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Mrs. Cadafora, who I believe is a widower, hefted two worn but colorful recyclable plastic shopping bags down the street. They were heavy, and the old, stout woman stooped slightly as she carried them.
She was stronger than she looked; rarely, would she accept my help – and it took her a long time to accept mine. I knew from the distance I saw her turn the corner to her apartment in the first floor walk up, the restaurant wouldn’t mind my leaving my long occupied table ever so briefly. Today, I watched as one tourist, then another, offered to help bear the burden. She refused one after another – she was stronger than she looked – and far from helpless.
From my usual table, I could see her as she just rounded the bend from the market. I had finally urged the privilege to take the bags and bring them to her first floor walk up, leaving my table at the restaurant briefly – only so briefly.
“Come stai, caro mio?” the maitre’d, who I think was also the owner, was at my side. Looking politely pitiful and with just a hint of love at me – as all native Italians seemed to be able to do at birth.
“Bene, graze. This is excellent as always, signora. Grazie, anchor.”
She giggled at my coarse pronunciation but nodded at my effort as I broke my way through her forced Italian lessons with her. Especially on slow weeknights, over additional free glasses of wine, she’d sit and ask questions, I’d respond, fumbling and stumbling through answers.
My life has been pushing against what other people have in their minds about me. I’ve had plenty of time at this table, night after night, to examine my life. I realize my efforts were never as fruitful as I’d wanted. I learned Italian with her now, to pass the time, perhaps for the better – perhaps not. I gave in to patiently seeing what time would bring me.
I realized beyond a shadow of a doubt it had been easier for me to pretend I was someone important and expect people to come to that conclusion based on my actions than go through the deep work of building patience, credibility, and skills to make it more than veneer. I faced the incredible disgust of accepting the only gratitude and validation I received was obligatory; ceremonial yearly reviews, employees leaving the team, and my romantic partners letting me down easy. At each, it was an obligation to say someone nice about me, it was always a similar thread; I was a listening ear or I was a hard teacher, I was decisive, or they appreciated my methodical diligence in weighing each option, I was caring, but not in the way that was compatible with where their life was going. Anyways, they made an effort and I am grateful.
I decided instead to just show up. If that got me the free glass of wine or Italian lesson – or the attention of a radiantly amazing woman, I knew however small or brief the moment was, it was genuine and not obligation.
Facing a huge impenetrable wall of sadness that was my life, I went nuts. I wanted to “leave it all” and run down to a beach in Florida. I dreamt unrealistically of walking shirtless in the sand and wearing strings of colorful tropical nuts on my next and wrists. My life, tragically, wouldn’t be in a shack selling coconut water to ravers. I wouldn’t know how to survive, would I?
“Barry, are you there?” The grid of faces looking into their laptop cameras. My profile had no photo, just that circle in the odd neon color with “BE” in it – my initials. I hated turning on my camera. I was constantly reminded to just “be” – be present, be here, be available.
“Yes, I’m here, sorry, tell me again what’s the median across the different forecast models? Why don’t we offer that average? Let them know it was a compromise.”
I didn’t touch or smell anyone anymore. I didn’t see how their pants were wrinkled, how they wore colors that didn’t match, how they forgot to shave in specific areas or ate smelly food at lunch. They were becoming inhuman, godlike and perfect. Because without seeing and being reminded of those flaws every day, I had to fill in what was missing from my battered, imperfect perspective – they always received the benefit of the doubt. Their lives were better than mine. Their rooms didn’t smell of dust, their days weren’t waiting for a meal at a simple restaurant in tucked away in the Italian sector of the city.
So it started with a sticker on my computer monitor with the simple order “Go to dinner alone.” My last relationship didn’t work out. She called me a dreamer and my expectations were too high. I thought hers were too low, but I didn’t say that to her. I wouldn’t say I liked confrontations. They made me uncomfortable. Especially those where I knew I was right, they were wrong. And I’d never convince them. So who better to have dinner with but someone as agreeable as yourself?
“Barry you drop?”
I relished wine, after having had so many. I savored the good ones and drank the bad ones quickly. This was deep red. Its legs extending down to where the liquid met the side of the glass. There was the thinnest of brown lines, speaking of plums, grass, Bodrum Escort and raisins. Of being harvest in an orchard speckled with white stone and harsh sun. I took a sip and felt relief, I thought I’d never get out of that meeting.
