"Oh time I can't remember
Some things that I still regret
But when I do I think of you
And wish I could forget
Then we danced to David Bowie
On the streets outside your door
Do you still feel that I'm in love with you
'cause I just don't feel it anymore."
- "2day 2morrow 4ever"
Scruffy the Cat
A syrupy mist cloaked the rural road and I needed to pull over. We're talking a thick, pea-soup fog, the kind clinging like a shroud and obscuring everything in your view. Though the dense fog I saw a flickering light, so I drove toward it, hoping I didn't hit a cow or wandering hobo or something out in this godforsaken wilderness.
The light blinked faintly, and as I drove closer, it turned out to be a neon sign. "Lothario's Lounge" is read, in a curvy, Art-Deco font, over the portico of a Spanish hacienda-style building with clay tiles and stucco walls. I parked the car and, mustering all of the trepidation I could, walked inside, heaving open a heavy oaken door.
A foul, sweet-smelling air hit me as I entered, a mingling of perfume, cigarettes and stale alcohol. Every typical bar smell in the Western world.
Adjusting my eyes to the dim light, I saw a long pebbled marble-topped bar which swept across one wall and a cluster of tables and chairs. Framed oil paintings of nudes hung on the walls, depicting women with alabaster skin and opal eyes lounging on red velvet pillows or seductively holding golden goblets. I don't know much about art, but I know what I like, even if the art in question resembles something one purchases in a flea market in Fresno.
A Rock-Ola jukebox stood in one corner, playing smooth jazz. Charlie Parker? Thelonious Monk? Miles Davis? Yeah, maybe Miles Fucking Davis.
Feeling unnaturally relaxed, I sat at the bar and made eye contact with the bartender, a dead ringer for my first high school girlfriend, Rachel, only two decades older. Her black hair has streaks of gray and she appears a tad heavier, with tired dark circles under her eyes.
“What’ll ya have?” she asks, flipping a coaster in front of me and wiping down the bar with a shammy.
I must’ve done a double-take, but laughed immediately it off, which probably made me look like some raving idiot.
“Sorry, but for a moment I thought you were… Never mind,” I said. “You look like somebody I know. Used to know.”
“My high school girlfriend,” I said.
A wry smile broke across her face. “It’s me,” she said. “It’s Rachel.”
I had that kind of awkward, pleased look one gets when someone’s thrown them a surprise party but all of the wrong guests were invited.
“Rachel? What are you doing here? I mean, you’re working, obviously. How long have you been delving into the mysteries of mixology?”
“I own the bar. I haven’t been working here long. Let’s just say it’s a recent acquisition,” she said and poured a draft beer for me, the head tumbling slowly past the rim of an old-fashioned beer mug and spilling on the bar.
I took a few sips of beer as she wiped the counter. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and turned to see another ex-high school girlfriend, Lisa. Slender and sleek, with long, chestnut hair and brown eyes. She wore jeans and a T-shirt with a number “2” on it.
“If you think seeing Rachel was a surprise, remember me?” Lisa said, pursing her lips. She always had this expression that she was eating a bitter persimmon.
“Lisa! What do you know? Two of my ex-girlfriends in one place. Is this a reunion or something?” I stammered, trying hard not to be weirded out by improbability. Rachel removed her apron and saw she wore a black T-shirt with a “1” on it.
As my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, I saw the bar was filled with patrons, all women I dated at various times in my life. There was Carolyn and Karen from college, Veronica, who I met in a bar, Leslie and Christine who I shared two interesting summers with, Bridgette and Annie shared cigarettes and wine, while Leah and Sue were deep in conversation. Another Lisa hovered by the jukebox, eyeing the selections while Jennifer downed another beer. Each of the women wore T-shirts with various numbers on them, each number corresponding to the exact order I dated them.
This must be the Penthouse Forum version of the Twilight Zone, where up is down, black is white and all of the women you fucked congregate at the same bar. I actually didn’t mind the casual atmosphere and watching women I knew in the Biblical sense share Mojitos, Appletinis and a few laughs, but for some on them, it seemed awkward. I hadn’t exactly parted on the best of terms with some of them.
A real fear of residual female anger still lurked, bubbling beneath the surface, and led me to concoct all kinds of wild scenarios. These women might have formed a murder club, where they rub out each of their ex-boyfriends who wronged them. Did Rachel put strychnine in my beer? Didn’t one of the Lisas know Taekwondo, or was it kickboxing?
