All posts by foundvoice

Finding a Voice

I was hesitant to do this.  I’ve never been one to stir the pot or cause trouble for anyone.  I don’t like to cause a scene or call attention to myself, and so I have remained silent until now.  There has been something inside of me making me feel that I shouldn’t speak up, that I should instead just continue to treat my time at the Route 9 Diner as a bad memory that should be forgotten.  In my short time working there, my experiences were so saturated with such a crushing anxiety in regards to those people; my managers, the cooks, the owners, that even now, over a year later, I would have rather remained forever silent as opposed to reopening my memories and experiences.

And then these women, these wonderful, strong, and courageous women spoke up, and shared their stories.  Please if you have the time, please if you haven’t already, read these posts.

These women who posted above have encouraged me.  Not to slam the diner, not to cause a scene or crave attention or pity for my story, but instead in leading me to believe that my voice does matter.  That what I have experienced isn’t something worthless to be swept under a rug and forgotten about for the sake of those who allowed it to happen.  I didn’t have a voice then.  I didn’t have the ability, or truly even the desire to speak up for the things that I experienced and saw happening around me while I was employed at the diner.  I truthfully believed that anything there that may have upset me was at best an awkward inconvenience for someone to hear.  I thought everything was part of the job, and if I wanted to be employed, I would have to accept what came with it.

I can’t begin to claim that the diner was the only thing that put stress and anxiety on my life.  But I can say it lead me to my breaking point.  The insults, unwanted physical encounters, and constant onslaught of cursing and screaming were always happening around me.  Sometimes I was involved, sometimes I wasn’t.  I don’t remember verbatim many of the things that were said in those instances, but what I do remember is the feeling.  The sharp, stabbing anxiety of walking into a busy restaurant before my shift and knowing the verbal and psychological abuse would begin the second I opened that door.  But I was making good money.  I had a job that many people in the area would love to have.  I was lucky.

I quickly began to notice very obvious and very drastic changes in my life as a direct result of the amounts of stress I was under.  After working there for four months I had lost over 30 pounds without intention.  I was unable to eat.  I was unable to sleep.  I took up smoking.  There was no resting, no standing around doing nothing, no taking too long in the bathroom, no sitting for a second.  But you could step outside to have a smoke break, so cigarettes became an escape.  If I had a day off, it was haunted by the fact that I had to work the next day.  If I had to work in the morning, I wouldn’t be able to sleep, literally fearing the shift that waited for me when the sun came up. But I got paid.  I made money.  I was lucky to have this job.  So many girls in the area would love to make this kind of money.  We make good money.

Unlike many of those who have posted before me, my biggest issue at work actually didn’t come from the cooks or the managers, but one of the older bus boys who worked in the mornings.  He was fond of striking up conversations with me when we worked together, nothing that I even thought twice about when it began.  It was simple small talk along the lines of, how was my weekend, or if I had fun with my friends.  Something about it was uncomfortable, but I assured myself I was just being awkward and that nothing was wrong.

Then the nature of the conversations became slightly more pushy, asking more specifically where I was planning on going on the weekend, or what I was going to do after work.  He wouldn’t accept my awkward responses as I danced around the questions without giving too much direct information to him.  He’d call me out directly on my avoidance, yet wouldn’t let up.  He began following me around the restaurant when things were slow.  If I was in the back with other girls, he would follow to stand by the dishwasher station.  If I was in the front by the register, or amongst the empty tables, he’d find something to clean or something that needed doing around where I was.  And uncomfortable as I felt I dismissed this behavior with thoughts of, “he’s just talking to the dishwasher” or “he just needs to clean the tables, that’s it…”  convincing myself that I was not the focus of his movements and that I was overreacting.

