Friday, January 11, 2008
Place: Chattanooga, TN
For one summer, I had a job as a short order cook at a pizza restaurant run by a nice Jewish couple. I worked on the night shift, preparing plates of spaghetti and bowls of salad in the back kitchen, while up front, a surly redneck made the pizzas.
The waitress was named Darlene. She was scrawny, had long dirty blonde hair, and lived with her boyfriend, a long haul truck driver named Travis. Darlene was a walking country song. She stood by her man even though he kept doing everything in his power to break her heart.
Travis had been laid up at home ever since the accident. The story Darlene gave us about how Travis had his accident was a confusing grab bag of details that included a violent rain storm, his truck sliding down an muddy hill, and Travis leaping out of the truck to avoid certain death.
“The accident was not his fault. There was nothing else he could do,” Darlene explained, though no one ever accused Travis of doing anything wrong.
Travis’s leg injury meant it would be months before he could drive a truck again. He got enough money from worker’s comp to pay his bills, but not enough to enjoy his recuperation period. Travis turned to Darlene to bankroll his good times. He would often show up at the restaurant and badger Darlene for her tip money and whatever extra cash she had in her wallet.
“I told you not to bother me at work,” Darlene said. “And where you goin’ tonight to spend my hard earned money?”
“I’m going to out for a beer,” Travis said. “Stop bustin’ my balls and give me some cash.”
Once Travis left with Darlene’s money, she would fume for the rest of the night. She never let the customers see how upset she was, but would vent to me in the back kitchen.
“I know what he’s up to,” Darlene said. “He’s going to our favorite country western bar. The women there are always making a play for him. Hell, I seen ‘em do it while I was there with him. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to chase those hussies away from him. That damn asshole Travis is going out to get drunk with other woman. And I’m the damn fool paying for it.”
I didn’t see what Darlene saw in Travis. He looked like a redneck version of Sonny Bono. What I really couldn’t understand was that if his leg was so badly injured, why was he able to drive a car and why didn’t he walk with a limp?
After watching Darlene come into work looking more and more stressed out, she came in one evening looking strangely calm and relaxed.
“You’ll never believe what happened last night,” Darlene said. “I had a dream that I finally had enough of Travis and I stabbed him with a knife. I just kept stabbing him again and again. It felt so good. But then, this noise woke me up. I didn’t know what it was at first, then I realized it was Travis yelling. He was saying, ‘Stop! Stop! Oh please stop!’ That’s when I realized that I was hitting Travis in the head. My fist was turned like I was holding a knife and I was slamming it down on top of his head. You think maybe I was acting out something that I had been keeping buried inside?”
“Yeah, probably,” I said.
“Well, the funny part is,” Darlene said, “today Travis has been as sweet as he can be to me. He made me breakfast and he drove me to work and before he drove off, he said he thinks his leg should be healed enough real soon so he can go back to driving his truck.”
At the end of our shift, Travis picked up Darlene up to take her out their favorite country western bar.
“Sweet dreams, Darlene” I shouted as they were drove away.