Bluffing With Cards in Hand

Dearest Rachel –

Well, sometimes these things resolve themselves. It turned out that, while Erin and Ellen weren’t going to be available, I got a text from Kerstin asking whether we were getting together Friday night – guess she was getting used to it being a weekly thing, for which I don’t blame her. Since going out to eat by myself didn’t appeal, I decided to invite her out, if she wanted to come with me.

Look, sometimes all you need is a companion.

What with the fact that Logan was over today, I concluded that I’d need to stay out of the boys’ way when I got home. In fact, it might be better were I to stay out of the house entirely, and go somewhere else to eat this evening. Moreover, I might as well go someplace that Daniel would rather not, so he wouldn’t be bothered by the fact that I was doing something on my own without him.

The list of such restaurants is actually getting longer over time, as certain places that the three of us used to frequent, he would just as soon not go to anymore; or at least, he’s waiting for… something… to happen before he returns to them. He has told me that I either wouldn’t understand, or wouldn’t believe him, were he to explain what exactly it is he’s waiting for. I’m not sure that I approve of the implications of that statement.

Still, it’s just as well that he feels this way. Upon deciding to meet at the Station, Kerstin asked what their policy was regarding vaccination status and masking. Since I haven’t been there this year, when the countywide ordinance went into effect, I couldn’t answer that. Some places have been lax about enforcement, but I will admit that I honestly didn’t expect the Station to count themselves among them. It has always been a fairly crowded place, so the spread of disease might actually be a concern. Having such a large clientele in such a small space also means that they can afford to be picky about who they let in. I’d also suggest that certain places have a certain culture that might be more conducive to viewing the ordinance as a suggestion rather than a straight up rule, but to go into any further detail might be considered stereotyping, so I’ll leave it at that.

Anyway, sure enough, when I got to the door of the place, there were signs in the windows indicating that they would be checking in accordance with the ordinance, although they claimed to be sorry for the inconvenience. Considering her earlier question, it occurred to me at that moment the Kerstin might not actually be able to get in. I have no idea as to her vaccination status – although, given the fact that Daniel considers her as a kindred spirit, I can come to certain conclusions – and they aren’t promising.

Now, I had my vaccination card with me (I keep it in the car all the time just for such situations these days), but for Kerstin’s sake, we might have to bluff our way in. Either that, or fall back to a plan B location.

In any event, I got there several minutes before her, and decided to go inside regardless of the final outcome. Hey, it’s January in Chicago – I’m not staying outside if there’s any alternative. I observed as several people in front of me were being asked to show their cards and their IDs; this didn’t look promising for our chances. I did show my card when the waitress asked for it, but also indicated that ‘my companion’ wasn’t there yet; as you’ll recall, they don’t write down reservations until everyone in the party is there.

Yeah, they do stick to rules, after all. Like I said, they can afford to.

Interestingly, the owner was working by the door (he and several waitresses were putting together piles of takeout orders), and he recognized me; between the fact that we were regulars there for so long, and my distinctive mask, that was to be expected, after all. He even picked up on the fact that I was standing there by myself, and commented on how he hadn’t seen our family for a while.

“Yes, well… times have changed things.”

“Oh… I’m so sorry.” I’m not sure what conclusions he arrived at, but he actually managed to pick up on the fact that the changes – whatever they might’ve been – had not been for the better. An amazingly perceptive man. In any event, there wasn’t much else to be said, and he had so many orders to fill, so he had to get back to his work. But I’ll give him all the credit in the world for understanding.

Eventually, Kerstin arrived, and she was asked for her card. This was the moment of truth.

Now, it turns out that she actually does have a card, but it’s not the same as mine. It’s a proof of a negative antigen test. As a school bus driver, she has to take these tests every week as part of her job. Thankfully, it’s not something she has to pay for out of pocket – evidently, the bus company realizes that there’s no avoiding Covid these days, and tests their employees regardless of vaccination status. While the waitress initially balked at her card (since it didn’t indicate anything about when – or even whether – Kerstin had been vaccinated), the owner explained what it was to her… and waved us on through.

Well. That was pleasantly unexpected.

In retrospect, it makes sense that she would be allowed in. Quite frankly, her card is significantly more up-to-date than mine. After all, I used my vaccination card to bluff my way into Switzerland when I probably shouldn’t have – but what did I know back then? It seems that word is slowly getting out that vaccination is no guarantee that you’ll be Covid free. In fact, I’ve actually heard a joke these days that the difference between a conspiracy theory and the truth is somewhere between 12 and 18 months, and so here we are.

Maybe Daniel is more right than I tend to give him credit for.

In any event, it was a lovely meal, as always. Kerstin followed my lead – I’d forgotten how rarely she’d come there with us (and she’s only been there with us) – as she was unfamiliar with most of their offerings. I tried to order a few things that we might share.

At the same time, it’s not a place that’s particularly conducive to conversation. Between constantly being on the lookout for something coming down the conveyor belt, all the ambient noise of other conversations and the chefs preparing fish in front of us, and all those televisions hanging from the ceiling (I have no interest in who’s winning between Charlotte and Los Angeles, but you know me; the ‘enchanted box’ gets me every time), there wasn’t much said between us. I think you left the selection process to me back in the day, and would keep the conversation going in a way I never did or could.

Kerstin noticed. As nice as it was, she was actually more keenly aware of your absence than I was; maybe I’ve gotten more accustomed to the emptiness, having lived with it 24/7 for all this time. But everything was a little bittersweet to her.

Even watching those chocolate covered marshmallows go by served as a reminder. You used to love them, while Daniel and I preferred the cream puffs. But now, there’s no way to even split them between two people, so there’s no point in getting them off the belt.

I will be the first to admit to being oblivious (if you want to be charitable) or insensitive (if you don’t), but it hadn’t occurred to me how much your friends suffer your loss, honey. As the husband, it’s obvious to all that I’ve lost something; we were seen as two parts of a whole. But friendships aren’t as visible, even to the friends. And yet, there are those times when they feel it, and don’t know how to deal with it. Nor do those around them.

I think Ellen told me about how, shortly after the accident, she got called into the conference room by HR. She was worried that she was in trouble, but I asked her if, given the circumstances, she needed anything – counseling, time off, that sort of thing – to deal with having lost you. If I’m remembering the story correctly, she barely very nearly cried about it; not so much for the loss itself, to be sure, but that her company would care so much (especially in comparison to her old boss).

But for the most part, the friends you’ve left behind have had to bluff, pretend that everything was okay, when they’re dealing with having lost you, too. Maybe not as much as I have, but it’s surprising how much they can feel the absence at times.

So I guess I need to ask you to keep your eye on them as well, honey, and wish them luck. It seems we’re all going to need it.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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