In early February, one of my last nights in Florida, I hit the Red Bar in Grayton. It’s probably the most famous place on 30A, the stretch of county beach road where I had been spending most of my time. There was no room at the bar, but there was WIFI, so I got a seat on a couch where a pretty decent jazz band was playing and downloaded a bunch of photographs that seem to have not made it into Shotwell. I am fairly meticulous about data organization and backup, but until this trip I haven’t really bothered to keep up with photos. With my data strung out across multiple places I was a little freaked that some stuff might have been lost. In the course of that reorganization, I found some great old pictures of Thor.
Eventually the band stopped playing and I was hungry. The bar had cleared out, so I found a seat at the bar. The blackened grouper was pretty darn tasty. It came with a pretty awesome fried grit cake. I have sort of doing the Slow Carb Diet, so normally I would eschew the grits, but they were really, really good, so I chewed them, at least as much as grits require chewing, I mean.
While I was seated at the bar, an attractive woman came over and affectionately greeted everyone in the group next to me. She seemed really fun. I was interested. Then I noticed her rubbing the back of the guy next to me in a way that made me wonder whether they were a couple. Damn. Were they? No, I decided that it was a friendly rub. Next she adjusted the hoods of two people’s shirts or jackets in that group. Seeing a possible in, I tried to figure out how to get her to check whether the hood on my rain jacket was hanging appropriately, but before I could figure out whether my jacket had a hood (it did) she was gone.
I continued to watch her as I savored the grits. I would have thought that my continuous gaze probably obvious, but I never caught her eye. Most of the time she stood at the far end of the bar, but periodically she would pass by me to go outside to visit with folks out there. She was full of joy. I really wanted Joy.
As I finished my dinner, another band had started playing in the back room of the bar. It was the 40th birthday of the lead guitarist. The band was good and made me wish I was better at playing lead guitar and was in a band. I continued to eye Joy as she danced and visited with her friends. Everyone seemed to be her friend.
I noticed Joy taking a picture of someone near the bar, away from the loud music. I contrived to walk by her just in time for her to ask me to take a picture of the two of them. I had made contact. Now what? She thanked me for taking the picture. Time was running short, as it was now time to return the camera. Hopefully I would not be reliving the hood incident. Then, it hit me. “I have been studying happiness lately,” I said, “and you seem to have a lot of it. What’s your secret?”
She seemed intrigued. She suggested that being happy was just a decision that you made, reminding me that just deciding to be happy had worked pretty well for me for many years. It was a big part of what made my marriage work, so much as it had. Choosing to be happy indeed seems easier than, say, being a hobo. As I started describing how I was hypothesizing that downsizing ones’ possessions and obligations might be effective. She mentioned that she too was downsizing, and just as I thought that she was interested in our conversation, in me, even, she interrupted.
“Where are you staying?”
Obviously, I wasn’t from these here parts. I started to answer, in too much detail. She interrupted again, explaining that she was enjoying our conversation, but she really wanted to see the band. What was happening was that her urge to dance was eclipsing her desire to talk to me, if you can imagine.
“Can I take you out to dinner tomorrow night?” I blurted.
“Tomorrow is Thursday? Yes. That will work,” said Joy.
I gave her my card. She said she’d call.
“You promise? Don’t disappoint me.” I beseeched her.
She said she would. And she was off.
I too went back to the back room to listen to the band, and a few minutes later she walked by where I was standing and she was fussing with her purse. “Oh, it’s you,” she said as if she were glad to see me and pulled her card out of her purse. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
I hung out a while longer. Zack Rosicka, a guitar player that I had come to know from seeing him perform at the bar across the street came in and greeted me warmly. A few minutes later he joined the band. I listened for a while unable to keep my eyes off of Joy for long. I was starting to feel like a stalker. I decided to head out. I bid Joy farewell and gave her a little hug. We exchanged polite kisses. They felt good.
I hopped into Walden and headed back home for the night where I fell asleep looking forward to the next day.
When the next day rolled around and I finally established telephonic communication with Joy to arrange our meeting, I learned that her day had gotten too busy. We had to reschedule.
Was I disappointed? Sure, but that instant’s letdown was nothing compared to the promise that she represented. In the moment that I first saw her I believed–for the first time in years–that I would love again. Would she be the one? That was a question for another day, given that a meeting was in fact ever arranged.
When I first laid eyes on her, something that was turned off when my heart was broken, years before, had finally been turned back on.
I was whole again.