A few years after my mother had died and the dust of my Cocaine Era had settled, I got involved with a woman who had a young child. I had somehow conned my way into a gig as a Training Manager for a regional restaurant chain and was living in and out of my own reality. Some nights I would close the bar and other nights I would come straight home from work and sit on my floor in my boxers playing video games and smoking pot until I would fall asleep, only to wake up late and hope against all hope that my boss didn’t call the store yet.
How I met the woman was through one of those telephone chat lines — the ones that have the commercials late at night. I’ve written about these chat lines before, so I will spare all the silly little details about the hows and the whys. We exchanged numbers during a series of messages and then agreed to meet up for a cup of coffee. She was lovely and sweet, and we had an almost instant camaraderie. We saw one another again the next night. And then the next.
We had a lot in common, really. She had been a methamphetamine user, so she was able to understand the quirks and strangeness in my post-cocaine behavior. She didn’t necessarily like that I still smoked pot, but understood that is was the lesser of all of my former evils. I had just begun suffering from panic attacks, and she had suggested that I go and see a psychiatrist to possibly get on some medication that could help with that. Her father was a counselor at the VA, and he recommended a shrink to me that had years and years of experience, so I went and the old doctor put my monkey ass on way too much Paxil.
We were probably into our third week of dating when she mentioned that her husband — her son’s father — was in prison. She had brought him up from time to time, but only to see if I was open to talking about her past and her troubles. She would let something slip out like dipping her toe into the bath, then retreat and either snuggle up with me or talk about school. She had gone back to college to get her nursing degree and it was very important to her to finish at the top of her class.
“What’s he locked up for?”
“Oh. Who did he try to kill?”
She went on to tell me that her husband, Troy, was a methamphetamine addict who, when high or even un-high, would fly into rage at the drop of a hat. She told me that things were so bad that they even tried the whole “let’s move across the country to see if things will be better in a different place” idea to no avail. It was in Columbus where he tried to kill her and their son. It was in Columbus where he pistol-whipped her, bound her, and drove around for hours with her in the trunk of her car. He kept their child in his lap as he drove, pointing his gun at other cars and screaming streams of obscenities at anyone who was on the streets. It was in Columbus where he left their child in a running car with his wife bound in the trunk as he walked into a gas station convenience store and flashed his gun at the cashier and told everyone to get on the ground or get dead. The cashier gave him the money and then he went outside and just sat on the hood of the car, spun out of his mind with the gun in his lap.
When the police arrived with their lights and their guns drawn, he didn’t put up a fight. He threw his gun on the ground and started to cry and scream. She told me she could hear him from inside the trunk, screaming her name and howling out about how she was tormenting him and pushed him to be this monster he didn’t want to be. When the police saw the baby on the floorboards among the empty glassine packets and the methamphetamine dust, they stepped on her husband’s head while it was on the pavement, busting the blood vessels in his eye and tearing his face. She told me she tried to be as still and as quiet as she could until she realized they were going to try and take her son away from her for this, that they were going to brand her in some way akin to how they were going to brand her husband.
She told me that when the police opened the trunk and set her free all she could do was laugh. The tears were coming out, but she had no other reaction but uncontrollable, unsettling laughter. The police asked her a series of questions as they took her husband away in the back of a squad car. The police asked her a series of questions as someone from Child Protective Services arrived on the scene and waited patiently to talk to her. She didn’t know anyone in Columbus other than the people she worked with. She knew she wanted to go home.
My job made me miserable. My boss — a District Manager who, when he hired me told me, “you can be a star in this company, Sean” — was one of those guys who was really enthusiastic and supportive around all of my employees but a total by-the-book dick who rode my ass nonstop out of their earshot. Most of my employees were high school kids waiting and bussing tables, while the rest were all illegal aliens who worked in the kitchen. I drank at work. I hid a bottle of whiskey in the overhead in my office and would keep some in a thermos under my desk. I would take an extra long time going to the bank every morning to smoke a joint in my truck in the parking lot. I was very kind to my employees and even kinder to my regular guests, but no matter what I did I just couldn‘t shake the feeling that my job was murdering me.
A lot of the kids who worked there I inherited from the previous manager. He was my boss for a month until he realized I was his hired replacement and then he freaked out and tried to pull a bunch of shit to pin on me and get me fired. As his last act of defiance, he hired a girl I could quite easily describe as the most incapable person I have ever worked with in my entire life. She showed up for work on her first day in a pair of cut-offs with her plump ass cheeks hanging out, a pair of sunglasses on her face that she refused to remove because she had herself a “bye-grain,” and an inability to count money that would make an accountant jump out of a window. Her name was Lacey.
