I remember you, little one.
Worried, unsure, resentful and worthless.
Full of self-doubt, self-doubt masquerading as arrogance. Trying to convince the world and yourself that you were fine, that you were ticking the boxes, that you were more than “just a waitress.”
You took offense when someone commented on your aptitude for mental arithmetic. Your energy screamed at them, so powerfully it ruffled their hair and swept into their clothes while you stood there wearing your attempt at a smile like a joker’s face paint. You couldn’t suffer faults in others, as you could not suffer the faults in yourself. The criticism of others acted as the straw that broke the camel’s back: one more criticism on top of all the other criticisms you placed upon yourself. You could not teach others, could not hold space for others, there was no space in your life, all of it consumed by your disdain, by your ego, by your not being good enough. You didn’t dream. You didn’t express yourself.
You knew three emotions: anger, mania and exhaustion.
Not only do I remember you but I came back here to get you. I came back here for you.
I recently took a job in a local restaurant in order to save up money for some new ventures I am planning. I have experience working in restaurants. My dad was a chef. My first job at 13 was as a pot wash in one of his kitchens. I worked my way up in a restaurant in London to fund my Master’s degree and gained a sommelier qualification along the way. I know restaurants. I know the ego battles that form the skeleton of the business, propping up the walls and holding the ceilings together—the cycles of abuse that produce aggressive and abusive management. The bullying, the harsh words, the macho mentality of putting up with long hours, aching bodies and getting verbally ripped to pieces. You wear exhaustion like a medal. It means you’re tough, that you’re worth something. You make it through your initiation and begin to treat others in the same way. Once you’re in, you’re in—part of the family, but you have to allow yourself to be dragged through the mud first. I know this because I was this, both tormentor and tormented.
In this new job, I notice the parts of me I have left behind. The parts which didn’t serve me, which I have so meticulously been trying to shed, trying to discard so I can fit into my new skin. I notice these parts on other people because they were parts of me, in the same way you recognise an item of clothing you use to have on someone else’s body. You know the fit, the feel of the fabric on your skin, the way it hangs from the shoulders or hugs at the hips. I see your anger at the slightest mistakes, your aptitude for talking down to people, for making them feel small. I remember when I had no time for mistakes as though someone else’s errors were my own. I remember when I was the person who made those mistakes. I remember when I was the person who cut those people open and who made those same mistakes.
A couple of days ago I had an argument with one of my colleagues. He had used sharp words with me. At first I ignored it, I told myself to remember these things, remember who I used to be and feel compassion for him. But he continued. On and on, picking holes in the smallest things, scanning my work looking for mistakes, accusing me of them before he could find them. In the end, I approached him and asked to speak to him quietly. I explained to him that the way he spoke to me upset me, that if he had an issue with my work he could tell me without shouting at me in front of customers and that I didn’t deserve to be spoken to like that.
He didn’t like it.
He shouted back and then became sulky and sullen. And if I was him, in the same place I was a few years ago, I probably would have done the same. However, I didn’t raise my feelings with an attachment to the outcome: an apology was not my goal.
I raised my feelings for all the times I hadn’t in the past. For all the times the people I had treated like that didn’t raise their upset. I took a stand for myself, for those people and for the people to come. I made a stand for little me. The child in me who still sometimes falls back into her old ways of confusion, self-doubt and low self-worth.
I stood up today and grabbed her by the hand, told her “you’re coming with me,” told her “I love and value you too much to let you be talked to like this. You don’t have anything to prove, you do not have to remain in places or with people that treat you as anything less than human. You are incredible. You are worthy. And I love you too much.”
Today, I am a little more at peace with myself. Step by step, I’m making amendments to the little me for the times I treated her badly. For the times I allowed others to treat her badly. For the times I told her to shut up, stand up straight, fix that grin on your face and pretend like nothing’s wrong. For all those times I’m sorry, for when I neglected you—“I’m sorry, you don’t have to feel like that anymore, I came back to get you. I came back here for you.”
Author: Hannah Hilali
Apprentice Editor: Czarina Morgan; Editor: Caitlin Oriel