April 20, 2005

The Nastiest Cocktail: Life With Bitter on the Rocks

This is a little story about how people become bitter. I used to think we were born that way but nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, we learn how to harden our hearts, how to distance ourselves, and to distrust others. It’s a means to survive.

Two nights ago, I had an opportunity to watch this process, in its early stages, unfold in my daughter’s life. No mother wants to see her child (or any child for that matter) learn such an unfriendly lesson, but we know it’s a rite of passage for our wee ones – so the best we can do is to stand by their side, offer a shoulder, pat them on the back and encourage them to go back out into the world with their eyes more widely opened.

SJ is 18 years old and works 43 hours per week as a food service waitress in a local diner-style restaurant. This is not a career option, but rather a stepping stone while she works her way into the hoity-toity art school she desperately wants to attend. Her shifts are varied and her social life has been all-but put on hold. I have the greatest admiration for her determination. At 18, her mother had no sense of direction what-so-ever.

A few nights a week she gets stuck working till midnight. The house rule is that when she finally arrives home, she lets me know so that I can finally fall into a completely restful sleep. I woke up that night at 12:30 to a ringing telephone. I’ve learned not to think the worst when this happens because all too often, she doesn’t get relieved and has to stay later. This was indeed the case this time around.

After talking to her briefly I returned to bed, only to toss and turn for another hour and a half. She would be home by 2:30 the latest. Good.

When she finally walked in at 3:15 a.m., I had been pacing the floor in the kitchen and I noticed she was sobbing as she locked the door behind her. “Uh oh,” I thought, “this is going to be a long night.” I approached her and she fell into my arms from exhaustion. We sat on the couch and I listened intently (and furiously) as she told the story of a lesson hard-learned.

A group of five loud and raucous young women walked into the diner at 1 a.m. They were an un-classy looking group, so at first she approached them indifferently, taking their huge food orders and bringing them coffee. She claims they “got nicer” as time passed, and seemed more normal and friendly. SJ told me she waited on this group hand and foot, bringing them more and more food and beverages, changing things around repeatedly, and clearing the mess they were making as they made it. This was, after all, her job.

Sarah Jane’s relief came in right at two, but she stayed on figuring she had worked so hard to please this group that she had earned their tip. Their bill, after all, had come to a whopping $83; at two in the morning, that’s a whole lot of diner food!

Sometime during their stay, a young man joined the group. Again, SJ waited on them, shared some smiles and waitress/customer chit-chat and went about her business.

When it came time to give them their check, they all thanked her and started to gather their things. Suddenly, SJ no sooner turned around and the women were racing out the door – quickly followed by the younger man. SJ glanced at the table and there was no money on it at all.

Instinctively (and foolishly) she ran after them out into the dark parking lot ~ just in time to watch as the women sped away and the man was getting into his car. SJ cleverly memorized his license plate number and yelled to him that she was calling the cops. In a threatening tone, he called out to her “DON’T DO THAT.” She ran back inside and did just that.

To sum it up, the State Police arrived rather quickly, filed a report, then informed SJ that the car the young man had been driving had been reported stolen. They told her they’d probably never find this group, but that it was good of her to report it. She broke down in tears telling the officer that this money would be deducted from her pay. He assured her that with a case number on file with the police, her boss couldn’t do that. Still, she had seen this happen to others, and was devastated by the possibility.

I was all set to issue the mother-to-child lecture on NEVER racing into a dark parking lot over a fucking diner check, but an overwhelming sadness in her face made me sit back and listen more intently before I started my rant. I’m glad I had.

She proceeded to tell me that the thing that upset her the most was the fact that she had been nice to these people – that they had seemed nice to her – that all had gone so well – and that she had worked so hard to please them. That’s when I saw it. That look in her eye that I’m not sure I ever saw in her before, but recognized it in my own self dozens of times throughout my life; the look that said “I’ve been had.”

It killed me to know that someone, anyone, could have hurt my child so much with one single selfish act. I wanted to crawl inside of her and sweep up all the humility and hatred and mixed emotions, but it couldn’t be done. I really knew that she needed to embrace it and get over it – without my help.

We talked for a while longer, SJ intermittently breaking down and hugging me tightly – in her own words “feeling just so foolish and stupid.” With each hug it felt to me as though she was five years old again, running to me with a scraped knee. I hated like hell that this couldn’t be fixed with a bandage and a lollipop.