Obviously, he had hired her to be the cashier.
Even during our busiest rushes — the late afternoon and then the dinner rush — I would catch Lacey slumped on a stool behind the register with her head down on the counter or even sitting in a booth sipping on iced tea and not even noticing she had a line of folks who were waiting to pay and leave. I made it my assistant’s mission to either get Lacey to get her shit together, or find some way to convince her she didn’t want to work with us any longer. Lacey confessed to my assistant that she had just been fired from her other job — working at a Pizza Hut — for getting caught having sexual relations with her manager in his office during work hours.
Now — I’m not one to be cruel — but Lacey was far from an attractive young lady. She sort of looked like a dwarf who had been stretched to an almost-normal size. Her attitude was abysmal. She dressed like a slob and was completely unrepentant about it. Hearing that she had been balling her boss at her other job made me queasy and uncomfortable. What kind of asshole must that guy have been to take advantage of an unattractive and borderline special needs employee like that?
More than once I found myself getting so annoyed with Lacey and her work ethic that I would just send her home for the day fifteen minutes into her shift and take over her job myself. I just couldn’t take it.
One day, in the middle of a dinner rush, she just up and walked off to the back of the restaurant toward the bathrooms without asking anyone to cover for her. I noticed her walk to the back and went up front to run the register and take care of the guests. Twenty minutes pass and still no sign of her. I call over one of the waitresses and ask her to go check on her. When the waitress comes back she is covering her mouth and trying not to laugh.
“What’s so funny? Where is Lacey?”
“She’s in the bathroom, puking her guts up.”
“Well, shit. I guess I’ll just have to send her home again.”
“That girl is fucking pregnant.”
“What? How do you know that?”
“How could you not know? Her other boss got her pregnant. That’s why she doesn’t do shit here — she thinks he is going to take care of her and she won’t have to work.”
“Fuck. Go back in there and tell her I said she can go home for the day, okay?”
For her next four shifts, Lacey averaged being half an hour late. Each time she would stroll in like she didn’t give a damn and would keep her sunglasses on and wouldn’t engage with the guests in any way. During the course of these insubordinate actions I pulled her aside and followed the proper procedure for writing up an employee — verbal warning, written warning with stipulations, and then a final written warning. In a telephone discussion with my boss, he made it clear that he wanted me to terminate her employment. When I told him she was pregnant by her former boss at the other job, his response was “I don’t give a fuck — fire that girl no matter what it takes.”
Lacey was over twenty minutes late for a mandatory staff meeting. All of my employees knew she was on her final warning and watched as I was calm and polite when she showed up late for the meeting, and watched as I continued to run the meeting to the end as if it was no big deal. I then pulled Lacey aside again.
“Lacey, you know I’m going to have to let you go, right? I gave you plenty of chances, but you were on a final warning and I just cannot rely on you to do your job and be present and on time like everyone else.”
“You can’t fire me because I am pregnant.”
“Firing you has nothing to do with your pregnancy, Lacey. Firing you has to do with your inability to be responsible and accountable.”
“You’re a fucking dick. I’m gonna send my brother and his friends in here to kick your ass.”
“That’s great, Lacey. This is part of what I am talking about.”
“Fuck you, Sean. Fuck you!”
A few days later we are in the middle of an insane dinner rush and I am working the register. I am making my way through a stream of guests trying to pay and leave when a woman comes through the door next to me and asks me if my name is Sean Doyle. I tell her it is. She stands patiently as I work my way through the rest of the line. I am polite and kind to each and every guest.
“Thanks for being patient — what can I do for you?”
“Did you recently terminate the employment of a young woman named Lacey?”
“Yes. Why do you ask?”
“Did you know that Lacey was pregnant?”
“Yes. What does that have to do with the termination of her employment?”
“That is what I am here to ask — I’m from the EEOC. Did her pregnancy complicate her employment here?”
“No. If anything, it accentuated and pointed out that she was not a good fit here and was a very irresponsible employee who couldn’t show up on time nor stand here and do this simple job.”
“So, you didn’t fire her for being pregnant?”
“No. I’m not a monster. I fired her for being habitually late and insubordinate. Her being pregnant is her own problem, not ours.”
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Doyle. Have a good night.”
When I asked her why she was still married to Troy, she responded that he refused to sign the divorce papers. He had been in prison for over a year and she figured she was just going to go on about her life and not deal with it at all until he was released. She moved herself and her son back to Mesa and she enrolled in school. She put all of it out of her mind until I brought up the fact that she would probably get better financial aid as a single mother, not to mention she would be able to make sure he was incapable of any type of custody. There was already an order of protection. The fact that he was behind bars in Ohio made her feel safer, but for some reason she had, on occasion, allowed his parents to spend supervised time with her son.
