Anna called me one night around 9 o’clock. I knew she was calling me from a bar, could hear the jukebox in the background, could hear a Country song playing, which was almost louder than Anna. She was slurring her words when she asked me to join her. I couldn’t that night, but I agreed to meet her the following week.
She wanted to meet at a bar on Main Street. Walking to it, I felt nervous about seeing her. It had been almost three years since our last encounter, when I ended up leaving a bar over in Newport because I was annoyed with her drunkenness and bad behavior. I was hoping this wouldn’t be a repeat performance.
I found the bar on Main Street and spotted Anna right away. She’s hard to miss with her long legs, long brown hair and light blue eyes. Despite the fact that she’s now in her forties, Anna’s still a looker.
“It’s good to see you,” Anna said as we hugged. I sat to her right at the bar. Several shot glasses sat empty in front of her.
“How many shots of rum have you had?” I asked.
“Only a few,” she replied, “been trying to save myself for you.”
Anna and I worked together in an office located in Fort Mitchell, Ky. This was back in the early 1990s. I was going through a divorce at the time, and I admit I had a thing for her. Sometimes after work, we would go out for a few drinks during happy hour but outside of a few hugs and kisses, nothing ever happened between us. It was the wrong place at the wrong time.
I ordered a vodka and tonic from the bartender and Anna got two more shots of rum. We clicked our glasses. “To old times,” Anna said.
“You ever see anybody from the office?” I asked.
“Only you, and I don’t see you that much,” Anna said. “I always have to call you. You never call me.”
“I’ve never been good at following up.”
“You were pissed at me last time for having too much to drink,” Anna said.
“Just say it the way it is.”
I didn’t answer her back, just smiled at her. We sat in silence for a minute or two. Anna ordered two more shots from the bartender.
“You know, Ray and I broke up,” Anna said. “I’ve been alone now for almost two years.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“I meet guys in bars sometimes, we go out, fuck one another, then it’s over, “ Anna said. “It’s lonely. It’s no fucking good.”
At that moment, I suspected Anna was well on her way to getting drunk. This was going to be a repeat of that night in Newport. I asked the bartender to bring me another vodka and tonic.
“I told you about my abortion, right?”
“Yeah,” I said, “a long time ago.”
“I regret that,” Anna said. “Maybe I wouldn’t be so lonely if I hadn’t killed my baby.”
Her brutal words shocked me. Anna ordered more shots from the bartender. I looked down at my drink not wanting to look at my old friend — a friend who I almost didn’t know anymore.
We again sat in silence. I sipped on my vodka and tonic. Anna started talking to a guy to her left. I heard her order more shots. I felt out of place. After more than a few minutes, Anna put her arm around my shoulder.
“You’re being awful quiet,” she said.
“I’ve never been the life of the party, Anna. You know that.”
“Remember those happy hours we went to?”
“Oh, yes,” I said. “Going through my divorce was a drag, but you made it a bit more bearable.”
“So what’s going on with you?”
“I’m still doing the writing,” I said. “I’m still working on the novel and I’ve...
“You know Jackie would be in her twenties now if I hadn’t had the abortion.”
“You knew the sex of the baby?” I asked.
“No, but I always wanted a baby girl,” Anna said, “and I always knew I would name her Jackie.”
I stared at my old friend not knowing what to say. The guy to her left touched her on her shoulder and she turned from me to talk to him. That’s the way it stayed for the next 10 minutes. I wondered if the guy would be Anna’s next one night stand.
Knowing the evening was already over; I got the bartender’s attention and asked him how much I owed. When I paid up, Anna was still engrossed in that conversation with the other guy, so I gave the bartender an extra 20, told him to give it to Anna to take a taxi home.
I lingered outside the bar for a few minutes smoking a cigarette. I felt a little sad. I knew chances were I’d never see Anna again. People change and friendships fade. That’s a reality I hate to face, but reality is life. You know when something is over.
I took my own cab back to my apartment. During the ride, I thought about why Anna drinks so much. I thought about the old days working together and how those days are gone forever. I also thought about Anna’s abortion and how it’s still affecting her.
I believe in a woman’s right to choose, but in that cab ride home, I wondered if other women, decades later, still thought about what might have been with the child they could have had. I wondered if other women have Anna’s regret, too.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: email@example.com