After yoga, I went to my neighborhood Korean bistro for a glass of wine and a sushi roll. I am a regular there, so the bartender greeted me with my usual red. She then asked me if I had heard anything from the guy who had stood me up the weekend prior. I said I had not. I had made no effort to contact him. He made no effort to contact me. The woman sitting at the bar next to where I sat immediately inserted herself into the conversation. “No man is worth sweating,” she exclaimed. (I assured her I did not really care. I had not even tried to find out what had happened.) Long blonde extensions and 4 inch faux leopard stilletos accentuated her glamor. Braces on her teeth signaled her youth. She was 25.
As we talked, it became clear she had a complicated story. Born in the Dominican Republic. Raised in Spain. Moved to Chicago after her mother’s death. Married to an older investment banker at 20. Divorced by 25. She was in Cincinnati as a makeup artist for an upscale wedding. She would be heading home the following afternoon, but she wanted to go out. She asked me if I wanted to go. I like to dance. I aspire to be the kind of person that says “Yes” to things. I thought about it, took a deep breath, and said I would go.
After heading home to get ready, we met up about an hour later. We arrived at the club and left our coats at the coat check. She took off her coat and revealed an outfit that made every person, men and women alike, stop in their tracks. Jaws dropped. She was wearing a bustier and skirt that insured we would not buy a drink all night. We were immediately invited into the VIP area. (In 41 years, I have never been invited into the VIP area of a club. Ever.)
We danced. Men bought us drinks. My makeup artist friend maneuvered advances with the delicacy of a surgeon and the beauty of an orchid. I appreciated her precision and ease. I navigated the situation a bit differently. First, I felt old. I was older than most of the women in the crowd. The men who spoke to me were fun, but I could not help but think they would have been much cuter to me 10 years ago. Then, I felt relieved. I did not feel the pressure to keep up with this world any more. (Not that I ever really kept up, but I used to try really hard.) Being the short, dark hair friend was alright with me this evening. I did not aspire to be her. It did not matter. I was thankful I had nice shoes, but was not wearing her heels. I was thankful that my dress was cute, but covered my midriff. I was thankful that I still knew the music the DJ was playing. I dwelled in a space of comfortable relevance. I thought back to a time when I would have felt differently. It felt great not to be there at that moment.
The evening drew to a close around 2:00. The bouncer I had befriended gave me a hug and hailed us a cab. My friend had collected several numbers throughout the evening, and I wondered which man she would text an invitation for a drink. We did not talk about it. I rode in the cab thankful that I would be going home to my bed, slip into my oversize t-shirt and flannel pajama pants, and be able to sleep until I felt the need to wake.
Dinner With Strangers: I have eaten dinner with strangers many times over the last twenty or so years. I believe we can learn from one another. I believe in the power of story. I believe in messages and angels. I have befriended. I have cried. I have flirted. I have ignored. I have argued. I have listened. I have collected stories.