Taking a break from all the Very Serious Posts which I should be writing, let’s have a little bit of story time.
Aradia and I are hosting some of my college friends right now, so we took them to our favorite bar in Kansas City, which also happens to be the best gay bar in town. It was also our first trip there since I got back from the summer, and we were delighted to find our favorite bartender working. He greeted us warmly, made our friends feel welcome, and made us the best drinks ever. It was glorious.
But he was also holding his left arm at a funny angle, and it was clearly paining him. I asked what was wrong, and he made a lot of inarticulate noises and hand gestures (which I originally translated as, “I was drunk at the time and I feel stupid”) before finally explaining that he had taken the pain from the lovely lesbian with the broken arm sitting next to us.
“Give it to me,” I said. “I’m a professional.” (Perhaps a slight exaggeration.)
“No,” he said. “I took it. It’s my responsibility.”
I respected that, so I let it go. My friends were like, “what?” and I explained the principles to them.
“Oh,” my one friend says, very much to my surprise.. “I did that once.” He goes on to tell me about how this one time he took half of his friend’s migraine so that they could both study before a test. “If I hadn’t done it myself,” he said, “I wouldn’t believe it was possible.”
The evening progresses, and I come back to the bar to order the next round of drinks. My bartender is in so much pain that he actually shorts me my change.
“Why do we do this, again?” he asks me.
“Because we can,” I say.
As I work down on my third bourbon, though, the whole thing starts to weigh on me. He’s nourishing the pain, taking it on as some sort of martyrdom, and it’s making it so he can’t work. I’m reluctant to push the issue, but Aradia argues that it’s just as idiotically macho to let him suffer as it is for him to insist on suffering, and that if I won’t take the pain off of him, she’ll do it.
We all finish our drinks, and its time to go. Aradia and one of my friends go to the ladies’ room, while my other friend and I go in search of the bartender to say goodbye and (again) offer to take the woman’s pain from him, and to tip him a little more before we leave. He refuses both my offer and the tip, but then he gets all weird about it, twisting my friend’s arm rather than taking the tip, and patting me on the heart with the wounded arm.
While his hand is resting on my heart something goes off in the back of my brain, and I just breathe the pain into my lungs, and exhale it as fire into the air above us.
He looks at me in shock and says, “You took it.”
“But you know we have to give it back.”
“No, we don’t.”
Aradia shows up and we finish our goodbyes with a little more drama and groping than usual, then leave the bar.
My friend can no longer contain his enthusiasm: “You breathed it out as smoke. I saw you take the pain. I was watching really close because I wanted to see how you did it, and I saw you breathe it out as smoke!”
There is nothing like third party confirmation to make an evening perfect.
I feel a little bad about it, now. He took the burden so seriously. But the whole martyr angle just grated on me, and the way he touched me with the wounded hand … it just seemed to be the thing to do a the time.