Monday, April 5, 2010

(Mrs) Adventure #7: Medicating with Karaoke

It isn’t until the woman knocks the microphone stand into a table full of drinks that I realize the video screens throughout the bar don’t match up with the action on stage. I have moved back in my seat, crouched low and cocked my head into my right shoulder in efforts to drown out the sound. Wearing a bedazzled silver hat complete with a myriad color of feathers, the songstress is a walking contradiction of style: she is also wearing a red pleather miniskirt and a Michigan State sweatshirt. She wobbles back and forth on stiletto heels almost like one of those inflatable waving arm monsters they have outside car dealerships, and when she reaches for her drink in the middle of an instrumental section, she topples into the microphone stand and sends it careening into a table full of individuals all wearing Butler t-shirts. This isn’t going to be pretty. Amused finally, I crane my neck up to watch the action unfold on the video screen and realize that I am not witnessing the awful aftermath, but rather a stout Asian man singing what appears to be a very spirited version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ I sigh dejectedly, but perk up when I realize that my good friend has rushed over toward the stage to get photographic proof of the mess unfolding at her feet.

‘Someone save the beer!’ I hear another patron shout, as the feather hat woman is now back on her feet and swinging the microphone cord precariously close to another table. An audible clunk reverberates though the room when the microphone makes contact with another patron’s nose and a rather large bouncer walks up toward the stage to escort our feathered friend to the back patio. In the background, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,’ wails a rejected symphony.

“OK! Ladies and Gentlemen, looks like that lady was having too much fun!” the DJ apologetically covers. Hardy, har, har. Jeez, where do they find these cheesy DJs? He’s about seventy six years old with what appears to be a lengthy tail of brushed out curls trailing down his back. He’s holding some sort of dark cocktail in his hand, the ice clicking against the glass making a ‘tsk tsk’ sound; somewhere in this man’s life something with terribly wrong.

“We’re gonna slow it down over here right now as Johnny takes the stage.”

A skinny kid wearing a blazer shuffles up to the stage. He kicks a few plastic cups on the ground and wipes the microphone off on his jeans. The DJ switches the stage lights to alternating colors of red and releases some sort of smoke onto the ground. ‘Johnny’ appears to be singing a song to the minions of hell. When I glance around the room at the rest of the bar patrons, I realize that this might not be too far off.

The music swells and before Johnny can even open his vocal chords I am hit with one of those gut punch reactions. The song is “Come Fly With Me,’ and it was our first dance. Nearly two months ago we were twirling around the dance floor, together. Now, I am choking back haze from the smoke machine and balancing my body on a rickety bar stool while a red light pulsates across the table and a guy who bears an appropriate nametag that reads, “Tattoo Stu,” is asking for my drink order.

I have been married to the military for two months. I say ‘married to the military,’ because that’s exactly what it feels like, honestly. When my husband and I returned from our honeymoon, he went directly into work up flights and intense preparation for his upcoming deployment. Unlike typical married couples, when you marry into the military during war time, one spends little time picking out furniture, arranging the coffee table and making dinner together, and more time watching Army Wives marathons on Lifetime and wondering if your husband is in the air or on the ground. Imagine, if you will, a tax accountant getting married in February or March. There is little room for much else.

There is a great quote I once read that went a little something like: “The Marine Corps is his wife, and I’m his mistress. And sometimes that b@#$ gets all the attention.” As much as I hate to admit, I have paused and knowingly laughed.

From what I hear, the first year of marriage for any couple demands a bit of learning. Learning about the other person: how they fold their clothes, what kind of toothpaste they prefer, how they justify spending money on video games over food, etc. The first year of a military marriage that entails a deployment makes little room for learning and demands more room for coping. Lessons typical in a first year of marriage for a civilian couple are quite different than a military couple. So, instead of spending time learning what my husband might like to cook with me for dinner, I spend more time learning the importance of good friends and family. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING falls under a microscope. Everything becomes more intense. Relationships especially. They say that a wedding is symbolic of two people leaving their respective ‘tribes’ and creating their own. I haven’t found that to be the case in the least. In fact, I have found quite the opposite to be true; I haven’t left my tribe, if anything I have pulled it in closer. And for those spouses where this isn’t an option, yes, they do create their own tribes. Often in foreign states, far away from family and friends- they form new friendships: lasting, intense friendships, bonds that can be neither understood and are often unbroken by others outside of the circle…or base.

