. I miss the way we made each other laugh. I miss the moments of terrifying vulnerability, moments when I wasn’t sure who was more exposed: them who answered my questions, or me who asked them.
I have been missing these things more with every passing day, and I think my longing has finally outgrown my fear.
Tonight, I’m going back. I’m going to perch myself on a tall bar stool, stare into my drink for a while to gather my courage, tap my stranger on the shoulder… and find out what happens next.