And so, my daughter has had the first of many lessons on how to get bitter. She isn’t yet, of course, but it will come. In the meantime, I can only hope that all the crappy lessons in store for her are as easy to recuperate from. The next day, she got up and had breakfast, showered and dressed for work and assured me with a smile that “well there’s one good thing - today has to be much better.” I’m so proud of her.

(A security video tape showed her manager exactly what had transpired during that night – the women had indeed left money with the check on the table and the man had lifted it and run out behind them. At least she didn’t have to feel so stupid for being nice to the women (unless the whole thing was a plan). I will guarantee you this much, she will NOT have that money taken from her paycheck)


Blogger Swifty said...

That's a heart-rending story. But I don't believe we harden our hearts in the literal sense. We protect it instead. We carry with us always all of the hurt and injury we've suffered over our lifetime. In part it makes us who we are today, and sometimes not for the better. Life is tough.

I'm glad SJ has dealt with it. She's obviously a tough cookie like her mother.

A good post, well worth the wait.


7:15 AM  
Anonymous John said...

Way to go mom! I'm glad SJ is doing well, and that nothing bad happened in the parking lot. Some people are so mean... Fortunatly most aren't!

If the manager takes that cash out of her paycheck, she should do something about it... That's rediculous!

8:00 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

You get an A+ for not scolding her for running into the dark alley. I know, as a parent, you want to make sure you deliver the message and keep your baby safe - but you did the right thing to hold back and let her work out her feelings. You were a good friend - in a day or two you can slip in the mommy speech about dark alleys.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Sask 1 said...

Its so hard when something like that happens to our kids.No matter how old they are we still want to wrap our arms around them and protect them from all the bad things in the world.She sounds like shes made of good stuff though to pick herself up and get back out there.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Hick said...

I agree with Scott. I'm not sure I could have held back my "motherly" advice, much to my chagrin, because then my children are more reluctant to talk to me about things that happen in their lives.

Here's a hearty pat on the back to you. What a mom!

10:42 AM  
Blogger NYCbeauty said...

Oh, if only I was so wise at 18. As you read on my most recent post, I only now, at age 37, am able to learn how to become bitter and angry when it is the correct emotion to have in a situation. Even with the experiences I had of people stepping on me (being nice and then turning on me), I never became bitter. I never "got it" and learned how to shield myself. I am glad though that the women turned out NOT to be the ones who took off w/o paying. I'm glad that they actually WERE nice. Great post. I want to cuddle your daughter too!

12:01 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

I have to agree with Don that was a heart-rending story. It sucked me right in (I mean that in a good way, you’re a good writer). I also agree with NYCbeauty, I too haven't learned how to completely protect my heart; or learn the bitterness that seems to come with age. Right or wrong I think we are all human; some people hurt others on purpose and that is the horrible side of life, but most don't know they are doing it or can't comprehend the consequences before the act. I admire your daughters strength.

2:00 PM  
Blogger The Rambler said...

It must have been some consolation to SJ that the girls had actually paid. The the guy who took the money and ran sounds like a real class act.

Unfortunately it is a lesson we all have to go through. When you think about it, trust is such a rare commodity, it should be worth more than $83.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Walker said...

It’s a hard way to learn a lesson, but you were right not scold her about chasing people into a dark parking lot at that time but should be pointed out just the same. The money shouldn’t be deducted from her paycheck either. I am a door man at a pub and have had to deal with that sort of people, it’s not the servers’ responsibility to chase down people running off without paying. My concern is that they will someday return when they think they have been forgotten.

6:49 PM  
Blogger brooksba said...

Hi Carol,

Whoa, what a hard experience for SJ. I feel so bad that she had to feel the emotions of distrust and feeling like a fool. Reassure her, it happens to everyone. She was not at fault in the slightest and shouldn't feel bad about what that man did. He is the bad one here, the indecent one, not her.

I too have been working in food service to watch people "dine and dash". I have also run out after the people. I've written about it:


You did a wonderful job in comforting her. She will someday, hopefully, look back on the night and realize that she was in the right and that there is no way to force others to act as decent people. The only thing to do is not let it get to you. Protection is great, but iron walls do not let anyone in. She can learn from this experience.

