Apr/May 2004  •   Spotlight

My husband goes to the bar to cry

by Fleur Chapman

My husband goes to the bar to cry. He can't cry here, at home, with me, so he goes to the bar. He stands in a huddle with four or five guys, and they laugh, shoot the breeze, drink a little beer. And at some point in the evening, say three hours in, they'll all get tearful.

They talk about cars, holidays, DIY, sport. The words they use are to do with hub caps, clutch cables, 0-60 in how many? But they're thinking: "My first car, that shiny, cherry red Chevy. I polished that thing till it dazzled the sun." And they're remembering... hope. How Goddam hopeful they felt, how innocent, untouchable. They're stabbed by that feeling of possibility, and it's gone now, long gone.

This makes them want to cry, but they can't, not yet.

So they play a little pool, rack up a few old songs on the jukebox, lean against the bar, talk some more. My husband, Eddie, is likely to mention our trip to Europe, or that weekend in Vegas with the kids. But he won't talk about Vermont. We always head east come Fall time, drive endless roads till our heads are swimming with colour.

We usually end up near Woodstock, stop by Big Pink for old times sake, and maybe the local radio is playing "Forever Young." And I look at Ed, and know what he's thinking. The Fall, the gorgeous, dying leaves, never more beautiful. Those handsome young musicians, fading, or gone.

And Ed's staring straight ahead. Or if the car's stopped, he'll get out, crunch across the clearing, look up at the leaves, the sky. Then he'll hop right back in, flick channels, and I'll say "OK?" and he'll nod, yeah.

I think Eddie would like to talk about Vermont to his buddies, but it's way too early.

His best friend Mike's a DIY nut. None of that self-assembly crap for him. It's a labour of love, he says. Mitres, hand-tools, wood-paneling. He learnt his skills at his daddy's knee, toy toolbelt around his waist, tiny chisel in his hand, chipping away at a woodblock. He's paneling the den now, Mike. It may be out of fashion, yeah, but it's real, it lasts.

His voice will be rising now. And one of the guys—Bill?—will slap him on the back, and say: "Sure it does, Mikey. Sure it does." They all know Mike lost his old man last year, they know what the paneling's about. And they're thinking about their fathers, and hey, this den, at least it's somewhere else for them all to go, watch the game, have a few beers, and cry.

It's getting near that time now. It won't be Eddie or Mike, they've already come too close, almost broken protocol. So maybe Tommy... he'll start off on the Eagles, and soon they'll be deep into stats, injuries, play-offs, training camp.

Then they'll get into reminiscing. Old times, glory days. It was cleaner, simpler then, sure. Remember that guy Macken, Sonny Macken? Boy, was he a peach. Quarterback, but tiny, more like an eighth, huh?

But the heart in that guy—such a big, big heart. Used to finish each game black and blue, all over. They'd stamp on him, clatter him, smash him down. And that little squirt would just get on up again, a big old grin on his face. What did he always say? "Players will play?" Yeah, "Tiddlywinks or gin rummy, when the whistle blows, you play."

This is the signal. They all know. Now it's OK.

Five men at the bar, standing there, quietly crying. Crying for that brave little guy Macken, crippled with arthritis now. For dead fathers, and wood, what it means. For an old song, a brave glimmer of hope, still there in the sadness.

For white wheel rims, a Chevy, cherry red.