I asked my father about his attorney, asked him if he was a good man and if he was willing to sit down with us so I could help her. Made the necessary and introductory calls. The attorney contacted the prison and found out that her husband was about to be released and extradited back to Arizona to be put on house arrest and then spend time in a halfway house work release program. The prison did not let her know this beforehand. She would have never known if I hadn‘t contacted the attorney. I never would have seen Troy’s last name if the attorney had not drafted new divorce paperwork.
I never would have known that Troy was Lacey’s brother.
When the EEOC filed a lawsuit on Lacey’s behalf for supposed wrongful termination my boss tried to push me in front of the train with the people at corporate. The company sent their attorney to talk to me and take my statement and my boss refused to leave the room while it was happening because he was afraid that I was going to rat him out for telling me to fire her irrespective of the reason. I explained to the attorney that I followed all proper procedure and showed all of the required paperwork as far as write-ups and whatnot. I was placed on an administrative leave for a week while the case went on, and they made my boss run my store.
He found my stashes of whiskey. He also found an envelope I had hidden in a binder where I was skimming money to pay my best kitchen worker for his vacation time. I had made the mistake of telling him he was eligible for paid time off before checking with corporate, and decided that I was going to do the right thing by him and pay him anyway. I had been jacking twenty-five or so bucks almost every day and stashing it to pay him for ten days’ time.
My boss called me at home late at night to lay into me about his discoveries. She was asleep in my bed and her son was in the playpen I had bought for him at a yard sale. They were hiding out with me after Troy had come to her apartment in the middle of the day and broken in, trashing the place and scrawling all over her walls in lipstick and marker. We took a bunch of photos of the carnage and I gave them to my father’s attorney. There was a new restraining order in place.
“I found your fucking whiskey, Sean.”
“Life is rough, you know? Really sorry about that.”
“I also found the envelope with all the money in it. What the fuck are you doing, stealing from me?”
“Not from you personally, no. It’s for Rodrigo. I fucked up and told him he was eligible for a paid vacation and then found out he wasn’t, so I was trying to do him a solid.”
“I should fucking fire you right now, you know that?”
“Are you? Are you firing me? Is that why you’re calling me in the middle of the night, boss?”
“I don’t know what I am going to do. I do know that as soon as you went on that medication and started dating that woman you stopped being responsible.”
“Listen — I know you’re pissed and I would be, too. But my personal life has nothing to do with my employment. If you have a problem with me being on a medication, well, I don’t know what to say to that. As far as who I am dating goes, I didn’t know I needed to run my lifestyle choices by you.”
“You’re lucky they didn’t fire you over this whole Lacey thing.”
“So are you, dude. You’re also lucky I made sure there was a paper trail on her. Can I go back to sleep now?”
All I heard on the other end of the line was an exasperated exhalation and then the dial tone. I stood in the doorway to my bedroom and watched her sleep. I looked over at the playpen and watched her son toss and turn. I thought about my angry boss looking at his kids sleeping — both of them named after NASCAR drivers — and realized this was not the life I was looking for, not the life I thought about in my quiet and alone time. I packed a bowl and went out onto my patio and smoked it. I saw two dudes sitting in a car across the street, watching me. I knew it was Troy. I could feel him.
Something was about to break.
She and I are sitting in a Denny’s with her son, waiting for Troy. He told the attorney he would sign the divorce papers if he was allowed to see his son, and she decided that she would let him see him one last time, but only on her terms. I am extremely nervous and have eaten four Xanax. I do not have a weapon, even though I already know he will probably have one. I refuse to sit with my back to the door and she finds me ridiculous.
“He isn’t going to do anything stupid in public, Sean.”
“Right. You can say that, but this is also the same motherfucker who tied you up and stashed you in a trunk.”
As soon as the words leave my mouth I see Troy come strolling in through the door with two large guys in tow. Troy looks like an albino with terrible tattoos, wearing a white Spurs jersey and a white bandana on his head. He motions for his boys to sit themselves in the booth across from us and stands over us, looming and smirking. I can see the outline of the handle of a gun in his waistband and I start to sweat.
“So you’re the motherfucker that not only fired my pregnant sister but is also fucking my wife and trying to take my kid away from me. You don’t look so tough. Are you a fucking tough guy, Sean?”
“I’m not the one who showed up carrying with two clowns as back-up, am I?”
“Fuck you. You don’t mind if I sit down and hold my son, do you?”