I am glad that the money will not be deducted, otherwise I think there would be some very upset bloggers out there, ready to mount a war against SJ's boss.


9:50 PM  
Blogger frustratedwriter said...

I admire you for listening and not scolding. What a great mom! I'm thinking the child already feels bad enough without a parental dogging session but man, those parental urges are sure hard to fight.

Not all hearts get bitter, but many do get Teflon coated. Having been put down in a relationship for 25 years, it isn't bitterness that reigns, it is a refusal to let the crap stick.

Glad to hear your child is doing fine! She will be a tougher person for having come through the experience. Great post!

9:02 AM  
Blogger CarpeDM said...


I've also run into the darkened parking lot for video games. Brilliant, no?

As for this guy, I now call him the Portuguese word I have just learned today. Secana. Which means, Rat Bastard. Don't you love it?

That's three I know now. Obrigada (thank you), Secana and Bacon. I could obviously live here quite happily, don't you think?

10:25 AM  
Blogger CarpeDM said...

Oh, and I think you're a great mom and SJ is lucky to have you. I'm sorry this crap had to happen to her.

10:26 AM  
Blogger kenju said...

I found you through your comment on Oldhorsetailsnake. I posted a similar story on my blog tonight. I am so sorry your daughter had to learn this lesson at her tender age, but glad that the tape showed the women were not at fault (we think). I hope the police find the guy and punish him harshly for doing what he did.

11:12 PM  
Blogger Raehan said...

The best part of the story from her point of view is that she had YOU to talk to about it. She needed a hug, didn't she?

Thank you for stopping by my site, today! I liked your comments

1:22 AM  
Blogger dan said...

I would be bitter at having to work 43 hours a week, never mind anything else. That should be illegal. 35 hours and no more.

6:12 AM  
Blogger kenju said...

Thanks so much for the nice comments you left for me. Feedback is wonderful and it is nice to know you have struck a chord with others. I like your style, so I'll be back soon.

7:55 AM  
Blogger Carly said...

I have already dealt with things like "my best friend is moving away forever" and "I don't want to repeat this grade" but I think those are only the tip of the iceberg on my parenting journey.

I think she may be wiser now, but she can still choose to look for the good in people rather than assume the worst of everyone.

8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another excellent post.

The way I look at it is that she was nice because she IS nice. Sure she was working for a tip, after all she was at work and not a volunteer at a soup kitchen. But the thing is, even though the people on the receiving end may abuse her kindness, she was stilll being true to her principles, and no one can take that away.

8:34 AM  
Blogger mrhaney said...

i am sorry that this happened to your daughter. she should not have run after them of course. we all learn that lesson after a while though. it is a hard job raising children. my wife and i have 4.

8:56 AM  
Blogger Bekah said...

It sounds like she handled it better than most 18 year olds could. Sorry she got screwed over, but it was good of her to report it and hopefully it won't happen again (and thank goodness for video security -- at least her niceness to those women wasn't a big waste).

9:19 AM  
Blogger mrsmogul said...

I am glad she won;t have a reduction in her paycheck, it wasn;t her fault after all. Thank god she's alright! I think our judgement of people improves as we get older. I am sure with your parenting, she will one wise lady!

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As usual, you scored a big one with this story. Very heartbreaking, and yes, I do think hearts can break and grow hard. My Ex (son's father) used to be the most happy-go-lucky guy around. Too much so, he'd pick up hitchhikers and bring them home for a meal and a place to stay (I made him stop that when we got married) he would give money to anyone who said they needed it. He was just the most trusting and generous person I've ever met, like a big old Golden Retriever. The last time that I saw him, at our son's graduation, he was very different; bitter and complaining about everything. I think the years of trusting people and then getting stomped on had started to get to him. It's so sad, but necessary to learn to be more cautious. Sorry, I didn't mean to write so much...I love your stories!

12:46 PM  
Blogger Lizabeth said...

Your daughter is extremely lucky to have a mother like you. Very admirable also, she could have been like many other waitresses at 1 am, cranky and well... bitter. She was nice to them and the next morning had a postive attitude - that shows a heck of a lot of character. She didn't get that on her own...

4:26 PM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

The very best you can do is explain that there will be bad people in the world and you won't always be able to tell which ones they are, but you should still stick to your principles, and take your knocks as they come. Like you said, being untrusting is a survival tool, so as bad as it may seem that the innocence must suffer, it will protect her in the furture to keep a closer eye on people. But she seems like she will just become more cautious- not completely bitter.

