Southern Legitimacy Statement: Flannery O’Connor, need I say more?
Before I even say, “Once. Once, this girl.” All of them laugh. Like I just said the funniest thing they ever heard in their life. Like I could make money telling jokes, just this story even. If its past midnight, I think so too. But most of the time I don’t. I don’t even want to speak. But then I’ll see the face of the new guy and he has that half smile like he should be laughing and thinks he’s missing out.
I start like I always do: “The first thing she did. The first thing when I showed up at her door was plant one right on me like I was a sailor back from war. I mean, I thought I got the wrong address.” Then I fill in the backstory. What she looked like. Where we met. How I arranged the date. I don’t say I was sober. I don’t say I can still remember the feeling. Instead, I hit the punch line. “Then she pulled back and I started to say sorry and she cupped her hand over her mouth and spat blood. My tooth. You knocked out my tooth.” That’s when they howl like fools.
I don’t say that never happened again. I don’t correct myself and say I mean, no one lost a tooth. But the truth of the matter is it never happened again on the first date. Whether it was Sheila Laddle’s Golden Retriever jumping on my back or Sarah Means’ skirt catching on the parking gear shift and pulling us into neutral. Something always happened. The farthest I ever got was with Samantha Stevens. Date seven. I count the seventh one as a date even though the date started and ended when I tripped on her doorstep and smacked my forehead right through her nose.
The boys at the bar haven’t heard that one. Years ago I tried to tell them. It didn’t go well.
I don’t get it. The young guys have jobs, wives, kids. They come in after work and have no idea they’re staring into the future. But they laugh the hardest. If I tell the story after midnight they pucker up and say, “I’ll kiss you. I’ll show you.”
But once a month it hits me wrong. “Get the hell out of here,” I yell. “Go home.” If I’m really sour, Jim or Mike, the bartenders, ask me to leave. But usually, they let it go. They say calm down, buy me a shot.
I sometimes think about stopping. But every few months I get lucky. I know before I begin because the guy doesn’t have that stupid smile. They look concerned. Once I finish, they throw the punch. There’s pushing. Yelling. I head straight to the bathroom, start sucking the blood.
For a few days, sometimes a week, I probe the wound with my tongue telling myself the saliva will help it heal, like a dog licking a sore, but I know I’m only trying desperately to remember.