The following is an excerpt from my first book – Beautiful Trainwreck: Off the Rails. We do not choose the ones who impact us and neither do they. We have a responsibility to one another to understand the purpose of us being in eachother’s lives.
When I lived in Springfield, Illinois I didn’t have many friends and I honestly knew why. I had a variety of emotional problems and was not finding ways to deal with them appropriately. For one, I was suffering from an undiagnosed brain injury due to the fear it would be another threat to the military career I sacrificed near everything for, including my life. I knew something was wrong. People told me something was wrong. But everyone I knew who sought help got tossed out of the military by force. I was too close to the retirement I worked so hard for. I realize today that was self-deprecating behavior and it hurt me in the long run, but I mean come on man, I loved my military job. As I tried to tough it out and seek help, I developed some piss poor habits. I got addicted to pain pills, I took sleeping pills on a nightly basis, and I drank. JFC, I drank a lot. It was my choice and I accept responsibility for what I have done.
It was my normal. Let me ask you, what is yours?
During that time, a lot of things were taking place all at once. My career was ending on a bad note, my in-laws who moved less than 15 minutes away from my home in Caseyville, Illinois a few years prior had now completely taken over my marriage values during my absence, intentionally ostracizing me from both my wife and son who I was living apart from due to my assignment. At the time, I was struggling to make it through some difficult events. I admit that I became a weak individual and after being bullied around and hearing my father in law (Jonathan) make enough jokes and suggestions about it, I finally considered taking my own life. Yes, Trainwrecks, I reached a point where an inexperienced and uneducated beta-male conveniently moved into my marriage and took over all decisions that were being made. I warn you that it can happen to anyone if we do not maintain a strong frame of existence. I put my career before my family because thought it was the right thing to do.
While living in Springfield, Illinois two of my friends I served with were killed overseas and three others committed suicide back here in the US after surviving combat. It seemed like every time I turned around, I was either losing another friend or I was getting whacked with more bad news like yet another Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) threatening my career. Shortly after my return from Camp Bucca, Iraq and my injuries at work while stateside, I was reassigned 100 miles from my family and then handed two consecutive MEBs. My Commendation Medal was found shoved into a filing cabinet on the other side of base and forgotten about without me ever being notified. I felt worthless.
I know, “thank you for your service, right?” I kept asking my military leadership for help and the only response they gave was to punish me, foolishly thinking that would improve my obedience and make their own life easier. It did neither. I made sure of that. Even worse was I wasn’t making any new friends to replace the ones that were dying or taking their lives. At this point I was counting on my toes how many friends I served with that were gone.
Just fucking gone.
Ever since I began travelling overseas, I developed a taste for a variety of beers, and even as I travel now, I often seek out a place to eat; that simply serves a good burger and a beer. I’m easy to impress. It’s something I’ve always done and prolly will always do as a place like that is often a great place to hang out and meet people. Within a few days of moving to Springfield and settling into the 1850’s Victorian home my wife and I invested in, I found such a place. It was a cool old building that was converted into a restaurant after it was moved from its original location. During those times I admit I was pretty ashamed of myself and some things that had recently taken place in my life, and that was reflective on how I behaved around others. I became very timid and reserved and honestly don’t really know what to say other than I was a complete mess.
The first time I met the Red Headed Bartender she gave me a rash of shit and then she quickly retreated. She noticed right away that I was a defeated individual. I’ve learned women generally test men in their own way when they first meet them to get an idea of who they are. Call it a mental inventory they can evaluate and make future decisions based upon. Men generally do not do this unless there is a (logistical) specified reason. Some women will even go so far as to subtly challenge men (of the women I’ve dated, black females do this the most), mostly because it’s fun and they’re bored. There isn’t always a reason. Trainwrecks, this is just what women do to get to know you and if anything, it should be taken as a compliment. It’s fun if you participate. Men: if we let this get to our heads, we end up simply making a fool of ourselves. Demographics will often play a part in how women test men but if we ever feel challenged by a pretty bartender, chances are they just want to know what kind of person they are dealing with before they serve us alcohol. Especially if we are a dude she has never met before. SGAFWOPTAY
Conversely, women like R can easily spot a lame horse. Bartenders like this one put up with a lot of shit from a variety of people and usually come out swinging. R likely never understood exactly what she does to people, how she’s doing it and why, but I do. Spend long enough studying human behavior and you will finally begin to understand. This chick was charismatic and full of life. This girl was lightly bitchy, yet she had a soft warmth once you got past her jagged edges (if she let you). Trainwrecks, she is a red-head and I’ve known a few in my day, do I really need to say more? Sometimes I was so agoraphobic when I got to the pub she worked at, I would spend an hour or more pretending to read the menu, escaping into my own little world and trying to calm myself down.
She could tell I was uncomfortable and would do subtle things to release the tension like tell me a random funny story. This chick knew I was struggling with something. I could tell she knew, and she was curious but respectful of my boundaries. At times when my anxiety showed up, I would stare at the yellow R/C plane in the ceiling rafters and think about what it must be like to fly away from my life down here and feel free up there. On the worst nights, I would arrive at the pub and it would be a madhouse. I would be so uncomfortable I would immediately flee back to my green Victorian off North 5th street.
