I have retired from waitressing; folded my apron for good this time. I never wanted to go back to it, but even still, I did. Last August I cried to my girlfriend as I told her I was going back to the Johnny’s, that I wouldn’t see her on the weekends any more. I did not want to do it, but I felt I had to.
With Holden at home with me during the days, with two slam poetry teams I refused to give up, with a dwindling bank account and my only time to commit to a job being the weekends, I picked up Friday and Saturday night shifts.
I fetched iced teas and sent steaks back to be uptemped, I got desserts comped and made the same bullshit recommendations again and again to people who didn’t want to make up their own minds. I plunged my corkscrew into bottle after bottle of wine. Some customers were fun and kind, some were unpleasant and demanding. I served them all, sometimes feeling like more like a servant than a person.
Around midnight I returned home, cooked myself some ramen, downed a beverage. My girlfriend would be there, waking when she heard my key in the lock and we would bitch about our jobs, vent until our eyes began to close. She was there because that was our only time together: tiny minutes in the middle of the night when we were both dead tired. What kept us going was knowing it would end.
For nine months I have worked weekend nights at the restaurant and weekend days at the coffee shop and for nine months I have been exhausted. My body breaking down, me never giving it a chance to heal. My plantar fasciitis I first noticed two years ago, after working a cocktail shift. Walking afterward was so painful that I went to a podiatrist. The year prior I had run a marathon. But even after those hours-long runs my feet didn’t hurt like they did after a waitress shift.
This year, I gave up running. My feet just hurt too badly. My chiropractor told me I could keep running, that we would fix my feet, but I was so tired all week from my weekends that I didn’t bother. I crawled to my bed some nights, my Achilles so tight I thought they would snap.
But Saturday night, blessed Saturday night, all the agony waitressing has given me—my bad feet, my exhausted body, being belittled with shitty tips and negative comments, being screamed at by the manager or the bartender or the kitchen, co-workers who leave without finishing their sidework and forcing extra work onto me, my stolen time, my missed dates with my girl—it all became null because it was all over.
When I walked outside, it was midnight. It had rained while I worked my eight-hour shift and the air was clean and the streetlights were bright and I loosened my tie and smiled, shouting, “I’m done!” to no one.
I’ve been taking naps most weekdays for the past nine months because my exhaustion haunts me all week. But this morning, when I tried to take my morning nap I couldn’t sleep and I realized maybe I don’t need it. That finally I will be able to create and consume art again. That the long days of waitressing are over forever. Even without a plan of what comes next, I know what it isn’t and that is good enough for me. I found my running shoes in the closet and thought maybe I’d lace them up today, see what I can do with this body after all.