My sister was born after my mom had two stillbirths and six miscarriages. They were obsessed, and claimed to be doing this all for me, so that I could have a sibling. The first stillbirth, when I was almost three, was the worst, because she was in labor, full-term, and bled in the waiting room in the ER and no one would help. The gynecologist on call was at a dinner event. Probably drunk. That was the first time mommy was supposed to die. They did almost lose her, too. Rather strange, to almost bleed to death in a place filled with experts on dealing with health emergencies, much more severe ones.
It’s funny, my first memory isn’t of my mom’s blue sweater slowly turning black with blood, that’s my second memory. My first memory is of the happiness before that baby died, of riding my tricycle as fast as I could in the mid-evening, cerulean blue light, the clouds slowly turning pink and orange, racing down a newly paved bike path in our newly paved suburb. I think I even remember smiling, smiling big as mommy and daddy walked behind me. Knowing they were behind me and they were happy and I was safe.
I can almost see my sun-streaked hair blowing in the wind on the most perfect late-August evening that ever was or will be.
Ever since mom died, my family started slowly decaying. When I was a girl, I did not know any “S” or “F” words until junior high. Stores were closed on Sundays, by law. On any day, all three of us would always eat dinner together and the television would first be turned off. Somewhere beneath the dirty smell of the money I exchanged with customers on Sundays when I was 16 there was still the unbroken place where a father and mother played board games with a little girl who could stay in her pajamas all day, and at times I could swear that a waft of mom’s cherry crisp, “almost ready!” in the oven, was lingering in the air. Then I would realize that it was just Starbucks’ latest coffee, flavor syrup, and whipped cream drink – Mitch bought the hungover lot of us drinks that neither he nor us could really afford on his break. When I told him that coffee made a hangover worse because it dehydrates you further he said “shh!”
The employees at the Starbucks on the mezzanine could barely look the bookstore employees in the eye. They made about $1 more an hour than us, maybe $1.50, but had to deal with hot liquids all day. It takes a certain personality to work at Starbucks, a willingness to appear “gung ho” at any moment. It was not for me. They were not for us. We did not mix, unless the rumor about Charlie was true.
Charlie was the guy working the upstairs desk, with the dreadlocks and the swagger, and word was that he had fucked all female Starbucks employees at some point in time. You don’t have to look someone in the eye to fuck them, so maybe it was true. I was the only girl of any age, 16 to 50, that didn’t secretly pine over Charlie. I didn’t understand for many months what it meant when he called me “jailbait” during a cigarette break one day. I realize now how naïve I was, so innocent under my armor, as an adolescent when I compare myself to younger girls today. I was annoyed by the sound of Charlie’s voice and the cigarette was as good as the coffee for a Sunday hangover. I threw mine on the ground and walked away.
The drinking just came with the game. I worked most evenings until 11:30, after leaving the house with my dad and my sister for school at 8:00, and it was rare for anyone below the management level to get a weekend day off more than once every couple of months. So Saturday nights we would all go to someone’s house and raise 20 glasses to minimum-wage work. We would sit around and we would bitch about the store, the customers, the employees that hadn’t showed up to get wasted, the latest “giftware” merchandise that had replaced shelves of books – as long as it was a complaint about the place we had been waiting, counting hours and half hours and ten-minute periods down, for the minute we could leave, all day and evening – it was fair game. It was a confessional for the lot of us that sometimes did things to make the day more interesting that were not in our job descriptions.
It was an escape from the elevator music, a contest to see who would drink so much that they were told in advance not to come to work the next day. It was and escape from the customers that often chose a teenage girl working as a cashier as an object upon which to express the rage that seemed to flow through the veins of at least one third of the people that walked through the doors. Men were usually the ones to be weary of on weekends…
To be continued…
Jennifer L. Reimer is a writer, artist, and entrepreneur. She studied sociology for eight years, but has no letters after her name to boast of because she ran away when her school became unbearable and she realized the limits of “education”. She is well aware that, as her supervisor told her as a parting gift, “[she] cannot call [herself] a sociologist without a Ph.D.” She still does sometimes, though – don’t tell! She currently writes for her popular website, Practice of Madness, and Ex Pat’s Post. You can reach her for queries by email.