Twenty-two years ago to the day, this day, a gun was jammed against my left temple. Thankfully, I lived beyond that moment; this is my story.
It was 1995; I was the closing bartender at Veni Vidi Vici in Midtown, Atlanta. It was a typical weekend night, busy until the last hour of seating. After the restaurant closed, servers finished the nightly tasks and headed out to a nearby bar. A group of us were meeting for drinks after work; I still had a couple of closing duties to finish. The manager Tom and I were the last employees in the building.
When I took the bar mats to the kitchen, I noticed it was surprisingly cold and for a moment I wondered why before walking out to the dining room. At the bar, I was wrapping up the last few closing duties when I heard the hardwood floors creak. I looked up and saw the barrel of a gun pointed at my face. Within seconds, I was in a chokehold; his arm around my shoulders, he held me by the collar of my shirt with one hand and pressed his gun into the side of my head with the other hand. I could feel his fingernails breaking the skin on my neck, as I heard the sound of my blood pumping through my heart. It was near deafening. It was rapid, loud, irregular beating and swishing. My panic-filled blood was on fire with adrenaline.
"Where he at?", demanded the gun-wielding thief.
Assess and survive, this native mental state awakened, I knew from his question that he was alone and that he knew how many of us were in the restaurant.
I heard a voice say, "downstairs." It was my voice. It sounded nothing like my voice; the word came from my throat as I heard Tom's keys jangling. He was running up the stairs to the bar. I would later learn from him, that he'd heard me yelp. I still don't remember that moment of vocal terror; my guess is it happened when he grabbed me by my neck.
When Tom reached the top of the stairs and saw me in the hostage hold, he froze with his hands up in the air to show he'd surrender the fight.
"Take me to the safe, " said our captor.
"There's no money in the safe, " replied Tom.
"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?" my terrorized mind muted out.
I would later learn from one of the APD officers; it was the right call. He told me, "Once you leave the scene of initial contact with someone who threatens you with a weapon, you increase your chances of being killed by 80%."
The man who robbed us was desperate and frightened. This fact could have cost Tom and I our lives. Our fate was in the hands of a nervous, desperate gunman.
He was so unsure of himself and the act he was within; he did not see the pile of cash sitting on the back bar. I'd set the $903.00 of tip money aside earlier and had not had the chance to put it into envelopes for the two bartenders who worked with me that night.
Tom and I were instructed to lay face down on the floor. It was the moment of goodbye; your life is over, it ends here on the floor of your workplace.
Tom and I were looking into each other's faces, sweating fear, each of us in our world of hurt and loss.
The gunman took Tom's watch, wedding band, and wallet. I wore cheap silver jewelry and did not have pockets on my work slacks. I remember pulling at the seams and stretching them out for him to see, saying, "I have no pockets."
At that point, I remember thinking; I'll never have kids.
The resignation of never having the chance to share the massive wellspring of love in my heart washed over me in an unrelenting wave of sadness.
I was 30 years old.
Then, without words or infliction of further injury, the gunman ran away. He bolted down the stairs to the restaurant's 14th street exit, ran through the doors and disappeared into the night. In his possession, a watch, wallet, wedding band, sterling silver ring, bracelet and the sense of peace and safety of two people he'd never known before that night.
We will always know him.
As Tom called the police he told me this; " I was not going to let anyone hurt you, I'm old school, New York. There was no fucking way I was letting him take us to the fucking walk-in cooler."
Twenty-two years later, his words fill my eyes with tears. No one, like ever, had taken to my defense in this way. And, he had a wife and a kid at home waiting for his return. To defend another, with so much to lose was nothing short of heroic.
Thank You, Tom.
In true to form, then Laura-Elizabeth-Power, I rolled into work the next day, reshaping my pain and fear into humor and grit. One of the restaurant owners, Pano, came in that day and talked with me, offering empathy and funds for a therapist. About one month later, I broke down mid-shift and was diagnosed later that week with PTSD. Guess the Ativan was not enough.
Eventually, I returned to work, my world and moved on. Unfortunately, at that time, I was still in the space of life where I used to sell myself bullshit stories about my worth and my being a magnet of misfortune.
Thankfully, I lived well beyond this chapter to discover and embrace the truth of my authorship.
No more bullshit stories.
Only, truth and an unrelenting appreciation for this life that has endured and refreshed without skipping one damn beat.
I feel more blessed by the recognition of my gifts than the actual gifts themselves.
So, today, I celebrate that recognition of awareness and the gift of life itself.
Happy 22-year anniversary of fate giving me a hall pass to the future!
I am humbled and grateful.