Used To

by Sophie Shaw

Just so you know, I’ve never done this before. And I’m not doing it so that you’ll try to come back and find me or ask my manager about me. Or even give me a big tip. Good God, believe me when I say I’m not doing this for money. From what I overheard you saying it sounds like you’re just passing through, and I hope that is the way it stays. I don’t want to see you again.

Your kids seem very nice, the way they both said “please” when they ordered their drinks. The boy spilled one of the sugar packets on the table, but when I came back to bring you your appetizers someone had cleaned it up. Was that you? Or maybe your son? You don’t have to do that, you know. It’s part of my job and I don’t mind.

I should cut to the chase and tell you what I have to say. You’re pressing your hands on your eyes the way my dad used to when he was tired of us kids making too much noise. You’ll ask for the bill any minute now. My boss would be pissed if he saw I was using his napkins to write messages to customers, but not because he cares about the environment. He cares about not wasting money, that’s all. But all I’m trying to do is explain something about myself, and to tell you that I think I understand something about you, too.

Look, this is the seedy kind of place where guys come in drunk at 8 in the morning. We get a lot of truckers, and otherwise most people like you, people with families, go across the way, to the diner or one of the nicer restaurants. Why did you come here? I came here for all the wrong reasons, and I could have gotten a job at a place that is much nicer.

Do you love to watch Seinfeld as much as my dad used to? I can’t even remember now what exactly you said, but it was something about Newman, and the mail. That’s what made me start writing. And your son laughed. Does he watch Seinfeld re-runs with you? I used to. Saying “used to” about my dad still feels like taking a shot of moonshine every time I say it, and it’s been three years. I don’t know how else to describe it, except that it’s like getting bashed in the throat. You would think that after three years all those shots and bashes there would help to form a callous.

Have you ever had something happen in your life that makes you think you must have changed into a different person? You look at yourself in the mirror, at the way your hair grows and the number of freckles you have. The shape of your mouth and the specific color of your lips. The strange darkness of the skin around your eyes and the lines of the veins in the backs of your hands. Sometimes at night, I spend hours trying to find something that I recognize in the mirror. But I can’t.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe you don’t do that at all. Do you?

What I’m trying to say, is that if something did happen to you, something big enough to make you stop knowing your own reflection in the mirror – it happened to me too. Is that why you’re at this place with these little kids? Is that why it’s nine-thirty on a Wednesday and you’re not at work and they’re not in school? Is that why your hand shook when I refilled your coffee mug? Is that why you keep rubbing your eyes the way my dad used to? Used to. Used to. Used to.

I would tell you that it’s okay, give it time. But here I am. Now I don’t know what the point of writing this was. Your little girl is standing up in the booth and your boy just took a tater tot off her plate. But you don’t notice because you’re trying to get her to sit back down. And now you’re looking around for me, or someone to bring you the bill.

Will we ever get so we can look at ourselves in the mirror without hurting? Don’t answer that question for me, I don’t want to hear the answer yet.


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