Keeping Your Smile: Working Through the Pain

Skyviews of Texas Tech
Photo by: Give2Tech

Whoever said that being a waitress these days is easy? 

One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with as a waitress was learning how to smile through anything and everything that happened in life. Personal problems were checked at the door as you entered the restaurant and especially never came out when dealing with customers.  Sad eyes had to dabbed with a Kleenex, bags under the eyes from lack of sleep were covered with makeup, and a smile had to be permanently placed on those lips no matter how much you felt like just throwing in the towel.

“Learning how to smile through anything and everything that happened in life…”

Of course, conversations about personal problems with close coworkers always happened.  I would tell stories about my personal life with those I felt comfortable divulging that sort of private information to and end up feeling a bit better.  Sometimes I even needed to tell my bosses if things weren’t going well, so they’d know why I wasn’t as focused as I usually am.

“Recently, something happened. It seemed as if the whole world around me was crumbling.”

Recently, something happened. It seemed as if the whole world around me was crumbling. From a series of matters or the heart, life, death, and illness the mess just piled up until I couldn’t imagine anything else happening.  Yet, the restaurant business holds for no one.  People keep coming and eating.  Coming and eating.  The world doesn’t stop for your problems.  And neither rarely does your job.

“But I got through it, put on a carefree smile and saved my sadness for when I could cry it out later at home.”

Needless to say, I had to go into work, despite all the horrible things going on in my life.  No matter how sad I was for myself and others, I still had a position to fill.  Being short staffed at a restaurant on the busiest night of the year isn’t exactly the ideal situation for the bosses, so I didn’t even consider calling in and asking for a personal day.  It was difficult, to go in and see couples holding hands and sprouting words of love, but I got through it, put on a carefree smile and saved my sadness for when I could cry it out later at home.

The next day was a day of being ridiculously sick and receiving some heart breaking news.  The day after that, I went into work yet again.  I explained to my boss the situations that were unfolding and he gave me a small section of four tables.   That whole night, customers were telling me that I have a lovely smile and that I must be so happy to have a smile like that.  The whole night I was dying inside.  Sick to my stomach, aching for the loss of a loved one, and my heart torn to pieces.  Yet, I continued to smile.

“I walked away from the table, a couple of tears in my eyes but brushed them off.”

At one point, regular customers were seated at one of my tables and said “Hey! The waitress who always smiles!  Are you ever sad?”.  I wanted to burst out crying, right then and there. I wanted to yell “Yes! I am so incredibly sad!” then collapse onto the seat next to them in a bundle of tears and sobs after which I would curl up there for the rest of the night. I couldn’t put that on them, of course.  That would be unprofessional.  So I smiled and said “Hardly ever, but when I’m mad…watch out!” and we all laughed together before I took their drink order.  I walked away from the table, a couple of tears in my eyes but brushed them off.  There’s no time for tears when serving customers.

“The amount of strength and control that it took.”

The amount of strength and control that it took.  The amount of energy I put in.  All of that and just for a smile, something that usually comes so naturally to me.  It was incredibly intense and one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do.  To pretend to be the happiest person in the world.  It’s so unlike me.  It felt fake and wrong, like I was conning these people into thinking that their waitress is one of the friendliest they’ve ever had.  I don’t know.  Is that wrong? Is it right?

People really don’t seem to realize that behind a smile may be someone who’s hurting.  Someone’s who is in emotional turmoil and in need of help.  Whether physical or emotional pain, it sits there behind the small, shy grin of the hostess at the front desk or the beaming ear-to-ear smile of the waitress serving you your plates.  You may not realize it, but it’s there.  And what is incredible is that through all the hardships and troubles, there they are…keeping their smile and working through the pain.

The Waitress Confessions