Suddenly I was deep in the land of drugs and it was unfamiliar territory for me. I had watched multiple drug deals go down around me as I served beer and averted my eyes. Now I was part of it, and it felt so weird to be asking for a packet and handing over $120.00 each time. I lived for the weekend when we would try to make the little packet last, but the more you used it the more it took to get those first highs. Sometimes I gave in and smoked some marijuana and ‘treated’ myself to the cocaine on the side. These highs were different – I felt more distant and not as close to the bartender. As time went by I developed a sore on the inside of my nose and the thought crossed my mind that I might be doing some serious damage. When we started snorting midweek I felt like I had lost all hope, but it was the only way I could face my life. I was so incredibly unhappy that I yearned for those false highs more and more.
The bartender made me do all the buying, claiming he couldn’t get in touch with the dealers from his position behind the bar. It never occurred to me that he didn’t want to be the one who got caught. One day, near the end of my shift, I was approached by a customer who offered me a ‘test’ of some pink cocaine. After I cashed out, I told the bartender I would see him later and drove off to the address I had been given. I never thought I would be in danger as I had known the fellows who had made the offer for many years. We sat around snorting some pink stuff and when I thought I had visited long enough, I headed home. I drew myself a bubble bath and lit some candles, then slipped in for a relaxing soak. It wasn’t long before the bartender called to inquire where I had gone off to. I tried to evade the question, but his bullying finally wore me down and I told him where I had been. He called me every dirty name he could think of and then some and I finally hung up on him and tried to relax in my bath. Within ten minutes I heard his key in the back door and he raced into the bathroom and pulled me out of the tub and screamed into my face.
I was wet and slippery and thought I could get away from him, but he was strong and wiry and out of control. He flung me about the bathroom, bashing me up against the counter and into the toilet. I finally slipped out of his grasp and ran for the stairs and the safety of my bedroom. He grabbed my ankles when I was nearly to the top and hauled me back down, bashing my chin on the each step as he pulled me backwards. I tried crawling down the hallway but he kept kicking me and I curled up in a little ball by the kitchen doorway, bruised and bleeding from the scratches his fingernails had made. He grabbed me by the hair and hauled me up to the bedroom and backhanded me so hard that I landed on the bed. Here he pinned me down, one hand on each wrist and screamed into my face before slamming out of the house again. One thing about him, he knew better than to leave noticeable marks on my face for the public to see.
The next day I had an early morning appointment with my psychologist and I dragged myself into her office and sat without speaking. When she reached forward to touch my arm, I gasped and my sleeve fell back, revealing a mass of bruises, most of them vivid handprints. Her anger made me withdraw even more, but when she put her arms around me I broke down and sobbed. She told me I had to go to the police and report him and I told her I couldn’t. He was just angry with me for not sharing the cocaine and for going to some guy’s place without him. He loved me – he really did. It was obvious by the bruises. We spent an hour going around and around – her insisting I go to the police – and me saying it was just his way of showing love. It was natural. He was waiting at the front door of the hotel when I arrived for work and he wanted to know what the psychologist had said. He went pure white when I told him and I could tell he was scared until I assured him that it had been my fault and that I knew why he was angry. None of my co-workers noticed the abnormality of my wearing long-sleeves and turtlenecks for a week while the bruises faded. And life continued like that for a while longer.
One day, just before the doors opened for the lunch-hour rush, I raced into the women’s washroom. My co-worker was standing in front of the sinks with a rubber tube around her arm and her foot braced against the counter in an attempt to hold one end of the strap tight. She held a needle in her one hand as she tried to tighten the band around her upper arm and I noticed it had some liquid in it. A spoon lay on its side on the counter with little wisps of smoke drifting off its scorched surface.
“Could you help me pull it tighter?” she asked with a gasp.
I shook my head in horror and watched with fascination as she jerked the band tighter and slipped the end of the needle into her arm and pressed on the plunger. Little beads of sweat popped out on her forehead as she concentrated.
“What the hell is that you just put in your arm?” I was so sickened by the sight that my voice shook and I wasn’t surprised at how pale my reflection was when I looked in the mirror.
“Coke” she said as she leaned over the sink.
I forgot all about my desperate need to pee and staggered out into the bar where I worked in a daze for most of my shift. My co-worker seemed fine and disappeared into the bathroom a couple more times before I went home. I sat for a long time in the dark and thought about my life. I knew I had almost reached bottom, and seeing it that day in someone else was shocking. I knew when I saw that needle that I would never touch the stuff again – and I never did. I also knew that it was time for me to move on. I needed to sell my house, quit my job, and get away from all of this.
The only problem was the bartender. I didn’t think I could face life without him. He lost his temper – again – when I told him I wouldn’t be getting him any more cocaine as I had quit. The beating I received helped firm my resolve and when he finally stopped long enough to listen to me, I told him we were through. I wasn’t prepared for the tears and I almost gave in to them – almost. When I told my boss I was thinking of leaving, he cried too! I was shocked, but I still needed to make the move and I set about getting my house ready to sell and listing it.
In the months it took me to paint and put down trim I learned to ignore the bartender while we still worked together. We developed a very crisp way of dealing with the orders and I noticed he still kept an eye on what I was doing – but I didn’t care. I dated a couple of different men, but nothing serious. One fellow took me home at the end of our first evening, and when I refused his advances, he belted me across the face – and fled. I was convinced I attracted men like that or that there was something seriously wrong with me. During that time I flew out to Alberta to my sister’s wedding and met a wonderful man on the airplane. He lived in Toronto, and we had so much fun together I wondered why I was thinking of moving away. My parents sold the tourist resort in Northern Ontario, and my mother came for a week and we packed up everything she wanted to keep. With the lodge sold I felt I had no further reason to stay in Ontario and my house sold in three days. The moving truck picked up nearly everything I owned and their belongings from the lodge and headed west. I had only a few days left to work and I was looking forward to my new life and whatever it would bring.
Returning from my last weekend in Toronto I stepped into a house filled with notes that hung from nearly every available space. There were at least a hundred of them. The entire basement ceiling flapped when I moved. Each note contained a declaration of love or an apology. The final one, attached to my pillow, was a marriage proposal – all from – the bartender.