St. Patrick's Day, Nashville, and a full moon under which i run into the doppelgänger of someone I had once been in love with but had never loved me back.
I know i hadn't really eaten or slept for the past couple of days, had clocked out exhausted and normally would have gone home to smoke a bowl and crash, but the moon was full, illuminating whispering night clouds in a pale blue dream.
A breeze cut through my sweater as I stepped into downtown chaos, carrying with it the scent of drunken excitement and lust. I stopped, confused for a moment.
Everyone was wearing green hats.
Oh, yes. The holiday of bad Irish accents. I was supposed to be drinking green beer out of a keg somewhere, but had of course lost those directions a week ago.
Hunger gnawed at me patiently, reminding me again I didn't have a soul to eat with. I never had any one to eat with. I was musing on this as I started the Galaxie, digging a groove of wallow to thrash about in for the rest of the night.
Dates are so uncomfortable, with their blank pauses and overenthusiastic discussion of television shows I haven't seen yet. The situation was futile, but I still didn't remember my last meal. Luckily, there was a place for lonelyhearts like myself, all greasy and formica and sunshine yellow.
I pulled into traffic.
Pachebel was playing, had been playing for days now, orchestrating my movements like some summer dream of love. Achingly beautiful music, all of it. The highway decided my destination- the one with the literate cook. You know which one I'm talking about, dark hair and glasses, a little shy, a book in the back pocket.
It entertained me to watch him cook my eggs.
I always ended up at Waffle House.
The place was purprisingly empty considering a late Friday, but I took a counter spot anyway.
My waitress wore a sticker reading, "I'm not Irish, so kiss my ass." I am Irish, but didn't take it personally. She kept my coffee full, and the hashbrowns were perfect.
The cook was in full swing, slapping bacon and flipping burgers in some strangely elegant, sweaty dance. Reading a little of the old Faulkner tonight, I saw.
I was in the mood to strike up a conversation. I had my lines prepared.
I was lighting a cigarette when the ghost of an old love sat down a seat away and started rambling about his recent big fun in New Orleans. First Mardi Gras, he was saying. Just driven back, ten hours, hadn't slept in a week.
He seemed to be talking to no one in particular. I allowed a small wry smile of whatever jaded experience I call wisdom to bubble up and prepared to cash out.
"You know, there's no Waffle Houses in New Orleans," he says, and I realize he's been talking to me. The entire time.
I turn to deliver a quick, witty retort, and he smiles.
He is wearing a sad grin that tugs at my memory. I've seen it before, slightly sheepish, little upturned smile lines that don't entirely fade after the joke has passed. I remembered the smile framed in big green eyes, with tousled hair, maybe a slight blush.
His are blue, with a blonde crewcut. He looks slightly hungover. I suddenly feel like I'm interrupting a conversation in progress.
"None in Chicago either," I say. "You just got back?"
"Maybe twenty minutes ago. I feel like a different person."
I knew what he meant, but I was curious to hear it in another's words. The city had a way of coating you in dirt and decadence, but fresh-scrubbing your pink soul back into wide-eyed wonder. You felt part of some great happening, something monumental, wrapped in mysticism and ribbons. It was the best cure for lonliness I'd ever found.
"Really? Changed? You do seem awfully spirited for such a long drive."
His eyes flashed with a sudden brilliance that caught me off guard, as if he found this amusing.
Memory was pulling at me again, the intensity of years and purest emotion. It occurred to me that something quite surreal was taking place at this very moment, and I had no choice but to go along with it, whether it fit my philosophies or not.
I reminded myself of the full moon that night, my sister explaining forces that sometimes shift and marble themselves into dreams, real enough to taste sweat on skin, real enough to ache.
"Say," he says, eyes laughing at the joke I wouldn't get until years later. "You ever listen to Pachebel?"