Nine years ago, tonight, I went to a lounge called Napoleon with my friend Laura, seeking a regular fun night.
It’d been a long, cold winter in which I’d stayed holed up in my apartment, being angry at a guy I’d dated for a couple of months over the summer. He’d been a big enough jerk for my anger to last a full six months. But one Tuesday, I woke up and felt fine about it all. The weirdest sense of peace and contentment took me over.
I’d decided to give up alcohol for Lent because the friend who usually bought my drinks had done so, leaving me no choice. (What was I going to do? Buy my own drinks?) So, when I went out with Laura that Friday night, I drank Coke while she indulged in a Champagne cocktail.
But, I thought, at least my eyebrows looked great. I’d left work earlier that afternoon to get them threaded for the first time, and they looked quite sleek, if also a little puffy.
Having a great time in the basement lounge (upstairs was a really nice French restaurant) as music thudded, I noticed a group of kids who’d gone to Georgetown had all come in together, as if the “freshman herd” concept had extended into post-grad life. There was a Black guy in their midst. He looked familiar because there’s only so many Black people at Georgetown at one time, but I’d never actually talked to him. I’d seen him in the cafeteria with guys who played soccer, but he didn’t come to the parties I went to, so we wouldn’t have had the chance to meet.
I told Laura that he looked familiar, and she said I should go talk to him. I refused, saying I wasn’t going to approach some random man in a lounge. She slapped my arm and said I was being ridiculous. As he came closer to where we were, she gave me a line, “You look familiar, did you go to Georgetown?”
When he came close enough, and there was a break in the songs, I delivered the line. He said yes, he did go to Georgetown. We introduced ourselves over the loud music and danced.
After a while, he asked if I wanted some water. Before I could say, “Sure,” he added, “I meant, a drink?”
I shook my head. “Water’s fine,” I said. “I gave up alcohol for Lent.”
“I mean, I know it’s hard, but you’nt have to laugh in my face,” I half-joked.
“No, I meant—I gave up alcohol Lent, too,” he said.
I wondered if he was BSing—of course you’d tell a woman you’ve met in a bar that you’d given up alcohol for Lent just to save $8 to $14 on a drink. But he was for real.
We sat with the water and talked for a while. It got late, so Laura went home, and after a bit, his friends did, too, leaving us alone together. So, naturally, we kept talking: about our families, about Georgetown, about studying abroad and how the world is both wonderful and racist regardless of where you go.
I had to go to work at my part-time job early the next day, so around 2am, I put on my hat and coat, and he followed me out of the lounge. Outside, he asked for my phone number. I hesitated, not wanting to give my number to someone I’d met in a bar, but something said it would be okay, so I did.
“Could you spell your name for me?” He asked.
When I asked the same of him, I realized neither one of us had heard what the other had said when we introduced ourselves.
“Rustin,” he said. “Like Justin, with an R.”
“Got it,” I said.
We hugged, and I hailed a cab, and went home. I didn’t really think about him again until he called me that Sunday evening, asking to go out the following Friday, Good Friday.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Nine years later, I still don’t regret leaving work early to get my eyebrows threaded, or giving up alcohol for Lent that year. All things worked together for my good. Best 9 years of my life!