We were in Lolinda, talking about loneliness.

“I’m told that I lack a sense of emotional object permanence,” I said.

“I don’t understand what that means,” said Petra.

“No, it’s … I don’t think it’s a term of art, just a possibly clever turn of phrase.” I sighed. “I mean that on the one hand, I know that I make a strong impression on people. That, however they feel, people tend to feel strongly about me.”

She nodded.

“But I somehow assume that if I’m out of sight, I’m out of mind. That no matter how strong an impression I’ve made, if I’m not actually in front of someone, or talking to them on the phone, they’re not thinking about me at all.”

“No, that seems normal,” she said.

I blinked. “Does it? Because I’m told it’s not.”

I like dark bars, but Lolinda – which is really more of a restaurant with a long bar and a strong cocktail list – is stupidly dark. Dark as a fashion statement, rather than darkness as permission to get up to something. The decorations, the loud music, and a crowd that seems to feel smug about getting in, is off-putting to me. I’ve walked in several times in the past, looked around, said “nah,” and walked out again. This might be par for the course: In my experience, most Argentinian steakhouses need to take themselves less seriously. 

“Ihave proof,” Petra said, “that people don’t think about me when I’m gone.” 

“Really?”

“Yes. I’m never invited to anything. They never remember me.”

I scowled. “I … I’m not sure that’s a really solid metric for ‘no one is thinking about me.’ I’ve had several instances where no one invited me to a party because everyone assumed someone else had invited me. And since I usually don’t show up to things anyway, people often don’t invite me because they assume I won’t show up. So … this stuff gets complicated.”

Our first drinks arrived. Currently, Lolinda has 15 specialty cocktails, almost all for $12 each. I’d ordered the Pisco Punch (pisco, lemon, pineapple, allspice dram, nutmeg), and she’d ordered a Raging Bull (Islay scotch, fernet, passion fruit, cayenne), and we were startled, after we sipped, at how precisely put together they were. 

“Wow,” I said. 

“Yeah, that’s tasty.”

“The proportions are really well balanced.”

“It’s the mixing,” she said. “The flavors are really well blended together.”

“Yes … maybe that’s it. That is it.”

It’s seemed to me – an impression based on anecdote and not data – that bartenders at high-end cocktail places have been under more and more pressure lately, and have taken to throwing drinks together more quickly in an attempt to keep up with demand and a lack of adequate staffing. The result is drinks that have all the right recipes and ingredients still come out mediocre for lack of time and attention spent making them. Whether or not it’s really a trend, it’s been an issue for me recently.

Lolita ribeye

Rib eye.

Lolinda does not have that problem. On the contrary. They nailed it across the board. An excellent cocktail list, well executed. Very impressive. 

We ordered a bunch of small plates – corn empanadas and bone marrow and plantains, among other things – and they were fantastic, too. One of those meals where we kept mentioning how good everything was.

Petra had a brutally lonely childhood. “We were very poor, and we didn’t have a television, and I didn’t fit in with the other kids anyway, so we had nothing to talk about since I couldn’t talk about the shows everyone watched,” she said. 

I considered. “Did you feel like it was right and normal for you to be lonely? Or did you feel like it was something wrong that was happening?”

“It felt wrong,” she said. “It was not okay.”

“Right,” I said. “Because I always thought that the loneliness was appropriate and right for me. That it’s just the way things were supposed to be.”

She scowled at me. “You have an interesting mind.” 

“Thanks.”

Our conversation suddenly stopped as an overwhelming smell of pot swept through the room. We both started, and looked around. Had someone lit a joint right next to us? Or opened a dispensary under our table? No … no they hadn’t. No one around us appeared to be smoking. Were they hiding somewhere? Had something happened outside and a massive cloud completely filled the room as the doors opened? We had no idea. 

It was one of those moments that had to have an explanation – obviously – and yet we were stuck, never going to be satisfied. Eventually, we returned to our conversation.

The food was delicious, but not nourishing. Petra and I can usually just go with small plates, but this time we were left still hungry (or was that the pot smell?) and had to order a serious steak to make up for it. 

We ordered more drinks, too. I got “The Four Lessons” (bourbon, amari, lemon, ginger), which was just as good as all the drinks before, with a wonderful aftertaste to boot. She ordered a non-alcoholic cocktail, and, in the one disappointment of the night, pronounced it too sweet; she watered it down repeatedly until it was to taste. I thought it was fine, but frankly, Petra has a more developed palate than I do.

Petra has struggled with loneliness so much that it’s pushed her out of her shell: She’s gotten good at talking to random people on trains, because she just needs to talk to somebody. She’s practiced at meeting single travelers on trips, so that she can find somebody to eat with her. 

“That’s really impressive,” I told her. “That you can reach through your desperation to pull that off.”

“I just … I’m an introvert, but it can all be too much,” she said. I agreed, and talked about the different strategies some of the people I know have used to fight off loneliness. Somewhere in that discussion, I mentioned a friend I’m still in touch with from college – one of maybe three – and she mentioned that she has kept in close contact with 10 friends from back then.

I gaped. “Ten! That you’re in regular touch with! That’s actually a huge number!”

“It is?” She shrugged. Then we started to run down the list: Who are you still in touch with from high school? From the job before this one? And it turned out that she has this wide and sprawling social network that she’s pieced together from all across her life. A dozen people here, a dozen people there, another 30 here … all of whom she talks to frequently …

… How the hell does she ever feel lonely? I tried to process it. I couldn’t. That much contact would leave me dizzy.

Over time, the atmosphere at Lolinda hadn’t grown any less obnoxious, but I had gotten used to it. So long as I didn’t look around, it was fine. It helped, too, that the long communal table next to us and the small table behind us had been mostly empty during the night – very unusual for the place, but it had helped keep the ambient noise to a tolerable level. 

It’s kind of amazing what you can get used to.

I think Petra just got so used to being lonely that, at some point, it became her default state, no matter what else is happening. 

“These things leave scars,” I said.

“Yeah,” she agreed.

Sometimes, we only see what we expect to see.

But we had a great night. Pretty much perfect. 

We left, and walked to BART, and wondered if we’ll even remember each other.

Previous Distillations.