As I walk in the door to begin my shift, a young coworker is changing the trash, and as I go to throw away my coffee her eyes meet my own and she tells me she’s upset. Naturally, I ask her why, and she responds by telling me I should look at Monica’s face.
Monica is a shift manager and a rather unique woman, to say the very least. Though I’ve never been good at judging age, she has three daughters and a few grandchildren. Her life has been riddled with drug use, criminality and prison time, and she’s currently a pill-popper (and snorter), often engages in heavy drinking and on occasion cocaine — which used to be her drug of choice, though, as she has told me on a few occasions, she gave it up long ago. When I asked her how she managed, she told me, quite blatantly, that she just began using other drugs.
While a hard worker, her work patterns are inherently chaotic; she is a dedicated multitasker who is not very good at multitasking. She often sings songs at high volume, typically ones she has created on her own, and is known for her dancing and for mishearing what others say as something far more absurd and perverted — often amusing, but not when you’re attempting to have a serious conversation with her.
She has a live-in boyfriend, Chuck, who is out of work because he hurt his back; he’s addicted to pain pills. She supports him entirely, and as a token of his appreciation, he consistently steals money and drugs from her. They’ve gotten into mutual fist fights that also involve breaking furniture, biting and pulling each other across the floor by the hair.
So when my coworker told me that I should just look at Monica’s face, that was really all I need to hear.
As I walk behind the counter on the way to clock in, I say hello to Monica and take a look at her face: black and blue like rotting fruit, the bill of her cap pulled to the side to hide her shiner in the shadows. I turn away and walk to the touch-screen in the back to clock in. When I go back up front to change trash, I ask her the question I’ve asked two or three times before.
“What the fuck happened?”
Chuck and her got into another fight, she explains. He ran out of pills, went into withdrawals, borrowed money from a friend, got drunk, beat the shit out of her and subsequently attempted to smother her with a pillow — and she tells me all of this in that “shit happens” sort of way that at once blows my mind, enrages me and plunges me into the depths of depression.
This time, though, she refused to fight back, she tells me, as if this is a heavy leaf she’s turning and the clouds are parting now and it’s all rainbows, cheesecake and blowjobs. I tell her that what she needs to do is to get the fuck away from him, and when one of her beautiful daughters — the one out of the three I honestly really like, as she’s an intriguing cocktail: compassionate badass — comes in and goes up to the counter later on in my shift, I beg her to convince her mother to leave.
This isn’t the first time I’ve expressed this to her. I more or less said this the last time she came in, which was the last time her face looked like this thanks to Chuck.
In a conversation between the three of us later as we’re all standing outside in the cold, Ohio rain, Monica proceeds to provide the usual excuses as to why she can’t just up and leave or kick him out. How if he catches her in the process of moving or she tries to kick him out or she calls the police that he’ll start wailing on her again, even kill her. I feel the pain of her daughter as she says all this. I tell Monica she should save up money and buy some muscle to protect her in the process, or get him sent to jail for a day or two as she, with some help, can throw her belongings into a U-Haul and get the bloody fuck out of dodge.
She won’t. I know she won’t. Her life is filled to the brim with physical abuse, psychological manipulation, and wide-ranging drug use. This is the only way she knows and as horrible as the path any of us may be on, at some level we all seem to fear change.
I grew up differently. Though it appears very unAmerican of me, its true: I was never physically or sexually abused as a child and my parents never divorced. There was no drug use in my family save for the occasional alcohol and my maternal uncle, who used to smoke. Only as I grew older did I discover that what to me was normal was, in fact, rather atypical.
The kind of lives — childhood and adulthood — many if not most of the people I’ve encountered in my life have lived and are living, especially in this cesspool of a town I work in, are depressing and enraging, to say the least. I can’t seem to do a damn thing but listen to the stories, offer suggestions, and try not to be a hypocrite and fall into the same traps.
I stopped drinking, but I still smoke cigarettes, cannabis, and take the occasional muscle relaxer or psychedelic. I’m not judging her, I just worry about her. But its none of my business, and maybe I become too emotionally involved with people. Give too many shits. Put myself in a position that’s not really my place.
Maybe I just need to leave this job, get out of this town, and never look back.