Nineteen, on my own, and scrambling to fund college, rent, and car, I waitressed in a club. It was a bar, really. A bar, definitely. A rather seedy one at that, I see now. We waitresses wore short shorts and tight tops and flirted a little. Some girls flirted a lot. Hey, it helps with the tips. But I was innocent and non-judgmental, and I looked away when I saw waitresses disappear into a back room with customers sometimes. I didn’t judge when cocaine was laid out on the game tables after closing—that was their business, not mine. My mind was on earning money and making it to my 8am classes. But I began to get a funny feeling—something dark in the pit of my stomach—every time I had to go in. I just didn’t like being there, amidst all that, whether it was my business or not.

One night I was all dressed up to go to work. I got in my car and drove toward the bar. Then I drove right past the bar, all the way down to the river, where I sat for hours, thinking: there has to be something better than this. I never went back, not even to get my last paycheck, and lord knows I needed it.

Things worked out. I didn’t go hungry—though I ate a lot of potatoes at one point—and I always had a roof over my head. I got another waitressing job, this time at Red Lobster where I had benefits including insurance. It was good work, even if the uniform was dorky, but one night something happened. We were in the midst of transitioning to a new manager. Policies had changed, and things were a chaotic mess. On this particular night one too many things had gone wrong and I HAD HAD IT. I remembered the empowerment I felt when I quit that bar job, so I grabbed my time card. I was going to clock-out, quit, and to go home. I knew things would work out, that I wouldn’t go hungry, and that I’d have a roof over my head, no matter what.  

I stood there like a rock in a stream, waitresses and kitchen staff swirling around me, staring at my time card. I realized I had a choice—I could quit or not—it was entirely my choice. Knowing I had a choice—both having it and knowing I had it—empowered me. I was free to do anything.

I chose to put my time card back in its slot. I worked there until I graduated, a total of 4 or 5 years.

This was decades ago, but the deep clear recognition that I always have a CHOICE has rung like a bell through me at the most challenging or befuddling times. There may be a price to pay for my choice, but it is smaller than the cost of being a victim or remaining stuck. I feel empowered, willing and able to accept the downside of any choice, so that I can be true to my heart. What a gift I received from a younger Me, standing in a restaurant galley wearing a polyester sailor suit!