"So, you know anyone who wants to play softball?" Karaoke Chris asked one Thursday night as I washed bar glasses. I'd been called in to cover the shift, and was happy to see Chris, who could rarely make it down on a Tuesday when I usually work.
"Maybe Timothy, but he is already on a co-ed team, and plays pool several nights a week, so I'm not sure."
"We're losing a few players this season." He listed his roster of drop-outs, most of them unrecongizable to me, until he said, "And I guess Bar Crush is moving back East so he's out." I paused and looked at Chris. My mind re-wound. . .
It was the summer that my divorce was being processed. Bar Crush and I were caught in this weird sort of limbo when I asked if he would mind if I came to one of the softball games. The team, established before Bar Crush had ever joined, was sponsored at one point by the Wright Place, and many of the members were regular patrons.
"That would be okay."
"Okay. So, I'll be there this week."
"Bye. Q, say 'bye.'"
"Bye!" And we hung up, the last word from his daughter causing my heart to melt and my lovestruck soul to fall a little deeper.
Noelle and I went to the game. She was a hit with the kids at the park, and I hardly spoke to Bar Crush as I was busy looking after Noelle. When the game was over we headed to the car, and I could feel him on my heels. He stopped me as I left the lot and poked his head through the window I had opened for Noelle.
"You going to the bar?"
"Yes, I'm meeting friends after I take her home." I thumbed at Noelle, whose tongue was hanging out in her silly way, and he patted her affectionately on her head.
"I'll see you there."
"Okay. Yeah. I'll see you there."
I arrived first and sat with y friends. I waved at the team and spoke with the briefly, but had no interest in sitting with a group of men so returned to my seat at the bar. When I left that evening, I could again sense Bar Crush behind me.
"It was nice. Having you at the game was nice. Seeing you out there was nice." I nodded, and we departed. At home I dialed his number, then instantly prepared to hang up and excuse myself later by calling it a pocket dial, when he answered. We chatted for a bit.
"The kids really liked you. They were all over you at the game."
"They liked Noelle. Kids love her." After some small talk the conversation turned. "I'm just trying to figure out what you want."
"I'm trying to figure it out too."
"I know you're not dating. But someday you will. I assume you'll want to date a few people, see what's out there."
"That's not my intention, to date a bunch of women. I'm just. . . I'm just trying to figure it out."
"I'm just waiting. I'm waiting for you to figure it out. I hope you figure out that it's me that you want."
A noisy "splat" interrupted my memory. I absentmindedly looked about for the source of the noise, located it, and bent to retrieve the piece of my heart that had fallen to the floor, attempting to stay composed as I did.
"Oh. Yeah. You guys had a thing," Chris recalled.
"It was just a crush." Rocco stirred inside of me, and I felt guilty for letting my mind wander so far back in time. But even in my guilt I couldn't help but feel wounded that Bar Crush would leave town, I would never see him again. I would be left with the impression that while to me, he was my bridge over troubled water, gently, cautiously, carefully tread upon with the hope of bringing him with me to the other side, I was just his stepping stone, left behind when he figured out what he was looking for. The fact that I had been hurt before made me temporarily relateable, but ultimately too much to handle. I was just a rebound, and so I was resolute that he was just Bar Crush.
After all, I am no stranger to just being walked away from. Sean put a bullet in his brain, leaving me to wonder for the rest of my life if he thought of me in those last moments. My own husband moved across the country while I stayed behind to finalize our divorce. I could spend a lifetime wondering what might have been.
What if I had fought harder? What if I had reported them to the police? What if I had felt my feelings in those first couple of years, instead of drinking them away?
What if I had taken that last phone call? What if I had recognized the cries for help? What if I had gone to check on him sooner?
What if I had taken more folic acid? What if I had done what most women do when confronted with a diagnosis of anencephaly, and terminated the pregnancy even if by early delivery?
What if I had never walked into Charly's to submit my application? Sean never would have walked into my life, and I never would have sustained the heartbreak of his death. But he never would have touched my life, either. If I had never been raped, I never would have related to Sean the way that I did, he wouldn't have been able to draw me from my darkness, even while he was being pulled irretrievably into his own.
If I had never taken the job at Charly's, I never would have met Cheri, Karla, Donny, Elise, Lisa, Jessica, Blake, Lindsey, Rick, Lynn. . . even Marcos. . . the string of people who have made my life better by entering it.
If I hadn't gone on that first date with Ben, I wouldn't be his ex-wife today, but we wouldn't have had our son, and I can't even think about a life that had never been blessed by Gabriel.
What if I had never joined Match.com? Or responded to that e-mail? Or agreed to step outside of my comfort zone and go bowling with Marcos, who somehow found his way back into my lfe after our first encounter in that little bar years ago?
What if I the lesson I had taken from Bar Crush was to be more like him, emotionally unavailable, and prone to setting broken people aside when I was done with them? What if I had learned to be more guarded? Play hard-to-get?
When Marcos and I started dating he wanted to talk, he wanted to know about me. And there was so much to know. And he wasn't afraid of any of it. If I had never met people who couldn't handle my raw emotions and collective traumatic experiences, I might not know how to value the person who loves me not in spite of them, but for the strength that they have created within me.
What if we had moved a little slower? What if I hadn't gotten pregnant so soon? Then we wouldn't be expecting our baby in three weeks, and that's a life I don't want to imagine either.
As I locked the doors to the bar last night for my last closing shift before maternity leave, I got the distinct feeling, as I did three years ago, that the next time I lock that door my whole world would have been changed. With a bittersweet, cautious, but abiding faith I find myself thinking about what might have been, allowing it to impress upon me how thankful I am for all that I have now.