The Lessons of a Dive Bar

I learned a lot in that year of working in that dive bar. I learned about dive bar music. Lynard Skynard and Stevie Ray Vaughn. To this day if any of that music plays anywhere near me I have a memory smell of cigarettes and stale beer.

I also learned about barflies, and I don’t mean the kind that comes out of unclean beer taps, but the kind that shows up at 11am and order “whatever is on special and a lot of it”. They don’t talk much until about the third round when suddenly they have gone from looking like death warmed over to telling jokes and stories of what happened at the bar the night before. As an 18-year-old, I never realized that I was looking at my future where I would be happiest sitting in “my stool” at my favorite bar telling stories about how I got my son drunk on his 21st birthday in this bar because it is “my bar”.

Now, I am 42 years old, that son is dead and my faith in God is pretty shaky, to say the least. I spend a lot of my time looking back on my life now to see where I could have changed the direction that would change where I am now. Where could I change the direction of my life so that Anthony didn’t end up dead by his own hand in my house that I walked around in for hours as his life slipped out of his body? Who am I? Where did I go wrong? How can I fix it? What is the purpose of my life?

For eight years that I have been Catholic, I have tried to be “good” which took me back to an insecure 17-year-old version of myself. I didn’t talk to people outside of Catholic circles and when I was outside of that circle, I felt this responsibility to be a representative of my religion. I thought that there was this mold of how to be Catholic and while I broke some of that mold, I knew exactly how far I could go and still advance in the “job” of it all. I am using all these quotations because the truth is that all of that imaging that most of us Catholic bloggers work so hard at is fake. And that goes for all of the PR work you see behind anything, even Catholic PR. Mine was. I was fake for the sake of being good. And I was good for the sake of getting paid in speaking or writing.

I realized a couple of weeks ago is that I no longer want that life. I want my faith to be the source of my life, not the source of my income. Nothing good comes from that. I end up trying to make myself into someone that I am not. I don’t enjoy the things that make my heart happy because I feel guilty for it. I think everyone who is not Catholic is my enemy. I don’t get to go to a damn drag race and talk about it, I have to keep it secret because if “anyone found out” bla bla bla. And so many Catholic writers/speaker live that way too. Who they are in public is really about who they GET to be without losing jobs. It is like being in jail. And I am breaking out. I am not trying to call anyone out for whatever they feel called to do. I just know that it is not how I was built to be.

Last Saturday I walked into my favorite dive bar. I talked shit with barflies, took a real barfly out of a man’s drink with my finger and told him to stop being a bitch baby when he complained about germs. I cussed, smoked newports and accepted shots from strangers not knowing what I was shooting. I laughed, I cried, I missed my son and I honored his memory with strangers. And that is when I learned the biggest lesson of all, my entire life I have begun healing in a dive bar while smoking and drinking with strangers who teach me more about who I am than any other group of people in the world because there is nobody wiser than a barfly.

It is exactly where I needed to be. Nowhere feels more like home to me than that place. Everyone keeps saying they are praying for me to have peace, but what that translates to me as is they are praying for me to stop being sad and want me to go back to being their version of strong which is using cliches about Jesus taking away my pain, but the reality is that He has not taken it. I live with it every day.  Inside my favorite bar, I do not have to pretend that I don’t. I don’t have to be strong. I don’t have to be anything. That is healing. That is real peace.

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11 thoughts on “The Lessons of a Dive Bar

  1. Wow. Your strength and your pain just don’t end. And the way you express it is so shocking and genuine. (I get tired of the words “raw” and “real,” so I tried a couple of different words.)

    Never ever in my life would I ever seek comfort in a dive bar. I’m not even sure what a dive bar is. I don’t smoke or drink, largely because my childhood memories of emotional and physical abuse are all tied up with smoking and drinking. For you to find them a blessing and mean it from down deep, not meaning that you just drink to feel good and forget, brings me to a new way to think about things. And I was so sure that mine was the only way! 😉

    You may never know what a revelation you are to me and other very tame Catholics. We desperately need to be whacked out of our comfort zone and realize that there are ways to be Catholic that would not work for us. I mean, sure, Jesus’s first miracle was changing water into wine (and the good stuff at that) and he was all about eating and drinking with tax collectors and other huge sinners, but I sure haven’t internalized what that means in modern life. I just talk as if I have.

    Keep it up, honey. And remember that I am praying for you — not for you to feel better, not for you to look as if you are okay, but for your actual needs, which I don’t even know.

