The things you find in the Ladies room…
Yesterday evening I drove across town after finishing my workday at the opera to bartend for a special event at the local regional theatre I work for part -time. Monday nights the theatre is usually closed with no performances as it’s the day all the actors and crew rest, to gear up for the week of shows they perform Tuesday through Sunday. When my friend John asked if I would like the shift on Monday I said yes immediately the extra money is always nice and I love the vibe and energy that swirls around the vibrant lobby of the iconic theatre .
I didn’t know many of the details as to what the show was about, other than some Facebook chatter that alluded to the topic of the audience sharing secrets during the show. I am thinking no wonder they wanted the bar open, people are going to be offering up secrets like the town gossip at a beauty parlor appointment after a few cocktails. Folks began to arrive and as usual, people come in all 31 flavors. …young, old, pristine, sloppy, curvy and cultured, black, white, smiles and smirks. They drink their comfort southern style on the rocks or absolutely neat in a plastic cup filled with courage. I pour it out and they drink it up, as the lobby fills with people I begin to think about the long night ahead of me, it’s now a 12 hour work day for me and I have a long way to go.
Intermission hits and people flood to the bar laughing and chatting about the show, football failures and presidential hopefuls. As I work my way through the folks in line shaking and stirring, uncorking and pouring she appears in front of me with her crooked smile and swollen red eyes, a small smear of mascara on her left cheek. She asked me for a Jack Beam, and I smile and said that is a marriage that’s illegal in most states. I could tell she did not get the joke and explain she can have Jim Beam or Jack Daniels but I didn’t recommend mixing the two. Ah, she got the joke and a smile spread across her face, “which is stronger” she asked. I did not know the answer to that question, but tell her both pack a solid punch when it comes to making a strong drink. She just wants the booze in a cup, no mixer, no ice, so I tilt the bottle as the warm caramel colored liquid sloshes in the cup. I set a small, white napkin down and place the drink in front of her. She looks at me as she hands me her credit card. “Do I sip it” she asks as I slide her card through the machine looking at the line of people waiting behind her. “You can sip it or shoot it straight”, she did not hesitate and threw back the drink in one brave gulp, placing the empty cup on the cold, hard, marble bar she smiled and said…”I never said it out loud before”….confusion about her statement settled in my crinkled brow, she continued…”my secret, I said it out loud to myself” Ah,of course her secret…this was a moment when I had to come up with something, something brilliant, something inspiring , some kind of sign that I understood about secrets and keeping them locked up inside, because this lady needed some support that did not come in the form off a bottle. The line was growing and I was thinking about it to much, so I took a breath and a chance at what would come out of my mouth (God I hope it did not involve the f-bomb) but there was no f-bomb, there was no brilliance or inspiration. It happened in slow motion for me, time stopped, the space around me was suspended, and as she stepped away I could see the moment prance right by me until she was gone. I said nothing.
After the bar was cleared and people went back inside for the second part of the performance, I refilled the ice bins, and restocked the beer selections then through the swinging half door I walked to the ladies room. I opened the door and saw them everywhere. I assumed it was part of the show, part of the audience participation about secrets. There were yellow post-it -notes with pens stationed at each of the sinks, and all around bright yellow secrets stuck to the walls and mirrors. Confessions surrounded me and for all the times I have sat alone thinking no one could possibly have the secrets to hide that I have, no one could be more scared than I am and no one could possibly understand the pain I am in…. I have been wrong. The confessions on these little yellow patches of paper came equipped with pain, fear, humor and hope.
-“I’m handicap but refuse to use the stall-it makes me feel weak”
-“You are Beautiful!!”
-“I believe my husband will leave me because I can’t have any children”
There were a ton of them, all different and each amazingly powerful. I read them all, over and over again, some made me weep, and others made me laugh.
Even though in the moment I could not find these words to share with the woman who stood in front of me at the bar, my hope is she learned this lesson herself Monday night. Secrets don’t define you, they set you free.