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Happy Place

During those high blazing days of last year, I would find myself going to my "happy place" every night. Whereas I usually went there previously with friends and family, I would then go to the bar alone after work. Call it an absurd dream but I had wished during my college days to sit on the bar alone to drink. I envisioned then that the bar should be a place where everybody knows your name, that it wouldn't be too loud and would be free from too many people especially students. And my most important requirement was that they served ice-cold beer in a frosted mug. I found the perfect place, and since those times were my happy days of abandon, I would go there even if the sun were still up and end up leaving only by closing time.

I became a fixture in the bar in no time. The bartender would know what drink I was going to have and didn't ask anymore if I wanted another one by giving me the next glass. I had my own mug which they kept for me. I would also have a bottle of wine which they kept for me in case a beer wasn't in order for the night. They knew the drill; they would send the complimentary pull bread to my driver downstairs so he too can have something to eat. They also knew that halfway into the night, I would order creamy onion soup or a Caesar salad. If I had the money, I would leave the bar and take a nearby table to have dinner. And if I was feeling good, I'd order the prime rib to celebrate something or anything. When I'm in a booth with a table, that meant that they couldn't come to me and talk. That was my alone time, the time to read, to think and to eat.

But when I'm on the bar, the servers--my friends--would always talk with me and at times sit beside me. We would talk about anything under the sun, from DVDs to deaths in the family, from philosophy to psychology, from love to breaking up and from recipes to other career options. After a while, I would have a reputation of somebody that they could go to when they had problems or needed someone to talk with. At a certain point, they would sometimes have to wait as if they were in line to talk to me in one night. My friendships also extended from the servers to some of the people in the kitchen and even the manager. The security guard would even buy me some cigarettes if I would run out of them. But the feeling that I had with these friends was that I was no longer a mere customer to them nor were they just serving me. They bared themselves to me as I did to them as well. It came to a point that it wasn't about the drinks anymore. It became about visiting the friends whose company I enjoyed so much.

I knew what it looked from the outside. A young man drinking alone, talking non-stop, reading and writing profusely, leaving half-drunk. Everyone thought I had a problem and would ask if I were okay. I would say that sure, I had problems but that I was okay. It looked like I was escaping things but I guess that was the way I confront things. It looked like I was hurting inside but that didn't matter to me because I was numb already. I wasn't there to wallow in self-pity; I was there to fly. I looked like an alcoholic. And maybe I was. But I had no way of knowing if that was alcoholism or not because I didn't go there because of an urge or an addiction but because I just enjoyed it there. And later on, I would find out after some tests that I was not addicted to alcohol. I was just, after all, too happy.

After a few months, I would be forced not to go back there alone.

And a lot has changed since those days. I would later come back with a certain unease, like the nervousness of going back to your childhood playground knowing that it will never be the same. True, it was the same bar, with a few changes in the faces of the people there, and the same ice-cold beer. But it was very different. It was no longer the place where I spent those manic nights shared with strangers turned into friends who did not know what was happening to me but understood me just the same. It has become, well, just the restaurant that it is.

It is still my happy place though even if it may have lost its luster by no fault of its own. I realized that it was me who was no longer the same.

Now they smile at me as if acknowledging a secret we shared during those crazy months.


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