Team Taco™! It’s Negroni Week! And you know what that means!
It means mild alcohol abuse and bitter drinks. Wait, no, I said that wrong. It means processing our emotions however we need to so we can get to a better spot to change the patterns to avoid feeling like this again.
There we go. That fits better. I guess. If you believe.
Fragments of stars were procured to be given as gifts for lovers. Dim lights and red hues swirled around me. Laughter in the corner, joy coming from the table behind me, desperation seeping out from the character to my left. I’ve never felt more alone.
“Can I get you something?”
He asked me with calm kindness. Something bright danced behind his eyes, but I couldn’t see it. Not yet. Not now. The truth was, I didn’t want to.
I didn’t want to feel kindness or joy yet. I resisted it at every turn. Pity party, party of me, party for me. I needed more than this from someone who couldn’t give it, and I wasn’t about to let go.
Decisions weren’t for me. I couldn’t help myself.
His close cropped hair and suspenders worked. His bow tie — ambivalent. How could he dance between me, a sad sack of shit with depression sliding out of every word I spoke, and the lovers, clearly on the best date of their life, next to me? He smiled with ease.
“Do you like whiskey?”
“I prefer gin, but honestly, this is on a company expense account, and I just don’t want to feel this way.”
“Jesus Christ, bud. Okay. Give me a minute. I’ll come back to you.”
He left me there for a few minutes. A time-out. I understood. Of course he did. What else would he do? Everyone leaves. The bartender, friends, family. Her.
“Okay, I’m going to make you two drinks, and then you’re done for the night. You can come back tomorrow for more. Maybe you’ll be more fun to talk to then.”
“Listen, I just —“
“The first drink I’m gonna make you is a Negroni.”
“I don’t like Campari.”
“That’s because you haven’t had a Negroni. After you’re done with that, I’m gonna make you my favorite drink. It’s from New Orleans.”
“I know the Sazerac.”
“You wound me. I would never call that my favorite.”
I paused. He’s clever. Cleverer than I. I watch as he fills the vessel with Aviation Gin, Campari, and Carpano 1786 Antica Formula sweet vermouth. He’s not breaking eye contact. This son of a bitch is just looking at me, stirring this drink. I feel something for the first time in months. He’s still looking right through me as he grabs a Nick and Nora glass and strains the Negroni into it. Briefly glances away to pull a strip of orange rind from the fruit, expressing the oils across the rim before dropping it in.
“Welcome to your new found love of Campari.” He winks at me as he slides it in front of me.
I bring the drink to my face and smell. Jesus Christ. I close my eyes and enjoy the scent. I sip. Motherfucker, this drink.
“How did you know?”
“How did you know I’d like this drink?”
“Negronis are a perfect drink. But really, you look like someone who needs something bitter.”
This man is getting a large tip of company money.
The music picks up. The laughter and the dancing behind me continue. The lovers can have their stars, I don’t need them. I have eyes for no one. Nothing. Just this drink. Just this man. Just her. No. Stop. Back to the smell. Back to the bitter. Back to the bite. Back. Back. Back.
After my last sip, I ask for another.
“No. If you want another, you come back tomorrow. Now I’m making you mine.”
I’m undone. I’m nothing left. I am what I am, and I am nothing.
“Like I said, this drink is from New Orleans. It uses a French liqueur, a couple of bitters, sweet vermouth, cognac, and rye. You seem like a man who can handle the strong stuff.”
“You overestimate me.”
“You’re just depressed. Drink up. This is a Vieux Carré.”
We hold eye contact as I bring the glass to my lips. Fuck. It tastes like love. It smells like power. It reminds me of Thanksgiving. I instinctively set the glass down and stretch out my hand.
“That’s a burn.”
“Happened durning Thanksgiving, if you’d believe it.”
“Four months ago and still healing? Jesus. How did it happen?”
I’m pulling a steak from the oven. Mashed potatoes are done, popovers finished, green beans ready, gravy of mushrooms and cream begging to be consumed. Just need to pull the steak out — FUCK.
“Jesus fuck, ow, shit!” My palm is already blistering. Why didn’t I grab a dry kitchen towel? Fuck. Ow. Shit. Fuck.
