I lost a couple of things temporarily in the divorce: Amestoy's, and Narducci's.
Though I am an East Bakersfield native and Ben migrated here from Orange County, he quickly took to the local food and bar scene. Certain places just became his. Amestoy's, just down the street from the house, was one of them. Narducci's, affectionately called "The Dootch," was another. I've known bartenders and patrons at both places for many years, having become a staple myself in the East Bakersfield bar scene after nearly 10 years of service in it. But Ben was a regular at both spots, and after so many years in the business, I know how comfortable - and talkative - regulars can be.
For years I've listened to men complain about their nagging, crochety, bitchy wives. Their wives who just don't understand them. The wives that just want to keep these independent, hard-working men under their thumbs. The wives whose phone calls are rattling the men's cell phones while they ask for one more drink. Now that I have been one of those wives I shudder to think about what kinds of things have been said about me.
When the time came to walk into Amestoy's again, the fear was a little bit more mild. I'd been to Amestoy's many times before I'd ever even met Ben, and the bar is in walking distance from my home. Besides, the crowd at Amestoy's had been instrumental in raising funds so that Ben and I didn't have to pay for Gabriel's funeral, cremation, or interment services. The names of patrons and bartenders from both Amestoy's and Narducci's decorate the pages of Gabriel's funeral guest book. They know. They know, to some degree, what we went through. They witnessed the progression from happy newlyweds to crestfallen post-miscarriage parents, to blissfully expectant parents, to grieving parents, to fueding parents, to distant parents, to divorced parents. . . They know the ride that lasted just slightly under three years had been fast, and hard, and disastrous.
Yet I was afraid to walk back into Narducci's again. I kept my distance, having never been much of a patron their to begin with. Every once in a while, one of their bartenders would pop into Charly's and ask how I was doing. And if I'd heard from Ben.
On St. Patrick's Day evening I got a simple message: "Come to the Dootch." The sender and I had been casually dating for a couple of months, and St. Patrick's Day was his birthday, a bit of a milestone birthday this particular year. I hesitated when I opened the message. Sender had graciously been my date and companion on a number of occassions in situations that probably made him less than comfortable. And it was Sender's birthday. And it was a holiday. . .
"Okay," I responded. I called for back-up, dragging another friend along with me with promises of being the driver for the evening. I slunk into the bar and bee-lined for Sender. Sender was lively with celebratory spirit, and I imagined that I felt the eyes of the people I knew boring into me. The place was packed, and the bartenders barely had time to think, let alone think about me, but my paranoia bubbled inside of me.
"There she is. The ex-wife of the ex-chef at the Marriott. You know, the one with the dead baby. It's so sad. That must be why she drinks. I would too, if everything I lived for were gone. Is she here with Sender? Isn't it too soon for her to be dating? Pretty convenient, huh? No kid to look after - She drove the ex off to South Carolina so now I guess she thinks she can just run around doing whatever she wants."
The Dootch was wall to wall with drunk young, barely-of-drinking-age girls, rowdy men, and a band. No one would have cause to even take notice of me as I sat inconspicuously. Reason tells me now it was all in my imagination. But at the time it felt painfully real.
I made it out of The Dootch that evening relatively unscathed. The same can't be said for Sender - mid-morning text messages informed me that he was feeling the effects of a long day of celebrating.
I've gone back to The Dootch a few times, and each time it gets a little easier. I do find myself wondering what life might have been like if there were no Narducci's - but I know that there's always a Narducci's. If it's not Narducci's, it's a Shooters, or a Sandtrap. It's not lost on me that my life with Ben began and ended in a bar and that maybe a lesson to take away is to just avoid them. But I know that the problem wasn't the bar. The problem runs much deeper and the problem runs through us both. I've spent the last year wrestling the problems, trying to accept responsibility for my faults, and making conscious choices to do things differently now.
I've done a lot of growing up in bars and all in all, I think working in bars has given me courage, strength, and confidence. I'll awlways be a bar girl. But I won't always be so broken. In fact, every day I find that I've healed just a little bit more.