Life had left me stranded after a divorce. Not only was my family of five quickly dwindling but I also had to go back to the ‘Civi World’. After getting into the way of Military life, you have a love/hate relationship with it, but the family it builds is amazing.
I was crying in desperation one night, the weight of the world on my shoulders. Please God show me how to do this, I pleaded. Not able to just sit in my lonely apartment one night, I got in my car and was just going to drive. I had no clue where but I didn’t want to be there and kind of didn’t want to be alone. I got only two minutes down the road before a small sign caught my eye. Sunnys bar, it seemed small and quiet. I thought well thats perfect, someplace I can escape but not be alone. I didn’t know what made me want to go to a bar, alone and in the middle of the night but I did. This was not a well known place, you could barely see the sign. So no surprise when I walked in there was nobody there.
I sat down and asked for the only drink I really knew to ask for at the time. A jack and coke, please, I asked. The Soldier/bartender informed me they were about to close but could offer me water. I was almost insulted but I took it anyway. I felt eyes staring at me and turned to see this older Korean woman eyeing me. She was the owner of the bar and didn’t hesitate to walk up to me and start talking. She asked if I needed a job. Well, actually, yes, very much! Any experience with bartending, she inquired. My heart sank as I said “Not really, just worked at a beer only bar for awhile”. This was fine for her and she said she would help me get my license. Being eyed up and down seemed really weird at the time. I guess she was checking out how I dressed and how I looked. I came to learn that meant something to her. I had a job it seemed out of no where. But, a bartender? Me? Crazy but heck, lets give it a try.
Sunnys was a Soldiers bar. Being just down the road from almost all the gates, the location was perfect. The odd thing was, the only advertising was word of mouth. The small sign was mostly hidden beneath another bigger, brighter sign. The bar itself was behind the building and down, like a basement. After I started working there, I learned it was a certain crowd that would come in. Mostly higher ranking Soldiers, Captains and even a Major. Although you had other ranks, those who were ‘regulars’ here because it was small and quiet. By being not overly popular, it kept the ‘regulars’ keep coming back. It was a home away from home.
I learned quickly that my main ‘job’ was actually more like being a counselor than a bartender. (This is why I’d never bartend anywhere else). The regulars got used to me, just as I did to them. I would learn their habits and routines and usually have their drink as they were walking in the door. They pointed out things about me like I would constantly empty the ashtray, it never had ashes in it. I personally can’t stand smoking so I guess it helped me keep it clean. Of course though, you had your smokers and your tobacco chewers. I catered to their needs. Although the thing they needed most was someone to talk to.
Working with Soldiers on a daily basis, I felt like I wasn’t totally leaving the Military life behind. I was helping them but they didn’t realize just how much they were helping me too. I became friends with my regulars and would hang out with them on my nights off. I guess none of us really wanted to be alone. I enjoyed their friendship more than anything. They were beasts! Some Soldiers were angry and bitter, others were very much into working out and bulking up. Some were sad, others just needed that release and to vent. I heard tons of stories from war, and about family. They were so honest with me that at first I didn’t know how to take it or how to respond. I fell in love with this intense honesty and blunt way of speaking. I wish everybody would act like this and just say whats on their mind. After becoming my friend too, they would help protect me as I entered the dating world. It was amazingly fun having these Soldiers have my back. I could meet potential dates there and know I was in safe territory and had people watching my back. Even having one Soldier take my phone and take care of a guy who was harassing me.
Yes, on my nights off, I would drink with them. I was their bartender, so they took good care of me. They would often buy my drinks and when I drank too much (which happened a few times), they caught me when I fell. Literally. I had Soldiers holding my hair back while I puked, had them carrying me out of the bar because I’d had too much. Then one Soldier whom had trusted me to take him home, would take me home. He would get me on my couch and I’d wake up to find my keys, cards, cash and anything else, close by. Plus he locked the door on the way out. My respect for these men went above any respect I’d ever felt. Although, I knew, through their honesty, that I should very well avoid dating Soldiers. It took me awhile to learn that for myself.
This is only the beginning of these bartender tales. It was the rock bottom of my life where these Soldiers helped lift me up and change my world. I will always appreciate what they did for me and for letting me in their heads, to help them. The best part is I still get to keep in touch with some of them. I check on my Vets all over the country, as we are now spread far and wide.
Who knew, the night I was lost was just the beginning of finding myself?