Waffle House—my waitress is named Laura. I know this because it’s on her name-tag. She’s worked three shifts, back-to-back. Her eyes are sagging.
Laura has four kids. Three boys, one girl. She shows me photos on her phone.
“That’s my oldest,” she says, tapping the screen. “She’s got a brain. I hope she makes more outta her life than I ever did. ”
She smiles. Her teeth are a wreck. She’s gorgeous.
“What’s so bad about your life?” I ask.
“Nothing, but I know I’m a failure, I’m okay with that.”
Well, I’ll be dog.
I’ve known some failures in my time. Laura’s not one. Her hands might be rough and she might not descend from blue bloodlines, but she’s not trash.
If she is, then I’m a club member.
After all, my family isn’t exactly showroom material. My father wore denim. My mother lived in a trailer. I’ve owned four myself. Three leaked. One resides in the county dump.
And, my education is minimal. I went to college on my own dime and did miserably, working grunt labor in the daytime.
When I passed my final, I walked outside and shouted in the parking lot—it seemed appropriate. A few classmates were outside smoking. A man with tattoo on his neck offered me a cigarette.
“I don’t smoke,” I said.
“Neither do I,” he answered. “But we just graduated, that’s a big deal for people like you’n me.”
You and me.
He was right. It was a big deal. As a boy, my mother sewed my clothes and shopped at thrift stores. Sometimes she even recycled teabags.
Then there was the time in eighth grade when a girl called me white trash. Her name was Beth. I’ll never forget her.
“Your shirt has a hole,” she pointed out, then mumbled the ugly phrase.
It surprised me. Until that day, I’d never considered myself so lowly. I threw the shirt away and bawled like a fool. I still think about her sometimes.
Some things stick with you.
Anyway, I left a healthy tip for Laura. Not because I feel sorry for her—I don’t.
I feel no sympathy for failures who wake at three to make breakfast for screaming kids, then work twenty-four hours. Neither do I feel sorry for losers who pay the rent. Nor for low-class kids who wear thrift-store shirts with holes in them.
I do not feel a drop of pity because you don’t pity the strong. And though it might not mean much coming from me, I hope Laura’s reading this now.
If she is, listen up:
I’m proud of you, Laura. Proud as hell.
Now you say it.