“Funny thing, really: get to a high enough level, and you’re basically untouchable. My wounds heal faster than you can make them. We can do this all day, and you would not be any closer to beating me – not that it wouldn’t be fun.” – Kirito, Sword Art Online Abridged

I saw Gwen again, and…

Wait. I never told you about Gwen. Up until now, nothing I could have said about her would have been important.

This all starts about a month after everything ended with Stacy. I was still frequenting the same game night (becuase Smash), and was a bit of a mess after the events of my breakup. Around this same time, they replaced my favorite bartender, a guy we’ll call Harry, with Gwen. (Does he still count as my favorite bartender if he’s no longer actually tending bar?) This being within a month of being recently single, it took me no more than 15 minutes to find out that she had a boyfriend. This being within a month of being cheated on, though, it also took me no more than 15 minutes to just start treating her like Harry, instead of shamelessly flirting with her the way I found myself doing with everyone else during this time frame. After all, coming onto someone who’s taken immediately after being cheated on would take a special sort of crazy. (Or stupid. Or both. But I digress.)

About six months later, not long before starting with this, I came to a conclusion that I needed to start pushing myself to interact with people more. In ways that didn’t involve grabbing a controller and tuning out the rest of the world. (This was about a month or so after things went down with Ramona, and still a little less than six months after Stacy. Needless to say I was still a bit of a mess.) So, I planned a night out with a few friends to see the latest Miyazaki movie. (Yes, I’m aware that in context of what I was trying to do, a movie is functionally the same thing. In fairness I did also bring up food, but I never said I was good at being social…) I invited about 10 or so people I knew from the tavern, including Gwen (and even Harry, for that matter). Only a couple were free and showed up, but fun times were had regardless.

The following week, one of the bouncers pulled me aside, claiming that I’d said something inappropriate to Gwen (but not what), then promptly making me leave. After trying to sort this out on another night, I manage to find out that Gwen accused me of harassment. In particular, by the time their manager, Norman, repeated back to me, an invite to a movie with friends was somehow an invite alone out to a “cabin in the woods.” (This was a direct quote from Norman, and a phrase I don’t use often even as a Joss Whedon fanboy. At worst I might have said “culinary” something or other when food came up? As you’ve seen I do have a thing for wordplay…) On top of all of this I’d supposedly been trying to involved get with her for the past 6 months. Even after offering witnesses to the fact that this was both a movie and a group activity, Norman would hear none of it; his mind had been made up before I could say a word to him. I actually still have proof somewhere – a series of screenshots from several of the other invites I extended to various regulars, as well as Harry – but I thought the better of sending them. (I only still have evidence.zip because I’m a digital hoarder and don’t get around to cleaning out my backups often.) Somehow I don’t think it would matter – then or now.

This brings us to about a month ago. After the latest string of events with Ramona I came to realize I didn’t care about fear anymore – at least not in the way that I used to. (Caitlin remains some sort of anomaly here, but that’s a separate discussion.) I saw Luke, having gone to the latest incarnation of his game night, and he seems to have mellowed out a lot in the last year and a half. I ran into a girl that was convinced I was stalking her (actually not my doing this time), and simply ignored her for an hour while drinking and playing chess. I gave so few fucks that I even offered my services as a bass player to Kyle once, on an impulse. Fear is a thing to be conquered. (As much as that rant last time was written for a laugh, this part is actually true.) So, I went back there (on a different night), while out on a pub crawl with Jasmine. As chance had it, I saw Gwen. As reckless abandon (and my desire for whiskey) happened, I got a drink from Gwen. And nothing happened. Maybe things have calmed down, right? She certainly didn’t seem to care. So, a week or two later I tried going back to that game night, to meet up with some of my Laughing Flask friends who all still frequent it. Again, I ordered a single drink, but this time I sat down for maybe 10 minutes before a bouncer came up to me and told me to go away. I’m still not sure whether she’s the one who’s still upset about events, or if Norman just assumed on sight that I was up to no good. (Why not both?)

I don’t really have much to say in terms of lessons learned here, except maybe that perception can be as important as actual fact when dealing with people. After all, this was actually a misunderstanding and not so much a real error on my part (for a change), aside from trying to solo the place in nearly every effort after the fact. (Starting the hatchet-burying conversation I had in mind probably would’ve admittedly worked a lot better if I’d formed a party.) The bigger thing to note here, and the reason why this story is suddenly worth telling, is progress. I still think the events as they played out are a bit… insane, to be honest. (Let’s put aside for a minute how hilariously ironic it is that, with everything I’ve done, the one standing ban I have anywhere is for something that never actually happened as described.) Even so, Gwen helped me answer something. Now I can say with some certainty that the sudden god mode that appeared with Ramona is the rule, and the sudden presence of nerves that appeared with Caitlin is the exception. Now in this case solving one puzzle gives rise to another, but it’s better than the alternative. Besides, piecing them together is half the fun.

“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.” – Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation

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