by Coleen Holley
“Compliments of the gentleman.” The barkeeper tilted his head at the man sitting at the end of the bar.
The man had graying hair, clear, sky blue eyes, and seemed vaguely familiar. He looked up from his drink, met my eyes, and took the seat next to me.
The smell of smoke and whiskey wafted towards me, reminding me of hours spent at the bar with my husband. He glanced at the scar running across my finger. “Do you have any scars?” He asked.
Scars? Really? I thought, but said, “Everyone has scars.”
“We all have marks of our past at our age, don’t we?”
“But most of mine you can’t see,” I mused, taking a sip of the drink. The whiskey burned as it coursed down my throat. Accepting drinks from strangers was not something I did.
He raised a brow at me and asked, “So, tell me about your scars, sweetheart.” He saluted me with his drink.
“You might want to get comfortable,” I said, raising my own glass in return.
“That bad huh? You’re too young to have so many emotional scars.”
I gazed into my glass thinking that at fifty, I was too old to start over, too young to be alone. “I had a charmed life, or at least I thought so, until I turned forty. My husband and I decided we finally wanted kids.”
“You’re married?” he frowned. Was he disappointed?
“Well, yeah,” I shrugged, “but he won’t mind.” The words felt like lead on my tongue. “He’s dead.” I took another sip to cover my pain.
The man choked on his drink. He shifted in his chair. “What happened?”
“My scars or how my husband died?” I twirled my glass.
“Either. Both. Tell me about your life.” He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and asked, “Do you mind if I smoke?”
I shook my head. I stared into my drink, those memories made me smile. They also made my heart ache with the emptiness I now felt. I grimaced, “I thought I had the perfect life. I met the man of my dreams when I was seventeen. We were young, in love, and married a few years later.”
“We built our careers and our home. Having children wasn’t a priority. We thought there would be time later to have children.” The painful memories of endometriosis, surgery, and treatment came flooding back. “We were wrong,” I whispered.
My brows furrowed. Like I always did, I felt guilty at my jealousy as I wondered if he had any children. I continued, “At forty, I finally became pregnant. We were happy.” I took another swig of my drink to clear the tightness from my throat, allowing the whiskey to soothe the ache in my soul.
“But at eighteen weeks we found out our daughter had a severe genetic disorder, a heart defect, and an incomplete digestive tract. Her chances weren’t good. Three different doctors told us she would need immediate surgery. Even then, her chances for survival were slim.”
I tried to blink back the tears. “We did the unthinkable. We chose to end the pregnancy. We wanted her. We grieved, and we nearly killed each other during that time.” I wiped away the tears on my cheeks.
The man lit another cigarette, “Go on,” he said when I paused. His eyes had a haunted look as he watched me.
I wasn’t sure why I was pouring my heart out to a stranger. Was there something in the drink? I hated going out alone, but I needed to get away. The quiet of the empty house was making me insane.
I continued, “We decided to try IVF, but it failed. We used a donor for eggs and did PGD. It worked. We knew we were having twin boys, and they would be healthy. We were happy again.” I remembered the few days of joy we had, picking out names for our boys. “But it didn’t last. At seven weeks, I miscarried.” More scars. How many was that?
“So, you don’t have any kids?” His eyes glistened in the dim light of the bar, a frown twitching at his lips.
I shook my head, “There’s a lot more, do you want me to continue or have you had enough of my sob-story?” The drink made me bold.
He swallowed the last of his drink and motioned to the barkeep for another. “Go on. You want another?”
I wasn’t done with mine yet, so I took the last gulp and nodded, “Sure.” I needed more to keep going.
“After we lost our twins, we each lost one parent. His mother to ALS. My father to a heart attack. Gone. They were just… gone. I grieved. He grieved. We grieved,” I gripped the glass in my hand, and my knuckles turned white. The man could see I was upset.
“You sound angry,” he said, jangling the ice cubes in his glass. His look was unreadable.
I stiffened, “I am angry. Life is unfair, it sucks. Life takes good people. We both hated life, and… each other. Yet we loved each other. More grief.” Too many scars.
I took a big swallow of my beverage. I hadn’t talked about these losses in years. Why now?
“So what did you do about it?” His brows creased like he was angry too.
“We moved, hoping a change of scenery and lifestyle would help. We kept trying naturally to have a child, but it never happened. I was forty-four. It wasn’t meant to be.” I thought I was okay with that as long as I had him.
But things didn’t work out. My scars were adding up.
“We argued. He was gone. A lot. When he came home, he was usually drunk,” I spit out the words. “He never beat me. Not physically anyway.” I remembered the pain he could inflict with a single word. “He tortured me with words. They cut like a knife. It was my fault.” My tongue felt too thick. I took another sip. “Everything was my fault.”
He gazed at me, tears in his eyes. “It wasn’t all your fault, though. He drank because he thought it was his fault. He had scars too.” The man lit another cigarette, raised his glass to his lips, and swallowed.
It was my turn to choke on my drink. How could he know that?
When he reached over to pat me on the back, I noticed the tiny tattoo of a cross on his hand. My husband had a similar tattoo…
“We all have emotional scars, but they don’t define us. Please, keep going,” he said. He casually left his hand on my back. It felt comfortable. I didn’t shrug it off.
I cleared my throat and went on, “We were both so scarred by then that we didn’t know how to fix things. I begged him to stop drinking, to stay home and spend time with me. I was so desperately alone.”
“We’d moved to a place where I had no friends, no family. Neither did he. We tried to work things out, to start over, but he had the pub.”
“Did he stop drinking?” The man said as he rubbed my back.
I glanced at him. All this time, I hadn’t noticed the only thing I could see clearly on him were his eyes. Why were his other features fuzzy? I looked at my drink and took another sip.
“No, and when I told him I wouldn’t be there for him when he got home, he just shrugged.” Life didn’t matter. Just like that day, nothing mattered anymore. I lost count of my scars. “I took the handful of pills. He watched me take them and then drove off. He left me there with water running down my chin!”
Tears shone in his eyes. He whispered, “I’m sure he didn’t know what you’d done. He wouldn’t have left you if he’d known.”
“No, no he wouldn’t. I called a neighbor, and they took me to the hospital. I didn’t really want to die, but I didn’t want to go on. My neighbors got him from the pub and sobered him up.” I couldn’t remember anything from the hospital. It was all black.
“It created more scars – for both of us. He did quit drinking after that. We moved again, not very far, but away from the pub. We even worked things out for a while.”
“Then what happened?” The man leaned closer. I could smell the whiskey on his breath.
“He died,” I broke. “He had a heart attack and died.” The tears streamed down my face.
The man looked at me with those beautiful sky blue eyes. His features cleared, “I’m so sorry. I had my own scars. But it’s okay. We’re together again. Now our scars can heal.”
He kissed me, and I knew him. It was okay. We were together, and none of our scars mattered any more.