In Providence

Warmer Than I Remember

If you start walking toward downtown from The Scurvy Dog, you’ll go right by his house.

“She took me home from the bar, but I lived in the opposite direction back then. I lived with three guys on Valley Street. Four times she told me her name and four times I said it back to myself so I wouldn’t forget it. The next morning, I wake up, and she’s gone. Nothing happened; I know that. She put me to bed and sat in this chair right across from me. She said she wanted to make sure I didn’t die choking on my own puke like a rock star. I remember I said I wasn’t a rock star — that I was a bum with a bum knee. She didn’t say a thing. She just sat in that chair. I got rid of all my furniture a few years back, but I kept that chair just because she sat in it. The next day, it’s just an empty chair.”

Even in an age of social media, without a person’s name, it’s not always easy to find the woman you fell in love with one night after a few drinks and a conversation you can’t remember. He went back to the Scurvy Dog the next night in the hope that maybe she’d be there, but she wasn’t.

She wasn’t there the next 20 times he went back either.

I start going to different bars. I ask around. I describe her and people look at me like ‘Is he making this up? He was drunk. He might have made it up in his head. I didn’t make it up. This woman was real. The whole way home I’m laughing my ass off she’s so funny. She’s telling me all about this boat she has that her dad gave to her father after he died, and how she’s going to take me on the boat. This was like February or March, but it was warm out that night. Not warm but warmer than it should have been. But when I’m telling people about it, they’re saying it wasn’t warm that night, and one of my buddies who saw me doesn’t remember me talking to a woman. Nobody remembers it. Someone laughed in my face. ‘Yeah, beautiful woman with a boat taking care of some drunk guy — sure, sure.’”

Rhode Island is a small state, but we all have that one person who comes to mind every so often who seems to have fallen off the grid despite the grid getting bigger every day. For a long time, I fixated on a guy I’d been on a date with when I was 19 and lost touch with shortly thereafter. It wasn’t that I fell in love with him or anything. He just popped into my head one night and when I looked him up, I couldn’t find him. Had he popped up after a quick search, I probably wouldn’t even have sent him a message, but the inability to locate him quickly became an obsession, and when he finally appeared in an Instagram photo with a mutual friend six years later, I felt the kind of relief you’d expect to experience after a pet assumed dead appears on your front step. I added him, we talked, I expressed to him over and over again how glad I was to have reconnected, we talked about getting together but never did, and I forgot all about him until just now. Twenty years ago, I would have just accepted that there are people who disappear from your life and are never seen again, but now that seems like a disease we’ve cured. It makes it that much more jarring when a seemingly permanent absence pops up.

“I feel like I can’t move on until I see her again. I go on dates. Meet other women for drinks. Nobody’s ever walked me home. Nobody’s ever made me laugh that hard. Nobody’s made me feel like they got my back the way that woman had my back and I didn’t know her for more than two hours. That’s gotta mean something.”

The question had to be asked–

Could he have made her up?

“If I did, I don’t want to know. I don’t want to believe it. If she’s in my head, then I’ll never know for sure, and I’m just going to keep looking for her everywhere I go.”

The funny thing about that boy I found after all those years? Once I found him, he started showing up everywhere. At restaurants I was at. Parties. We even bumped into each other walking down the street in Newport — literally bumped into each other on a busy night with a city full of people swarming around me. It was as if we had broken some curse by finally finding each other again, and now Rhode Island was Rhode Island once more, and we’d never stop seeing each other.

“Until I find her, I’m never going to stop looking. Even if it’s just so I can find out her name. All these years, and I’d settle for just a name.”

If you leave the Scurvy Dog and walk toward downtown, you’ll walk right by his house. It won’t necessarily be a very memorable walk.

But I guess that depends on who’s walking with you.

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