“She’s chatty,” said Jesse. He was referring to our waitress who seemed to be holding a conversation with everyone in the room between sweet tea refills.
I looked up from my coffee and turned my attention to her as she served the table next to us.
“ … I have four kids,” I heard her say. “All we could do was board up the windows.”
The waitress turned to me and smiled brightly before chatting to me about my kids. I hadn’t seen her at the establishment before, but it seems like everyone has new hires these days.
“I’ll be right out with your food.” She ended the small talk and left.
A few minutes later, she came out with our large tray of food. As she set our meals on the table, I turned my attention to making sure the kids had everything they needed.
Then I heard the crash.
The restaurant went silent as everyone looked towards the noise. Our waitress stood there looking at the plate of food she dropped, mortified. Someone started slow clapping.
“Are you alright?” I asked her, trying to help relieve her of the rest of the plates.
She came out of her reverie. “Yes. Yes, I’m so sorry. That’s actually twice that’s happened today. Not me, of course. Someone else. I’ve never dropped a plate before. I’ll go put in a remake order.”
She hurried away as someone came to sweep up.
“She’s a bit all over the place, isn’t she?” said my husband.
“They’re probably just really busy,” I replied. “But yeah, she kinda is.”
The waitress came back with a pitcher of tea. Bending low to refill our glasses, she laughed loudly about dropping the plate.
“So silly. I’ve NEVER done that before and I’ve been here almost a WEEK.”
I smiled at her, secretly thinking a week wasn’t very long to master waiting tables. It’s harder than people think! “Well, that was a large tray. It was bound to happen eventually. Accidents happen.”
She shook her head. “My husband and I owned a 5 star rated business, but it was destroyed in the storm. Now I’m waitressing. I’ve never been a waitress before.”
Jesse and I both looked at eachother. It’s the kind of thing a stranger says and you can only look at them to give your, “I’m sorry” and mean it with your whole being.
“I’ve never, ever dropped a tray before,” she shook her head before leaving our table.
“Kind of an odd way to say, ‘We lost our business in the storm,’ isn’t it?” Jesse said after a while.
“Well, I’m sure going from owning a 5 star rated business with your husband to working in someone else’s restaurant may feel like a bit of a demotion for her. Can you imagine if we lost our jobs and our home, too? Can you imagine if we lost a business and couldn’t reopen and had to go back to waiting tables like we used to? After all our hardwork to never have to wait tables again if it wasn’t what we wanted?”
“There’s no shame in waiting tables, though.” He replied.
“Of course not. But think about having to wait tables in a popular restaurant like this one to put food in your four kids’ mouths after losing your business. Think of everyone seeing you there waiting those tables when you had just owned a successful business … and then you drop a tray … in a crowded restaurant where people probably know you in this small town. She probably feels like waiting tables should be no problem. She may even feel ashamed and feels the need to qualify herself even to strangers. You know what I’m saying?”
Jesse looked at me.
“What she was really saying was, ‘I owned a 5 star rated business before a dang hurricane took it away from me. I’m not a failure just because I dropped a plate, I’m so much more than that and I need you to know that, stranger. This is just temporary, so don’t judge me.’”
“Yeah,” he said. “I can see that.”
“Yeah,” was my reply.
Over the course of the rest of our meal, the waitress kept apologizing to us and everyone who would listen while insisting she had never dropped a plate before in her life. I kept reassuring her the best I could that it was no problem and she was doing a great job.
We tipped her well, gave our parting greeting and made our way to leave the restaurant.
As we walked towards the door, we overheard a gentlemen speaking in low tones to his wife.
“You see that waitress over there? She served me Monday. She owned a highly rated business with her husband, but the storm destroyed it. They’ve got four kids. Sad, right?”
I nodded, though he couldn’t see.
We returned home to make more repairs on our house. I thought about how much I didn’t want to do the work. I wanted to read and maybe take a nap or watch a movie or go to the beach. I thought about how my weekends used to be before the hurricane took that away.
As I worked on ripping painters tape from the trim, I found myself speaking to nothing and no one in particular.
“This is just temporary. This is just temporary. This is just temporary.”