O'CONNERS was my neighborhood bar. I took Michael there for our last date. When the cab let us off across the street from O'Conners and we got out, I stepped up onto the sidewalk and he stood in the gutter and kissed me hard. It was hot, and even after midnight the air was not stirring. It had rained that day, so the humidity hung so heavily that it felt like we were under a woolen blanket -- sweat condensed on our skin and commingled as we embraced. The streets were empty and the streetlamps were old, casting a burnt orange light on the droplets of water that clung to the streets and cars, and the black rainbows of motor oil on the pavement. I had George Jones stuck in my head: "She Thinks I Still Care." "But how could she ever be so foolish?/ Oh where would she get such an idea?"

Michael was act- ing drunk or high, but he couldn't have been: We'd just come from a movie, and he couldn't still be so buzzed from the joint we'd surreptitiously shared on the corner before the film started. But he threw his arm over my shoulder in a way that was possessive and reckless -- somehow both at once -- and stumbled. Leaning on me, we crossed the street and burst into the bar.

O'Conners is an unreconstructed '70s dive bar with cheap bottles of Bud and high-backed wooden booths. Everything in the place is dark brown or made of wood, and the only lights are the red and blue neon beer signs, giving the place a dignified privacy. It's a bar that has 8 a.m. regulars who are still there at 8 p.m., and after 12 hours of drinking they keep to themselves until they finally settle up with old Bart the bartender, then dribble out into the night.

It was a Monday when Michael and I showed up, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. I ordered us a pair of beers and Michael pounced on the jukebox. A bar's jukebox says everything about the place, and not coincidentally, O'Conners' has George Jones heavily represented. I sat down on the hard wooden bench of our booth and Michael sat on the same side instead of across from me. He hadn't been to O'Conners before, and out of nervousness, I began to tell inane anecdotes about the place. He was looking at me so intensely it made me jittery -- I couldn't become entangled with someone who would need me; I couldn't need someone.

As I prattled on, the jukebox made some officious clicking noises and Michael's selections came on. He had put on "These Days (I Barely Get By)," and he began to sing along with George. He sung well, but a bit too loud, his face near mine, both of us flushed and sheeny with sweat. His breath smelled faintly of onions and liquor but I found it attractive. The night was so imperfect already.

Michael mugged a bit as he ran through the verses, poking fun at the laundry list of woes that Jones enumerates: He wakes up in pain, the car's busted so he's gotta hitch to work, then he walks home in the rain, only to find that his wife has left without any explanation, and stuck him with a pile of bills. He places his last two dollars on a losing horse at the track, and his boss reveals impending layoffs. He sings "I wanna give up/lay down/and die." Michael overplayed it -- he loves attention. But Jones' delivery is unadorned and unmelodramatic, and the pathos comes from the implied acceptance of hard luck and cold comfort. It's that little tap on the shoulder when things are going well that reminds you to steel yourself for a catastrophe.

The jukebox turned over again and "If Drinking Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will)" rolled out. Michael stopped singing along, halted by the mutual understanding that when your relationship starts to resemble a George Jones song, that's not something you want to dwell on. It's awkward to be on a predetermined last date, listening to the emotional holocaust of country music, wondering if you're going to go home together or enforce the cold turkey separation you've agreed upon to make your inevitable parting "easier." Like Jones says, if one thing don't get ya, something else will. It's the catch-22 of grief: The thing that's supposed to make you feel better is often just as bad as what you're trying to escape.