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Lost the Battle. Winning the War.

A little over three years ago, a girl I was dating ended our relationship…for the second time. She had determined that “maybe there was someone better out there.”

I assured her that indeed there was…and always would be. I tried telling her that was an endless and futile search because it didn’t matter who she was with, there would always be someone better. I tried telling her that eventually the sheen wears off in a relationship and you’re just two people looking at one another trying to figure it out, how to keep your individuality…and your sanity.

But, she had her own journey to go on and no matter what anyone tells you, experience is the best teacher.

What follows is the last night we spent together.

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I spent time with the X the other night. We went to go see Adele at The Beacon Theater.

Prior to meeting the X for the show, I went for my traditional meal at what used to be called City Grille and is now called something else. For the past three or four shows I’ve seen at the Beacon I have always done my pre-game there.

As long as the X was going to be meeting me later, outside the theater just before the show, I wasn’t going to stop my tradition.

The formerly named City Grille was crowded and the only spot open at the bar was next to a young woman. My inside voice said “Ugh, I have to sit next to this woman and then I’ll be forced to have awkward bar talk with her.” Given the density of the bar, it looked like I had no choice.

Sure, she was an attractive woman. She had dirty blonde hair, wearing black jeans and a nice cream-colored low-cut v-neck shirt. Just low enough to size up her breasts (supple and pouting). My guess put her age in her mid 30′s.

I asked if the seat next to her was taken and she smiled and said “No”. She fidgeted around moving her bags, I said “Don’t worry about it, you’re fine.” She was drinking a Manhattan and the minute I noticed how tasty hers looked, I knew that was what I wanted. She looked at me after I ordered my Makers Mark Manhattan up, and said “It must be a Manhattan kind of night.” To which my smooth and elegant reply was a one/two punch, the trademarked Higgons nod, and cool “Yea, I guess so.”

I quickly noticed that she had an inordinate amount of luggage.

Once I got comfortable in my seat, I pulled out whatever rag I had in my bag so I could avoid any awkward bar conversation and kept my phone on the bar so I could see it go off when the X was close by.

When I was in my 20′s, I was a bartender. Frankly, I hated striking up conversations then, but since my income depended on it, I did it. I usually found the conversations banal…at best. Those years tending bar only added to my pre-existing nuclear hatred of bar conversations.

Having just been dumped I knew that eventually I’ll need to get back in the game…and date. But not now. Not tonight. I needed to move in slow, small ways first. Break the mold, break tradition and do things I never do.

So I decided to do something I never do. I struck up a bar conversation.

“Are you coming or going?” I asked as I looked at her luggage.

Immediately, fear set in and I thought “Christ, what if she had a blow out with her boyfriend and was leaving him?”

“What?” she replied.
“The luggage”, I pointed to the bags, “you have a lot of it.”
“Oh, no, no, I have to carry this every day.” She grabbed a big satchel to her right, that seemed to weigh about 40 pounds judging by the strain on her face as she held it up, “This is my computer.”

Whoever she worked for must use laptops from the mid 1990′s.

“Oh, geez. That’s a lot of stuff.” Yes, I used the word geez, social awkwardness comes rather naturally to me.

“Yea. I work for a liquor distributor and that,” she pointed to the black carry-on suitcase “has all of my samples and promo stuff for clients.” Since I encountered many of her kind as a former bartender, we started a little chat.

The conversation was choppy at first, but it wasn’t awkward. You know how those bar conversations can be, start, stop, start, stop, startstopstartstop and then eventually become more fluid…usually around the third drink.

About half way through my Manhattan she asked me if I ever tried any other bourbon besides Makers Mark. I said no, and explained I typically have one Makers Mark Manhattan (fortunately, that was her product) and call it a day. I’ll allow myself two if it’s a Friday. She said, “Oh come on, it’s Thursday, it’s close enough. Besides, I’m buying.”

Chivalry be damned, I accepted the drink.

We talked about what I do and she seemed interested, unless I misread her confusion as actual interest. Even I can admit that what I do would bore a dead person.

But when I mentioned I made soap, she got excited…and just at that moment her phone rang. “Oh, excuse me I have to take this.” This simple acknowledgement told me I was spot on with her age because no one says that anymore. Certainly not anyone under 30, they just selfishly reply to a text or answer the phone, regardless of those around them. I smiled and said “No, no problem.”

My shrimp cocktail and salad arrived and I began eating and made no attempt to listen in to her conversation. She eventually finished and hung up and apologized…yes, apologized for taking a call…at a bar…while talking to a stranger!

I asked her why she got so excited about the soap thing. “Oh, I just think it is fascinating what people do outside of their regular jobs. It always seems more interesting and it says something about who they are.”

Good lord, who was this girl?

I wiped my hand on my napkin and extended it “My name is Keith.” She laughed and accepted it, “Hi, I’m Sam.”

We then just chatted about her job and how she spends all week going to bars and drinking and hates going out on weekends. She said she was waiting on her Account Executive so they could go circulate through the bars on the Upper West Side and promote their spirits.