“Yes, what? Sorry just taking notes.” I was drawing a picture of a pig with the hind legs of a rabbit.
“If we can get those forecasts to you. Would you be able to add them to your spreadsheet and get them back to us by tomorrow?”
The note on my computer screen said “Remember?”
“Yes, of course. No problem.” I resigned to be at my desk for far longer than expected. I moved the note from distracting me on the monitor to a heap of papers on the corner of my desk.
When the text came my reservation had been canceled, I was watching my third set of movie trailer compilations. The forecasts never arrived. I was relieved, as I wasn’t looking forward to challenging myself – I’d find another place, get takeout and be done with having a nice time – maybe.
“Hey, how are you?”
“Fine, what’s up?”
“Hey, I know that… we’re broken up, but would want to come by and have dinner together?”
“Tonight? It’s 7 pm. For dinner? You’re still at the office, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, but I could get a pizza, green olives, and onion?” It was her favorite.
“I’m good, Barry, but thank you.”
“You can’t make it? At all?”
“Barry, do you remember we broke up?”
“Yeah, but you did ask ‘when,’ right? Maybe it’s ok to spend time together? I think we can be friends, right? It’s a good excuse for a nice mean – not a date just a good – “
“- right, Barry. Thank you, but I do have opportunities to have a nice mean without needing to reach out to my ex.”
“Well, I don’t – I was wondering – why not, y’know?”
“Why not?” Her voice went high with disbelief. “Because I don’t need you and you shouldn’t need me, Barry. We’re not donating livers and kidneys here, you’re getting dinner for fuck’s sake.”
“So, why make a big deal out of it? C’mon…”
“We just dated for three months, why are you calling me? I don’t know what you were expecting, but I don’t want to fall back into where those three months were heading – even over dinner.”
“Today, it will just be about the dinner, I promise.”
“You’re trying to get a booty call,” She laughed despite herself, “Please have a good night, Barry. OK? Enjoy your ‘you’ time.”
“I can listen to me. I accept that.”
Well – I’m glad you accept it, Barry. I don’t believe you.”
“Well, Meredith. I miss you. I miss this, the banter.”
“God, you suck the energy out of the room. Goodbye, please don’t call here again.”
I imagined slamming the phone down. Her pretty round face, clear blue eyes, frustratedly breaching mussy, dishwater blonde hair away from her eyes as she huffed and sat heavily down on her ugly worn couch. Maybe she will get up a little later and go to those cheap brown particleboard cabinets. Macaroni cheese again? I’m sure she would. Enjoy it.
Fuck it. I’m glad she didn’t take me up on the offer.
The sticky note was backed up on my computer screen. I may have absentmindedly put it back up as we spoke. It was there. It didn’t mention the appointment. The message was simple – go outside and get dinner.
Take out even.
Take a shower.
Get to the door.
Go to a restaurant. Any restaurant. Luckily it was this one. It was the one I found myself in every weekday evening having dinner.
The inside was far smaller than I expected, a handful of tables and an assortment of mismatched chairs. A short counter separated the kitchen and the dining floor. The waitress, clad all in black, was leaning against the counter, quietly watching the room.
I could barely get into the room from the door. Almost in the doorway, I was standing over one table. A pretty woman sat alone with a glass of wine – but glaring at me to shut the door.
“What you wandt?” A huge man materialized in front of me wearing checked pants, a white shirt, and a white apron offering me a menu.
“I missed a dinner reservation, could I have something to go?”
He indicated the seat at the woman’s table. A table I know well enough now for it to become my “regular table.” I took the brunt of the air from the door in the winter months.
“Sed there. Wade for me.” He flipped the sign on the door from ‘open’ to ‘close,’ muttering something under his breath and disappeared.
The woman was well dressed. In a cursory, discreet glance, she was wearing a pretty black dress. Her face said she was waiting for someone. Her glare, unchanged as I sat sheepishly in the small wooden chair opposite her, said the person she was waiting for was absolutely and utterly not me.
“Sorry, I hope you don’t mind.”
“No. I was waiting for someone; you can get up if they come.”
“Company-less for dinner, too.” I said pointing the finger at me.
It was the Bodrum Escort Bayan wrong thing to do; trying to find that tiny bit of common ground with her. The impatience in her face turned to anger.
