Blog spoiler alert! This story is unlike any other I’ve told. I can tell you many of the details leading up to this remain unbelievable. And it happened to me 40 years ago. I stand behind my actions and have learned to live with the outcome. But the totality of this journey is still a mystery to me.
I was waitressing in Naperville, Illinois. My husband, Andrew, was in chiropractic school. We had two small boys, ages two and four. My husband and I agreed that while he was in school during the days, I would work in the evenings. I was willing to go back to work, but what I wasn’t willing to do was have my kids brought up by anyone but their parents.
Andrew would get home from school around four in the afternoon so waitressing the evening dinner shift worked out perfectly. I had experience waitressing and had done it while I was in college. I wouldn’t call myself a professional, but I certainly knew my way around restaurants.
There are three different groups of waiters/waitresses. One group is young people in their 20s going to college. Then, there’s a middle group, mostly mothers, who still had children living at home. Then the professionals: these men/women were tough.
I love the fact that there were so many different age groups. There’s so much wisdom to be learned from the elders, and much to be remembered with all the wonder, enthusiasm and innocence of the younger generation. As I would listen to all their hopes and dreams it brought back treasured memories of younger years.
This particular restaurant was Greek. There were Caesar salads, Steak Diane and, for dessert, Cherries Romanoff with flaming drinks; the whole 9 yards. We worked hard, but the tips were great. We often socialized amongst ourselves outside the restaurant. It was definitely like a second family.
The girl in this story wasn’t much younger than me. We were both in our 20s, but our lives could not have been any more different. I was married with two kids, she was single, and loving every minute of it. We had become very good friends. She enjoyed hanging out with me and my boys.
She had grown up in a large Irish family, and she was right smack in the middle so she had lots of older and younger siblings. She was a very independent soul, going to college and had her own little apartment not far from where I lived. Her free spirit, creativity and love of color made graphic design a perfect major for her to pursue in college.
My boys loved spending time with her. She was energetic, loving and full of craft ideas. If I wasn’t seeing her at work, we were spending time with my kids so I was oblivious to the fact that she really liked drinking, Think about it: we were either working or with my kids, so I was never around her when she was drinking.
It became apparent after about six months that maybe she was no longer in charge of her drinking; alcohol was in charge. She was the one who brought it up one day when she said, “I got to stop drinking so much.” I have to admit I was a little shocked. Remember, I was never around her when she was drinking. I wasn’t really concerned at the time. I thought perhaps she needed to slow down, but within the next month, it became apparent she was totally out of control.
She showed up to work one day, and there was no question in my mind that she had been drinking. I tried to talk to her about it a few times to no avail. The problem is hard enough to deal with when you accept it’s a problem, but if you’re ignoring or defending your drinking habits, it’s a downhill battle.
There was a bar I drove by every day on the way to work. I knew she was a regular there. She had even received a gift certificate to auction off during one of the fundraisers the restaurant put on for the children’s hospital in Chicago. Life was getting very busy for Andrew and I at that point, as he was graduating in a month. We were moving back to Connecticut and I’d have to say that my mind was dealing with preparations to move halfway across the country to start Andrew’s new practice.
Michelle was starting to look unkempt when she showed up for work. I tried to talk to her about it and as you can imagine it did not go well. I decided that since I’m not a fan of drinking, I was probably the worst person to discuss this with her. One day, I was driving to work at 3:45 in the afternoon. I passed her local home away from home (the bar) and noticed her car was parked in front. It wasn’t hard to recognize her car, considering she was the only one in the parking lot.
Now here’s where things get a little confusing to me. I have never done anything like this before and I have never done anything like this since. I’m just thinking about the number of hours that I have spent going over these details over the last 20+ years; I hope never to do it again. So here we go; be kind and don’t judge me.
I can honestly say I have no idea how my car pulled itself into the parking lot next to Michelle‘s car. I had to be at work in 15 minutes but the restaurant was literally a minute away so I guessed I had time to walk in and see what was going on. The bar lights were turned down low, the music from the jukebox was blaring and it was very smoky. That’s a trifecta for me. I can’t see, I can’t hear anything because the music is so loud and I don’t smoke.
At the bar sitting alone, actually more like slumped alone, was Michelle. In front of her was a beer, a shot glass filled with whiskey and an ashtray holding her lit cigarette. I stood there for a minute and just watched her. It was so sad. She was drunk, alone and totally out of it. I walked over to where she was sitting and just stared at her for a few minutes. She never noticed me.
I finally said to her, “Hey, what’s going on?” She straightened up, looked at me and was genuinely happy to see me. I only wish I could say the same. She wanted me to sit down and drink with her. Then I knew she’s really out of her mind. I had never had a drink with her. I did take a seat next to her and for the life of me, I have no idea why I said the next thing. I truly felt possessed to tell her this. I knew it wasn’t going to be kind, or even if I had the right to say this.
Regardless of my trepidation, there was nothing I could do but deliver the message that I had been told by the universe to deliver. I started out slowly and said, “Do you realize that it’s 4:00 in the afternoon, and you’re sitting alone in a bar? You keep telling me you want to slow down the drinking. I know I haven’t had a lot of time to visit. I have been preoccupied with getting ready to move, but Michelle, I’m scared for you. I’m leaving for Connecticut in five days, and I don’t know what I can do to help you if you’re not willing to help yourself.”
She just looked at me. Both of her eyes were glossed over, her cheeks were red and she didn’t even attempt to say a word. I finally said, “You know I love you, but if you keep going the way you’ve been going, I promise you, if you kill yourself in a car accident because you were drunk, I’m not gonna cry.” She never said a word, and what I had said rendered me speechless. At this point, I was crying for both of us. I just got in my car and went to work.
I don’t think you’ll be surprised when I tell you we never spoke again. The next week we moved to Connecticut and I got a call two days later. She had been drunk and had driven her car into the back of a semi and was instantly killed. I was anguished over the news. I can report, to this day, I didn’t cry. It took all the strength I had. Remember, I told her I wouldn’t, and a promise is a promise.