It started like it always did, as soon as I got home from work on Friday. “Hi! Are you going out tonight?” My mother’s shrill voice carried from the rear of the house to the front door. Here we go, I thought. I made my way back to the kitchen and smiled at her. “Yes, Mom,” I answered. “We’re checking out a new place called Whiskey Reds. They’re having two for one beer night.” My mother looked at me and held her knife up, bits of chopped carrot clinging to its flashing blade. Her creased face beamed with delight. “Oh, that sounds like fun. And, you never know!” she winked at me. I tried to smile at her, but I felt my face stiffen. Instead, I stared at my fifty something mother: patches of gray peeking through her dyed hair, her body showing the after-effects of eight pregnancies, a look of anticipation on her face. “I’ve got to get ready, Mom; the girls will be here soon.”
Under the guise of camaraderie and finishing a work week, my girlfriends and I usually went out for drinks on Friday night. But we all knew why we were going: we were hoping to meet a guy. Single and in our twenties, we wanted to date. But lately, our excursions had taken on a more pressing purpose for me: find a man to marry. It had become my mother’s weekly mantra. “I’m concerned about you,” she’d say. “You’re twenty three with no man in sight. I was twenty one when I married your father. Be careful; you might end up an old maid.”
When she first delivered this edict, I was stunned. Old Maid? I tried to dispute her theory. “It’s different now, Mom; girls don’t get married that young.” Shaking her head, she held up a crooked finger. “No, no. That’s not true. If you wait around, you’ll miss your prime, lose your looks, and end up alone. You need to get out there now.” At first, I ignored her warnings, but lately, it was starting to unsettle me. I could feel my confidence waning. I had boyfriends in high school and college, but had yet to meet one that made me feel giddy. Was my mother right? I wondered. Am I doing something wrong? Am I running out of time? I began taking my Friday nights seriously, determinedly trolling for a husband before I was labeled with the dreaded moniker.
I ran upstairs to change and escape any further interrogation. Walking down the hallway, I passed all the vacant bedrooms. Four of my siblings were married, two were away at college, and one was trying to stay alive in Vietnam. Then there’s me, I thought; graduated, working – and still having omelets with mommy and daddy on Sunday mornings. I was saving for an apartment of my own, but it was slow, as my parents took a portion of my paycheck for “rent.” I gotta get out of here, I thought. Maybe tonight’s the night I meet “him.”
Screeching tires announced my friends’ arrival. There were usually four of us that went out together. Rosie was my friend from high school. As two tall basketball centers, we bonded immediately. Recently, she was dumped by her boyfriend from college and was entrenched in the “men are pigs” mode, but she grudgingly came along with us each week. My ad agency co-workers, Beth and Lizzie completed the troupe. Lizzie was very outgoing; her clothing was a true indicator of her personality, and it always provided us with fodder for the evening. As she strutted through my front door that night, I gasped. “Lizzie, are you kidding me?” She wore a pair of over the knee fringed boots with heels that looked like ice picks, a jean miniskirt and a vest made of some dead animal, which embraced her runneth-over cleavage. “Sexy,” she announced, pointing at herself. “Boring,” she said, pointing at me. I looked down at my lanky body. My bell bottoms and tee shirt did seem a bit dull. I guess I could step it up a notch, I thought. Could my outfits be part of my problem? Beth, our fourth pursuer, laughed along with us. Shy and sweet, Beth usually stood behind one of us at the bar, looking down into her drink whenever a guy approached her.
Pulling up in front of Whiskey Red’s, we stared. It was furnished with old barn wood, wagon wheels in the parking lot, the whole western theme - right in the middle of Long Island, New York. “Oh God!” Lizzie shouted. “How great would it be if they have one of those mechanical bulls in there?!” Please God, I prayed, no bull. We’ll never get her out of here. After waiting ten minutes in line, we finally entered the Ponderosa, primed for our hunt. There was no ride-on bull, just a huge square bar, sitting on a wooden floor covered with crushed peanut shells. The typical bar mixture of alcohol, urine and cigarettes stung us immediately. “There are a lot of cute guys here!” Lizzie yelled as we walked in. Rosie rolled her eyes.
Snaking our way towards the bar, we covertly scanned the room through the smoky air. As we sipped our drinks, we began doing the look/lookaway at different guys we thought were cute or interesting. Lizzie left us immediately and walked right up to a young man leaning against a hitching post. I wish I had the nerve to do that, I thought. I watched as Lizzie’s prey had a ten minute conversation with her, staring at her breasts the entire time. Is she blind? I wondered. Standing there, I saw a guy come up behind me. Puffing each sour smelling word onto the back of my neck, he whispered “Hey, I’ve got a six pack – want to go to my car?” I turned, shook my head and walked away.
Leaving the ladies room, I ran into a boy I hadn’t seen since high school. Holding a beer in each hand, he appeared to be swaying. “Hey, Mary Ann, what’s up?” he asked. “Hi, Jerry,” I smiled. He’s cute, I thought. He looks better without that ponytail. “So what are you doing these days?” I asked, trying to seem appealing and sexy, instead of tired and anxious. He looked at me with glazed eyes. “Studying for the bar exam, working part time at a law firm.” On I pursued. “Wow, that’s impressive. When’s the exam?” Holding up his hand, Jerry said “Wait.” And then, he proceeded to throw up. On himself. Right in front of me. It’s amazing how someone can go from appealing to disgusting in a matter of seconds, I thought. I jumped back, turned away and looked around the room for my friends.
Speaking to a few more guys, we all realized our dream date wasn’t at this corral. Even Lizzie, in her “come and get me” outfit struck out. Rosie came up and tapped my shoulder. “Let’s go, I’ve had enough of this place.” Driving home with the windows down, the cool air felt cleansing.
“Anyone?” I heard my mother’s voice as I climbed the worn, carpeted stairs to the second floor. And we’re back, I thought. Peeking into my parents’ bedroom I saw the familiar sight: my father snoring in their double bed, my mother sitting up against the worn quilted headboard. Her reading glasses were down on the edge of her nose, plastic covered library book in hand, tired eyes questioningly on me. “Anyone” used to be “Did you meet anyone tonight?” but recently she had cut it back to “Anyone” because we both knew the rest of the question. I kept expecting it to be reduced to a quick thumbs up or thumbs down any day now.
I looked at my mother, not wanting to answer. I just wanted to go to my bed and fall into a vodka-induced sleep. “Nope; talked with a few guys, but didn’t meet anyone special, Mom. It was crazy crowded and it was hard to have a conversation.” You have no idea, I thought. I was three inches from being covered in vomit. “Anyway, it was fun with the girls. Goodnight.” My mother frowned, and then went back to her book. “Ok, goodnight,” she said. Thank you God, I thought. I was glad she didn’t go into “the talk.” Some nights I just couldn’t take it.
Lying in bed in my pink-from-childhood bedroom, I felt the familiar worry come over me. I gazed over at my white, faux wood dresser. My high school sports trophies sat on top of it, lined up like a miniature gold army. Above the dresser, a faded “Bridge Over Troubled Water” poster still hung, speared with old concert stubs. I wanted to pull the covers over my head. Ugh, I thought. Will I ever meet someone? Sighing, I turned over, filled with alcohol, peanuts and disappointment.