“I bet you called up an old girlfriend who refused to have dinner with you, but you were hungry, so you came anyways.”
“Close. Just takeout.” No. She was spot on but who’s admitting to getting rejected to a total stranger?
“Well, you’ve got balls,” she continued, “coming out and having dinner alone – or are you getting it to go?”
“You got stood up, not me.” I didn’t like the interrogation.
She broke off the attack and gazed back down at her drink glass.
“Sorry,” I said, “that wasn’t necessary.” Because I hadn’t put in my order, I wasn’t ready to spar with this woman and make my night even worse. I didn’t want to walk out in a huff and have macaroni and cheese again. Of I could be cordial, like everyone was with me, I could get my meal and go unaffected by her – like everyone was with me.
“Of course it was necessary, I just said you come out for dinner with your tail between your legs. You shot back, jeez, for crying out loud, why apologize?”
The colossal chef appeared again next to us. Sitting down and looking up at him, he was even more massive. He seemed to have a permanent, murderous expression. Much later, I would know he was constantly thinking about the burners in the kitchen, what was cooking, baking, and sautéing, but actually would serve tables to get out of the heat and cool down. He thought it was funny to give out menus.
“Could I order something to go?”
“You at a table.” He puffed “Bhat, you want to go?”
“Please, he’s not with me. He can’t stay.” She interrupted.
“You want something to eat now, finally?” he swiveled his head to her, glowering.
“I’ll have the bolognese.” She said.
“I’ll have – ” my voice trailed off “wait – what’s bolognese?'”
“You want da bolognese, too?” he hissed impatiently. He just wanted to give out the menus, taking orders from people was too much.
“What is you had?” I asked her.
“Does it matter?”
I was getting nothing from the entries. I couldn’t process the Italian quick enough. “I’ll just have spaghetti with meatballs. Do you have that?”
“Polpette.” He corrected. “Pasta on the side, ok?”
“Yes, thanks,” I said.
Gone again. I returned to her glare.
“What?” I asked
“Why can’t you assholes call?”
“Who knows?” I was trapped and didn’t want to fight or do anything that could cause a scene. She was too angry and interrogative–so many red flags.
A waitress, the exact opposite of the chef appeared. She was petite, radiating kindness, her thick brown hair pulled up in a bun. Her eyes caressed us both with love and pity. She set a deep round glass filled with red soda in front of me, garnished with a lemon.
“This is for you, caro mio.” She said. “Catch up, with her.”
“No, he doesn’t really -” She was gone with practiced diplomatic tact that avoided additional conversation.
“It’s a Negroni.” She said. “Gin, campari, and vermouth.” She indicated an empty one near her.
Half through the glass, I was intimidated she could have finished hers and still be talking. “Jesus these are strong.”
“What’s up with you?” the words, overly lubricated with alcohol, tumbled out of my mouth.
“God, you sound drunk already.”
She was half right, I did.
“All I’m saying is. It’s not just what the guy does. It’s not just about showing up.”
I was wrong there and it would be months before I learned.
Her head was leaning heavily on her hand.
“You’ve heard that showing up doesn’t matter?”
“I know it’s not everything.”
“It is everything.”
“What did she say to you when she rejected your invite?”
“I expect too much.”
“And do you?”
“Well, I have high standards?”
“Do you?” her face crinkled into the question, “do you really?”
“What? Why do you say this?” the words jumbled and fell out of my mouth again.
“Go to dinner alone in the city with jeans and a t-shirt? At least it’s clean, I hope. Wearing it for the first time?”
“I showered.” I took a long awkward drink. The ice froze my top lip. “So?” I shot again.
“Look -” I readied myself to counter when massive forearms placed two white bowls in front of us. Both covered in rambling Latin scripture, multiple paragraphs, each ending with two daggers crossed lying on a pillow.
We stopped arguing and acknowledged him staring at us.
“Mangia.” He said. “Esh.”
“Excuse me?” she called to him as he left, pointing emphatically to my dish – “to go?”
My bowl was filled with savory meatballs, ‘polpette.’ The smell was so rich with tomatoes, baking bread, a hint of wine, an Italian countryside of freshly tilled earth. My mouth watered.
“I’m starving. Do you mind if I eat? If your date comes, I’ll go, Escort Bodrum OK?”
We briefly ignored each other and focused on our dishes.
“I would’ve eaten off the sidewalk out front,” I said.
