Our host says thank you and places the bottle of rosé in the center of the patio table, under a strand of white lights. The bottle is illuminated by the afternoon sun. It is enticing, familiar. Or it was, until five days ago when I opened a similar bottle right after finishing a gin martini. I had hoped to fill a gap where a friend used to be. I knew I had to let him go—create some space. But I didn’t want space. I wanted wine, gin; I wanted to numb the loss. It worked.
We haven’t seen these friends in a while and no-one knows how to socialize. We gather by the yard. Two wicker armchairs flank a low cocktail table opposite a loveseat. The scene is set for grown-ups: potted plants separate each seat, and we are to occupy every other canvas cushion. On this credit, we unmask.
But we are too distanced for my spouse, who swaps a plant for another chair. He drags one from the dining table, its wrought iron legs scraping the flagstone all the way. I feel that scraping between my muscles and my skin. I feel it in my hair.
Over the past week, the longest I have gone without alcohol since last March, I have surrendered a layer of pink fiberglass insulation. Which, unbeknownst to me, used to shield me from the world. A buffer. A boundary.
We sit, each with a plate of hummus, English cucumber, organic yellow cherry tomatoes. Cocktails are offered. Something with gin and citrus. On the drive here I was unsure what I would do, but when the moment comes, I hear myself decline. I watch for our host to raise an eyebrow, even a little. But that’s not like him. He says nothing.
We nibble, they drink, we take turns trading tidbits of catch-up chatter. We laugh as a deer, two backyards away, ignores our hosts’ big brown poodle who, trapped by an invisible fence, wholeheartedly beseeches the deer to move on. The dog barks; the deer stays.
When the hummus is gone, so are the cocktails. It’s time for dinner and that lovely rosé. Serving dishes arrive from the kitchen—a cool summer salad and warm crusty bread, set buffet-style on the ledge of an unused grill. The food draws flies, big and bulbous, metallic green. They occupy the foreground as, in the background, flatware is placed onto cloth napkins, water is poured into tall glasses, and stems are distributed for wine.
Soon enough, our plates are full and we sit. Someone opens the wine. When it’s my turn, I again hear myself decline. Part of me is surprised, but now it seems my decision has been made. With that, I give myself over to the food—the soft body of salmon, a green bean gently resisting my fork, lettuces covered with homemade vinaigrette. I spread warmed butter on a small piece of torn bread.
I hear conversation, but I miss words. The evening proceeds this way, at some distance from me, as I find myself in my mind hovering above the table. There, with the green flies, white lights, and darkened sky.
I observe the pours of the wine, and the refills. I watch the draining of this particularly translucent shade of pink. Pink: neither here nor there, neither red nor white, neither this nor that. I can relate, but I imagine the flies cannot. They know what they are; they have a purpose, a teleology. Shoo, return, shoo, return, shoo, return. I eat. I watch. I listen, sort of. I drink my water.
At some point, I notice a silence in my head. I feel it. A script should be running, but it isn’t. The lines come back to me easily: I should sip more when I have wine; I should stretch this first glass into a second; I must remember to alternate sips with water; is it too soon to nudge my husband for a refill; is there really only one bottle for all of us?
Until I conjured it, that script had disappeared. Its absence revealed an unfamiliar space. Newly aware and unaccustomed, I don’t know what to do with it. But there it is. I fill it as I have all evening: with food. I look forward to dessert, a coconut bundt cake covered with dark chocolate glaze that I made earlier. Everyone has seconds, even me.
Driving home in the darkness, I tell my husband about the odd new space I discovered tonight. I don’t know yet if I like it. If, on another day, another evening, it will feel like just more loss? Or, maybe, if I can settle in—if I can learn to let go—like light.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: andreas/Flickr Creative Commons