What in Goddesses’ name was happening?
“So glad you could drop by,” Rachel said. “We wanted a chat with you.”
Just then, all of the women stopped their talking and stared at me, as if someone controlling the Stepford Wives pushed the right button. It gave me the chills to see a room filled with quiet women staring in unison. That’s usually trouble.
“Look, you broke my heart,” I said to Rachel. “I have the note you gave me telling me you just wanted to be friends.”
“That was over 20 years ago,” she countered. “Plus, I did just want to be friends. I didn’t want to get serious.”
“We just wanted to tell you that you disappointed us,” Karen said, brushing her raven bangs from her face.
“Coming from you, that cuts to the fucking bone,” I said. “I could never be what you wanted me to be. We shared this intensely beautiful thing and it was never enough. You wanted me to change. Wanted me to move in with you.”
“True, the fucking like crazed weasles part was fun, but you just needed to grow up,” she said.
Leslie slinked toward me like a mischievous cat about to swallow a goldfish. She took a drag on her cigarette and blew smoke in my face. I coughed and sputtered for breath.
“Remember how we left it?” she asked. “At a Halloween party. You broke up with me. I was the sexy pirate princess and you were Indiana Jones. Said I was too young for you. Said it wouldn’t work out.”
“I was 38, you were 24. Besides, breaking up with a girl when you’re dressed as Indy is just so damn cool. I had to do it then.”
“Fuck off,” she hissed. Bad kitty.
“Okay, I get what’s going on here. The public flogging. You want an apology. Fine. I’m sorry I’m such an awful, insensitive person when it comes to women,” I said. “Seriously, you ladies were great. All of you. Even you, Veronica, who I only knew from that blowjob in the parking lot that one time. Don’t exactly know why you’re here, but thanks for showing up. I enjoyed my time with all of you. At one point I loved all of you, some more intensely than others. But however brief it was, know this: each one of you touched my heart and made me happy. There were bouts of misery and depression that went with it, but for the most part, it was great knowing you all. Even you, Veronica.”
Bridgette began a slow clap, one of the most obnoxious things you could do after such a heartfelt speech. Redheads are temperamental and a bit psycho.
“Bullshit. You’re just a little boy trapped in a man’s body. You haven’t learned anything about love,” Bridgette said.
“I haven’t learned anything about love? The human vacuum cleaner over here is taking the high road? Honey, you were a locust when it came to relationships. You stripped anything good from it, feasted on everything I had to give and left me with nothing. Granted, the sex was hot, I’ll give you that,” I said.
“But you’re just a piranha in high heels.”
“I gave my ass cherry to you!” one of the women shouted.
“We’re not getting into that right now,” I countered.
“You fucking stopped talking to me and I want to know why?” Christine said. “Why do you hate me?”
“Believe me, I don’t hate you,” I said.
“Then why did you not call me or talk to me anymore? You just dropped me from your life?” she asked, fuming.
“I don’t have an answer for that,” I began, then relented. “It wasn’t working out and I didn’t want to try making it work. Sorry. Dropped the ball on that one.”
“You could’ve told me you wanted out,” Christine said. “I would’ve understood.”
“I wasn’t good enough for you! That’s why you dumped me!” Carolyn said through clenched teeth.
“Look, you already graduated college and we were both moving on in different directions,” I said. “I didn’t want to tie you down.”
“But that was the best part of the relationship! When you tied me down!” she said.
“He put handcuffs on me,” Bridgette said.
“Yeah, I received the cuff treatment, too,” Annie said. “Predictable.”
“The sex was very methodical, too. He lured you in with cunnilingus, but expected you to do everything else,” Sue said.
“Yeah, he’s really good at eating pussy,” Leslie said.
“True, I do enjoy noshing on the whisker biscuit,” I replied.
“When you remembers to,” Karen said. “For all the bullshit you gave me, you do have a magnificent cock.” The women nodded in agreement.
“While flattered I am that all my former paramours are comparing notes, it’s kind of embarrassing, even for a decadent bastard like me,” I said.
“Did he do anything with your feet?’ the second Lisa asked. “He has this thing for feet.”
“Okay, that’s enough,” I said. “Don’t know how this bizarre nightmare started, but it ends now. If this is some kind of Ebenezer Scrooge-like eleventh hour conversion where I’m haunted by the misandrous carping of my girlfriends past, it worked. Sorry. I’m governed by my hormones and all of you charming ladies made my pee-pee feel funny. Satisfied?”