She laughed a little. Her eyes sparkled at me for a second. The slightest of smiles broke across her pretty face. She had big, almond-brown eyes accentuated by intense eyebrows. Her nose was long and intelligent, presiding over a broad, generous mouth colored with dark red lipstick. I unconsciously felt my heart lighten a bit.
Bolognese is a combination of meat, beef, lamb, veal, and even chicken, depending on who makes it together. It’s cooked with minced carrots, onions, and other secrets each cook, even our monster in the back, lovingly adds, passed down from generation to generation. Like any meal, a little wine is added to the mix, and then the tomatoes.
Two deep glasses of wine were brought to the table, we drank them without speaking, not wanting to ruin the richness of the flavors.
“Beve.” He said.
Things broke down into their poetic basics. Yes, animals were killed for their flesh. Yes, carrots were harvested and cut apart with sharp knives. Yes, these ingredients were scalded in oil from crushing olives taken from trees. The mold and fermentation process of the wine. Everything brought to us through our plates, cutting through the pettiness – from the kitchen in from the world.
Things were violent. Things were tough. Tough things brought beauty.
“Things are not pretty or perfect.” She said, as if reading my mind, “nothing is clean or comfortable. People will always hurt – or get hurt.”
We ate a bit longer in silence.
“That is probably why I got stood up.” She said finally.
“Because I’m a bitch.”
“I think being a bitch is harder than being … a pushover.”
“People just take and take from you?”
“Worse, you do nothing. You’re the road, getting people to where they need to go next.”
My head floated a bit. I got a chance to observe her once more. She wasn’t bad looking. No, she was beautiful.
“I think it was his loss,” I said.
“Who?” she said. The daggers out once again.
“His loss. I said. I think it was his loss. You’re great. You’re wonderful.”
She brushed me off and took a pull of the wine.
“I also think you’re right about me.”
“How cliche.” She brushed me off.
“I guess I’ve been told the truth, but I’ve never wanted to listen. It seems you know the truth, but you don’t want to change. Do you?”
“No, why should I?”
“Then why should I listen?”
“I never said you had to – but you’ll be disappointed forever if you don’t. At least I know who I am. You’re in denial.”
“And how’s that all going? You’re getting stood up and I’m eating alone.”
She smiled a thin, defensive smile. “You’re saying we should date?”
“No. What I’m saying is – why be easy?”
She laughed at that. Her eyes twinkled slightly once more. Another thrill shot through me. I took a big gulp of wine.
“What do you do for work? No.” She stopped the conversation with a finger. “What did you want to do before you did what you’re doing now?”
And then I poured my heart out. I wanted to be a CEO, and a passing business degree and apathy with corporate America landed me in middle management. My high expectations weren’t inherent perfectionism, just my continuously being disappointed over and over again. Life wasn’t even living up to my overinflated unrealistic dreams I created as a kid and never let go.
She laughed and placed a small box on the table.
She exhaled in frustration and then smashed the small box on the table.
“No..” I said.
“Yes.” She said. “Yes.”
I know what was in the box, but I did the service of opening it. It was a good size ring. A good size stone. “More luxury than thought” as my grandmother would say. A big risk. She had put herself out there.
“He never came,” I said. “Did he know?”
“I’m sure he must’ve known something was up.” Her eyes were wet, but she blinked them away quickly.
“That… that sucks. He really doesn’t know what he missed out on.”
“How do you know?” She laughed nervously. “It’s always the same. The first few months are wonderful. The next few start to get complicated. Then finally… it grows cold.”
“You were going to propose to him. In just one year?”
“No. I’ve had lasted. He was beautiful. I had thought he was for me. I tried to control things.”
She stopped becoming a defensive bitch, and I saw the tough woman who didn’t like to get bruised. I stopped being offended by her. My defenses and the deep desire to be correct and her be wrong were all gone.
“I’m really sorry – “
“Don’t. I really don’t want your pity… or any of this ” she waved a hand in my direction, at all of me. “It’s not the deep disappointment that would happen in your life.”
“I wasn’t going to give you any of … this.” I shot back, “I just – “
“I know what you did. You took my anger personally, right? You thought you were the center of the world and at some random table at a random restaurant – that one time you forced yourself to go out alone – I would be there, and just so happened to be hating YOU, right? That kind of thinking is impossible; it’s all about you.”
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