At the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals conference I gave the closing keynote for the first day. During that talk I told a story about my time back in the early days of service, working in a small institution in Victoria called Glendale. The next day, when we were done and loading into the car I began to get really nostalgic and driving on I75 out of Atlanta I just relaxed back into memory. About a half hour in I turned to Joe and asked, “what was the name of that cocktail bar that we used to go some times?” We struggled a bit, remembering that the first part of the name started with “Cherry,” we stayed stuck there until it popped into my head, “The Cherry Bank.”
Now we have never been much for cocktail bars, preferring the great beer halls of the day, or, now, pubs. But there was a space of time where we went to “The Cherry Bank” pretty regularly. I discovered ‘Harvey Wallbangers’ and ‘Pimms No. 1’ and, of course, ‘Pink Cadillacs’. We went there once with a friend who had a physical disability and even though it was down a flight of stairs, if you are young and strong and don’t know the word ‘liability’ you can get people where they want to go. It wasn’t our regular bar, but it was our regular lounge.
I developed an odd friendship while at Glendale with one of the nurses. Her name was Antoinette, and here’s the thing. She was beautiful. Really, drop dead, gorgeous. She was also funny and kind and all sorts of other things, but all of that was kind of hidden behind the fact that she was stunningly beautiful. To say that she had men lined up to date her, or to try and spend time with her, was a massive understatement. She also had a lot of cool friends, mostly other women who were really pretty and between all this she had a very active social life.
But, even though I was, and always have been, a bit socially awkward, and I’ve always been fat to the level of social disapproval, Antoinette and I fell into an easy friendship. I liked her, she made me laugh. She liked me, I made her laugh. I told her about our bar, ‘The Cherry Bank,’ and she wanted to go, just her and me. She maintained that we never had enough time to talk, so we’d go on our own and have a night out. I agreed immediately.
We got to the bar, were greeted by the bartender and waitress, who recognized me from other times, I was asked where Joe was and I told the truth, we was working the evening shift at his job. We sat in a booth and began to talk. Antoinette had been one of the very first people I ever told about being gay, although the word back then was homosexual. She brushed it away as if it didn’t matter even though we lived in a time when it mattered a lot. Her ease with who I was, gay and fat and socially a bit awkward, made me feel so incredibly safe in her presence.
We were several drinks in and were both laughing a little too loudly about things that were a little too inappropriate for public discussion, when a man, a good looking man, came over to the table. We had both noticed him and Antoinette had thought that he was ‘yummy’ … it was nice to be able to simply agree with her, he was indeed a hottie. He got to the table and said, to Antoinette, “You should know that you can do a lot better than him.”
The remark was met with stunned silence. He had clearly seen us as a couple, because what would a man and woman in a bar be, with a limited imagination, the world has few colours. Antoinette smiled, put her hand lovingly over mine and said, “I’m with him because he would never do what you just did, he’s not that kind of man, it’s a pity you are.”
She slid round the booth so that she was sitting right next to me, she said, “kiss me,” and I did. He had returned to his table by then, witnessed the kiss, got up and left.
I began to thank her … she stopped me. “We’re not going to talk about this,” she said. I don’t want him in any part of this evening, men take over things, he’s not taking over our conversation.”
We got plastered.
I hadn’t thought of Antoinette and our night out in the Cherry Bank in a long time. Some memories shouldn’t get dusty, I’d let that one get dusty. Don’t get me wrong, I think of her often, the quick memory was of my going away party from Glendale which was held at the Empress in Victoria. She drove me there in her sports car, a low down to the ground thing that I had to lean out and pull myself out of the car by walking my hands along the pavement. I remember that as the start to the evening, I remember us leaning against the car and laughing.
We kept in touch for several years with letters and the occasional call, but then, time does what time does, it fills with things from the nearby and the present and we lost touch.
But that evening in the bar taught me that it was possible to be aggressively kind, because, of course, when she spoke, she was speaking to me, not him. She also taught me that it was possible to simply cut an asshole out of your day, out of your conversation and move on.
I heard a few years ago that Antoinette had passed away.
|It’s a privilege to introduce you to her, and in the few moments it has taken to write this, and for you to read it, she lives again, big, beautiful, vibrant and powerfully kind, \Antoinette.