* * * * * DO WHAT YOU LOVE * * * * *
Sitting alone at the bar closest to my house during happy hour on a Friday night 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 a slew of trust shattering events occurred…again…on February 28th, the anti-versary of the first time my husband and I were married in 1987.
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. If I have more than one, I can drive home or even walk 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 officer happened to be my neighbor, he would likely just escort me home. This is a benefit 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 mingling 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 middle-aged woman. 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. When he was almost two years old, he had some kind of disorder that caused him to projectile vomit any time he ate, which was both scary and disgusting. We (my other brother, sister and I) gave him a wide berth when we passed by his playpen on our way outside to play. He almost died but was admitted to Duke University Hospital where they performed a cutting-edge esophageal stretch procedure. 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. The surgeon couldn’t explain it except to suggest that perhaps someone had been praying. Duh. Everyone was praying.
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. During my brother’s procedure, a kid told me that someone had gotten shot in the course of a robbery in that cab. Being skeptical, I 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 messed up it was to move every year on the whim of a father suffering with undiagnosed schizophrenia, and it somehow puts it all in perspective. Everything I went through in my childhood gave me inner strength and the ability to persevere until our children were old enough to not have to endure a big custody battle. That was what kept me there all those years…the first time. What possessed me to hop back in a second time? Perhaps it was a trauma bond or maybe I am broken. I really can’t explain. I nurse the rest of my margarita. Thinking. Though I feel broken, I am not broken, just a little bent. I know I am better off now…I don't need him. It feels like an uphill battle; but I am finally ready to take back my life. 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 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
Created for a WOW! (Women on Writing) Q-3 2020 Non-fiction Essay Contest Fall 2020
Coming Soon to Short Story Town (November 27, 2021)