The red-headed bartender had a profound effect on my life when I needed another human being the most. A time when the ones I sought help from either ignored me or cast me aside. The red-headed bartender is an example of how we as human beings can be there for someone, not necessarily by things we are doing, but by the way we are being. Who we are as an individual. Trainwrecks, we have very few opportunities to meet the people who will have a major impact on our lives. What this means is it is our responsibility to learn what we can from everyone and to give importance to another human being no matter how different they might be. R and I had very little in common. She was younger than me and very pretty. I was an overweight pill addict with a drinking problem. She was a happier person than me. I had long since finished Grad school, daydreaming about my PhD daily and she talked about her aspirations for an art degree. She was magnetic and drew people in with her personality. She had a unique 70s inspired style that few will get. I got it and I really dug it. I just, understood, I guess.
I have no doubt a significant part of her job as a bartender is to be polite and to show a shred of interest to the life of customers, but she was different toward me and to be honest, I could never explain it. It wasn’t long after I became a regular at that brewpub that I realized how kind and genuine this person was despite how different she and I were. Trainwrecks, she and I were different as night and day. At the time, it confused me someone who barely knew me called me by name, knew my son’s name, and wasn’t interested just because she wanted a better tip. She was interested because that was what type of person she is. During that time in my life I was deeply embedded in my convoluted search for an identity to replace the one that was torn away from me against my will. I was a very negative person because I blamed the world for things in my life that I couldn’t control. During the time I lived in Springfield, Illinois I said goodbye to several friends who either died in combat or committed suicide when they returned home from war. Like most alcoholics, I rarely let others know how truly bad things were in my life and the few I did would simply tell me to suck it up and press on. It was during the time I knew R, that I battled my own suicide. There were several times we talked I wanted to suddenly blurt what I was thinking about doing but I could never bring myself to unload that onto R, as it would not have been fair to do that to her. This wasn’t her mess and she doesn’t carry my guilt. I knew she felt sorry for me because she knew I was battling demons and she never once held it against me. To myself, that was precious and something I will always treasure.
There were a variety of factors and a handful of people that affected my decision to shit-can my suicidal ideations. Before then, I had a very fragmented view of myself and even worse I developed a jaded view of others. I was convinced the world hated me and there was simply nothing I could do about it.
The problem was Trainwrecks, there were several flaws in my logic and conclusions. For one, I never counted on someone so different and disconnected from me to make me question myself like that out of nowhere. I couldn’t understand why a stranger like her gave a shit about someone like me and made it a point to make me feel like a human being, but she did. More importantly I could not immediately understand why this person, who was so different than I, showed me kindness, even the few times I saw her outside of her work. This was the way I felt about myself at the time because of what I was doing to myself and as a result, I felt unworthy and undeserving of kindness from others. She was one of few people that influenced the change that occurred in myself. Her kindness opened my eyes to a lot of things I’d become blind to. For that, I am forever grateful.
Before I retired, the red-headed bartender moved out east and started a business. I was pretty bummed when she left, but like many friends I’ve made during my military career, I appreciated the time I got to spend around her. As I said, we have a responsibility to learn everything we can from others and I think the biggest takeaway from my friendship with her was the realization I wasn’t necessarily learning anything new about myself when I talked to her. The red-headed bartender was helping me remember the person I really was all along. You see, I never really told her much about my career and I told her even less about what I had experienced during my career. I never quite discussed my education or the things I once proudly did in the service. I never spoke of my work in Psychology or my once-high aspirations. I told her close to nothing.
She knew I was in the military and that was about it. When I spent time around the red-headed bartender she helped me remember who I was and made me feel more like the person I am today. Few people can make another person feel that way.
Trainwrecks, I have struggled with the concept of love my entire life and openly admit I have a rather convoluted view of what love is. The concept of love is what I have decided it is. It should only be what you think it is as well and not what someone else tells you. I have felt completely unloved and I have felt the subtleties of love and compassion in even the briefest encounters with others. Throughout my life I have embraced my experiences with violence and my heart-breaking understanding that we do not always receive back the love that we feel toward someone else. Even more confusing to me has been the anomaly of love and compassion from a complete stranger. Really, what is love other than simple kindness to another human being for no apparent reason. I mean do we really need a reason? That is something R would ask.
The red-headed bartender taught me something very important that I have come to understand. From my experiences with her, she helped shape my belief we all have more commonalities that bring us together and make us feel human than we have that drive us apart and that is honestly what is important. If we choose to connect and share a moment with each other, these commonalities no matter how subtle, will become the basis of a connection. I think the biggest commonality R and I shared was neither of us knew what Hell we were supposed to be doing in life only that we were supposed to be looking for what the next step is – and taking it. I think the biggest commonality I found with the red-headed bartender was compassion for another human and dare I say it, an element of love toward a stranger. Just because that is who she is.
You’re Welcome. Internet.