It’s Friday night, so I go out to this gay bar and I don’t want to drink but I want to look at people and maybe talk to a stranger. This city is still new to me. I only moved here 4 months ago, after we broke up, which was 6 months ago, which was 3 months after you cut your hair short. And 2 months after we found out your brother’s wife was pregnant and I asked which one of us would carry a baby. 15 months ago, I told you I loved you and you said you weren’t sure if you could love a woman, but you could definitely kiss one. We kissed for a lot of months. We even kissed 4 months ago, when we physically split. We kissed all night, saying goodbye goodbye im sorry. Then, I packed all my things in a car and moved across the country, back to the state I grew up in, back to Tennessee.
This week you told me you were on a vacation with a woman I’ve met before.
I haven’t even gone on a date in 6 months.
Outside of the bar, I think about you briefly and feel angry, but also sad that I feel angry because I really hate anger.
I open the door and hand someone my ID. They say I’m OK and that I should have a good time. Inside, there are drag queens, drag nuns, boys in leather kilts, and people holding hands. I immediately think you would like this bar, and I smile, but quickly stop smiling. I order a corona and literally just hold it and I don’t drink it, even though I love corona. It reminds me of summers in Chattanooga. I’d really like to quit drinking at all, but I can’t handle being in a bar with nothing to hold onto.
I stand awkwardly in one place and then another and then in a few other places. It doesn’t get better anywhere, so I stop moving around and try to look normal. A man in a kilt asks me if I’m here with “my lady.” I smile and say “no.” And he asks where she is. I say “good question.” He kind of laughs and stops talking to me. I wish he wouldn’t.
When the kilt guy turns away from me, I see this girl in the opposite corner of the bar who I saw in Kroger once. I was holding a frozen pizza and I saw her picking out red wine. I peeked down the isles she browsed through, trying to make eye contact. She didn’t seem to notice at all, not even when I dodged around the bread section just to see what kind of shoes she was wearing, as if they would personally tell me her sexuality. It’s a joke now with my friend. Genus: Kroger, species: hottie. I think I might go and talk to her, but don’t because I don’t have anything to say. Seems rude to try and talk to someone when they are trying to decide between cabernet or pinot noir in the wine isle; turns out, it seems rude to talk to someone at a bar, too.
She’s with friends and they have noticed me first I guess, because they look like they’re either talking about me or the kilt guy. I’m suddenly aware of my body, of my hair at an awkward length, growing out from a 2-year-old mullet buzzcut, my clothes probably not fitting well, probably ripped. Do I look butch? Soft? Do I look tough or scared shitless? One of them is pointing. All of their heads are so close together, almost cheek to cheek.
How do girls do that? Put their heads so close together when they talk? It makes me want to put my head in the circle, too. To be very close and talk about something that isn’t me.
45 minutes pass and she looks cool and calm the whole time. I’ve compulsively looked at her at least 150 times. She isn’t overdone. Her hair is short and bleached. She’s wearing a thrift store button-up that hangs on her body. I don’t feel like I have to keep up, which seems nice. She seems comfortable in her clothes, like she woke up from a nap, like the whole world is casual. Her friends look crazy. Like, one of them has tiny buns on her head, which makes me feel like she’s probably wild. Girls who have buns and wear chokers and thick eyeliner are beyond me, which I can accept. They know a million things that I don’t and I can’t keep up. Like they probably know a lot of shit about google docs and venmo and how to photoshop memes and a lot of other useful things. But I’m standing alone with a beer that I’m not drinking and I realize that I’m in a circle of boys in leather. And they are probably talking about how I don’t make sense in this scene, about how I probably didn’t realize I was in the leather boy group. They were right.
I zoom out and realize that I don’t make sense here. Truly, I don’t. I have barely moved for nearly an hour, except for walking over to the pool table and touching the felt lightly, pretending that I was considering putting quarters into the slot. I don’t even have any quarters. I’m not even having fun. So, I drink two gulps of corona and leave the rest in the bottle on the counter and leave. I stand on the curb for 20 minutes, pretending to do whatever I can think of. Pretending I’m not wondering if maybe she’d come outside and talk to me. Eventually, a much older man rides up on a bike, “BABY GIRL, YOU OKAY?” He yells with genuine concern. I quickly jump onto the hood of my car to seem like I’m used to the city.
“Yes- yeah. I am. You?”
“Making it,” he rides away.
I think, am I supposed to feel offended? I’m supposed to feel indignant when someone calls me a pet name like that, especially a stranger. Especially a man. But instead I feel warm and familiar and surprised at my own reaction. I appreciated it. I wanted to sit down and talk. But he was gone. He barely slowed down and picked back up as soon as I affirmed myself.
