Friday, February 28, 2014

But For the Rain

It's 1:30 P.M. on a Friday afternoon, and I've finally torn open the box of Thin Mints that has been sitting on my desk since Monday. Although I've opened two other packages earlier in the week I am still proud of the resistance I've shown. Once the Thin Mints are open, they may as well be written off. They won't last long from here. I imagine they won't see 5:00.

My afternoon deposition was cancelled, to my relief, but the medical records from the case are still open before me on my desk, along with Wikipedia tabs for the entries on "compartment syndrome" and "fasciotomy." The applicant that I was supposed to depose today had a severe accident and sustained nerve injury that resulted in loss of function of his left arm. The medicals are peppered with discussion of amputation. The applicant isn't even 30 years old.

In my mind, I know this guy has it bad and I'm sorry for him, but in my heart I'm struggling to care much today. It's just one of those days.

Maybe it's the way the sky keeps taunting me. This morning there was rain but by the time I got to the office it had stopped, and when I left for lunch only a few tell-tale puddles remained glistening in the sun, which had broken through the clouds to make an appearance. But before I finished my lunch the clouds had opened up again, emptying the much-needed rain into our valley, giving local farmers a taste of liquid hope.

I hadn't worn a sweater and was shieled from the rain only by a thin jersey-knit dress and a pair of maternity panty hose hiked up over my belly. I sloshed through the water, grateful for the height on my patent leather heels, back to my car. I abandoned the errand I intended to run on my lunch hour and instead darted straight back to the office.

Here I sit. Half a roll of Thin Mints down. Outside the sky is dark but still and for the moment, the rain seems to have passed. And as I sit, I wonder what's really so very bad about the rain. I wonder why a little cold should necessitate a cookie binge, when somewhere out there a young man is learning to live without his left arm and I am typing this blog, able-bodied.

When you take a step back it becomes a little easier to acknowledge that every storm will pass. Every storm, every rain, every flood is just temporary.

But when you're standing in it, when the water is seeping through to your bones, when you're cloaked in the rain and you can't dodge the storm you are simply helpless. You are exposed and vulnerable and you ache and you feel anything but cleansed by the showers falling from the sky and though you know you'll find shelter eventually, as you're standing in it you know that you are stuck just having to wade your way through.

As I look past my little boy's picture this afternoon through the windows at the dark sky, I know that I will have to brave the weather again. I know that the time will come today when I will have to leave my office, and when I do it will likely be raining outside. Right now, Rocco is moving inside of me, content with lunch and cookies having been delivered to him or her. I love Rocco so much, so very much. Still, I love Gabriel too, from the bottom of my aching heart. The longing Gabriel is ever-present, even while I press myself into any shelter I can find, always threatening to storm and flood my world again.

There is no rainbow, but for the rain.

Monday, February 24, 2014

10 Years That Changed My World

Ten years ago today I walked into Charly's Bar to run a solo shift for the first time. It was a Wednesday, and I had been training for the previous two nights with Jed, who promised he'd make an appearance that evening to hold my hand, should I require hand-holding. That evening was also the first time I met Charlie Gibson, who had put the bar manager Cindy in charge of hiring me. He was drinking a gin and tonic at a barstool right in front of the drink well, and though he was kind and unintimidating, I was nervous. I was 22, and had only been bartending for a year. I'd walked out on my previous job as a cocktail waitress at Black Angus, though I was in the process of paying off my DUI fines at the time, and I knew I needed this job. I knew I was fortunate that the employer took a chance on me, an unemployed, under-experienced 22-year old girl who may or may not have had a drinking problem at the time.

In those days I was known for two things: Long, thick dark hair and naivate. Though when I first started at Charly's I was already recovering from some trauma, not the least of which was the still-raw feelings I was wrestling from having been raped by two aggressors less than 3 years earlier, I found that doe-eyed innocence served as the best schtick for me among my fellow-bartenders. It was a persona that was missing among the staff, the niche that needed to be filled. I wasn't cool like Jed, I wasn't busty like Cindy, and I wasn't old like Charlotte with a gravely smoker's voice, and so feigned innocence it was.

