Did I ever tell you how I met Mike? I don’t think I did. I lived way in the sticks at the time (upstate–Adirondack area) and we had few shopping options. I went into one of the only stores in my town that sold clothing. They sold Frye leather boots, steel-toed work boots, Carhartts, hunting camo, Guess, and Levis jeans.
The sales woman was about my mom’s age but really spunky, and since she worked on commission, if she saw me walk in she crossed the store like a ninja to get to me. This time, I wanted some new cowgirl boots. As I sat on the bench pulling the paper out of inside of the boots she said to me, “So, do you have a boyfriend?” I looked up, smiled, and said, “no.” She smiled back and (in her very quick, staccato-style speech) said, “I have a son. Michael. He’s your age. No girlfriend.” By now I had the boots on and I stood up and admired them in the mirror. She said, “those look really good on you–you should get them.” I looked at the box, saw the price, and sighed, “yeah, they’re really pretty nice, huh?” She replied, “Michael lives down in Oswego but he comes home on weekends. You work in that restaurant every weekend?” I looked at her, her eyes filled with enthusiasm, and I said, “yes, I work every Fri, Sat, and Sunday at the restaurant.”
At the time I worked all week in an office and on the weekends I’d waitress at a local nice restaurant. Michael’s mother told me that she found my work ethic an attractive quality. The reality is that she thought that I was a nice girl and would save her son. Michael was a great guy–but he was under the spell of his older brother. Michael’s mom hoped I would save her son from that life and make him a nice boy. I eventually proved a disappointment to her.
The cash I made at the restaurant every weekend was my play money–the other money I put in the bank hoping to save enough to go back to college. In truth, being a waitress was one of the harder jobs I’ve ever done (physically) and yet I remember it with nothing but fondness. There were only five of us and we were a team. We always showed up to work because if you didn’t–that meant someone was carrying your load and that was not okay. We would arrive before the restaurant opened. Fixing our outfits, adjusting our crisp black aprons against our skirts (I always went with the short black skirt–I wasn’t stupid). We’d be putting up our hair (at that time my hair was VERY long and I would french braid it down my back–everyone asking how I could possibly do it without looking in a mirror. We would tell stories and laugh while we prepared the side salads, yell out what desserts were available tonight, find out from the cook what specials we had, and then get the dining room ready.
The kitchen was the intense area–you did NOT want to piss off the chef (and it was remarkably easy to do). Our bartender was a woman who appeared to never be listening to you but you could go to the bar, bark out, “I need a Manhattan with two cherries, Whiskey sour, Jack rocks, and a Labatt blue,” walk away and when you came back minutes later your drinks were waiting for you on your tray. She never made a mistake. At the end of the night, when the last of the customers had finally left, the five of us would sit in a back dining area usually reserved for private parties and fold the clean napkins for the next day.
We’d come in one by one, sit down, putting our legs up on another chair and grab a stack of napkins and lay them out on our laps. One at a time, smooth them out, fold it first in a triangle, then in half, another triangle, flip, fold in half, once more in half, and stack it on the table next to us. We would discuss our tables, the crazy people we had, or how much money we made. Usually I was thanked for taking the biker gangs or Mohawks. Either of those groups appeared intimidating but everyone knew I was not afraid and I always took them. (Between you and me? They tipped REALLY well).
To be honest, it takes a lot for me to be intimidated by people (this isn’t necessarily a good thing–I should probably be more wary of people but that’s a story for another day). But it’s rare that I get anxious when I meet someone new. I went to ten different school systems growing up because we moved so much. I’ve lived in the US and in Canada and spoke French or English depending on where I was and I don’t really remember feeling too upset about all the moving around. Each house or school had something better or worse but it never lasted long and we’d be on to the next anyway–it just didn’t matter.
But, the biggest shock was when I went from an urban New Jersey school to a serious back-woods school upstate. They heard my NJ accent and mocked me. Any word I said was repeated back to me, exaggerated with snickering, as if I was speaking a ridiculous language. They called me, “city girl.” I quickly forced myself to learn their accent so I wouldn’t stand out so much. (kah-fee, kah-fee, kah-fee.. NOT kaw-fee) I actually have that upstate accent down pretty good if you ever wanna hear it–just ask me. I can switch on a dime (and do, every time I’m up there visiting my parents)
Anyway, one day I was out by my locker and a group of kids started yelling, “hey city girl…” and getting closer, acting like they were about to beat my ass. I waited for them to get closer and knew how this would go. One thing about always switching schools? You get into some fights now and then. It’s just how it was–and I have to tell you–I usually kicked ass. I’m small but I’m scrappy and fast.
So I kept working on my locker and while I knew what was coming, and it wasn’t new for me, I was scared. These are not city kids–they are real country girls that can lift bails of hay and throw them around like they’re nothing. Ever lift a bail of hay? They’re really fucking heavy. They rode dirt bikes (Again–heavy. Ever kick start a bike? NOT easy). Anyway, these girls were coming towards me and as I closed my locker I suddenly heard a boy say, “Hey! Leave her alone! I think she’s nice.” I looked to my right and saw a boy in my class giving the group a dirty look. He was a star hockey player with a slew of big brothers who ALSO played hockey. The group shut up, backed away, and never bothered me again. I quietly said, “thank you” but the boy walked away and we never spoke. By the end of that year we had moved again.
So one night I go up to the bar to give my drink order and I immediately noticed two young guys sitting there drinking. Our bar wasn’t one where you went to sit and drink. It was mainly for people waiting for a table to open up–so they stood out. The one looked at me and said, “Are you… ” and said my name. I quietly replied, “yes.” He said his name was Michael and introduced the guy next to him–his older brother. I have to tell you–I couldn’t believe how hot Mike was and was thanking my lucky stars that I had bought those fucking cowgirl boots. So, he waited til my shift was over and we went out. Then, we were dating. He would drive up on the weekends and we’d spend the weekend together. Eventually, much to my parents’ disapproval, we were living together. I adored Mike–but I really never wanted to be married.
One night, I was in a terrible car accident coming home from work and someone called him to tell him. He was in the middle of shaving at the time and left the water running in the bathroom as he flew out of the house to come to me. (Because of that, he ran the well completely dry. Our landlord was kinda pissed about that). I was seriously injured (crushed T4 in my spine, fractured both patellas, and bruised my heart. I was considered totally disabled for 11 months. I still get cortisone injections in my neck and shoulders every six weeks because of the pain) and as they were putting me in the ambulance I felt relief when I heard his voice in the darkness. He started pushing the EMTs out of his way and jumped in the ambulance. He looked me in the eyes and said, “I’m following the ambulance. I’ve got you. K?” My head (and body) were immobilized but I could feel tears going down the sides of my face and he said, “Stop crying. You’re okay. I’ve got you.” I looked at him, he had shaving cream on his ear lobes, his eyes were large and brown and he looked nervous. They yelled for him to get out of the ambulance and he did. Once at the ER he was the first person I saw as they lowered me out of the ambulance and he never left my side.
I will never forget the first time I went to his parent’s house. We walked in and his mother and I exchanged smiles as we already knew each other quite well. His father sat on the lazy boy in the living room and I went in to meet him in person. I turned around and saw, above the fireplace, the collection of school portraits of Michael and his siblings. I said, “wait a second–that’s you?” And Mike sighed and shaking his head at his mother said, “yeah, she leaves all that old stuff up there.” It had been about seven years but I suddenly remembered and said, “you’re him…” and he said, “who?” I looked at him and said, “you’re the boy who saved me.”