Sweet and Low

I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m not good at talking to girls, I can’t do it. Don’t make me. I don’t know how to do that.

(Of course, I do.)

I find the place and realize I’ve been here three times before, with boys, theologians whose language I speak without thinking. And I’ve just come from talking to boys who know me better than most people do, who know most of the things I tell nobody, actually, even years of things I only faintly remember.

But: here I am, now. The host cards me — a decade out from legal age, I thank him and he still checks in return, and smiles, and offers to check my bag, and I duck downstairs and look around. Drat. Multiple all-women tables. I will not wander up to each, and if the nice young man upstairs hadn’t just taken my bag and handed me a ticket, let’s be honest, I’d run.

“Are you looking for the film critics?” the hostess asks, looking expectantly at me. I’m not the first.

When I nod gratefully, she points toward the corner, and then, ah, the evening unfolds; I’m understood here, a rare triangulation of what I do and who I am and what I like. And I order a vanilla porter.

I don’t really love this beer. I’ve been trying all night to order a sweet, thick beer, starting with the cream stout the waiter tried to swap in for the tapped-out milk stout at the bar I went to downtown with the guys — no, no, the wrong swap entirely — and ending with me just drinking an IPA because at least I know the brewery.

But I had a whiskey before I got on the subway, something American. Sweet. Low. Sugary and cheerful. Full of the hope we have when we’re not beaten down by a year of sorrow.

So my tongue, coated, wants the sweet, and I peer over the menu and then surrender to the vanilla porter.

Do you know? Vanilla porter is sometimes just want you don’t want, but you definitely need.

I talk with the women gathered. We laugh over holidays coming and the year we’ve had. We talk about next year.

And when I leave, I leave humming Natalie Merchant—I know, life is sweet, in spite of any misery: self, be calm, be grateful.