Let Go and Let Love
Staring at my text from Tommy, I still have no idea how to respond. I do text Boss and ask for the night off. Unsurprisingly, he agrees that I need some me time. It’s time to consult a bartender. I get dressed and call an Uber, there is no place like home.
It’s Sunday so the bar is quiet. I make sure that I arrive long after the clan is gone. The last thing I need is our nosy family asking a million questions. I am still recovering from the attacks at Christmas. Mom and Stella will surely be home cleaning up so I get to catch dad alone.
“Hey Valley-girl! To what do I owe the honor? Did you swing by the house and get some dinner?”
“No dad, I just got here.”
“Well you better get over there or your mom is going to have both our asses if she knew you came here first.”
“I need a bartender, not a mom.”
“In that case, scotch or champagne?”
“Not sure I can even drink.”
“Bloody Mary it is. Best cure for a hangover.”
I watch as my dad mix-up his famous Bloody Mary for me. I can’t tell you how many people we serve this to on a Saturday or Sunday morning. This and a greasy burger and fries are our best seller in those moments. My problem is, I am not hungover. Not wanting to hurt my dad’s feelings, I toast him and drink. It is truly delicious no matter. And yes, after the first few sips, I do feel better.
“Okay, let me put on my bartender hat.” Dad flips his baseball cap around.
In times like these, the things that never change is what you need. When my own world is upside down, it’s nice to be here where everything stays the same. Suddenly, I feel safe and happy. This odd feeling of knowing hits me, no matter what happens in life, I can always come home. And here comes the waterfall. Not sure where it came from, I guess I have been suppresssing a lot of tears. And this pain in my heart, it’s wrenching. I can feel it spread throughout my body, pushing at every blood vessels, shattering every nerve and trying to force itself through my skin. Dad walks to me from behind the bar and holds me.
“There, there baby girl.” Dad holds me and strokes my hair.
There are just a few customers left in the bar. Each probably too intoxicated to notice or too sad themselves to encroach. So I allow myself to be six years old, when my goldfish died, and I cried and cried. Sink into my daddy’s arms the way I did then.
When the tears finally dry up, I am at a complete loss for words, not a clue where to even begin. Never in my life did I think I would be coming to my dad with boy problems. My family don’t even know that I am dating anyone. I didn’t expect to ever have to tell them about Tommy, he was supposed to be the icing to my success at Berkeley.
“So, Vally-girl, what’s his name?”
“Is it that obvious?”
“Oh baby, we only cry like this when our heart is broken. And our heart can only be broken in love.”
“I don’t know if I love him.”
“Well, let’s see if we can help you answer that question. Let’s start with a name.”
“Nice name. The fact that you don’t refer to him with a nickname is a good sign.”
I chuckle, did my dad just call me out on nicknaming my lovers? No way! Jojo and Carlos taught me to name them, “and never ask their real names”, they both instructed in sync. I realize in this moment how much I have grown.
“Does Tommy have a last name?”
“So it's pretty serious.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, I may not know what is happening in your love life but my ears hear a lot of conversations from kids of your generation in this bar.”
Suddenly I feel very vulnerable. I have always been able to talk to my dad about anything but that's before I had anything to say. I can feel my face turning shades of pink.
“Valley-girl, I was your age once too. And I am sure I hear much worse and more personal stuff from those who don't know I can hear. You girls talk louder the more you drink. It's hard not to be listening.”
In my head I start playing back a few of my escapades. Yeah, those will stay in my private vault, no need to share them, no matter how cool and current my dad thinks he is.
“So, how long have you known this Tommy?”
“Since the start of Winter Break.”
“Wow, and you didn’t say anything?”
“I didn’t think it was anything. Just a college fling before entering the real world.”
“Well, first of all, college is very much a part of the real world. Second, you don’t cry like this over a fling. And surly not to your father.”
“Either one, you got it bad baby girl. So, start talking.”
So I start from the beginning, leaving out all the juicy parts of course. As I describe the last several months, I find myself smiling. Tommy and I have shared some amazing moments. We have a lot more in common than I let myself realize. And when I leave out the sex, I am pleasantly surprised that we have a meaty story to tell.
“Well, I am no psychologist, but your generation has this awful habit of not taking responsibility for your actions.”
I wonder if my dad had gone to school if he would have studied psychology. I have watched him coach so many people through their issues. He has the best set of ears you can rattle on into. Just telling him about Tommy makes me feel better.
“Earth to Valentina!”
“Sorry dad, ADD.”
“You millennials like to self diagnose and make excuses.”
“Sorry love, it’s just a part of growing up is owning your shit. You have always lived in your head versus out here in the real world. That’s probably our fault since you didn’t get a real childhood. But it’s also not healthy to hid behind it. Pay attention. You are so smart. You are in the position with Tommy because you just move through your day like a robot and let things happen to you. That way if it all goes wrong, then no one is held accountable.”
“You chalk it up to the idea that you are new to all of this, but you are not. You watch a lot of relationships happen around you. Your thousands of books you have read tell tales of relationships and your roommate Jodi has been with Wynn for years.”
“I guess I thought if I didn’t give it much thought I could just enjoy the moment.”
“Yeah, those new sayings: live in the now, live in the moment, live today like it’s your last. Everyone is so busy inspiring to live versus actually doing it.”
“Okay, so no empathy from you today.”
