The drive back from the VFW Hall in central Minnesota was cold, and the snow falling in the dark January night covered the road. I couldn’t tell whether I was drifting too far across the median or too close to the shoulder until I crossed the rumble strips. I probably should have left earlier, but to be honest, it’s dark after 4 p.m. when you are so far north in winter.
Drinks were cheap and not very strong. The bartender didn’t know how to make a Manhattan. I needed to drive home, so I alternated each drink with a glass of water. My friend’s apartment was just blocks away, so she could walk, even if I didn’t offer her a ride. And if I offered, she’d never take it.
We’d met at 9:30, when the jazz trio took the stage (the stage was a wooden platform four inches higher off the ground than the rest of the bar). She and I weren’t particularly close. If we had been, I might not have made the trip. My wife had moved out that morning. It’d been a separation a long time coming, but it still wasn’t something I was ready to talk about. I needed a friend who was not so close that she knew the reason my life was changing. I needed a friend I could talk to about nearly anything except the separation. I wanted someone to drink with, without sharing why I needed a drink.