In my life, I’ve periodically broken faith with Christ by ceasing my weekly obligation of attending Mass, but it is more than that in 1994 and 1995. I am bartending every Friday and Saturday night at a bar called Blondie’s to make ends meets though those ends kept traveling in opposite directions. I work with a girl named Margot, and another named Stella. Margot is athletic, blonde, had huge breasts and a rumbling laugh that occupies the room when it is unfurled. Her father owns a chain of local pharmacies, and he is the wealthiest man in that small town next to the clan that inherits the accumulated riches from the creation and manufacturing of world famous ice rink clearing machines. I never understand why Margot has to bartend and work in a video store as the daughter of a man who is so wealthy.
Margot and I have a lark together behind the bar and become fast friends. Stella, who is younger than Margot and I, is still at university. Stella has the most gorgeous auburn hair I have ever seen. It is long and thick and always looks perfect. Stella considers herself a little overweight, and she is always trying to lose twenty pounds. She tells me that she drove past me while I was on my run one Sunday morning. She said to her friend, “Look at the shoulders on that chick!” As they drove on, Stella noticed that I was the runner out jogging at seven though I had worked until three at Blondie’s the previous night. “Ange. You deserve the body you have,” she tells me.
I have that body through excessive exercise and starvation. It is to that place of eating disordered neurosis to which I always return to create the illusion that I have control whenever my life becomes chaotic. Some weekends all I ingest is plain herbal tea, but I spend every hour cataloguing all of the food I will eat once I weigh under one-hundred-ten pounds. On that morning when the scales read one-hundred-ten, I’d wait anxiously for grocery stores to open so I can satisfy my cravings for peanut butter, chocolate chips or the other foods for which I am jonesing like an addict seeking a fix.
Margot always leaves a mockingly abusive message on my answering machine on a Friday afternoon for me to come home to from my day job of teaching Grade two. She calls me a vulgar name and that adds, “I need tampons and gum. And wear something slutty so we can make good tips tonight.” Her needs’ lists may vary but the inappropriate monikers are standard for Margot’s messages.
When we bartend together Margot lets me work the side of the bar the servers come to. I don’t want to flirt with men at the end of the bar that she agrees to work. Margot is better at flirting than I. She tells a dirty joke and laughs at the persistent men who refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer. She has a boyfriend, and, at times, a bit on the side. The male clientele know that Margot isn’t available. I am more comfortable hiding at the other end of the bar. At times men request that I serve their parties rather than Margot in exchange for a tip in excess of one hundred dollars.
“No, Margot! We’re not prostitutes,” I protest.
“Listen. We split tips. You wiggle to the opposite end of the bar and pour that champagne or I’ll set your hair on fire.”
If anyone is cheap on his or her tip Margot and I spray the person and their party with water guns when they aren’t looking. They stand drinking with their backs to us and we sprinkle them. They pat the backs of their heads with their hands and look at the open ceiling, a matrix of exposed pipes, for a broken one. Margot and I get back to work as though innocent and unaware. If someone leaves a dime on the bar Margot flicks it at the back of their heads.
“Keep it!” Margot shouts. “You must need it more than we do!”
She isn’t heard by the patrons over the loud house music but I am hugely entertained by her outbursts.
In Blondie’s there are gilded cages with professional Go-Go dancers in them. One dancer is the daughter of a woman with whom I teach. I often tease my colleague about her daughter’s performance.
“Suzie danced naked in her cage again this weekend! Aren’t you ashamed?”
My colleague laughs, “Angela! Stop that! She did not!”
The women with whom I teach threaten to come into Blondie’s while I work the bar on the weekend, but they never do.
I maintain a brave face behind the bar, but I am deeply hurting. I am asked to work the bar on New Year’s Eve in 1994 since I have no boyfriend or husband to go out with for the evening. Margot has New Year’s plans with her boyfriend. New Year’s Eve is my wedding anniversary and that is my first without Jack since I left my marriage. At midnight, I stand watching the couples kiss at the bells as Auld Lange Syne plays over the loud speakers. I shed a few tears feeling desolate and alone. I notice three cheaply dressed women in their fifties sitting at the bar. They are alone though together in a pathetic group determined to ignore the passage of time etched into their heavily made-up faces. I say a silent prayer that I will not end up like that.
“Please God. Don’t let me be sitting in bars at age forty,” I pray.
I fear becoming a woman like that. I fear being alone and still trying to meet a man in a bar at age forty or fifty.
Blondie’s has Karaoke on a Wednesday night and when Margot, Stella and I realize that we each have a birthday at the end of January or beginning of February, we decide that we will celebrate one another by singing Karaoke at the bar on the Wednesday between each of our birthdays. We get on stage to sing Would I Lie to You? by the Eurhythmics. Margot is the lead and Stella and I are back up. Margot launches into the song and as we begin to sing behind her I realize that my and Stella’s mikes are not switched on.
“Sing! Sing!” Margot screams into her microphone.
“We are! Our mikes aren’t on!” I try to tell her.
“Sing!” She screams at us. Stella and I do a back-to-back shimmy. I struggle to get upright again. I am laughing so hard I cannot stand.
I worked and studied hard during university. I didn’t party much after high school. I am twenty-nine when I leave my former husband after six years of marriage, and for that first year I do little more than teach during the week, bartend on the weekends at Blondie’s, and watch Sleepless in Seattle repeatedly. I do go out with the people with whom I work at Blondie’s, but only occasionally. My problem, as I see it, is that I married my Walter whereas Annie in Sleepless in Seattle breaks up with Walter for the possibility of magic. Enter her soul mate, Sam. I need to believe that there is a Sam out there for me if I am to survive the transition from marriage to single life.
During that time, I am summoned to the city courthouse to pick up my final divorce papers and the clerk asks me what name I will go by.
“You’re no longer Angela Mary Kunst,” she says.
Thank Christ for that, I think.
I quickly respond, “Angela Olivia St. Micheàl.”
I want to drop my middle name of Mary, which is my mother’s middle name and her mother’s first name. I need not to be like those two women in any way. The name ‘Olivia’ means peace, which I have long searched for in my life. St. Michael is the warrior angel, the ultimate protector, and I need a champion. I choose the Irish spelling of Micheàl to honour my Irish heritage, and I file the paperwork to legally change my name with the clerk.
“Your former spouse will have to be notified of your name change in case he needs to contact you for any reason,” the clerk tells me. “We need him to sign off on it.”
“You mean I need his permission to change my name?”
“Yes,” she says.
“But that’s ridiculous,” I tell her. “We don’t have kids. It’s a clean break.”
“No break is clean, honey. Get the form signed.”
I mail the name change form to my former spouse that same day. I bartend with Margot later that evening.
“My divorce was final today,” I tell her.
“Alright! Congrats!” she says and she high-fives me. I don’t really feel as though it is a high-five moment. My husband had not been cruel to me. He loved me as no other had. I just didn’t know how to accept his love. I felt that it was because I did not love him in the same way that I could not accept the love he offered, but in truth, I am incapable of opening my heart to any love.
Jack quickly signs off on my name change. “Nice last name, babe,” he writes to me, and then he expresses in writing his desire for us to apply for an annulment from the Vatican. He wants to be married again in the Catholic Church. It is important to me too but I likely wouldn’t have acted on it as quickly as did he. He also writes, “Promise me one thing, babe. Promise me you won’t go back to London and to your family.”