When I first separated from my wife Arlene, something happened that I probably shouldn't have found to be surprising. While married, I was used to coming home to a house full of people; three young children and a wife did not make for a lot of down time. After the separation, however, on those days that I didn't see the kids, I now went home to an empty apartment. Suddenly, I lived alone and I had a lot on my mind. That was not a good combination. I had an uncertain future and that was all I could think about. What was my relationship with my kids going to be like going forward? Was I going to get back together with Arlene? Is it possible to survive on a steady diet of pizza and scotch? (As it turns out, yes) I found that I couldn't go home at night; there was too much silence to be filled with anguished thoughts. Instead I would go out to bars just to be surrounded by noise. Of course that was not the healthiest or best remedy for what bothered me, but it is at those moments that you have to go with what you know best.
I'm not talking about some seedy Waiting for Mr. Goodbar bar, more like a Friday's or Applebee's. I was just trying to kill time and avoid those long, useless conversations in my head as I plotted out the direction that my life might take. You may think it's not the worst thing in the world to be in a bar every night, but try it sometime. It gets awful lonely. Maybe if I were more of the outgoing type, the guy at the bar that could strike up a conversation with anyone (Norm!). That just wasn't me. I had a friend that took up smoking just so he'd have an excuse to start a dialogue with a woman.
"Hey, can I bum one of those from you?" he'd asked. They'd always said yes and in no time, he was three puffs into a conversation. He had to muscle his way through quite a few Virginia Slims, but I guess it was worth it for him. Of course, this was when you could still smoke in bars and even if I could, I don't know if I would risk lung disease just to talk to a woman (in hindsight, maybe I should have).
Most nights were like the following: I would stake out a corner of the room, beer and money in front of me, my hands at ten-and-two on the bar top as I leaned in and watched the crowd. Once in a while a bartender would ask if I was OK; I guess my non-committal look of neither joy nor sorrow concerned some people. I would assure them I was fine then continued to try and look engaged even though I had no one there to talk to.
At one point, after being asked for the umpteenth time if I was 'OK' I thought that at least if it looked like I was waiting for someone, I wouldn't appear so suicidal. That's when it hit me.
Waiting for Godot.
In the play, Godot is eagerly anticipated, but never actually shows up.
I just needed to look like I was waiting for someone; at least it gave me a purpose. I used my cell phone to create the illusion that I was not some pathetic loser standing alone in a bar. Instead, I was now the poor put-upon patron who patiently waited for his inconsiderate friend to come along. Periodically, I would take out my cell phone, read the imaginary text message, shake my head in disgust and emit a heavy sigh of frustration toward my fictitious friend before ordering another beer while I waited.
I don't know why I did it; no one in the bar knew me and I'm sure they didn't care that I was alone. I believe they would have had more concerned if I mumbled to myself or had conversations with an invisible friend. Talking to an invisible friend would have been crazy; waiting for an imaginary friend was totally sane.
Over time, this odd diversion helped me get through that period of my life to the point where I could go home at night and face the silence. Afterwards, I found other means to meet people. I set up an online dating profile or were introduced to women through friends. On second thought, scratch that last comment. I never met a woman through a friend's introduction (what the hell are you people waiting for?).
Now that I no longer needed Godot, it was sort of sad to let him go, like losing your imaginary friend when you grew up. As a child I had an imaginary friend that was a rabbit (years before Donnie Darko, but well after Harvey), but I digress.
My Godot phone does appear from time to time, like when I'm walking down the hall at work and see someone coming towards me that I don't want to talk to. Or if I get from my desk and go down to the cafeteria and stare out the window for a while. While I stand near the glass I will glance down at my phone and read the fictitious text that no one just sent me. This way, people just leave me alone (yeah, that's why they leave me alone).
Anyway, I have to go -- that's my cell phone not ringing and I'm sure I need to get that.