Twelve weeks after Machaela’s death I had to return to reality. My maternity leave was up and my grievance pay was exhausted. I came home from Sweden with $3.33 to my name. I was scheduled to return back to my waitressing job that following Monday and I was terrified. This would be the first time I’d have to face my coworkers and regular customers since Machaela’s funeral. I prayed that God’s grace would be enough to get me through all of the questions without a break down.
I was greeted with giant smiles and warm hugs. Walter hugged me first and then Joanne gave me a big giant squeeze. I was beginning to learn how to be more open to hugs. My fellow employee’s made me comfortable, no pressure to answer questions and it was business as usual.
“Darla, I wanted to let you know that most of the regulars know about your daughter. I’ve been keeping them updated so you wouldn’t have to keep repeating it to everyone.”
“Oh, that’s a relief. Thank you.”
“No problem, Chica. Now get your booty to work. Table 34’s food is up.”
I grabbed the food and hustled it out to the table. I was so grateful that Joanne played the part of the messenger. It took a huge load off me. Much to my relief, we were slammed that night. It didn’t give any room for talking with my coworkers or customers. By the time I looked at my watch we were only twenty minutes away from closing time. Thank God this night went way easier than I had anticipated. It was finally slowing down so I went back to the waitress’s station to began the closing routine. I’d just dumped the last bit of regular coffee and finished condensing the ketchup bottles. I began rolling silverware, losing myself in deep thought as my hands methodically took over this mindless activity.
I saw headlights pull up. Damn. Seven minutes until closing. It always irritated me when customers walked in minutes before closing. Argh! I guess I wouldn’t be getting out of here on time tonight. Jim was waiting for me and I really needed to be with him. Spending all that time together in Sweden made me miss him intensely when we were apart.
Then I saw who was walking in.
It was the grumpy pair of retired college professors locked into a 1930’s frame of thinking. They came in at least once a week, always minutes before closing time. The duo always ordered two senior salad bars (always reminding us of their senior discount) and two decaf coffees with extra cream. I’ve had casual conversations with them in the past only out of good manners because I had absolutely no desire to befriend them. One evening they told me that they always came in late because they didn’t want to take a chance of sharing the restaurant with anybody that wasn’t white. They refused to leave a tip on the table in fear that a ‘nonwhite’ employee would rip it off. Their narrow minded point of views had always ruffled my feathers and I wasn’t in the mood to deal with them now. I served these people only because I had to.
I grabbed the decaf I knew they’d be asking for and headed over to their table.
“You look decent for just having a baby.”
“Thank you…” What the hell? Decent for just having a baby? That’s a lot coming from an old hag that has never had a baby.
“So, how’d all your baby issues turn out?”
“Unfortunately we lost her.”
“Well, well. Were you receiving second rate health care? It’s for the better anyways; the last thing you need is a sick, needy kid and the last thing our country needs is another welfare case.”
Fury, shock and awe! How could anyone be so nasty? Shots of red sent lightning bolts through my field of vision and the only thing I could hear was a low pitched droll running through my head. The scalding hot decaf shook in my hand and it took everything in my power not to pour it on her lap. Never losing eye contact with the miserable soul, I set the coffee onto her table. I wanted to knock the smirk right off her face.
“Well, I guess we’re all better off then, aren’t we?” I spun on my heels and walked away.
“Darla, you forgot to bring my cream.”
Why? Why are people so ugly? My throat was starting to feel like I had a rock in it. Why are people are so easy to judge and jump to conclusions? She didn’t know anything about me. A welfare case? I wasn’t a welfare case. And so what if I was? Do people on welfare not deserve the same chance at life as others? My eyes were brimming with tears. I could feel the hurt coming back. It always started in my chest, with my heart, pounding hard against my chest. The faster it went the more it felt like it was in my throat. It was constricting me again. It was that suffocating grief that always stole my breath. My eyes were burning and my tears were about to overflow. I did not blink until I made it through the double doors and into the kitchen before I let it go. Humiliated in front of my co-workers, everything I feared about this night just happened three minutes before closing. Grief had defeated me again.
I gathered my things, clocked out and ran for my car with tears streaming down my cheeks. I had to get out of there as soon as possible. At that point I wasn’t sure which emotion was stronger, the rage I was feeling towards the old bigots or the yearning I had to hold my baby. I would’ve given anything to just be able to hold her, even if it was for just one minute. Their insults were like rubbing salt in my wound! How dare they say that about her! About us! I would’ve given my life so she could have hers.
How could someone I loved hurt so bad?
Just when I thought the night was going better than expected and that I would make it through, this happened. I had failed myself. Apparently I wasn’t strong enough to handle these kinds of situations. It didn’t matter what mental preparations I took, I let the ugliness get the best of me.
I was pretty sure that the old couple had to be the unhappiest people ever. They were everything I never wanted to be and I prayed that God would never allow that. I took me so time before I realized that through all of my grief and loss, I was still in a better place than those two. I thought maybe one day I will look them up and thank them for the valuable lesson they taught me. Then, I thought not. I’d just pray for them instead. For now, I thank god for giving me the wisdom to know better.