In 1999-2000, I was working at a local restaurant. It was my second job. I worked the dreaded 9-5 rushed home to grab an apron that reeked of Romano cheese, and went off to wait tables Thursday through Saturday. Life could have been worse, but it also could have been so much better. I was stretched pretty thin.
I was in my early 20’s, had lost my boyfriend to a heart attack in 1998, and was taping life up to keep it from falling apart. My 80-year-old blind Nana often slept over while I worked nights, so that my daughter could sleep in her own bed. Other times she would sleep at Nana’s and I didn’t know who to worry about more.
I worked with a woman whose name is Lorelei. I actually couldn’t remember her name. But I remember that she was calm. We could be in the middle of an hour wait being screamed at by the chef and the back-of-the house manager Johnny, while Girls Gone Wild was being played on the kitchen television, and she was a cool as they come. There was just a gentleness about her that I enjoyed being around. She wasn’t much older than me (at least I don’t remember her that way), but after meeting her only once it was clear she was a “motherly” type. I was far from calm. Always on, always ready, always on guard, and ready to react. I’d tell the chef or line cook to go fuck himself, and didn’t hesistate to hand my tables over to Johnny who thought he’d be a better waitress than me one night.
Lorelei seemed to have a more “peaceful” kind of life. Husband, small children, a car that didn’t appear to brake-down, have a cancelled registration, and it was probably insured more than mine was.
We weren’t close. It was a busy place to work and not a lot of time to talk. But she was kind. I remember that. Here’s why I remember her most. At Christmastime, my then 6 or 7 year old daughter wanted a Baby Alive. (I think that’s what she was called.) I didn’t have a lot of free time, was a single mom, and was never going to beat the psycho stay-at-home moms to the store for the damn thing.
I came in for a shift one night and she said, “oh” (nonchalant) “I picked up that doll you wanted.”
She bought the doll and brought it in. For me. She saw it, knew I was looking for it, and picked it up for me.
I was moved. I didn’t have a lot of people in my life. At all. All I did was work. I paid her for it, and I went home and cried. I didn’t have a babysitter except Nana. I didn’t have any days that I didn’t feel like falling asleep and not waking up. Christmas shopping was terrible because it was something I couldn’t do with my daughter and we went everywhere and did everything together.
I don’t remember if I ever showed my appreciation. I don’t remember if my gratitude was obvious, or if I looked uncomfortable and awkward because I wasn’t used to people being kind. But, this year, I was walking into Target, and there was a sign taped on the door that said “We are all out of Hatchimals right now”, or something like that. And, my first thought was “I’m so glad I’m not one of parents looking for whatever THAT is.” I thought back on how stressful that was. Alexis never asked for much. Ever. In fact, for her first 5 years, I made, painted or got on clearance and spruced up every single gift. (Dear Alexis, I don’t care what you say, that hand painted fanny pack in 1997 was awesome!)
Then, this…I realized that this wasn’t the same sentiment Lorelei had when she saw Baby Alive in 1999. Not even close. She knew my daughter wanted it. Only that. And she grabbed it for us-people she hardly knew.
I have a lot of Loreleis that have come and gone from my life. I’m lucky. I am grateful and appreciative of every single one of them. Every act of kindness is remembered. I don’t know if I showed it properly. But if you are reading this and you are someone’s Lorelei, know you made a difference. Don’t stop.
I called the restaurant this week to ask about her. I couldn’t remember her name. It turns out, she’s working there. I’m going to be “the Lorelei” this time.
If you are reading this and you are MY Lorelei, I thank you. So much. You spared me that year. You spared me the guilt of not being able to find it. She only wanted one thing. You spared me the stress of finding a sitter, paying for one I couldn’t afford, driving my unregistered or uninsured and sometime both car around, and the stress of all of those things combined on a rare day off. You gave me a smile. You gave Alexis a smile. She’s 23 now and she doesn’t remember the stupid doll. But I remember you.
If you are anyone else, go be someone’s Lorelei. Please.