Seven days from now, after nine months of dating, Veronica and I will break up.
It won’t be a hastily-made decision after a night spent fighting. It has been decided for weeks now that our time as a couple will end. We won’t so much break up as expire.
We will say our goodbyes on a Monday morning, before I leave for work. Tears I’ve been stockpiling for weeks will pour through my sleepy eyes. We will hug tightly, choked sobs interrupting our promises to stay in touch. Then I will walk out of her apartment for the last time.
But for now, on this June Summer night, we are at Arthur’s Tavern in Greenwich Village—a narrow jazz and blues bar—to see Sweet Georgia Brown, the “last of the red-hot blues mamas.”
I’ve never heard of Sweet Georgia Brown. Apparently, she’s cultural institution everybody must see before they leave New York City. Because Veronica has only one more week here, before she spends a month in Thailand and starts her new life in San Francisco, she wants to see Sweet Georgia Brown.
The night is a microcosm of our relationship.
I am out with Veronica at a place I’m not sure I actually want to be. I have such a strong mix of emotions for her, so I push through my discomfort so we can spend time together.
So much of my time with Veronica has been spent trying to prove to myself that the things she enjoys doing are things I enjoy as well.
I tell myself I am comfortable around Veronica’s seemingly impenetrable circle of friends. That a guy who works at a software company is a natural addition to her group of doctoral candidates, auctioneers, and artists who talk openly about their drug use and a decade of hilarious hi-jinx together.
Veronica is three years older than me. To some extent, I feel the need to prove myself, to be on the same level as her and the life she leads. I feel at times like the passenger of a ship on a rough sea, trying desperately to hold on, to convince myself I am experiencing joy and not terror.
My already-present penchant for attempting to expand the sometimes-narrow scope of my comfort becomes more pronounced. I am trying on different versions of who I might want to be, often at great cost to myself.
This causes small insecurities to become large ones and self-doubt to flounder.
Nearly our entire time together I am smitten but uncomfortable. I am always trying to spend more time with Veronica. I am also afraid to go the places she invites me because of how it might make me feel, afraid not to go because of what I might miss.
I wonder what her friends think of me when I’m in the room, what they say about me when I’m not.
I feel like giving up on the idea of Veronica and me might mean I’m not the man I am trying to be, or we aren’t as good a match as I want us to be.
At 28 years old, dating for me has been a hobby, an activity instead of an investment. Trying to develop intimacy in a relationship I care about feels like a foreign exercise. I am learning my desire for new experiences is not always in harmony with what my gut tells me I can handle.
I’m still learning how to understand and verbalize what I want to a partner. And that has taken a progressively more significant toll on Veronica and me as we have dated.
I am not lacking in interest, attraction or affection for Veronica. Still, we are the most narrow intersection of a Venn diagram, two circles crossing over vividly but barely.
What first seemed like a delightful series of contrasts—her West Coast upbringing meeting my East, her decade of higher education versus my undergraduate degree—cause conflict the more time we spend together.
In so many ways, my grasp has tightened on a person I can no longer hold on to.
And so, with only days to go before we say goodbye, I am at Arthur’s Tavern. I don’t feel like celebrating New York City and Veronica’s last hurrah. I’m silently angry at her desire to see all of her favorite sites and friends, instead of spending every last minute with me. However, my anger is superseded by a deep and pervasive fear of missing out on these last days with her. If I don’t go with her, I will regret it.
My heart feels swollen with emotions that lack clarity. I retreat internally to contemplate things I could say or do—incapable of significant action.
I don’t know how not to feel this way, how to snap myself out of it even temporarily, so I can be fully present.
Especially since I am the reason we are breaking up.
Veronica is moving to San Francisco for work. She has expressed interest in trying to maintain what we have. I’m not confident enough in us to leave my life in New York behind. And a long distance relationship isn’t something I have the emotional fortitude for.
The end has been foretold for some time now.
Meanwhile, Sweet Georgia Brown takes the stage.
Sweet Georgia Brown is gritty and sassy, gravel-throated and supreme. The audience is receptive but not captive. Her performance on the tiny stage is loud enough to prohibit meaningful conversation. So Veronica I drink and sway to the music, my arms wrapped around her as we both face the music.
The environment allows me to stay largely in my head, constantly running my mind over my own sadness and heartache.
Then I notice them.
A half dozen men and women in their mid-30s are huddled, dancing and carousing in a corner of the bar—in their untucked, button-down shirts and sparkly, dangly earrings.
Alcohol has liberated them.
They interact in intimate ways that make it unclear who is paired with whom. Some might be married, others just friends. One woman stands out.
She is very tall and wears a sleeveless “going out” kind of top—the kind that makes it clear she’s trying, perhaps too hard. Her arms are toned, likely from hours spent at the gym.
At first glance, especially across a dark bar, one might find her attractive. On closer inspection, her features are hard, more severe, almost stern.
Sweet Georgia Brown plows ahead, belting blues lyrics I’ve never heard and will never hear again. The kind of songs where the words sit on top of the music instead of next to it.
During Sweet Georgia Brown’s breaks, a DJ plays songs from the 50s and old standards. The kind of wedding music that makes people laugh and sing along as they dance in circles.
The music prompts something different within the very tall woman.
She dances to every song in the same provocative manner—barely moving her torso, all action below the waist. She gyrates and shimmies up and down. Every move she makes feels overtly sexual.
This kind of concentrated sexuality doesn’t match; not the bar, not the music, certainly not Sweet Georgia Brown. Even the man who dances closest to her—her boyfriend perhaps—seems unsure what to do.
They are next to each other but by no means dancing together.
It’s a relief to be distracted—to be baffled by this woman, maybe even to judge her.
Several times I look over to see her dancing with her reflection in the mirror. I wonder—is she evaluating her dance moves, or is it something deeper? Does the way she moves make her feel good?
I’m in the throes of a breakup with somebody I have just realized and told I loved. It’s the first time I have expressed that emotion to a woman in half a decade. And yet, I’m transfixed by this stranger across the bar—her disjointed combination of Samba and stripper put on repeat.
Watching her makes me sad. I don’t believe she’s honestly enjoying herself. Then again, neither am I.
What difference is there between her performance and mine—her gyrations, and my stoicism? We’re entrenched in different scenarios, in the same place, telling ourselves the same things.
This is what I want.
This is where I want to be.
This is the music I want to hear.
All the while, knowing at some point the music will stop and everything will change.
Waiting for the music to stop.
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