He followed me into the walk-in freezer one night.  He stood in front of the door and asked me what I was doing.  I was a bit taken aback, as I was holding the signature metal milkshake cup and scooping ice cream, clearly and very obviously getting a milkshake for one of my tables.  There was zero reason for him to be here.  There was nothing to clean, nothing to prep, no work for him to do here.  My mind failed to come up with an excuse, a justification for him being back there with me in that moment.  He knew I had to go back there, he knew I would be alone, and there was no way for me to pretend that wasn’t exactly what was happening.  He had me alone, and he confronted me on my avoidance of him, asking why I didn’t like him and why I didn’t want to tell him things about my personal life. I finished the ice cream and walked past him, hoping that my body language alone would imply that this was not a conversation I would be having with him, especially not in the walk-in.  I was uncomfortable, and the anxiety over dealing with him had come to a head.

I sought help.  I told one of the managers what had happened, about the following and about the walk-in confrontation.  He listened to my story and I could see the anger on his face, but not at me.  He stormed into the back immediately and began yelling at the bus boy, asking if he had followed me in there and stating that he had no business back there and was not to follow me or harass me for the rest of the time.  I was mortified at first, now knowing that I would have to deal with this bus boy at work with him knowing I had spoken to a manager about his behavior, but at the same time, I was very relieved that the incident had been exposed, that something had been done, that he had been spoken to.  For my shifts after that night, that bus boy did not bother me, he did not look at me, he did not speak to me for the next week.  It was slightly awkward when work forced me to interact with him, and perhaps my tables didn’t get cleaned quite as quickly any more, but I was happy the behavior had stopped.  I thought it was over with.

Some time after, I went to a bar with some girls from the diner and the same bus boy and another cook from the diner were also there in a booth off to the side.  I stepped outside to have a cigarette, and he followed me outside to ask me the same questions, was I having fun, did I like it here, what was I doing after, why didn’t I like talking to him… Everything from the past week at work was immediately back in my face, except now I was outside of work, there was no manager, and I was stuck with a freshly lit cigarette.  Of course I should have ignored him, thrown my cigarette to the ground and just walked back inside if I was uncomfortable.  Yet I stood out there, I felt trapped.  He did nothing to physically keep me there, and still I felt like I had to be subjected to it, I was worried about leaving and seeming rude, I was worried about how awkward it would be if I acknowledged the extent of my own discomfort around him by walking away.  I had no voice of my own.  I did not know how to say ‘leave me alone.’  I didn’t know how to say ‘you make me uncomfortable.’  I didn’t know how to make it end, how to make him stop this horrible loop of circular conversations he insisted on having.  I was so accustomed to just dealing with things, just suffering through them until they wore themselves out.  I wanted it to stop, but didn’t know how to make it stop.  I didn’t have a voice.

I had developed a crippling anxiety disorder that refused to let up whether I was at work or not.  I began having panic attacks.  Cigarettes, Percocet, and vodka became staples in my life, to force my nerves into relaxing after being screamed at for eight hours, to forget about having my body openly discussed in the Spanish they think I can’t understand, to spend a short time away from what my own mind had become.  My roommates and boyfriend were concerned, they told me to quit, for months they told me to quit, and yet I defended my job.  I was convinced that they didn’t understand that it was just something to be dealt with.  I was a wreck, but I felt helpless to change things.  What would I do without that job?  I have such a good opportunity, the money, the money, the money.

Looking back, it seems like it wasn’t even me in those situations.  Reading this over, I’d like to believe that I’d never let a part time job rule my life in such a negative fashion.  Surely I would’ve spoken up, quit on the spot, never let another human being treat me in the ways I watched myself and others treated on a daily basis.  I was submerged in an environment that rewarded silence, compliance, and ignorance.  Though I was there for a much shorter time than some, the time I did spend there weighed on me.  It broke me.  I didn’t know how to speak up for myself, because I had been so convinced, had it ingrained so deeply that I wasn’t worth the trouble it would cause to do so.  What I went through, and what I saw happen to so many girls, I never want to see it happen to anyone else.  What I have described has come from the Route 9 Diner, but my message is far from limited to that one business.  I’ve chosen to share my story in the hopes that maybe there will be those out there who identify with what I have experienced, and will find the strength in themselves to speak up about their treatment, and to realize that their own well being is worth so much more than the reputation of an industry.