That night Sean Talbert walked in at about 11:00 p.m. Although I had served Sean for the past two nights during my training with Jed and Sean drank the most popular call, Bud Light, I struggled to remember on my first shift what his regular drink was and had to be reminded. He sat at the end of the bar near the game machine, where I would see him many times in the next year, and where, after his suicide, I would be able to imagine him most vividly.

Some might say it took courage to return to work at Charly's after I discovered Sean's dead body in his apartment nearly one year later. The place for me was drenched in his memory. But I couldn't stay away. I didn't want to stay away. I wanted to be where we first met, I wanted to be where we had made so many memories. I wanted to be where, when I was alone at closing time, I could still feel his presence. I wanted him to haunt me because in my guilt I felt I had to be haunted by him. I didn't think I deserved to move on, even when I did.

And I did move on. I pushed myself through the rest of the year at CSUB. I continued to bring my homework to the bar during my shifts, five of them per week amounting to 40 hours a week, to work on during the down time. Customers quizzed me on French vocabulary and encouraged me to keep moving forward. They urged me to smile, even when I didn't want to. They delighted in my updates as I applied to law school. My first acceptance letter, from Whittier Law School where I ultimately attended, was circulated proudly among the patrons. It was a group accomplishment.

Sometime after I received that admissions acceptance, Marcos Lopez walked into my bar on his first date with a girl. There was nothing eventful about the evening for me, that I can recall, and even for Marcos that first date never amounted to much more, until years later when we encountered each other again on

In the years following that first meeting with Marcos I went to law school, returning to Charly's which by then had been sold to Rick and Lynn Wright and become The Wright Place during the summer and during winter breaks to fill in shifts here and there. After having my offer with the Public Defender's Office revoked due to a county hiring freeze, Rick and Lynn let me come back to work as a floater. I took on shifts as they came up, and did some legal practice by day.

Shortly after I was married I learned I was pregnant, and at two weeks proudly made the announcement to Rick and Lynn and patrons of the bar. I endured the inquiries from patrons after I miscarried 7 weeks later. I held the secret of my second pregnancy until I thought I had passed the danger zone, at which point I announced the impending birth of what I knew in my heart was my son. I'd intended to leave the gender to be a surprise, and so it must have come as some surprise to the patrons who received my letter in March, introducing my son Gabriel to them. Of course, the bigger surprise was revalation of Gabriel's birth defect and fatal prognosis. Still, when I returned to The Wright Place after the great reveal I was met with love, support, encouragement and kindness. My customers, who over the years had grown to be my friends, watched my belly grow and waited with anticipation on the day that I delivered. They rejoiced with me in my son's birth. They helped fill a church and cried with me over his death. They allowed me to continue serving them even when I wasn't happy, even when I couldn't listen to their problems because I was drowning in my own. When I needed it they made me feel the way a bartender rarely gets to feel - Like I mattered more than the customer. They made me feel like I could make it through this, even when I thought I couldn't. They reminded me how I'd survived Sean's death years before. They reminded me that I would survive even the divorce that followed Gabriel's death.

Gabriel lived for ten days, and in that ten days he changed the world in a way that few people get to do in a much longer lifetime. I've been in and out of Charly's/The Wright Place for ten years, and those ten years have shaped my world.

My schtick has changed. No one would mistake me for naive anymore. My hair is a little thinner, my skin a little thicker. I'm now more than a persona - I'm truly the bartending lawyer with strength, intelligence, and endurance.

Sean's ghost still sits on a barstool at the end of the bar. Gabriel's picture is displayed prominently above the register. Sometimes I stumble across pictures from my bachelorette party, when I was still so full of hope in my upcoming marriage. The memories of the last ten years are still very clear in my mind.

