Lessons From Strangers: Return to Water

By Chris Fryer

Capture - Return to Water


“Heartbreak is the closest we come to sympathizing with the ice cube,” said the tattooed bartender, pouring a jack and coke. I lifted my head from my folded arms and wiped a bit of drool from the corner of my frown. “Don’t mean to interrupt your moping, but you’re scaring away my customers.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean no one likes to spend their Friday night ordering drinks around the sad sack at the bar. You’re depressing.” He served the jack and coke to a guy who glanced my way then hurried off to his friends. They shared a joke at my expense. It was easy to ignore them. Anything outside of my head was like a foreign television show in a language I didn’t recognize. Just noise. Static, mosquito-buzzing noise.

“I mean what do you mean about the ice cube?” 

I noticed a half-empty beer in my hand, and finished it. 

Someone ordered a tall pink drink with a cucumber garnish. Looked like something Martha Stewart threw up. The bartender said, “Think about it. What is an ice cube? It’s just another form of water. What are we?”

He served the pink drink to a pretty girl who ignored me. She didn’t leave a tip and the bartender let me know this. 

“Sorry,” I said, sitting up.

“That’s better.” He served me another beer. “On the house.”

“I still don’t get it. The ice cube thing.”

“We’re mostly water, right? Day to day, overall, we’re just water. So then let’s say that when we’re in love—real love, like life-altering love—we become the ice cube. Still made of water, but solid. When you’re in love, things come together. Make sense. All that good jazz. Excuse me.” He took a lengthy order of drinks from a drunk man who used too many likes. The bartender continued, “Ice is water in love.”

“Okay…” I’d heard plenty of heartbreak advice from friends and family over the past week, but this one was on track to win the award for most bizarre. Someone changed the music to classic rock and everyone started singing along like it was amateur karaoke hour. I cringed. 

“So then heartbreak,” said the bartender, shaking a martini shaker, “is ice returning to water. Metaphor aside, that’s not a big deal. Ice can’t last forever. The natural state is water. We can keep an ice cube in the freezer for a million years, but give it two minutes in the sun and it’s gone.”

“You’re saying we’re not supposed to be in love?”

“I’m saying this exactly.”

I shook my head. “I think a lot of people disagree with that.”

“Do you?”

I laughed. “I think you know my answer right now.”

“Love is fun and all,” said the bartender, plopping ice into a glass, “but it’s not our natural state. Yeah, okay, sure, we love our mothers and all that, but loving a person we’re not related to, just some stranger we got to know really well, it’s a bit psychotic in my opinion.”

I laughed again. 

“Ice is psychotic,” he said. “It’s not natural.”

“What about the ice caps? Or snow?”

“It’s a metaphor, man. Don’t look too deep into it.”

He added some green mixture to the glass that smelled like birthday cake, and to this he added a little paper umbrella, and this he passed to a woman in a yellow dress. I sipped my beer, not thirsty, not anything. I pictured my relationship as an ice cube left out in the sun. A puddle, now.

“What’s your advice?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Don’t cry over melted ice cubes.”

“It hurts though,” I said, and these words plucked my vocal chords with the edge of a sharp knife. It seemed ridiculous, but I asked, “Does ice feel pain?”

“How can it?” he asked. “It’s frozen numb.”

“Good point.”

“We freeze up when we’re in love. We feel all invincible and crap.” He gave some guy his credit card receipt and they shook hands like old friends. I was halfway done with my second beer and looked around at the crowd behind me. Laughing, smiling, liquid people, flowing together, wanting to be ice, if not forever than at least for a one-night-stand. I felt like less than water. I felt like vapor in this crowd. All I wanted was to feel like tangible matter. 

“You’re better off,” said the bartender. “Trust me.”

“I know that every day it gets a little easier.”

“Water’s good like that. It fits into its environment no matter where it is.”

“And the pain?”

“That’s not pain. It’s the awareness of change.”

“It hurts.”

“That’s not hurt. That’s rejection of change.”

“Who are you?” I asked, marveled by his quick, therapeutic responses. 

“The name is Jason,” he said, pouring three shots of whiskey for three girls in birthday hats. They bought him a shot, too, which he took without flinching. I wondered if he’d ever been in ice before. I mean, in love. Whatever.

“Thanks,” I said, finishing my beer. 

“Look,” he said, “love happens. We live in a culture where we get to be selective, where we can wait until we find that one person that gets us or whatever. We’re convinced that this is love. I mean, we feel it, so it must be something. I’m not telling you to never pursue love, I’m just telling you that it’s insanity to expect ice to stay frozen forever. This hurt you feel, it’s more cultural than anything, because we’re trained to think that water is boring.” He took my empty beer and I put down a few dollars for a tip, which he acknowledged with a nod.

 “If there’s one piece of advice I want you to remember tomorrow, it’s this: never feel bad about being water, no matter what phase you’re leaving from. Hell, even the ice caps are melting. In the end, we’re all just here to feed the planet.” 

We parted on that thought with a handshake.

I’d forgotten it was raining, which had annoyed me earlier in a self-pitying, cliché kind of way, but seemed more relevant now as I walked home and pictured all the loves of the past melting back to water, mine included, leaving the clouds to rejoin the liquid state, washing away the pain of change, the hurt of rejection, down the gutter and out to the sea, and this felt good. 

About the Author

Chris Fryer was born to tell stories. Amidst figuring out what to do with the rest of his life, he’s been submitting short stories, working on a novel, and actively building the blog Thousand Thoughts. On a path toward a teaching career, he looks forward to teaching English and creative writing in the future.

This column was originally posted on Niche’s website on February 23rd, 2013

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