I walk down the block and look at trees, newly planted maples by the sidewalk. I think to myself that they won’t last long there. I put some stickers onto a light pole. I go to another bar and walk through the entrance and straight through the bar and out the exit.
That did not last long.
A man rides by on a bike. It’s the same man, 20 minutes after our last interaction.
“Hey! Whatchu doin anyway? Are you okay?”
I say, “Yeah, yeah I guess; what about you.”
He goes, “You were that girl sittin’ on the curb and you hopped up onto the hood of that truck.”
I say, “ha-ha yeah. Yup.”
He goes, “Damn, girl; I’m tryin to get down to the shelter to get me a room, you know? You know they charge you 7 bucks a night at the shelter? People wonder why I ask for money. Like I gotta figure out how to EAT and then I gotta pay 7 for the shelter, too.”
I say, “Shit man.”
He goes, “Baby girl, do you have any food or any cigarettes? All you kids smoke.”
I say, “No, actually; I quit a while ago.”
He goes, “All right then, babygirl. You think you can give me a lift to the shelter? It’s a few blocks away and it’s been raining all day and my shoes are soaked.”
I think about it and I got rained on all day at work at the plant nursery. It was cold and muggy at the same time. Like I was shivering but also sweating.
I say, “yeah sure.”
We walk to my car and he tells me his name is Red. I remember that we’ve actually met on that street before. He remembers me, which is incredible because he was really drunk. He asks how my friend is doing. I say she’s fine. Red tells me that I have a good handshake and that a girl needs a good handshake because if a guy shakes a girl’s hand and it’s firm, he knows that she ain’t scared of shit. I like that logic. He asks where my man is at and tells me I’m fine-as-hell, as if I’m expecting to be complimented or something. As if we are role playing. Surely, he doesn’t think that about me. I’m in old pants and a flannel. I make something up. He doesn’t press me about it. He tells me that he used to believe in angels but he doesn’t anymore, and I’m not sure what he’s getting at. He says he has a really good personality and I agree with him. We drive a few blocks away to the shelter and get his bike out of my car and tell each other to be careful.
I don’t know what to do, so I go back to the first bar. She’s still there with her friends, but now they’re out on the back porch. They seem different now, though. More drunk and careless. They are having a lot of fun.
I’m thinking of you again, though. Thinking of all the things you used to call me. I’ve never really liked pet names. I’ve never felt sweet enough for them. I’ve never felt good. I think you have to feel good sometimes to be able to be spoken to like that, like you need to deserve it. I’m floating away in my head by now. I feel indiscernible. I remember you calling me Babygirl because it pissed me off. You only called me that when you were being condescending in a joking way, when you were making fun of me for being too moody and taking everything too seriously.
I would be lying face-down on the couch, frozen, thinking about whether or not I was ever going to be able to make enough money to support myself and you and the kids I thought we’d have.
You’d look at me with a mug of tea in your hand and say, “oooo babygirrrrrrrl, Do you need me to put on the Rhye album???” And it would annoy me at first, but I’d laugh, because I know you are right in your sentiment. And I’d say yes, please. And you’d either lie with me or go into the other room, or sometimes do yoga where I could watch you. Your long arms stretching and your muscles rolling. I liked watching you live. It felt normalizing to watch you, unworried, unaffected by the issues I carry internally. Your life seems to roll out before you. I’d think ooo babygirl. How do you do it?
You were always in the real world.
I never am. I never was.
I leave the bar again and walk around the street for a while. It’s getting later and quiet. Almost every car that passes me is an Uber on its way to or from Beale Street. They are full of people living and sitting in each other’s laps. Like they just have so many friends that they couldn’t fit them all into the one car, so they just piled on top of each other. I hope the Uber drivers make tons of money. I hope they’re all extroverts, I think to myself.
I resolve to go home and accept that the night is now over for me. It felt like a ticking clock anyway. It’s a short drive home. Opening the door, I see my dog waiting for me in my one-bedroom apartment that I cleaned before I left.
I don’t know, I had thought before I left, what if something crazy happens?
I lay face-down on the couch and grab my dog’s head and bring it close to mine, kiss her, saying babygirl babygirl.
Scout Kelly studied Creative Writing at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Published work can be found online at Babesoda and in print in Paddleshots 2: A River Pretty Anthology alongside Robert Vivian and Richard Jackson, and also in Spy Kids Review Issue 1. They live in Memphis, TN.