She tells him that he can. He sits and I watch as he picks his son up out of the booster seat and holds him to his chest. I can hear his boys snicker and mutter to each other. I feel like the entire room is a sauna and I am in the middle of a bad movie that is not going to have a happy ending. She pushes the divorce papers in front of him and puts a pen on top of them. He glares at her. He glares at me. He nods at his boys and one of them turns in the booth and shows me that he has a gun in his lap and it is pointed at me. I feel faint and flushed. She kicks me under the table.
“I’m not signing that shit. Fuck your Jew lawyer and your Jew boyfriend. I’m going to get up right now and walk out of here with my son and you’re not going to stop me.”
She starts to laugh. He turns to look at her laughing and I reach under the table as fast as I can and grab him by the balls as hard as I can. He drops his son on the table, spilling the water glasses. I pull him toward me so that he slumps and I pull his gun from his pants with my left hand while squeezing as hard as I can with my right. A waitress sees what is happening and lets out a little yelp. His boys look confused and I let go of Troy.
“Sign the fucking papers and stop being a fucking dick. If you don’t sign them we’ll just up and walk right the fuck out of here and you will never see your son again. Tell your pal to take that gun off of me or he’ll be the first one I shoot, unless you’re such a dumbass you didn’t load this thing.”
“So you are a tough guy. Fuck this, I’m leaving.”
“Then leave. Have those two cocksuckers leave first and you follow them out. I’m not going to tell you twice not to follow us. You follow us and I will fucking break every last bone in your body.”
Troy slams his fists on the table. His boys get up and slowly walk out the door. Troy sits with us for a second. I take the magazine out of the gun and put the gun on the table. He looks at it. He looks at me. I nod at the gun and he picks it up and puts it back in his waistband. She is holding their son. Their son is crying. Her face is red. His face is red. I am sweating and scared and ready to run through a wall to get as far away as possible. Troy gets up slowly and steps out of the booth. He shakes his head and then he spits in my face.
“Fuck you. I will fucking kill you.”
“Good luck with that, Troy. Gonna be kind of hard to kill me from inside a prison.”
Troy walks out the door. The waitress comes over and asks us if she should call the police. She says yes and I say no. I start to gather our things. She is crying. Her son is crying. People are staring over at us. I finally wipe the spit off of my face with a napkin and we start to move toward the door. I can see Troy and his boys sitting in the same car I saw outside of my apartment. I tell her to get into her car as fast as she can and that I am driving. She sees Troy in his car. She flips him the bird as she gets in the car. He revs his engine. I get behind the wheel of her car and start it up and look in the mirror and see him waiting. I back up and pull out of the lot and across four lanes of traffic as erratically as I can.
“He’s following us.”
“I know. I’m going to try and lose him but you have to help me keep an eye out for him, okay?”
I run a red light, carefully. He follows and almost gets hit. I make a rushed left turn into a residential neighborhood and stand on it. Everything feels drenched in my sweat. I can feel my hands becoming part of the wheel. She tells me he is behind us so I make a quick series of turns and get back out on the bigger street and head in the opposite direction to the one we came — back toward the Denny’s. I see two squad cars in the lot and I cut across the lanes of traffic again and pull up right next to them as Troy stops his car in the middle of the street and lays on his horn. As soon as he does this one of the squad cars lights up and starts to hustle out of the lot toward his car. Troy takes off with the squad car following. She gets out of the car and starts screaming. Two officers come over and I turn off the car and get out to talk to them, the magazine still in my pocket.
Three months later my boss fires me as I walk in the door after taking a cab to work because my truck had been repossessed. He yells and screams in my face telling me I am irresponsible and he should have fired me months ago but didn’t have anyone he could replace me with and I just stand there with my heart in my throat and trying to fight back tears. I walk three miles home and collapse on my couch. I roll a joint and smoke it in the shower.
She and I had started to drift apart shortly after Troy had been sent back to prison. That night in bed after I had been fired she told me that she wanted to have another child, and when I told her I didn’t want to be a father she started to cry. I waited until she fell asleep and then I crept out of her apartment and stopped answering her calls. After a few days of this she called the police and asked them to do a welfare check on me — which basically meant the police came to my apartment and tried to kick in my door to make sure I was still alive. She had told them on the phone about Troy and told them about the incident and about how I had just been fired and had my truck repossessed so when they arrived they had guns drawn expecting to find the corpse of me.
I think they were stunned when I opened the door.
She was standing behind them, holding her son. I couldn’t form sentences because I was so high. All I could do was shake my head and keep on saying that I couldn’t believe this was happening. The police asked me if I was okay and I told them I was alive and alive is okay. When they left I allowed her to come inside. She stayed with me that night, but it was the last time I ever saw her or her son.