My mom died of alcoholism a little less than a year ago. More specifically she died of cirrhosis of the liver, but it’s all the same to me. She died by the bottle, her only real friend in the end.
My mom died dutifully and daily in the bars which line this little street I work on. We call it
4th Avenue here, but it could just as easily be called Anywhere St., Everywhere USA. Every town has one. That little strip somewhere near the middle of town, where artisans struggle to make a living off of their wares, and small faced facades offer up every kind of cuisine one could crave. Bars abound and either end of the strip of debaucherous inclinations is enclosed by a café or a bookstore, attempting some air of a wholesome culture.
The problem with working on this street is that nothing ever changes here. Sure once in a while you get the superficial change here or there, a store changes owners, changes names. A new sign goes up; a pizza joint becomes a sandwich shop. Old graffiti is replaced by new graffiti, but deep down at the heart of it nothing ever changes. The park is still full of crack heads and the bars still full of drunks. The self righteous hippie types are still riding their bikes and shopping at the whole foods stores, the intellectuals still sipping overpriced lattes and reading the hippest philosophies of the day. The college kids still flood the street every weekend, paying our bills with their parent’s salaries, and puking in our trashcans, strategically placed between the all night hot dog stands. Yes this is my little avenue where I’ve grown up and grown older, and God forgive me, if I wouldn’t burn the whole thing to the ground given half a chance to get away with it.
So, nothing ever changes here on the avenue of sleaze, and the drunks in the bars are the same drunks that sat in the same bars, next to my mom as she drank herself to death. Sometimes they come into the greasy little dive where I work and they think they know me, because they thought they knew her. It was the worst right after she passed. They’d come in offering me condolences with beer stained breath. Inside my mind I’d scream, you and I are not friends, and we have nothing to discuss. You are part of the weapon which murdered my mother and I hate you. And of course on the outside I’m all tearful smiles, and miss manners. Thank you, and yes she was wonderful, and yes she’ll be missed, etc. etc. etc. Sometimes sympathy gets the better of me and I want to cry for them, for their deaths, which shall be just as pointless and tragic as hers was.
So it happens less and less the more time that passes, but still sometimes they make their way in with their drunk sincerity, and I’m reduced to an angry and sad little girl who misses her mama.
The other day mid afternoon, just such a woman approaches me at the register with an allegation that her take out order, which had been picked up an hour prior by another individual, had been incorrect. She demanded a remake of the food to her original specifications. I know how to talk to drunks and I try to field it. I speak slowly and clearly asking if she’s a receipt or perhaps the incorrect food to distinguish her as in fact a customer and not a random walker of the street. Indignant of course, no she doesn’t have the food. “It wasn’t what I wanted so I gave it away. I want a blab la bla…” she carries on, her grip on reality tenuous at best. “I’m sorry mam, I don’t know what to tell you, I can’t do anything without some physical evidence of the original order.” “I told you, it was a bla blab la” she continues, and this is rapidly becoming a scene. I briefly contemplate just giving her the burger, if only to get out of this situation, but I think better of it. Fuck her; she has to live by the rules of society just like anyone else. In the real world you just don’t get cheeseburgers for free.
Where the scene really becomes ugly is when she brings my dead mother into this trite disagreement over a fucking cheeseburger. They told me Catherine’s daughter worked here, is that you? Are you Catherine’s daughter? She was a friend of mine. Now why I didn’t just lie and claim to have no idea what she was talking about is a mystery. I guess I can blame AA for the honesty that’s gotten into my veins, it doesn’t even occur to me to lie anymore. Yes, I am she, I admit. And this woman, this frail drunken silly bitch has the audacity to say to me, “What would your mother want?” Now there’s crossing the line, and there’s stepping so far beyond the line that you can’t even see it in the rearview. “That is completely inappropriate” is all I allow myself to spit at her before rapidly retreating back to the kitchen, my eyes filling up with tears. The line cook who’s a long time friend follows me to find out what’s going on. He consoles me when he sees the tears, for I’m not the type to cry in public and anyone who knows anything about me would suspect that only something severe would cause me to put my emotions on display in this way. I ask him to give her whatever it takes to get her to leave and I head out to the back alley with a pack of smokes.
Sitting there in that alley, smoking and crying, I was again the sad and angry little girl who misses her mama. They say grieving happens in stages and I imagine this must have been a piece of mine. I cried until I stopped and when it was done I packed those emotions up and put them back on their shelf. I wiped my eyes, put on my game face and went back to work. One hour left until I get to clock out, and then it’ll be a chocolate ice cream kind of night.
It’s strange how simple and seemingly insignificant instances can be the greatest teachers sometimes. I learn more and more about myself everyday in this little dive on this dingy street. I can only hope the time will soon come when I am off to learn bigger and better things in buildings with windows on clean and sober streets.