Eventually, her AE showed up, we all shook hands and they dove into their talk about the nights activities. The time came for them to move to a different part of the bar as their party had swelled to 5 and the corner of the bar was too small. So, he shifted the group further down the bar. Sam stayed put. “I don’t want to move.” she said.

I silently told myself that I still had it…until Sam hipped me to the reality, “I just really like the corner seat.” No ego bruise here because who could argue? The corner seat is almost always the best seat at a bar. Unfortunately, she was obligated to go down and join the group.

Sam apologized about having to move, said she enjoyed talking and we shook hands again. No cards exchanged, no awkwardness, no “we should hang out” bullshit. This was just a genuine exchange between two people who wanted nothing more from the other than a little conversation to kill time.

It was simply a moment.

Minutes after that moment ended, another one immediately queued up.

I got a text from the X that she was leaving work and taking a cab uptown. I settled up with the bartender and walked the two blocks over to the Beacon Theater. I saw her get out of the cab from across the street.

She looked good, per usual, and that one second butterfly in my stomach was immediately replaced by agita. I walked across to meet her and we awkwardly looked at each other. You see, the X and I have stopped hugging and cheek kissing each other hello. That’s a sign of intimacy and friendship I am not ready to acknowledge with her.

“Hey.” I said.
“Hey.” she said.
“How was the shoot?” I asked.
“Good” she replied.

These were the types of conversations we had these days when we saw each other. Short choppy ones lacking substance. Which then had me wondering if there was ever any substance to our relationship? I like to think there was, at one point.

We walked in to the Beacon and grabbed a couple of overpriced beers and made small talk about a shoot I had recently for my soap. The opening act stopped and we made our way to our respective seats, which were not together. She in the orchestra and me on the third balcony.

Because there was still some more time to kill we texted one another to meet on the second floor for another beer.

We had talked about going away for a weekend together to button up our relationship. Conclude it. Get closure. Put the final nail in the coffin. We had penciled it in a few weeks away and I brought it up as we stood around the second floor waiting for Adele.

She said, “Oh I can’t go away that weekend.”
“That’s fine. I am not sure I really see a point to it anymore.”

Which was the truth. Even though it was my idea and something I thought we both could benefit from, the reality is our schedules are kinda wacky for a while and by the time we actually could realistically do it, it would be pointless.

“Well, I am kinda hurt by that.” she said. “It’s just that my mom is going to be in town…” and then I tuned out.
I gave one of my trademarked left shoulder shrug as if to say “I don’t care why you can’t go.” She wasn’t the only one who hurt.

We chatted about something, god knows what, until it was time to return to our seats. As we parted, she looked at me all doughy eyed and said “I feel like I want to do something.” I presume she meant kiss me because that was what we used to do. But I just looked at her and gave her another left shoulder shrug and said “I’ll see you after the show.” She silently nodded and went downstairs as I went up.

A few songs in Adele hit the opening of Don’t You Remember. Nothing could have struck more of a chord. I texted the X in the middle of the song and said “Don’t you remember”? She replied “Yes”.

When will I see you again?
You left with no goodbye, not a single word was said,
No final kiss to seal any seams,
I had no idea of the state we were in.

I know I have a fickle heart and bitterness,
And a wandering eye, and a heaviness in my head.

But don’t you remember?
Don’t you remember?
The reason you loved me before,
Baby, please remember me once more.

When was the last time you thought of me?
Or have you completely erased me from your memory?
I often think about where I went wrong,
The more I do, the less I know.

But I know I have a fickle heart and bitterness,
And a wandering eye, and a heaviness in my head.

But don’t you remember?
Don’t you remember?
The reason you loved me before,
Baby, please remember me once more.

Gave you the space so you could breathe,
I kept my distance so you would be free,
And hope that you find the missing piece,
To bring you back to me.

Why don’t you remember?
Don’t you remember?
The reason you loved me before,
Baby, please remember me once more.

When will I see you again?

After the show, we met in the lobby and exchanged a brief conversation about how amazing Adele was. We agreed to share a cab home to Brooklyn.

I won’t bother telling you what was said as we got out of the cab and talked on the corner. I won’t bother telling you who raised their voice and who cried. I won’t bother telling you who texted what to whom as we walked to our seperate homes.

It’s some sad shit.

After the last terse text on my walk home, it dawned on me that this second break-up had very little to do with me. This time it’s all on her. And I feel sorry for her.

She had someone who accepted her. She had someone who respected her. I didn’t manipulate her into loving me. I didn’t treat her poorly. I believed in her. I desired her.

I loved her.

I’m not without fault, I know this. The success or failure of any relationship rarely rests on one person. But I didn’t want this break-up. She did.

There was nothing more I could do.

The battle to save the love of this girl? It’s over. I lost.

The war to find someone to go through life with? Well, Sam gave me hope that when it comes to fighting that war, at my worst I’m at even odds. At my best? I’m the odds on favorite.