One of the visits I was looking forward to on our trip back to Ohio was with Matt's brother and his mother. As is always the case, schedules were hard to coordinate and I wasn't able to see them until late Wednesday night. 11:00 pm, to be exact.
Rain came down on a surprisingly dry Northeastern Ohio, just in time to salvage dead lawns and relationships gasping for life. The time we spent at Matt's mom's house was very pleasant. The three of us just hung out, having some laughs and catching up. By about midnight, though, we decided to leave and go have some beers at a local bar. I bid Matt's mom good bye and off we went into the drizzling night. She appears to be coping as well as can be expected. I was happy to see her.
It was off to Arturo's, a dark watering hole that has a kitchen and serves up half way decent food, if memory serves me well (it was actually one of three places Julie and I went to on our first date). The place was empty and the bartender, call him Mike, was not very happy to see two new patrons enter the bar. He was getting ready to close up and our presence put a kink in his plan to get out early. Besides my dead friend's brother, there were a couple of female barflies hanging at the bar, sipping hard liquor. Everyone in the bar was a regular, except me.
The time at Arturo's was fun. We reminisced some, bullshitted and made fun of each other. Outside, lightning flashed as the rain continued to fall in various spurts. On the jukebox, I dropped in five dollars and tried to select some tunes that weren't full of the sad memories that hung over this visit. Of course, there were some Journey songs, some Van Morrison, a Prince song, Otis Redding... and a bunch of other tracks. You can really get a lot of music for five bucks.
I should have known that the evening would eventually take a dark and uncomfortable turn as more alcohol flowed. While I kept to the beers, my companion soon switched to hard shots of whiskey. Still, we were having fun. There were plenty of laughs tempered by the distant looks away from each other’s gazes to avoid near tears. Then, as Johnny Cash began singing "Ring of Fire", Mike the bartender and the remaining lady in the place got into a vicious argument.
Turns out she works at Arturo's and there was a discrepancy about her tips. This argument escalated into angry slaps on the bar top and numerous uses of the word "fuck". If ever there was an indication that it was time to go, it was this exchange between the two Arturo's employees.
We drove into the sleeping North Olmsted city night, our destination another bar in town, The Phoenix. It was closed. So, we decided we'd hit Denny's for an early morning meal. As we approached Denny's, I saw that my brother in law's brother's bar was still open (try and figure that one out). A quick u-turn and we entered for last call at Hanna's.
Inside, another round of drinks was ordered. I once again stopped by the jukebox. With only 3 selections before we had to leave, I chose another (rare) Journey song, and two others. At the bar, Matt's brother began to take on some of the same mannerisms that Matt did when he was drunk. He was getting loud. There was no censor on him. Anything that came to mind, he expressed. There was some slight flirtation with the bartender (a woman who couldn’t have been more than 21). And anger started to rise. What had been friendly jabs at each other took on an edge. I couldn’t tell if he was having fun with some of the comments he was making to me, or if he was really pissed. We should have gone home after that. But, the two of us had made a decision to get some Moon Over MiHammy sandwiches at Denny’s.
As you can guess, Denny’s was dead. We were seated in a section where I think only the idiots up that late are placed at 2:30 in the morning. It was obvious that the two of us had been drinking. I could feel the alcohol stink coming out of my body. To top that off, my friend’s brother was now getting loud. Our conversation became pointless observations. I was uncomfortable. He noticed it. I began making mental notes about the people stuck working at a Denny’s at the wee hours of the morning. Our server was a woman who seemed a couple of years older than me. She wore a wedding band and seemed very nice, but a little sad, or tired. Why was she here? How did she wind up as a late night employee? Everyone wandering around the restaurant wore the same glum smiles. At that moment, about five minutes before our food arrived, I wanted to leave. I wanted to hug my children and kiss my wife.
A couple of teenagers entered and sat across from us. They looked like typical skater kids. They kept quiet and ordered food. Behind us, a young couple ate their food and sat closely, like kids in the early stages of love will do. And in a corner, and older couple entered and promptly told their server that they only had ten bucks to spend. Their server responded as if she was used to hearing this type of story. She quickly showed the man, overweight and missing a several of teeth, what the best selections would be for him and his wife.
I felt like I’d stumbled into a brightly lit, humid David Lynch film.
As soon as our food arrived, I dug in, rushing to finish my greasy ham, egg and overly butter toasted sandwich. I wanted out. I wanted home. I don’t stay up until 3:00 anymore. Then, my companion made some loud comments to the skater kids.
“You guys have fun skatin’ tonight?”
The question itself sounded innocent, but the tone was abrasive, almost challenging them. They both glared at us. “What did you say?”
“Skating? You skaters?”
They were in no mood. Or maybe this is the typical exchange between people in Denny’s on the edge of sunrise. But I was nervous and felt I had to step in and apologize. “He’s tired,” I said, or something along those lines. Then I turned and asked for our check.
On the drive home, he turned to me and said, “Uh, dude, don’t be alarmed, but I’m a little drunk.”
A very long silence fell between us as he drove us back to his house where I picked up my father in law’s car to return to the Flynn’s.
“I guess you’ve had enough of me. You probably don’t want to get together on Friday.”
He had read my silence. He was right. I felt like a dick. I gave him some lame ass excuse. As soon as he pulled the car over, I jumped out and drove home. Crawling into the quiet Flynn home felt like returning to earth after a crazed plane ride.
I don’t know what I was expecting. I never do when the two of us get together. Are we both trying to replace Matt in our lives? Is that right? Maybe he should just rest in peace and we shouldn’t be placing the burden of expectations on our relationship. I truly care about and love this guy, but I can’t spend each visit with him like this one. It’s not healthy. At some point, if this friendship is going to continue, I’ll have to be up front. I’ll have to be honest about my concerns and feelings.
Maybe we’ll just get coffee next time.