“Valley-girl, life is simple; wake-up grateful to be alive then make good conscious choice for your day. You choosing to spend any time with Tommy at all says that he is someone to you. What would YOU like that to mean?”
“I don’t know.”
“Of course you do, you are just to afraid to own it. You don’t even spend that much time with us.”
“Way to make a girl feel really bad now.”
“You aren’t hearing me. You spend your time carefully, utilizing every minute toward succession. So if he fills your time, then somewhere in that hard head of yours, you made a decision about him.”
“You should have studied psychology. You have a way with seeing things through different lenses.”
“So, what do you want to be to Tommy?”
“I want to be his girlfriend.”
“And what does that mean to you?”
“I have no clue dad, honestly. I am not being a pussy about this.”
“What does love mean to you?”
“That’s the problem, I think that I told myself for so long that love is not necessary until my life is sorted, there is no data to access.”
“V, you may act like a robot, but you aren’t. There is no algorithm for love. Okay, let’s ask this question, why are you so upset today?”
“I am upset because Tommy showed up drunk at Triple Rock last night and now things are weird and complicated.”
“Now, let’s go backwards from there. Do you know why Tommy showed up drunk? Is he an alcoholic? Is he possessive? Did you guys get into a fight?”
It really is hitting me that I failed to let my parents into this part of myself. I was shocked that my dad would even insinuate that Tommy would be an alcoholic, anyone that knows him, knows he is far from addictive in nature. The addict is me. Then i realize, my dad doesn’t know Tommy.
“Not so much a fight. He has these commitments every now and then and I am not included, most of the time I know nothing about them.”
“Did you think to ask him?”
“Does it bother you, these commitments?”
“It didn’t before until all my annoying friends started putting crazy thoughts in my mind.”
“Friends mean well. But yes, the more you tell people your problems, the greater chance of them injecting their own shit and blowing things out of proportion. But at the same time, your friends know you and are protective of you. They know that this is your first real attempt at dating.”
“I know, I am not mad at them. I am mad at my situation.”
“So you are mad at yourself.”
I look at my father as if he just slapped me in the face. Bartender Phil is harsh. But I guess this is what I need. I can’t yell at him like I do my friends, he is my dad. So now I need to respectfully follow through with this bar therapy session with him.
“Yes! Yes, I am mad at myself.”
“I don’t know.”
“Please take that saying out of your catalogue of answers.”
“That one two. Both only have meaning when they are used correctly. Now, why are you mad?”
“I am mad because I miss Tommy.”
“What do you miss about Tommy?”
“Everything. I have to actually work hard every day not to want to spend time with him. It’s a horrible distraction.”
“My little odd ball baby girl, the only person that would look at falling in love as a horrible distraction.”
“I don’t know him well enough to fall in love with him.”
“Have you every heard that saying? Love at first sight? There is no decisive moment to fall in love, that’s why the call it falling. Some fall hard and fast, like I did with your mom. Some ease in slowly, testing the water and allowing their body to adjust to the temperature, like your mom did with me.”
“So, how will I know?”
“If you are here talking to your wise old man, then you are already there. Now, how are you going to tell him?”
“Oh, no way! Not now. I can’t.”
“What do your mom and I always tell you?”
“Live honestly and you never have to question yourself.”
“So, be honest with him.”
Now I know why I hate the idea of seeking advice, it sucks when they are right. I stare at my Bloody Mary as if it’s a false side of life. I made a lot of them in my days, but I don’t drink them. They are what I call medicine vs mixology. It’s what everyone orders when they are trying to get back on the horse from a night of it. What the “it” part is depends on the individual. I drink to celebrate or because I enjoy that great drink; be it an amazing bottle of champagne or wine, a well mixed fancy new drink or quality scotch. Even the make-up of a Bloody Mary is confusing. It’s an attempt at being healthy: tomato juice, celery sticks or pickled vegetables mixed with alcohol and a multitude of spices. Is this a meal or a drink. Because when you order one, you haven't decided if you need a meal or hair of the dog. I have’t decided if I need Tommy or a break from him.
“So, what’s that big brain of your contemplating?”
“I don’t think I like drinking Bloody Mary’s.”
“So say it.”
“I don’t like Bloody Mary’s, may I please have champagne?”
“Now that sense of decisiveness, use it with Tommy.”
“I don’t like how I am feeling right now about Tommy. I want to talk to Tommy. I want to ask him where he sees this going. I want to ask him how he feels about us. I want parameters to our relationship. I want you guys to meet him. I don’t want to meet his family, but I accept that I should. I want to be inclusive with him.”
“Was that so hard?”
“Yes!” We both laugh.
“By the way, no one wants to meet the parents. Don’t feel bad about that one.”
“Anytime my baby girl. Your sister may be the baby of the family that happens to be a girl, but you will always be my baby girl. And I will always be here for you.”
“I know, it’s why I knew that I need to come here.”
“So, are you going to call Tommy, maybe invite him for breakfast? You know you need to go and tel mom all of this now. She and I don’t keep secrets, at least not anymore, so let’s go home and you can re-tell your amazing love story to your mom and sister.”
I clock the “at least not anymore” part, I know better than to ask. My parents’ relationship is not perfect, no one’s is. I remember the many nights dad would stay at the apartment above the bar. Hearing them fight in the kitchen in Italian. Moments where my dad seemed exhausted and my mom depressed. They did their best to hide it all from us, but I couldn’t help but hear and see, our apartment is small. Our life is small. But our love is grand.