Matt rounded the corner and entered the front door of Nick’s Lounge, a bar at the intersection of Ninth and Arapaho.  It was ten minutes after seven on a warm August night.  His light blue dress shirt was open at the collar, his sleeves unbuttoned and rolled up, his sport coat left behind in the car.  His shirttails were threatening to come untucked from his khaki slacks.  He looked like a man ready for some serious unwinding.

Inside it was cool and the lights were low. On the jukebox a woman was singing, declaring her undying love for a man who had left her.  Matt smiled, but somehow it didn’t convey pleasure. There were two open seats at the bar. He picked the one closest to the door.

The bartender glanced up. “Hey Matt,” he said in greeting. “What can I get you?”

“Hi Tony,” said Matt. “Gimme a Bud.”

“One ice cold Bud, coming right up.”

Matt pulled his cigarettes out of his shirt pocket and set them on the bar. He swore, realizing he’d left his lighter in his coat pocket.

“Got a light, Tony?”

Tony was way ahead of him, setting a full glass of beer and a disposable lighter on the bar in front of him. Some foam slid down one side of the glass and soaked into a dark green napkin. He lit up and took a deep drag, then pulled a five out of his wallet and set it on the bar.

“Liz trusting you out on your own tonight?” Tony teased.

“Every night, Tony. We split up.”

“You and Liz? Come on.”

“I’m serious. I’m here to celebrate.”

“Had enough, huh?”

“Well, she overheard me talking to a girl at a party last week. Just fooling around, flirting a little. No big deal. But Liz acts like I was proposing to her. She’s always overreacted to that stuff. The ball and chain type.”

Tony smiled. “Especially for a guy like you,” he said. “You like the ladies.”

“Hey, I just like to have fun. She didn’t even want me smiling at another girl.” He shrugged. “It’s for the best.”

The man on his right spoke up. “Liz your wife?” he asked.

Tony looked at the man, a little surprised at this breach of bar etiquette. It wasn’t any of his business.

Matt blew cigarette smoke out over the bar. He tapped an ash into the ashtray and smiled. Then he looked at the other man.

“You a divorce lawyer?” he asked. “Business a little slow?”

The man smiled back. “Nope,” he said, sipping his drink. “Marriage counselor.”

Matt laughed, then gulped some beer.

“Okay counselor,” he said, putting the cigarette to his lips for another drag. “She’s my girlfriend. We were living together. I’m going to move real slow before ever getting married again, believe me. Maybe I never will, I don’t know.”

“You’re divorced?” the man asked.

Matt smiled, but again there was no pleasure in it. “Twice,” he said. “I’ve learned my lesson. How about you, counselor?”

“Nope. I’ve been married almost 28 years to the same woman.”

“You must practice what you preach. Maybe I could learn a thing or two from you.”

The man shrugged. “Could be,” he said.

“Tell you what. I’ll buy you a drink; you give me some good advice.  Deal?”

“No thanks. One’s my limit, and it’s after business hours.”

“Come on. I’m obviously pretty screwed up, right? This is your big chance. Hey Tony! Bring me another Bud and my friend here another one of whatever he’s got.”

The man smiled and shook his head. “Make it a Diet Seven Up,” he said to Tony.

“Okay,” Matt said, “help me out here. Make me a better husband.”

The man shifted slightly in his seat and looked at Matt. “Okay. First tell me your definition of love.”

“Whoa!” Matt said in mock surprise. “You’re going to make me think? Okay. Um… let’s see. Love is… passion, and a feeling of excitement between a guy and a girl. They can’t wait to see each other, and then don’t want to leave each other.” He paused, then shrugged. “There. How’s that? I’m better at multiple choice.”

The man chuckled. “Okay. Passion. Excitement,” he said. “So how do you maintain that over the years?”

“Hey, I’m not the one to ask! You tell me!”

“I don’t think it’s possible.”

Matt frowned. “Well then, what…”

“Your definition of love is all based on feelings. Feelings come and go. Love needs to be based on something solid.”

Matt flicked an ash off his cigarette. “Something solid,” he repeated.

