(I'm behind on a few things, including responding to comments. Sorry about that.)
Back in the day, my older brothers were quite the party boys. There was one particular bar that Johnny liked to go to and he showed up so often the owner put him to work as a bouncer. As soon as Mark was able to pass for 21 (ahem) he could also be found honing his pool skills at The Dutch. As boys will be boys they got caught up in a few bar fights, all part of the coming of age process around here in those days.
The owner was a tiny little Korean lady in her late 20s who took it upon herself to mother and look out for my 6'2" and 6'3" big brothers. I'd share some of the stories they told me over the years, but then I'd then I'd have to kill you. Which is exactly what Mark threatened me with if I ever repeated the stories to mama. The point is that whatever mischief the boys got into, Wong was there to help them out of it.
When I turned 21 they insisted on taking me to meet her. She was tending bar that day as someone had not shown up for work, and as I put my hand out to meet her she pulled me behind the bar and said "You work here" before walking around to hug my brothers. I laughed and walked around to join them and she turned to me adamantly. "No. Get back. You stay."
And so I did.
I made a beautiful friend that day~ the kind we all want to have and can only hope to be. Wong was crazy faithful, praying every day at the same time for everyone she knew. Her example of honesty in faith while accepting real life struck me. And stuck with me.
Ultimately tending bar paid for my education, but more than that it gave me the freedom I craved. Freedom to travel, to move on whenever I wanted, to follow wherever my wanderlust led. And travel I did. Whenever I landed in a new place I'd tend bar until I figured out something else I wanted to do.
A couple of years ago it afforded me a new kind of freedom....the ability to afford my mortgage. Most of you reading this are rowing a similar boat against the current with a broken paddle~ chasing a dream that your heart won't let you abandon in an economy that dictates you are an idiot for doing so. Yep, I'm struggling. Yep, I'm stressed. But I think a large part of the population is, no matter the job.
So when I was asked a couple of weeks ago if I would mind filling in at the bar I play on a dart league for, I was quick to respond in the affirmative.
B is a bartender at Classics who I've known since that first day Wong informed me that I now worked for her almost 19 years ago. She called me so upset a few days ago that I couldn't understand anything she said short of "Wong hospital can you come in?"
And so I did.
It occurred to me as I walked behind the bar at Classics how ironic the situation was~ to be standing in a place once again because of the woman who first ordered me there so many years ago.
I sat on the phone waiting for Bev's update.
Ruptured Aneurysm. Hole in Aorta. Paralysis. Coma. Waiting game.
The words floated around outside my head, my ears refusing them entry. She's only 54. Too young. Too good. Too big to be so little.
The wait ended with Wong's passing this morning.
She's gone. Those are words I can't ignore.
I'm thankful she was here. She touched so many lives in such a positive way that her absence will forever be felt by those of us fortunate enough to have known her.
"No. Get Back. You stay."
And so we must.