Illustration by Popularium
It’s that moment of physical contact, where someone tests the waters. It’s the point where generally I blush and stutter and someone backs off.
Except this time I didn’t. Instead I maintained the eye contact and ordered another Campfire, glancing at his hand on my leg with a small smile. I tossed back what was left in my glass; felt the burn trace down my throat, the heat spreading from my belly and from his palm above my knee.
Three hours earlier, I’d poured my first glass of whisky. No ice, drop of water, from my own bar. I sipped it while I finished my makeup, needing its bracing heat to steady my hand, staring at my closet and hyping myself up to finish deciding who I’d be that night. I ran the glass over my lips, spreading the burn of the lingering liquid, and pulled out a black sweater that would be demure if not for the particular interplay between its semi-deep V and my own advantages. One more step in that direction, closer to words that shouldn’t be as alien as they are. Confident. Sexy. Desirable. Still a mild tremor in the hand quickly scrolling through my Spotify library for a supportive soundtrack — I know I need to set my own scenes. Arctic Monkeys’ AM — the tremor settles as the thumping strains encouraging late-night bad decisions play tinnily from the iPhone speaker.
I know I need to set my own scenes.
One last drop of scotch remained in the glass. It’s a fairly restrained sample — a Speyside decant from a message board swap, warm and golden and comforting. A quiet burn on the nose and in the throat. I catch a glance of deer in the headlights in the hall mirror, and toss that last trickle back. Defiance, I suppose, against habit. It settles me a little; the burn kicks as I inhale fumes from the empty glass. It kindles in my gut, echoing the smoke of my perfume as I straighten my spine a little for the mirror — one last glance at a confident shell before walking out the door. Getting there.
I opted to walk, as the bar’s nearby — a dozen blocks or so, some time to work on closing the gap. With “Do I Wanna Know” pumping at full power through my skull and mingling with the residual alcohol burn, I could feel my stride lengthen. Just a little. Getting closer to the bar, I drop further into the funk and swagger of the music, my hips swinging just a bit more as I finally manage the mental pivot to face those ill-at-ease words, and the waiting opportunity, head-on.
To do what felt right and good, answerable to no one but my own conscience.
His messages were funny. Friendly, with an occasional comment that toed the line between flirty and forward. I wasn’t sure what it was about him or our conversation that had me considering the gulf between my views on sex positivity and my actions. But somewhere I settled in with the decision. To do what felt right and good, answerable to no one but my own conscience; my conscience being not nearly as restrictive as my lingering (ex-)Catholic guilt and insecurity. Because that’s the type of woman I admired, and the type I wanted to be. With a hint of that whisky warmth lingering somewhere in my core, in the driving beat of AM through my headphones and the grey sky spitting rain, I found a trace of her in me.
I saw him outside the bar.
Fets is a Scotch Malt Whisky Society bar, and their selection of the spirit is second to none in Vancouver. Some nights, I’ll get my geek on and paw through their bible, picking out drams identified only by notes — salt brine, ashtray, lemon candy, saddle leather. Others, like this night, I order something familiar. By now a favourite of mine, I picked High West Campfire — a blend of bourbon, rye, and Islay scotch — knowing I needed that last nudge to feel like who I wanted to be that night. Spice from the rye, sweetness from the bourbon and a solid pull of smoke from the dependably peaty Islay. It runs just a bit hot, that campfire smoke tipping it just a bit reckless. I needed that hint of recklessness. I needed it to light my own match — the Campfire would do it.
I’d found bits and pieces of the me that I wanted to be throughout the evening, and it was one ounce of liquor in a glass that tied me together, sketching out on my palate the final lines of that woman.
The hand on my leg wasn’t tentative, but it was a question.
He felt comfortable getting closer, then. Leaning in, pressing his leg against mine. I could smell mint and whisky on his breath, an oddly attractive combination, as I turned my head toward him as he spoke, taking my own small steps to close the distance. First steps for me, but enough.
I’d found and embodied the me I wanted to be.
The second glass of Campfire slid down, kindling to the fire already spreading, while I echoed the angle of his body to mine. As the bills were paid and I walked ahead of him out the door, I didn’t concentrate on my spine or my gait or what should or shouldn’t be said. I’d found and embodied the me I wanted to be, and figured the rest would follow however it would.
There was the kiss that followed, the rough hand at my waist, and the hailed taxi. There was the 2 am taste of whisky on skin, and well-earned bruises that lasted longer than the communication. But mostly, there was contentment in knowing I could be precisely who I wanted to be… with a little help setting the scene.