She quickly grabs ice from the freezer and places it on my palm. It’s soft. Softness I’ve been missing. I stare at her, she stares at my hand.
“This is really bad. We should go to the emergency room.”
“I won’t be the idiot who burned his hand so badly that I need to go to the hospital on Thanksgiving. Besides, we’d have to drive for 30 minutes and we’ve been smoking. Ow. Shit. What was I saying?”
“I don’t want to talk about this right now. Let’s just eat. We can talk later.” She sheepishly turns to tend to the steak, leaving me dripping melted ice all over the floor, not sure what to do. I build our plates as best I can. We sit by candlelight, enjoying the efforts of our labor.
“Shall we say what we’re thankful for?”
“I’m thankful for you.”
“Why won’t you just talk to me about this?”
“Because I’ve made up my mind. It’s time. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
“I don’t want to throw this away just because you’re scared.”
“I’m not fucking scared!” She picks up her plate and throws it into the sink from feet away. It somehow doesn’t break. “I can’t tell you why I think I need to be alone. I just do. This doesn’t have anything to do with how I feel about you.”
She slams our bedroom door. I sit by the candle light, staring at the sink. How did that not break? I pour myself another whiskey. And another. Only two candles left. One. One more round. Darkness. I go to sleep on the couch, a cold rag wrapped around my hand.
“Where’d you go?”
I take another sip of my Vieux Carré.
“Just thinking about how good this drink is.” He rolls his eyes and tends to the folks next to me. I can’t make anyone out in the crowd. I don’t care to. This man? All I care about. And the drinks he’s making me.
They’re bitter. They’re sweet. They’re new. They’re old. They’re kind. They’re me. They’re gone. They’re what I wish I could be. They’re here and I’m still back there.
“Just fucking stay. Just try. It’s all I’m asking. Is that too much?”
“You know it is.”
I set the empty glass down and ask for another. He smiles at me. His blue eyes finally focus on me and I can’t move. Frozen, stuck, new. It builds. It grows. I bite my lip. I push the glass forward a little.
“That’s not the deal we made.”
“I want more than this.”
“I can’t give it to you.”
“Just this once?”
“Just this once.”
We make it to Christmas. As she packs our room Christmas Eve, I ask what I could have done. Where did I go wrong? What can I fix? Give me something to fix.
“A nightcap. So we have something to remember each other by.”
Something else is in front of me and I don’t know who or what it is. This is not what I asked for. This is not what I wanted. This is not what I needed. What the fuck is this. No. Ow. Fuck.
I pick up the drink.
“So what’s your name?”
He smiles. Soft. Kind. Sweet. Full of love and acceptance and remorse.
“Ask me tomorrow.”
I finish my last drink. I leave a $100 tip. I walk across the street to my hotel room. I collapse in bed and sleep for the first time in months. My hand doesn’t bother me all night.
He’s not there when I go back the next night. Of course he’s not. I drink my Negroni. I drink my Vieux Carre. I drink my Negroni. I leave a note with the bartender to pass along to him. I get on a plane. I fly home. I drive home. I open the door to an empty house. I lay down in our bed.
I wake up the next morning and decide it’s time to learn how to make cocktails. I drive up the Oregon coast two hours to the big city of Astoria to their fancy liquor store. I buy everything to make a Vieux Carré.
Slowly, calmly, I make the drink. I have no idea what I’m doing. I think of him. How he moved with purpose. How he paused; sharp in his movements and soft in his words. I pour the drink.
I take a sip. My hand doesn’t hurt as I set it back down. Not perfect, but it’ll work. It’ll get better. I’ll get better.
I often wonder if he ever got the note. If he read it. If he cared. I like to think he did. I told him what he meant to me. What I wanted to tell her, but couldn’t. Because she didn’t earn it. She didn’t want it. He was just doing his job, but his job brought me back.
“Thank you for the company. And for saving my life. I’ll think of you every time I have a Negroni or Vieux Carré.”
I can’t believe I didn’t break.
TACO TOTAL — 1629/2021
This Week’s Taco Total — 52
September Taco Total — 97
Okay, yes, so this is a story about how I fell in love with a bartender and he saved my life after a breakup. BUT. Whom amongst us? That's right.
Enjoy Negroni Week.