The man nodded.

“Like what?”

“Like commitment.”

“Commitment?”

“Right. When the feelings fade commitment holds you together until they come back. Otherwise you’re constantly splitting up and chasing the next pretty thing. In my experience, when you stick with the commitment the feelings will always follow. But when you go with the feelings, commitment never comes into play at all–and then you’re bouncing from relationship to relationship.”

Matt studied the foam head on his beer. He frowned slightly.  “So you think I’m coming up short in the commitment department?” he asked.

The man shrugged. “I don’t know for sure. You said you’ve been divorced twice?”

Matt nodded.

“How long did your first marriage last?”

“Almost four years.”

“Why did it end?”

“I… got involved with someone else. But it was in trouble before that.”

“Did you marry the other woman?”

Matt shook his head. “No. It only lasted a few months.”

“How long was your second marriage?”

“Two and a half years.”

“Why did that one end?”

“She was the suspicious type. Had to know where I was every second. Drove me nuts.”

“So that was why you divorced her?”

Matt hesitated. “Yeah. Well… Towards the end I did meet someone else.”

“Liz?”

“No. Sharon. She was a lot of fun. We moved in together, then a little later she started thinking she owned me too.”

The man was silent for a moment. “So that eventually ended.”

“Yeah. At first we had a lot of fun, then she gets all clingy on me. She ruined it. It could’ve been great.”

“Would you say…” the man paused thoughtfully.  “Would you say you’ve ever really been in love?”

“Yeah! I was in love with all of them.”

“You like that feeling? Being in love?”

Matt smiled. “Sure! It’s the greatest. When you meet a girl and there’s that ‘zing.’ So you ask her out and it works.  So you ask her out again. Yeah, I don’t have any problem meeting girls and falling in love. It’s the part after that I have trouble with.  Making it last. They always change.”  His smile slowly faded. He took a puff and blew the smoke straight up. “I suppose I do too. I can’t put it all on them.”

Matt rested his elbow on the bar, his cigarette near his cheek. The smoke made a twisting white line that rose toward the ceiling. Both he and the other man appeared to be deep in thought. Tony glanced over at them curiously but stayed away.

Finally Matt spoke, quietly. “I think I’m beginning to see what you mean about that commitment thing.”

The man sighed. “There’s more,” he said.

Matt turned and looked at him.

“If you like being in love,” he continued, “but no love has ever satisfied you for long, then maybe you’re actually in love with the idea of being in love..  And if that’s the case, real love is something you haven’t discovered yet. Maybe what you’re looking for isn’t found in what you’ve been pursuing.  Maybe you’re aiming at the bull’s-eye, but it’s the wrong target.”

Matt’s eyes narrowed and he stared at the man. He quickly crushed his cigarette out.

“You know something,” he said. “Tell me!”

The man shook his head. “If I shoot the bull’s-eye for you, that won‘t help. You need to do it yourself. If I were you, Matt, I’d start shooting at something else.”

“What do you mean?”

The man met his gaze. “I’d find out what real love is.”

Matt looked puzzled. “Well how am I supposed to do that?”

“Look at what you’ve been  doing.  It hasn’t resulted in anything lasting, right?”

“Right.”

“So maybe you don‘t find love by pursuing every exciting new relationship.  Maybe you find it by not giving up on the same old one you’re already in.”

Matt thought about that. “Is that how you made it for 28 years?”

He nodded. They both sat silently for a moment, neither of them looking at the other.

Finally Matt sighed. “Don’t you ever get…bored?” he asked.

“Sometimes.  Sometimes my wife does too. But we’re still together. And I can honestly say that I love her more now than I did 28 years ago.” He paused, then looked at his watch.  “Which reminds me; I’ve got to meet her down the street. We’re picking out new carpeting.”

“Whoa, hey; nowthat  sounds fun.”

The man smiled.  He finished his drink and stood up.  “Well what are you  doing tonight?” he asked.

Matt bent his head and stared into his beer. Then he said quietly, “Probably sitting right here.” And he reached for another cigarette.

 

Michael Anderson

Copyright 2004

 

 

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