I was talking to a friend today. I have not mentioned her often in these pages, and certainly you have never read a comment by her. She is there, nonetheless. She is loud and brash but if you know where to point the x-ray gogs you will see the sadness.

When we part, I don’t say goodbye. We have our own ritual, and some nights I can see what it means to her. Tonight she needed a boost. I haven’t been around lately, so tonight I elaborated a little bit, cluttering our parting with words, until it came down to the key transaction. I dropped to sign language, swish, bang, and she smiled at me.
You Rock.
Thanks. I needed that.
I wish I could do things so right more often.

We share a sadness, a feeling you have to have to see. She is loud and happy; I am reserved but optimistic. Under it all, for both of us, is a dark desperate solitude, a certainty that we cannot be known. A gut-wrenching fear that we might be known. We don’t even know ourselves.

But there is something we have. Some time ago I was sitting at a bar after a softball game with Melinda and Kelly, and my inept love life became the topic of conversation. It came out that I had a soft spot for bartenders. Kelly asked why. “Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “I suppose they have to listen to me. My way with women is to wear them down over time.” Kelly thought that was hilarious. Fine. She had a girlfriend at the time. I think Kelly has the sadness too. That’s why she laughed at my jokes.

When it comes down to it, everyone I know has the sadness. Different people show it differently, but somewhere in every soul I’ve met is a terrible yearning, a tiny chamber deep inside reserved for thoughts of what might be, but will not be. Thus we are separated from the brutes of the field. No other animal has the ability to ask “What if…?” and no other animal knows sadness.

But “what if” fills my life. It is a constant reminder of things I could have done, could have said, but didn’t. And every day I create new what-ifs, more questions than I will ever be able to answer.

What if, tonight, I had not signed you rock? After all these years it could have become a meaningless phrase, but it hasn’t. There has never been any doubt that I am completely sincere when I tell her she rocks. Some nights, like tonight, she really needed to hear it. Could I have said something more? No. Not without breaking what we have. Not without changing the meaning of “you rock” forevermore. How could I do that, when I’ve seen what it can mean to her? So instead I will stand resolutely proud to be her friend, and I will be sad, for I have the imagination to know what could be, and the intelligence to know it cannot be.

I will taste the sadness, and embrace it, and in my quiet heat I will savor it.

I Am a Beer Cheese Soup Genius

Location: Callahan’s

I was sitting tonight, writing, when my table was most welcomely crashed by Melinda and Tom. Tom spent an hour or so at a different table with some potential coworkers while I was left to entertain Melinda. Fortunately she’s easily amused.

Tom joined us and after more alcohol was sent on the liver trip we decided it was time to order food. The past two days I had sat next to people eating the jalapeño beer cheese soup. One of those did so at my recommendation. It’s a good soup. Tonight I ordered it for myself, but there was a thought slipping through my brain. A way to make it better. I asked for a dash of Angustoura Bitters.

They weren’t sure how much to add, so they brought me the bottle. I had no idea how much to add either, so I hoisted the pup and gave it a few shakes.

Sweet holey moley it was good. I’ve always liked that soup, but this time it was, dare I say, exquisite. No one (except Tom and Melinda, who I forced to taste my new flavor sensation) has ever known the pure bliss that is “Jer’s Callahan’s Bitter Cheese Soup”. You could build a restaurant chain on the stuff. I couldn’t, but you could.