I am the fortunate one to have strong friendships and family in my circle. This is more a testament to their character than it is to mine. I am simply a lucky girl with friends and family who have exceptional patience. They are the ones that drag me out of the house when I want only to hide under covers in my pajamas. They are the ones who come over and crack open a bottle of wine, to relax on sunny patios with when I am not even sure I feel like seeing the sun, to drag me to karaoke bars when it is raining. They are the ones who sit with me on Skype, even though they are only a few miles away, but it is late and I’ve just had a terrible nightmare. They are the ones who live hundreds of miles away, but check in with me almost daily. They are the ones who have three kids under the age of three, who still pick up the phone or sit down at the computer to a note. They are the ones who forgive me after I’ve been lost in a conversation with them and I realize I have no idea what we’ve been talking about for the past five minutes because I’ve drifted off into the recesses of my head. They are the ones that keep me from being an automaton, tell me when my outfit is mis-matched, or that half of my hair is blonde and the other half is auburn. They are the ones that urge me with a smile on their face to open wedding gifts, when I’d rather they gather cobwebs in some attic of Ms. Havisham.

I am at the Karaoke bar because it is my dear friend’s birthday. I promised her I would attend though I am vehemently against getting up and singing. She tries to drag me by the hand and even threatens to sign me up. But I am in one of those moods where I am lost yet again, and even the glass of wine in my hand isn’t strong enough medication.

Snapped back only when I hear the DJ's voice cut through the smoke, I am at first paranoid- paranoid because I have so consumed myself with memories that I don’t even know what I’ve been staring at for the past three minutes. The room is raucous, yet I haven’t heard or seen a single thing other than a filmstrip of memories. It is my dear friend’s birthday and I have been horribly selfish as I sit at the table reflecting. When she attempts to drag me up again, I smile and finally relent. I physically shake myself as though I am draining water droplets of sadness off my being.

We hit the stage and I squint into the footlights. The room is packed, and from what I can make out, there are roughly two hundred sets of eyes staring at us from the bar area. Suddenly, my dear friend opens her mouth.

“I would like to dedicate this song to my friend’s husband, a US Marine who is currently serving our country.”

With this the room goes wild with applause, and I turn at her open mouthed. It is HER birthday, and she dedicated a song to my husband. These are the friends I am lucky to have in my life. If a heart could swell safely, mine certainly does.

The lights bounce about the stage and I hear the opening notes to Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing,’ a favorite of both my husband and I. When we lose ourselves in the lights and laughter, I remember what it feels like to just be…consumed in a wonderful moment. And as we exit the stage, hugging each other and dancing about the bar with just slightly more grace than our silver bedazzled friend, I choose that. I choose to smile a genuine smile and be so thankful for all those friends and family members that have propped me up even when it seems much more convenient to hang out on the floor for a little while. I am sure there are many military spouses who have experienced this, and I truly hope they too have steely support beams.

Sometimes in life, the video screen doesn’t match up with what’s happening on stage. Life can occasionally be, well, disjointed. But if you’re lucky, you will have good friends and family to rush up to the front of the stage, camera in hand, ready to document everything that you occasionally miss while lost in your own little world. They will be the ones to throw their arm around your shoulders and remind you, “Hey, even under hellish red lights, amid a smoky room- with hair that is dyed multiple colors because you were too lazy, too lonely, too sad to fix it yourself, you are still that girl that takes a deep breath, shakes it off and sings very, very bad Karaoke.”

You will look at your friend’s encouraging smile and you will believe her. You will take a deep breath, and remember that no matter how difficult life gets, one thing is for certain: it goes on and on and on.

After all, it is a heck of a lot more fun to be in the middle of it all with friends and family than hiding out on your own-even if you do have to put up with an occasional swinging microphone cord or two.

At the end of the day if all else fails, well, there's always Journey. There's always Karaoke. And I'm pretty sure, there's always going to be that ancient DJ with the long curly hair, his lighting kit and the never-ending smoke machine.


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