“Not even close,” said Amy, a short brunette who folded her arms and pouted.
“You just don’t get it, do you?” Karen said, her inflection spoke volumes of disappointment. “You could be so much better than you allow yourself to be. You hold yourself back.”
“Is this one of your tirades against me moving to New York and clawing my way through the abattoir of failed writers, slowly butchered in a masochistic parade of self-loathing and delusion?” I asked.
“It ain’t about that,” said Joanne, a woman I met during a one-night romp at a house party during my beer-soaked college days. “We didn’t lure you here.”
“Then what is this place? Why are all of you here?” I asked.
“You conjured us up,” Rachel said, polishing a beer glass with a rag. “You brought us here. If this is a nightmare, you designed it. You reunited us all in one place.”
Why would I assemble my ex-girlfriends and lovers in one place and have them harangue me about the past? What was my psyche telling me about women, life and relationships? I slumped at the bar and Rachel slid a shot of amber liquid in my direction. Strong and medicinal, the Scotch slid down smooth and burned my esophagus.
“So the reveal is I’m tormenting myself,” I said. “I do need a shrink.”
“According to you, we’re all damaged,” Darlene said, her Texas drawl a welcome change from the majority of northeastern accents.
“Wow. Bitches be crazy,” I uttered, and looked around the bar, at all of the women I loved and hurt, and realized how fleeting out time was. We connected briefly, existing in a hazy cloud of sex and laughter, of mutual understanding and passion, randomly thrown together for an instant. Lingering bitterness, betrayal and hurt slowly fade with time, but time really doesn’t let go. Memories still linger, just under the surface, and we’re reminded of our relationships, of those special, priceless moments nobody can take away.
“So?” Lisa Number One asked. “Why did you bring us here?”
“I’m moving on,” I said. “Got to kick the dust from under my boots and skedaddle into the sunset. I have a girlfriend. It’s kinda serious. Love of my life stuff. Epic passion and romance. Just wanted to whet my whistle at this gynofest before heading out.”
“Making peace with the past? Cathartic, New Agey bullshit,” Jennifer said.
“Clear your conscience? Clean break with the skeletons in your closet?” Carolyn teased.
“Believe me, if I did have any skeletons in my closet they wouldn’t look like you. They’d be more fuckable,” I said.
Bridgette chuckled to herself with disdain. “You’re an asshole. A selfish, obsessed asshole. I’ve met chauvinists before, and you could be their king.”
“I am how God made me,” I said, and slid off the barstool. The room grew eerily silent as the music in the jukebox stopped. “I’m not saying that I’m a perfect loving machine. Though, sometimes in my younger days I fucked like Ron Jeremy and joked like George Carlin. I will give you that. High school and college squeezed all of the innocence from me and my 20s were complete crap, shuffling from one nightclub and bar to another. As for my 30s, the less I say about that, the better. Point is, you made me feel loved and special and I had fun. Thanks for the blowjobs. But now I’m in the healthiest relationship I’ve had since – ever – and I want to see how it pans out.”
“Well, congratulations,” Leslie said dryly, taking another drag on her cigarette. “I survived a marriage, divorce, emotional pain and scarring,” I said. “I deserve some modicum of happiness before I push up daisies and shuffle off this mortal coil. Enough of the bitchcraft, ladies. I only wanted to tell you what you meant to be and how great the shtupping was.”
“So you’re really happy? This girlfriend of yours, she’s the real deal?” Karen asked.
“Yeah, poppet. She’s the one.” I said. “She’s my little pineapple Asian persuasion.”
“I’m glad,” she said with a smile, which revealed forgiveness and sincerity.
“You’re still an asshole,” Bridgette said, raising her glass, a gesture which all of the women imitated.
“A toast,” I said, hoisting another whiskey above my head. “To us. Thanks for the laughs, the good times and the orgasms.”
We all drank, and as I left Lothario’s Roost, it dawned on me with clarity how fortunate I am to have known such amazingly damaged and fragile women, who loved me during my equally damaged and fragile life. They were my past girlfriends, but more than that, they loved me when precious few did. They were my high school crushes, my college hook-ups, my one-night stand fuck puppets. They were my lovers, and girlfriends and confidants. Special people, all of them, regardless of how brief and fleeting our dalliances were. They taught me about women, dreams and life.
They temporarily cured my loneliness. For that, I am grateful.