But I continue to make new memories. I find myself behind that same bar, pregnant again with my rainbow baby. The love of my life and I find ourselves sitting on those same old bar stools on the occassional Friday night. When I am there I am surrounded by the people I may never have met but for a little dive bar in East Bakersfield, but who have become the friends that have carried me through the most difficult times in my life and who I am pleased to celebrate this new phase of my life with. After a decade of major life changes, some things remain the same. That little hole in the wall is more than just a neighborhood bar. It's the place that built me.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Still Loved

It's the most romantic day of the year and all that crap, which is what I was banking on when I decided to give Sean the weekend to himself when he wouldn't answer my phone calls on Thursday February 10, 2005. My plan was to let him have the next few days to think about things, and to miss me, and I would talk to him on Monday, on Valentine's Day. Of course, the results are well-known by my blog followers: I showed up at Sean's apartment after class on Monday to find him dead, lying next to the rifle he'd used to shoot himself.

Subsequent events included a 911 call, a parade of emergency vehicles, a brief questioning by the police to clear me of any participation in his death, a phone call to his dad Gary as I tried to beat the authorities to the punch so that he didn't have to hear the news in an official declaration the way I did, as though my eyes hadn't already told me all I needed to know. There was a meeting with Sean's mom Laurie which led to a verbal assault as to why I kept pursuing a relationship that was so clearly wrong, comforting words from Gary, Sean's sister Tracy, and his friends, a reversion to the Catholic faith after a 5-year leave of absence, and nine years of guilt even while my brain tells my conscience this wasn't my fault. Nine years of mourning a life cut short by his own hand. Nine years of wondering who he would be today, what his children might have looked like. Nine years of missing the person who clearly wasn't meant to be my life partner, but who did understand me and my hurt and my trauma at the time better than anyone I had ever met. Nine years of wondering what's become of his soul.

I don't think there will ever come a time when I don't cringe at the sight of Valentine's Day decor. The memories of Valentine's Day 2005 are a stain in my memory that won't be dissolved. But this year the blow has been softened slightly by a message received in my Facebook inbox from Laurie this year. Unlike the meeting nine years ago between a devastated mother and a 23-year old girl still in shock, this was a message from one mourning mother to another. We now had the unspeakable in common. We were now two women, struggling every day to keep ploughing through life with the holes in our heart left when our sons left this world.

Laurie told me that I would never really get over the loss of my son, but I would learn to find happiness again. She told me that the day Tracy was married was the happiest day of her life and I know, even without her saying so, that as happy as she was, she distinctly noticed Sean's missing presence on that day. I know that she must have felt something like I feel when Rocco moves and I long for Gabriel's two and a half year old's hand to place over my belly to share the moment with. I know that on this holiday, when the world is so full of love, Laurie and I are both suffering in a way that we've become experts at disguising.

I've learned the hard way that I'm better off spending Valentine's Day sober. This year, for the third year in a row, I will be the sober host of the Anti-Valentine's Day party in the very bar where Sean and I met ten years ago. The backlash against Valentine's Day commercial grossness has grown, and for the last two years the party has been well-attended and well-received. We make angry toasts to our exes, and heckle the unfortunate couples who dare to enter our territory and display their affection among us. We sing break-up songs, done-me-wrong songs, and get-lost songs and find surprising joy in an evening centered on something so seemingly negative. We're all happy to be right where we are. I always make my last toast to Sean, and urge attendees that even while I mock this most romantic of holidays, I would encourage anyone who is able to find love to grab it with both hands. We should never let go of love.

This year I also can't help but note that one more thing is missing: My Valentine's Day gift from 14 years ago, my cat Lily, was put to sleep last July. I've spent many February 14ths, particularly since Sean's death, celebrating her homecoming day in effort to redirect my focus. I do miss her this year, even while my parents' home where she resided now houses a new kitten.

I've come to accept that there will always be people missing from my life. It's not the "normal" kind of missing, either - Who expects to bury their boyfriend at age 23, and then their child at age 29? Who knows how to come to terms with those losses without grasping and falling short and screwing up sometimes? I've done all of the above, but I've been blessed to have people to cling to, people to pick me up, people who don't abandon me when I screw up. On this Valentine's Day as I once again wrestle my warped views of life and love and romance I have confidence that after I make it through this day once again, tomorrowo I will wake up still damaged, still struggling, still stained by the events in my life, and still loved.