The Journey of John Winstead

Illustration by Ryan Miller.

Two and a half hours and six and a half beers into his trip to the Main Street Pub, John had decided that while his new friend Beth was a decent guitarist, and the way her hips moved gigantically with no regard to the beat was a thing of wonder, her band was not very good at all.

Fortunately, the bartender was magnificent.

John was positive that they would be the best of friends for the rest of their lives, pals who got together on Sundays after church and watched football and talked about the supreme mysteries of life. The only problems with that plan – John didn’t go to church, didn’t really like football, and couldn’t remember the bartender’s name.

But life was still supremely mysterious, that much was sure.

“Here’s where I’m at Randall –” said John, tipping himself back and forth nervously on his uneven barstool, sipping at that seventh beer.

“It’s Russ,” said Russ, the clean-shaven, muscly bartender. He had already good-naturedly told John his correct name three times this evening. He was getting tired of being good-natured.

“Right, Russ, I’m sorry,” said John. “I met this girl a while ago. Well, she was a girl then, but she’s a woman now. And I was just a boy, and now I’m a man. Maybe. Who knows really?”

“Not me,” said Russ, as he cleaned a couple glasses, his bulging arm muscles obviously underworked by the task.

“That’s the thing,” said John. “That’s it right there. Who decides? Who decides it’s time for you to be an adult? Did I already choose and I just don’t know it?”

“Well, what the hell is your definition of an adult?”

The voice was Beth’s. She’d pulled a stool up to the bar from one of the other tables in the pub; her ponytail fell down almost to the floor. She and Russ were obviously well acquainted – as soon as she sat down he began to pour her a vodka lemonade.

“What do you mean?” asked John.

“I had this professor during my second year of college,” said Beth, grabbing the vodka lemonade from Russ. “And he would always tell us, ‘The first step towards answering a question isn’t considering the question. It’s considering the words in it.’ Because before you can answer the question, you have to know what it’s actually asking.”

“Okay,” said John.

“So your question is, ‘Who decides it’s time for you to be an adult?’ And my question back to you,” said Beth, “is what’s your definition of ‘adult’? What does it even mean?”

“I know what it means to me,” said Russ, pouring himself a water.

“And what’s that?” said Beth.

“My little brother seriously messed up when he was in high school,” said Russ, swirling his water around as if he were mixing a drink. “Seriously messed up. Got this girl pregnant when they were both sixteen. He freaked. Tried to talk her into getting an abortion, but she wouldn’t. Said she’d already done enough to piss the big guy off.”

“But he stuck with her?” asked John, still rocking back and forth, not even noticing he was.

“He did,” said Russ. “They’re not together or anything, but he gives her money when he’s supposed to and when she needs it. Sees the kid when he can. The kid knows he has a father, that’s for sure.”

“So what about that makes your brother an adult?” asked Beth.

“That he took responsibility,” said Russ. “That’s what it means to be an adult, to take responsibility for your crap.”

“And see,” said Beth, “that’s not even close to what it means to me to be an adult.”

“Well, what does it mean to you?” asked John.

“It’s about doing something,” said Beth, poking at the ice in her drink with her pointer finger. “When I was younger, I spent so much time being shaped by things. Eric Clapton’s music, Samuel Coleridge’s poetry, Maya Angelou’s books. Now that I’m an adult, I have to create my own things. And maybe someday someone will be sitting at a bar talking about what it means to be an adult and how they were shaped by Beth Winslet’s awesome guitar solos and then I’ll know I succeeded.”

“Your last name is Winslet?” asked John.

“It is,” said Beth. “No relation to the famous Ms. Kate Winslet, so don’t even ask. It’s one of the top ten questions that piss me off.”

“You have a list of top ten questions that piss you off?”

“I’m just starting it now,” she said, taking her finger out of her drink and pointing it at John. “Asking me about my list of top ten questions that piss me off is now also on the list.”

Beth’s hand moved from pointing at John to grabbing her drink. She finished the remainder and asked Russ to get her another.

Then she turned back towards John.

“But back on topic,” she said, “what’s your answer to the question? What does John Doe the bread-buying man –”

“It’s Winstead,” said John. “My name’s John Winstead.”

“Well, I was half right,” said Beth, “So what does John Winstead consider the definition of being an adult?”

As Russ came back with Beth’s second vodka lemonade, John answered the question as best he could.

“I guess it’s just all that normal stuff people do when they grow up,” he said. “Get a job, marry a girl, buy a house, have a kid. Live the life that grown-ups are supposed to live.”

“How far along are you on this path to adulthood?” asked Beth.

“About halfway,” said John. “I have a job, and it’s okay. I have a girl, and she has me, and that’s great.”

“I thought she was a woman,” said Russ.

“She is,” said John, “and that’s the point, I guess. She’s a woman now, and she wants to move on to a house. And I know that from there she wants to move on to a kid. Sooner rather than later.”

“And you’re freaking out?” said Beth.

“And I’m freaking out,” said John.

The words hung at the edge of the bar for a moment, waiting for a response or reassurance. Finally, Russ broke the silence.

“Well that’s bull,” he said.

“What?” said John, now doubting his want to be lifelong friends with this man.

“Hey, Russ –” said Beth.

“No, that’s crap,” said Russ. “If you love this girl, and she’s ready to start a family with you, then what the hell in your life do you need to worry about?”

“It’s not that simple,” said John.

“I think it is,” said Russ, swirling his water again.

“I see where you’re coming from, John,” said Beth. “You think you’re locked on this path and that nothing you do can stop it. That your life is fixed.”

“Yeah,” said John, looking despondently at the now empty beer in front of him, still waffling on his stool, “that’s exactly it.”

That’s when Beth set down her drink, pulled John over to her, and kissed him.