Bananarama had nothing on my cruel summer. I’d been working the last three weekends in a row, and between the ruca traveling, we hadn’t had a weekend off together in almost six weeks. My harmonized routine life of writing, down-time, and spending time with my honey had been exchanged for over-time and a backache.
Needless to say I was looking forward to some quality time with the ruca. We were excited that we were finally going to have a Wednesday night together for a romantic date. It was the happy place in my mind I went to all weekend at work, sloshing drinks to tourists, and concentrating very hard on not losing my mind when the 100th person of the day asked me how much it costs to ride the cable cars to Fisherman’s Wharf. I was physically behind the bar; it was my body, in person, making dozens of Bloody Marys, upselling appetizers and bottled water, and ordering burgers for tourists who always eat burgers back home but have “never had a burger in San Fran.” (Wow.) It was me, all me, on auto-mode at work and smiling through my funk. But my mind was miles away, on the other side of the dining experience I was giving, and seriously pondering if vampires and humans have more flexibility in their schedules than the ruca and me.
Wednesday night came.
I dressed in my new jeans and pink peep-toe heels, with my signatory bob of curls looking as spastic and fabulous as ever. We opted for Blue Plate, one of our favorite restaurants in the city, that we gained across-the-street-access to when we moved into our Bernal neighborhood. The food there is unique and delicious, the outside patio is warm under heat lamps in a garden, and it’s just one of those special gems that makes San Francisco such an awesome foodie town. Plus, we’d be able to drink a whole bottle of wine and stumble home without worrying about driving—score.
There was a wait when we got there, but not seemingly long. Most of the tables in the front room are situated close together and we noticed a couple by the window that was almost finished with their meal. I requested that booth. (Yes, even in the industry I am one of those people who will request and wait for the best spot in the house. Shit, if I’m paying for a $70 dinner, I wanna at least have the privacy to talk dirty.) One of the double doors stayed open for passing traffic, so we squeezed into the corner of the closed door. We were trying to take up as little space as possible, and conveniently, in each other’s arms.
Standing in the tiny nook we’d established for ourselves, the chaos of our everyday lives seemed to slowly melt away. I temporarily forgot that my streak of writing had dried up like an empty martini glass, or that our house was filled with heaps of laundry that was indistinguishably clean or dirty, or that I hadn’t worked out in weeks, leading to a slight paunch on my pansa filled with junk food. None of that seemed to matter, in each other’s arms, glassy eyes sparkling as if we’d already had a toast. I wanted to kiss the ruca all over; to smell her hair and rub my cheek into hers the way lions play. But PDA embarrasses her, and even I no longer feel the need to stick my tongue down her throat to prove to people she’s mine. So I said all these unspoken actions in my eyes: that I loved her; that I missed her; that work would always be work, but that we would always come back to each other, the same way we’ve been doing for the last 6 years.
We talked about what we would do when we’d have the luxury of more time together: “Let’s paint the living room.” “Wake up early and take a walk on Land’s End.” “You know I’ve never been to Angel Island?”
I sighed, spying on the table behind us. They’d finished paying the tab long ago and were just sitting there, staring at the table without any conversation or even eye contact. It was an older lady and a younger man who might’ve been her son. I didn’t want to be rude but I couldn’t help but sneak a peek at the lady. She caught my attention because she looked so unhappy. Being behind the bar dealing with so many people a night, I’ve learned to be very intuitive about people. I can instantaneously pick up another person’s excitement, their nervousness, their dominance and insecurities. I’ve even felt a couple stone-cold people that were sinister enough to send chills up my spine. This lady wasn’t just in a bad mood. She carried a chronically miserable vibe, maybe even to the point of being mentally ill. I almost didn’t want to sit in that same booth, should she leave any residual angst lingering behind.