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  2. Which story, Cana or the classic one about Jesus eating with all the low-lifes? 😉

    One of the cool things about Jesus is that he came for the underdogs, the outcasts, the pariahs. The other day, I told a bunch of five-year-olds that the miracles of the loaves and fishes said they were for 5,000 and 4,000 people, “not including women and children.” Because women and children didn’t count back then — but Jesus loved them. We all count for him. Talk to Meg about that. She’ll larn ya good. LOL!

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  3. This post brought to mind the movie, Black Robe. It’s about the early Jesuit missionaries to the Huron tribes in Canada. At one point, the missionary speaks about Jesus–how he won’t magically make everything better, that the missionary wasn’t promising that everything would be grand if they converted. It’s an easy heresy that we find a lot in America–that belief in Jesus makes us shiny and new and isn’t just a deeper embrace of the world’s (and our own) pain and brokenness.

    Christianity is an approach to a complex and fallen world that says not to turn away. Followers of Christ will find the various heresies that contradict this message will be burned away from us, like the refiner’s fire. And this burning can and will hurt. One of my favorite images of purgatory is a refining fire–what is dross in our spirits will be burned away.

    So, I feel you in this pain and I have also felt this pain as my illusions about Christians have been revealed as only that. But, it’s part of the life of a disciple–being stripped of everything that is not God so we can have more of God. Hang in there!

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  4. Dear Leticia, I started reading your blog few years ago. I don’t know you personally but it is clear that the tragic death of your beloved son shook to the core your life and your faith. I am a mom too and I cannot even image the heartbreak and pain you are going through right now. It seems you find peace only in the dive bar now because other catholic bloggers lives look so fake and your faith didn’t help with the pain of your terrible loss. You are looking for a place in which you can be yourself and scream your pain. Praying for you our Blessed Mother, she was under the Cross while her son was dying, she will carry you through this valley of tears. Hugs

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  5. I 1,000,000,000 relate to all of your writing and feelings. Thank you for the truth in your voice. I so badly want to be “good” or do the right thing but so much of what I’ve done and seen pulls me in the exact other direction. I just want to feel good again even if it’s in fleeting moments.

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  6. That’s a problem we have as a society, not only Catholics. Talking about pain is “bad”, when talking about it is how we are true to ourselves. There’s no one who’s not hurt in this world. It should be an experience with which we can relate, it should get us together. And somehow we can’t talk about it. And we people who suffer, isolate ourselves. It’s not a popular topic. Everyone wants to be happy, to have beauty, fame. Everyone wants to avoid pain. You just went to a place where you could talk about it, and where you wouldn’t be rejected for it. It’s fine.

    About the shaky faith, maybe you should talk to God about it. I do it too. When I’m feeling bad, or confused, I talk to Him. I ask Him why did He allow my pain, when so many people who are so far away from Him have health, money, a family. All those things I don’t have. I think I’ve had part of my answer today. It doesn’t hurt to try, right? There’s nothing to lose in it.

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  7. I was on a healing pilgrimage this weekend. I prayed for you. I wished you had been with me. The pilgrimage took place on the site of a former residential school for aboriginal children in Canada. I have no idea if these schools existed in the States but here they were run by the government and various churches to strip native children of their culture, language and identity. I felt you could relate. The pilgrimage is also centred around a young native woman named Rose Prince. She died young, was buried, and two years later they had to move her grave. Her coffin opened up and she was found to be incorrupt. Even though she was taken from her parents and her home at a young age she did come to know and love Jesus at the school. After her parents died she lived the rest of her short life there. She was sick a lot. People would come to her grave to pray and over the years it became a site of a healing pilgrimage for anyone who was sick physically, mentally or spiritually. We participated in a healing rosary last night. 66 people stand in line. Each person says one of the rosary prayers but first they can pray for their special intention. I can’t even count how many times we prayed for those who have been affected by suicide and lost to suicide. One woman said in her village they had buried 7 young people in the last few months. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read this. And know that Rose Prince of the Carrier Nation is praying for you from heaven.

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  8. JMJ

    I’ve had this tab open for a couple of days, meaning to comment it but not really knowing what to say.

    I know this pain too well, and I know that God will comfort you. I hate knowing it from experience, but I also know that He loves so much and that He will carry you through it. It will be a choice you make on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis. He is always faithful. He loves you, He loves Anthony. Trust in Him, think of Mary holding her son. Go to her. The Rosary, the Divine Chaplet of Mercy – these are gifts. Even when you don’t feel like praying, do it anyways. Give that pain to God.

    Know that He loves Anthony and that he is in God’s loving hands. Always.

    Also know that you and your family are in our prayers and that you can email me if you ever need to.

    God Bless.

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