The best and worst of me
“What is taking so long??” My mother says to me, not-so-under her breath, looking viciously at the men standing idly behind the beer counter. “Oh my gosh, just wait a SECOND, “ I hiss viciously. How could she be so rude in public, I wonder. There must be a reason we are not being served at top-speed; there are other people at this beer festival, maybe we aren’t first in line.
But we were first in line; the men behind the counter just didn’t notice us. My mother asserted her presence, got their attention, and we were promptly served our pale ales.
I am prone to over-using euphemisms, so I might as well be consistent and use one here. I like to think I am kind, patient and understanding — a “gentlewoman” as I kiddingly told my sister the other day. But in reality I think it all boils down to one thing: I’m a pushover.
I’m not sure how long this has been going on, but I think that the problem has really come to a head lately. I don’t generally notice this personality flaw. In fact, I often laud this trait as a seeming mark of my good character. I can be bitterly witty and cold and harsh — especially with people I know — but my goodness I will always hold the door open for a stranger! And that stranger will always become a stream of strangers, and I’m left holding the door until I’m late for my next class.
No one I know would describe me as “sweet” or “nice” or a “great girl.” I know people who have been given these descriptions and they certainly live on another planet than the one I inhabit. To make up for this discrepancy, I overcompensate in my relations with the general public. And by doing so I am cutting myself short, and more importantly, I am ignoring the precious personal relationships in my life.
“So wait, let me get this straight, you always tip 100 percent?” A guy asked me during winter break, giving me a hard time for my obnoxious proclamation that I always tip “100 percent.” Which is not true, of course. I usually leave a big tip, and if the bill is five dollars, sure, I might leave a ten. This is not because I have money. I have close to no money, and I am the last person that should be so generous with my limited funds. But I’m also a waitress, and I understand the trials and tribulations of dealing with the human race.
So I demonstrate my empathy, my appreciation, by throwing money at the server who forgot I wanted wedges instead of fries, the server who left me sucking on ice cubes because they didn’t refill my water glass once. “I mean, they just probably forgot, they’re busy.” But sometimes they aren’t busy, sometimes they just might not be at the top of their game. And surely they don’t, just as I often don’t, deserve a huge tip. I don’t speak up, I don’t correct them when they mess up my order. I let it lie.
It’s funny because I don’t keep mum about many things. I can be pretty dogmatic if I feel like it. I can be, just as I was to my poor mother, vicious. Maybe it’s this behavior that drives me to my excessive generosity, my overwhelming kindness to rank strangers. I’m a pushover with people I barely know: “It’s fine, I’m sure they didn’t mean it.” I’ve sat for forty-five minutes on the ground on the Corner talking to a homeless couple; I even went into CVS and bought treats for their two puppies. I didn’t know them; those weren’t my dogs. But in my head I somehow rationalized that these people I didn’t even know deserved my kindness, my attention, my time and my money.
Last night at dinner, my sister, my mother and I shared a bottle of wine at an Italian restaurant. It’s something we can do now that we are of age; a pleasant experience, a grown-up experience. My little brother was with us and he was making us cry we were laughing so hard; he impersonated relatives, TV characters, us. It was a nice dinner and I was having a good time, until my sister’s hand slipped and her full glass of red wine shot across the table on to my favorite jeans, spattered across my favorite shirt. I yelled some profanities, under my breath of course, so as not to disturb the other customers. I glared at her, called her names, told her she was a complete idiot. She in turn got upset that I was being so vicious in response to a simple accident. We fought. A perfectly nice evening gone awry all because I couldn’t let something go, I couldn’t let it lie. If the waitress had spilled wine on me, I would have been overly nice, completely understanding. But my poor twin sister got the brunt of my meanness, my harsh words. And I’ve known her for 21 years.
I’m not sure when I decided that of all the billions of people in the world, my closest friends and family should be farthest down on my list of who to be kind to. I take for granted the fact that these people will always be around, that they will always overlook my short temper and my nasty moods. Why should the homeless man on the corner get the best part of my personality when my own mother gets the worst? There is an imbalance here, and it is not right.
“Speak up!” My mother has always urged me, “ask for what you deserve.” But I’ve forgotten that I deserve the best, right after the people I love get the best from me. I am not responsible for making a server’s day by demonstrating my kindness, my understanding and my empathy. I’m not responsible for a stranger’s happiness. But I have all the time in the world to tend to the happiness of the people I love.
Mary Scott’s column runs biweekly Wednesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.