More time passed, close to 20 minutes. The ruca and I were getting hungry but we smiled patiently at each other, assured that the suspense of waiting was only building up the anticipation of the awesome dinner we were about to have. The sad lady in the booth slowly rose to her feet. Behind us in the other booth by the window, a mother and her two kids were signing the check as well. I felt like we were next in line to ride the roller coaster, except better because I already knew which bottle of wine we wanted.
All of a sudden, before exiting, the lady stopped right in front of us. Her odious eyes were dark as ditches, and the rage spewing off her body was nearly as visible as steam above a boiling pot of caldo. I could feel her daunting energy of wrath reaching out to slap me in the face. She waved a bent and bony finger at both of us, her fury nearly unfathomable as she screamed, “GET A ROOM!”
I laughed, instinctively, a nervous laughter, as I waited for hers to come; for my instincts to be wrong altogether, for her face to crack open with a smile while she covered it with something else like, “Just kidding, you guys are so cute,” or something.
She darted out the door quickly, a slight hobble to her aged step.
The ruca and I looked at each other. We were stunned speechless, an unusual reaction from the ever-witty ruca, and charismatic me, who can usually charm my way out of anything. We were frozen though, paralyzed, a sinking feeling flooding our chests. Get a room—really? Was she insane? We weren’t even making out—we hadn’t even kissed!
“She wasn’t joking, was she?” I gasped.
“No,” the ruca said, a meager croak. The lady was getting into her car, parked right out front. The young guy wasn’t even with her. He was following her out front, steps behind, a sheepish smile to his face.
If I were still a young, ghetto and feisty kid, I might’ve run after her and shanked her tires. Or stuck out my heel to trip her down the stairway, watching her brittle bones snap like twigs. Or at least gone off on her and called her a miserable old hag who was too ugly inside and out to ever be loved. But shock had stunned me still. She’d taken away my voice, my only defense. Besides, what good would it have done to have shouted every name in the book at her? She had already spit her misery out at us. The damage was done.
“That…hurt,” the ruca uttered, the emotion of it dashing in her eyes.
“I know,” I said. “I feel the same way.”
We were disgusted. Humiliated. Swarms of questions racked our minds: Would she have said that if we weren’t gay? Was she mentally ill? Who the hell does she think she is—yelling at strangers over an innocent affection?!
The host, who’d we’d been kindly chit-chatting with bounced back to her small corner of a stand, tapping buttons on the computer.
“Um, excuse me?” I cleared my throat suddenly. “Are…are we being offensive, standing here in each other’s arms?”
“Of course not, why?”
We told her what happened. She seemed genuinely confused, almost as if she didn’t believe us. “But this is San Francisco,” she said.
Exactly. This is our home. Our sanctuary. Any kind of love bashing—gay or straight—isn’t supposed to happen. Not here, not in one of the most progressive and radical cities in the world.
We felt low, deflated. Our spirits had plummeted down too far to bring them back to that euphoria we’d shared earlier, but lord did we try. The host, who was super sweet and apologetic, thankfully sat us in the booth where the mother and kids had been. Our server, who found out what had happened, was extremely gracious also, even bringing out an appetizer on the house: a plate of padron peppers with goat cheese and tiny sliced almonds, toasted to a crunch. They were incredible. The ruca and I smiled tenderly at each other, hands clasped tightly together as we put on our strong faces. It was our date night, after all, the night we’d waited so long for. No one should’ve been able to take that from us.
Our glasses of wine were filled and re-filled until the bottle was empty. Dinner was hearty and unique as ever. I had the fried chicken with creamed corn, and a jalapeno buttermilk sauce that I could’ve taken a bath in. The ruca opted for a veggie dish: a turnover stuffed with leeks and a bright zest of cherries atop a bed of red quiona. We enjoyed our meals and each other’s company the best we could, keeping a steady flow of conversation so as not to think about that pink elephant that had stricken us. We really did try to have the best date night ever. But the truth is, when someone casts that much hatred at you, sometimes not even the best meal can un-break your heart.
© Sarah C. Jimenez 2011, All Rights Reserved