Updated: Nov 20, 2018
The first couple of weeks working at the restaurant were a true test of character. You would think that waiting on tables and serving customers is a no-brainer and an easy thing to do. Think again.
The restaurant owner was a family friend, since my grandpa loved to go eat there every time he came to Montreal to visit me. However, one thing was being there as a customer, and a whole different one being an employee. Anyone with a superficial vision would see my situation as a downgrade: from citizen high to citizen low; from a paying customer to a mere buzz girl getting paid minimum wage an hour and taking shit from both a conceited waiter with seniority and from my new boss. I had no idea the guy had such a bad temper! I started to know this other side of him: the side when you no longer mean $ signs in his pocket as soon as you stop being a paying customer.
My first task was to learn how to fold napkins in a fancy layout: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven folds up until you reach 2/3 of the napkin. "Not six, not five Georgette, SEVEN!!! Are you f*cking stupid??? You're doing it all wrong! These napkins look like shit. Try again until you get to fold them perfectly!" Shit. What had I gotten myself into? Did I really need this guy to be yelling at me like that? As soon as my hurt ego began to think about nasty ways to tell him to calm down, my more developed, higher-self intervened and kept it in check: "Do you really want to go for the alternative? No job and no money for the whole summer? You know better and you're smarter than this. Let it go". I said nothing. I took the napkin and tried again. And again. And again. This MBA degree was really coming in handy: "Napkin folding 101"! LOL
I would soon learn that learning to fold napkins was the least of my worries. The terrace was now open to welcome both tourists and locals who come to enjoy the gorgeous Montreal summer. The terrace tables, however, were located at the street level: that meant climbing a flight of stairs up to the main restaurant level, and another two flights of stairs to get to the kitchen in order to fetch the dishes for the customers downstairs. After the first week, I couldn't move my legs, and my feet were KILLING me! My body was aching like crazy; I could barely move. I didn't know we had so many muscles in our calves and so many bones in our feet... I was hurting in places I never had! Not to mention the blisters. Those were really nasty. I had bought a new pair of flats just for me to be able to do this job. Ask me how they turned out at the end of the summer: I had to replace the soles twice, since they wore down to thin slices in a heartbeat! This job was certainly both mentally and physically more demanding than I ever thought it would be!
Have I told you about the burns yet? Those were really something! One of the main tasks of us buzz girls was to go put bread in the oven every time a new customer came to eat, to get it out after a few minutes, put it in baskets and carry it downstairs after the customers had ordered and returned the menus to the waiter. Not before, not after. The boss would get really pissed if we missed the bread, and even more if we gave it when the customers were still holding the menus: "They spread the butter with their fingers all over the leather covers! Are you f*cking stupid??" Believe me when I say that getting the bread part right was very tough, specially when the restaurant was packed and my pager was buzzing every 2 seconds! This inevitably meant that, in the midst of the chaos, my arms and fingers accidentally touched the bread tray just as it was coming out of the burning oven... OUCH! The first time I burned my arm it hurt like hell. I looked at it right away and I had a huge blister within seconds. "F*ck! I hope this doesn't leave a mark!" I didn't know it back then, but the only mark that working at this restaurant would leave me was the mark of resilience.
Business was going as usual on a given Wednesday; I was cleaning the bar and cracking jokes with the other buzz girl (a really nice Russian who is one of my best friends nowadays) while we were waiting for customers. Suddenly, the boss told us to put everything away. The restaurant closed an hour later, and we had to cancel all the reservations for that evening. "What is going on?", we thought. He wouldn't tell us anything, except that "he would call us as soon as he had news and the restaurant reopened". Apparently there were some administrative issues he had to take care of. "Oh, oh. Does this mean I won't have a job until further notice?" Thank God I still hadn't touched the allowance I had gotten from my family a few weeks back as a graduation gift, which I had figured I needed to keep for a rainy day. Well, the rainy day came soon enough, so I was a little relieved I had that extra cushion for the moment. Anyways, the restaurant couldn't be closed all summer. Could it?
Life was testing me again. I decided not to stress out and just to have faith that the situation would be solved soon. It was funny how going back to the present moment was the only choice I had those days: first when I flew back home to enjoy my family knowing I would be unemployed upon my return to Montreal, then when my family came and I had to put on a brave face and not let my worries show, and now that I was facing uncertainty yet again.
We left the restaurant around 3 p.m. The afternoon was gorgeous! I swear I had never seen the Montreal sky so blue. "F*ck it!", I thought. "There's nothing much I can do now, so I might as well go to a rooftop terrace, have a drink, chill, and not stress out about this". I must admit, I was somewhat amazed at how carefree I was starting to become.
As I sat at the terrace, sipping down my cocktail, I started to flirt with the idea that maybe this was a divine sign; a sign from God telling me that I needed to slow down. I hadn't taken a break in over three years now: the first year while I was still in Mexico, working a full-time job and studying for my MBA admissions exams, filling out applications, essays, and polishing my resume on my free time just to have a shot at my preferred university; and then for the past two years, being a full-time student and hunting for internships during the first year, and working part-time and studying full-time during my second year. No wonder I was so worn out and my hair had been falling off like crazy!
I started to think about the concept of happiness. After all, I was there drinking by myself with a gorgeous afternoon to enjoy and a lot of time to kill, so why not get a little philosophical? What is happiness? Why had I been in this rat race for the past few years, what was the ultimate goal? Where did I want to go from there? How did I see myself? The only word that came to my mind was "Happy". I want to be happy. That's all I want. And if having a high-paying job that requires me to work long hours, to sacrifice my personal growth, my yoga time, my friend time, and make me sell my soul, then I don't want it. There's no point. I had a taste of that before, and I had been completely miserable. Without knowing it, I had made a major breakthrough: I realized what I didn't want. Now the hard part to figure out was: What did I want?
I stopped there. My mind wandered no more. I felt the sun kiss my skin as I closed my eyes. I breathed in and exhaled all these thoughts. I came back to myself. I was there, at that moment, enjoying life. After all these trials, after all this hard work, I had reached all my goals. There was nothing else I wanted at that moment but to be with myself, to look at the sky and admire its gorgeous tone of blue, to feel the sun warm up my skin. I felt nothing but pure joy. I had to document this moment to serve me as a reminder of all the introspection that had led me to realize that all I needed was here with me, in the now. So I reached out for my cell phone and took this picture:
I felt fulfilled. I felt at peace. I was alive.