It was just before noon on a Monday morning, sometime in the fall of 1988, in Phoenix, Arizona. I stood in my pale blue polo shirt behind the counter at Dairy Queen, my breast milk dampening the front of my uniform. My baby girl was somewhere across town in a basement apartment with some sitter I barely knew while I made three-thirty-five an hour to pump ice cream for sweaty strangers. I had just turned seventeen years old.
An hour before, when I walked in the front door for my shift, my boss informed me my dear friend Renae, my only friend in this Hell hole of a city in which I’d found myself trapped, had been splattered across the freeway at seventy miles per hour when her accelerator stuck. Renae, a tiny girl of twenty-seven, newly divorced, who wore entirely too much blue eye shadow and greeted me each day with the tune of “Don’t worry…BE happy…” was gone and I was alone at the counter, attempting to maintain some semblance of sanity, tears brimming young eyes that had seen too much.
In the door walked a customer, skirt swaying, heels clinking on the red tile, across the small lobby to my counter.
“What can I get for you,” I said, sucking my sadness back into my throat because that two-fifty per hour after taxes was going to feed my hungry kid.
“A Buster Bar,” she said, referring to a tasty ice cream treat we normally sold dozens of every day.
And I thought of Renae, who the Saturday before had risen from her bed, slapped blue eye shadow across her lids, slipped into child sized tennis shoes and skipped, as she was prone to do, out to her car to head to work where she would make dozens of delightful frozen treats. And then she died.
“We’re out of Buster Bars,” I said, while images of my sweet friends smile plucked at the fragile thread from which I dangled.
Her arms flew up, her head shook back and forth, her eyes rolled and her face turned to anger. “I’ve been coming to this Dairy Queen for more than ten years and they have never been out of Buster Bars. This is ridiculous.”
“There was an accident….” I started to explain.
“I’m sure there was…” she spewed, then turned and walked out the door as I melted into a sobbing puddle behind the counter of the Dairy Queen.
I guess that woman was having a bad day. Perhaps she’d fought with her husband or her car wouldn’t start. Maybe her bank account was low, her kids were testing her patience or her favorite sports team lost a game. And for whatever reason she hand hinged her happiness on this one frozen treat.
But I imagine that this woman, had I been able to spill those last few words to explain that the Buster Bars remained unmade because their maker had died a horrible death on her way to work, would still to this day remember the day she forgot, for a moment, that I was human.
SO next time you are cranky, or upset, or wounded over some perceived misfortune and looking for someone at which to spew your misguided frustration…
Please make sure you are not pointlessly shredding someones last fragment of sanity.