After dinner last Friday, I went to a local bar with Alex and Nancy for a celebratory drink for Alex's birthday. The drunken man sitting next to me for most of the night (No, not Alex) asked me what I was drinking.
"Vodka tonic," I replied cautiously. "Why?"
His head sort of rolled to the side, where he supported it with his flimsy hand. He almost knocked over his third glass of wine as he began to evaluate me. He rubbed his hairless chin with his free hand. "Says a lot," he slurred.
"My drink? Says a lot about me?" I stirred the clear fluid and made a production of studying it.
"No. No." He shook his head, slowly. "You say a lot about you."
"But I haven't spoken to you."
"I know. I know." He nodded and laughed. I looked at Alex and Nancy and shrugged my shoulders, unsure of where he was going or what he meant by any of this.
"What do you know?" My tone was irritated, skeptical.
He pointed at me with his unsteady finger. "Bad boyfriend." He surveyed me, from my waist to the tip-top of my head, then nodded, satisfied with his diagnosis.
"Maybe not now. But in the past." He nodded again.
"My drink told you that?"
"No. You have it written all over you." The wine had made his tongue slow and too big for his mouth. His lips moved to speak, but his tongue moved a good two seconds later. And he was judging me.
"Oh, I do?" I raised one eyebrow and took a small sip of my drink, curious and provoked. "What about me says bad boyfriend?"
"Quick. Combative. Ready to shoot me down." He concentrated on his glass as he moved it from the bar to his mouth. "I asked you what you were drinking and you got sus...susp...suspicioussss."
"Wary," I said.
"Wary is the word you're looking for. Not suspicious, or combative. Wary."
"YES." He proclaimed, jabbing his finger at me, and nodding satisfactorily. "That's it. Wary."
I nodded with him, gave a sarcastic "cheers" and toasted his wine glass with my stout vodka-tonic. I am wary, always, of everyone. It's exhausting and unnecessary most times, but I am.
Last night, watching Grey's Anatomy, I saw that very wariness of which I spoke. Not in the characters of the show, but in me, reacting to the characters.
Meredith's ex-lover, the married Derek, finally comes back to her once she's found a new guy. He sees her with a handsome new love interest, and suddenly he's back. With the passion and the sex...And every man's Get Out of Jail Free card, "I love you."
And after he said it to her, told her to take her time choosing between him and the new guy, my heart sank for her. Because I didn't see it as a genuine expression of love. I saw it as him rushing to claim territory that he lost. Classic playground syndrome: A kid doesn't want his toy until another kid gets his hands on it.
I felt myself wanting to warn her: Be careful! He doesn't love you. He's just finally aware that he lost you. He's seen you with someone else and now he wants you back? Open your eyes! He took you for granted, he treated you like shit, he made you second best. And now he wants you to choose him. Watch out. Because he's only going to take you for granted again, treat you like shit again, and make you second best again. He's going to hurt you, just like he did before. I know you want him, I know you love him, but he will rip out your heart if you let him back into your chest.
"I love you" doesn't erase all of the tears, the unkind words, the bruises and the aching. "I love you" isn't necessarily permanent, it can be fleeting. "I love you" doesn't guarantee anything.
I felt for her. Because I've been there.
And I don't know if it really was the vodka-tonic that gave me away, but the drunk at the bar was right. It must be written all over me. I just worry that I'll never be able to erase what someone else wrote on my flesh.