She spooned me while I wept. The cool air anchored me like her arms around my waist. I was leaving. In a few short hours it was Destination: Palm Beach. I had a job waiting for me and life was making one of those hard left turns that force gravity to leave a seatbelt mark across your breast bone. I would survive, but not without scars. The only time I’d spent away from home was college. For me, college was three years of self mutilation both mentally and academically. Palm Beach was going to be different. A new chance. An opportunity to discover who I was and what I was meant to do. An escape.
My car was full and ready. But I wasn’t. I had said my goodbyes for weeks. Not once giving in to the fear, I prepared. Daydreams had window treatments selling themselves. My toes would spell success in the sand and the days would be counted in lime wedges. I’d spend cool nights on the beach and brush shoulders with Rod Stewart on Clematis. I had it all worked out. I only needed to get there.
It was my last shift behind the bar. The people across from me, I saw everyday. I was invested in their lives. They were friends. Co-workers. Drunks. Lovers. The crumpled cash they stuffed in jars paid my rent. I celebrated their birthdays, new babies, anniversaries, and cleared DUIs. They helped me move and I smiled for them. I smiled through a smoky haze for their bad days and lost jobs. I smiled for new loves and broken dreams. I smiled to mask discontent and an aching heart. A cold beer and a smile were stronger than any blood covenant. I did this everyday.
But now I was leaving.
Before the night was over I would memorize the bar and the faces in the room. I breathed the familiar blend of martini olives and cigarette smoke. I listened closely to the chatter and bagpipes in the background, intent on branding my memory with the very things I wanted to leave behind.
I saved my last goodbye for him. I had prepared my speech a dozen times. Tim Rice could not have composed a better background soundtrack. But I don’t remember it. I don‘t remember any of it. I remember him. But I cannot recall a single moment of our goodbye. It’s a total blank. It changed my life and I can’t even remember.
But I do remember her and how she held me for hours that night. I sobbed for him and for the end of the chapter. I kissed her hands and told her what she meant to me. She blanketed my body with strength and comfort and let me absorb a friendship that would permanently mark the blank slate before me. One last time before it all changed, I smiled.