Sitting at the bar closest to my house during happy hour on a Friday night, alone, should make me cringe. In the past, I would have never been able to pull it off. The term "loser" would have washed over me like a tidal wave but somehow it feels different now. Sure, I am alone but I was always alone. I just never realized it until some trust shattering events occurred several months ago on February 28th, the anti-versary of my husband's and my first marriage.
Apparently, I didn't learn my lesson the first time. Getting mentally gut-punched for 18 years just wasn't enough. A sucker for punishment, I willingly climbed back into the ring for round two. We remarried after being divorced-but-never-really-separated for nine years. I still saw all the red flags but chose to ignore them because who am I if I am not one-half of a couple, with him by my side? We had been together since we were 23 years old. I never realized how young that was until I had children of my...
Wait, the bartender has asked if I want another house margarita. Frozen without salt. Sure, why not? This is why I chose the bar closest to my house to drink. I can drive home or even walk...if I have had more than one...on the back roads. They are super curvy and filled with potholes but that makes them less traveled. Less likely to get randomly pulled over by a curious police officer; and if the cop happens to be my neighbor, he will likely just escort me home. This is a perk of living in suburbia in a middle-class neighborhood. The cops are your neighbors.
The margarita just arrived, and I find myself giving the bartender a thumbs-up for the second time. What the actual fuck? Have I never had a social outing in my life? Well of course I have. I did more than my fair share of partying when I was a flight attendant for 25 years until I was injured and took early retirement. I contemplate why it is that I make lame gestures now such as winks and thumbs-ups...reminiscent of a creepy old man.
I am a woman. I am 58 years old. I still look pretty good despite 34 years of gaslighting and narcissistic abuse. I did have that one spell—when my husband had a freak accident on vacation and almost died—where my hair was falling out in clumps with the roots still attached. At first, when I noticed the clumps of hair lying on the floor after a quick blow-dry, I thought they looked like doll hair and my first thought was Ka-burp-ee...the doll Santa brought me when I was in third grade. Her real name, in the Sears and Roebuck Catalog, was Diddee Darling; but once her hair became lumpy and threadbare, she became Ka-burp-ee. If you woke up with Ka-burp-ee in your bed in the morning, you were the big loser for the day.
Since the four of us kids all slept in one tiny bedroom, it was easy to slip her into the oversized crib with my four-year-old sister. It didn't just end there either. My brother and I piled Lincoln Logs and a Slinky and even an Easy Bake Oven on top of Ka-burp-ee and; therefore, my sister by default. We couldn't risk that monster-like-doll-creature getting out and ending up under one of our pillows.
Well, my baby brother couldn't have a pillow. He was a year old and had some kind of disorder where he projectile vomited any time he was fed. He almost died but was admitted to Duke University Hospital where they performed a cutting-edge esophageal stretch surgery. It didn't work and the surgeon gave my mom and dad "the speech" preparing them for his upcoming death. When they checked him out one more time before sending him home to basically starve to death—since he couldn't keep anything down—lo and behold, the doctors said a miracle had occurred. His esophagus was completely normal.
I thought that was probably a pretty good thing but was too busy feeling nauseous from looking into the backseat of a taxicab parked by the emergency room at the hospital. A kid told me that someone had gotten shot in the course of a robbery in that cab. I being skeptical snuck down while my parents were preoccupied with my baby brother's impending death and had a closer look. The front seat and Plexiglas partition that separated the driver from the paying passenger looked pristine and I was about to tell that kid that he was a big fat liar until I gazed into the backseat. The vinyl seat cushion had a massive rust-colored stain and there was something that reminded me of my grandmother's chicken and dumplings on the floorboard. A mental image of the flesh-colored gore invades my mind and…
Wait, the bartender just asked if I was finished with my plate, and I said yes. My appetite is sort of ruined thinking about the chicken and dumpling thing. He whisked my half-eaten order of beef fajita nachos away.
Anyway, the margaritas and scrambled thoughts have me kind of reeling, and I think about my childhood—not the funny stuff—and how completely fucked up it was, and it somehow puts it all in perspective. Everything I went through gave me strength and fortitude, preparing me mentally for this moment of realization...I don't need him. I am finally ready to make my way on my own.
I am at a bar all by myself on a Friday night but I feel less lonely than I ever did when I was with my husband.
I catch the bartender's attention; give him a thumbs-up and a wink and say, "Check, please."
By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by true events
An entry in the WOW (Women on Writing) Q3 -2020 Nonfiction Essay Contest,
and a Carve Magazine 2020-Nonfiction Essay Contest [pending announcement of winners].