6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aww, Carol... my heart goes out to SJ... tell her a great big huggle all the way from Australia for her, its a nasty lesson on life that she learned the hard way. Unfortunately, they are assholes out there who WILL take advantage of others, and that guy will get his come-uppance. You handled the situation admirably.. hey! thats what moms are for... take care... Kev (cool blue)

7:29 PM  
Blogger happyandblue2 said...

I am sorry that this happened to your daughter. I hope that it doesn't make her too bitter.
Another good post..

11:09 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Gosh I feel so bad for SJ! Loved the stance you took though. It IS a tough lesson to learn...I have friends who have had the "I've been had" face after investing months and years of their lives in the wrong people (impressing the slimy boss, hanging on to that never-serious boyfriend...)...and they have learnt what SJ learnt in one night, but losing a lot on the way. SJ sounds like a smart girl alright and this will just make her smarter. Take care!

12:08 AM  
Blogger phoenix said...

You did a wonderful thing for your daughter by just being there. I learned that lesson at 16 when I had a pair of jeans stolen off our wash line. We were dirt poor and barely could buy food. My mom and I went shopping to find me some clothes for school. I saw a pair of jeans that cost 17 dollars and fell inlove with them right off the bat. In the 70's this was a fortune to pay for jeans. I told my mom not to buy them, I would find another pair that we could afford. She snuck away and bought them anyway. I was in awe that she would do that for me. Her love for me prompted this splurge. I wore them one time. They had a mud spot on them and had to be washed. I went out to pull the laundry off the line and they were gone. I was hurt beyond all measure that the gift my mother had given me was gone, just like that.
These lessons are never easy, but a mothers arms can heal all wounds.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Alisa said...

Beautifully written story! Thank you!

I am very furious at the restaurant industry. I feel your daughters pain. It is a standard policy in most restaurants that if a group of diners do not pay their check, the server is responsible for it.

This puts young women and young men in danger, as they race out into darkened nights chasing horrible people into parking lots, because when you only make 2.13 an hour, that 83.00 dollars isn't chump change.

Restaurants know that the price of doing business is dine and ditch customers and the penalty falling on the server is unjust and dangerous.

I am saddened that this happened to your daughter and I hope that she is able to recoup her loss in tips and additionally hold the restaurant responsible for the amount of the check.

9:16 AM  
Blogger dan said...

I never thought to say this before, but I think this leaving money on the tablw with the check should be done away with.

Everybody should have to pay i advance then nasty things like this don't happen.

That's how we do it in Britain. Apart from car repairs, you pay for those later. No money, no car.

2:55 PM  
Blogger frustratedwriter said...

Carol, damn girl, I am impressed, 31 responses. You have a knack to appeal to people's hearts and I would call that effective writing. Wonderful post, as usual.

9:03 PM  
Blogger Elle said...

Sadly we cannot protect our children from life's lesson, but we can give them a safe place to cry and a place where they feel loved, and you have done that. Quite heartwarming.

I waitressed in an upscale restaurant where we kept our own "bank," meaning we kept all the money we made from the dinners as well as our tips, and we had to start with a change bank of $75.00. I was interning by day and waitressing everynight. This was my best night yet, I must have made well over $100.00 in tips. I was punching in my nightly sales, and had a problem with the computer. I went around the corner to get the mangager, leaving my apron and someone stole it along with about $300.00 that was in the pocket.I had to pay it all back (except the tips). Bastards.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Dave Morris said...

Well written piece, you never know about some people.

Just wanted to tell you to have a good weekend Carol...

11:42 PM  
Blogger Santanu said...

SJ is sure lucky to have a mother like you, Carol!
A nice piece as usual from the master storyteller!

8:33 AM  
Blogger Lyvvie said...

Well written story. Poor SJ! But could she have done? It's not nice to realise, sometimes, people suck.

Is it wrong that after reading that...I really want Bickfords???

I miss Diner food, Diner life, Diner bottomless cups of coffee and sassy Diner waitresses.

Sigh. I can't even find a resaurant to serve french toast with syrup and bacon. Double sigh. I'd leave a huge ass tip for that meal.

11:44 AM  

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