It’s the nineties. On any given night the juke-
Restaurant life is my secret bliss—the pouring of drinks, the engagement of strangers, the whirring —table to table, arms stacked with plates, the rush of the rush. The choreographing of dish washing and cash counting. Once a night I sacrifice a few loonies to choose my songs, to own the atmosphere for fifteen minutes, to star in the movie with my own personal soundtrack.
My bestie is singer in a band and her band is an era in and of itself. There is a gang of us who are part of her story. We attend glamorous shows on our nights off. We dress in gowns and we are part of something big and enigmatic and important. Each day I am redeemed by exhaustion and a handful of twenties which I stash and collect for bill paying and general posterity. My restlessness is exorcised day after day. Infinity artfully rendered into hundreds of rituals and their completion. The washing of ketchup bottles. The rolling of cutlery into tidy napkins. We are allowed a drink at the end of our shift. Sometimes I sip a strong beer while I balance my cash sheet.
I am working on a something creative, in my spare time. It is important to me. A garden in my soul where the weeds used to be. And on one particular day, the one I am writing to you about, I leave for work with a plan, a calling, a mission in my heart. I am going to finish my day shift and head home to work on my project. I feel how good it feels to have made this decision. In my bones. A deep residing inner peace. I will leave love for another day. Tonight I will plant in my metaphorical garden.
All of this I am musing over as I approach the restaurant, gulping in my last breath of fresh air for the next eight hours.
I pull open the door with a pep in my step.
And then this happens.
I see my bestie ENRAGED by the situation at table 9.
I see her. But by the time I SEE her, I have already felt her. Her anger. Disdain. Rage at table 9 who have left a thousand empty creamers, sugar wrappers, overflowing ashtrays, and a handful of dimes and nickels, encrusted in ash, and totaling thirty percent shy of the price of their coffees consumed over the course of two full hours. In server-
The problem is that I am walking over to her, and I am choking on her anger. It is taking over the room and I am pinned in place, dragon fire blasting my face.
I think I am going to offer help, or sympathy, or empathy even.
But that is not what I am going to do.
I am going to fix it.
I am going to get the hot fire breath of the dragon off my face, my neck, where it is scalding my skin.
I am going to accomplish the ultimate act of alchemy friend. I am going to turn rage into joy.
Like my life depends on it.
And it does.
At least that is the message firing from my nervous system.
Tame the monster.
Hold her Rock her to sleep. Get her a cold cloth.
Run after the coffee stealers.
Offer to clean their mess.
Offer to shine her shoes. Bring her bananas and marigolds.
Give her one of my tables. My first born child.
What I do say, in a voice disembodied from my person, echoing across the loveless restaurant and bouncing back to me —“Do you have plans tonight?
Little me, little small garden growing staying at home to nurture my creative soul me, screams. It is a silent scream, but you can feel the earth quake as little me slams her bedroom door, throws herself on the bed and weeps.
But it is done. It belongs to her. My night.
I serve lunch and self betrayal. All. Day. Long.
Why have I done it?
But as it turns out, I am actually a ninja.
I have been taking down dragons since the age of five.
Super scary grown ups and bullies who were not safe when they were angry.
And so my life, health, SURVIVAL depended on making them smile.
At any cost.
On calming the beast.
SO while my inner mom was like all, gonna take good care of you tonight child and practice some boundaries and self care, my little self was like, GET THE FRICK OUT OF THE WAY MOM. FIRE BREATHING BITCH DRAGON IS GOING DOWN!
And before I could say TIME OUT, the rescue, aka damage was done.
We call this PEOPLE-
It is not, in fact, pleasant.
And a lot of times the person getting “pleased” doesn’t even want it.
They’re not always the ragers. Sometimes they are just caught in the cross fire.
We don’t hold ourselves in poor regard with our logical minds.
It’s not even a response to low self esteem, although that can play a role.
It is a response to fear.
Their dislike and disapproval feel dangerous to us, sending multiple rapid fire emergency alerts to all of our cells.
When you are the one doing the pleasing, it kinda feels like any old day you could be on your way to Italy and suddenly your are at the North Pole, offering to build a wooden toy from some sawdust and an old lip gloss on your coffee break because you just needed to MAKE IT BETTER, fast. So very fast.
People and their emotions are land mines.
They scare us to death.
And we are Kip from the English Patient, cool and brilliant, diffusing bombs and never really loving anyone because that shit is a full time job. We can’t drop down to less than three hundred percent functioning or the family dog gets it, and so we outsmart and we outrun, all the way to our camp in the field where we carve out a little nest of safety and hide there.
NOW, not all the things we do that please other people are in fact, people-
Rather, PP refers to behaviour that is unhealthy.
Often it’s at a direct expense to our well being.
Often it feels like a compulsion. There is no reason or thoughtfulness behind it.
It causes pain and suffering that is greater than the pleasure it gives the object of our gift.
This is not to be confused with regular old giving. Giving from a place of generosity or joy or meaning is a different thing.
Sometimes REALLY BIG GIFTS that would seem crazy to the rest of the world are the healthiest most joyful blessed thing for everyone involved.
Whereas “here’s my chocolate chip” can be a toxic choice, if we really wanted that chocolate chip and we are giving it away out of an inveterate response to fear of disapproval or emotional abuse, or the silent brooding disapproval that is the hallmark of emotional abuse to come.
Well, be damned if we’re not gonna stave that off at the pass.
It’s safer to be running someone’s errands and solving their problems than to risk the dangerous territory of not being liked or being on their BAD SIDE.
It’s safer to be living a life that has nothing to do with you, like that film about the man who is juggling two families and his kids, BOTH SETS, are like teenagers. That man is tired, and broke.
If only we could JUST SAY NO.
I can’t marry both of you.
It’s not practical.
If only our little armies could put down their weapons of mass placating.
Well, they can folks.
It’s not as easy as “no”. Especially when much of our people-
It’s not that we lack a backbone or self respect.
We have to reach a place of emotional safety first.
Safety from abuse in our outer worlds.
And safety within.
We can’t shake ourselves out of it.
We have to be kind. And patient.
We have to give ourselves the approval, the gentleness, the support, the compassion, the respect that we need.
Sometimes we need to distance ourselves from people who trigger us until we can get strong enough that no one can trigger us.
We have to heal some shit that went down.
And then it gets easier. To be genuine. To trust ourselves to be ourselves.
We can let people in without losing organs or running double lives.
And we can let them love us. Just because.
There is this whole greater us that deserves to come out of hiding.
Who isn’t being dragged to hell or losing love for maybe possibly getting in the same room with the word no.
As for my bad ass singing bestie?
Now and again we reminisce about the good old days at the restaurant with its colourful cast of characters where I found love and friendship and myself, sniffle sniffle.
The end of an era. And the beginning of something new.
— Love Erin