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The Functioning Alcoholic

A tale of how my skills in education can transfer to pretty much anything.

I used to teach emotionally distrubed teenagers, or as they are better known, teenagers. They were challenging, wonderful, infuriating, and a blessing all rolled into one, and for the first time, recently, I really missed them.

One of the reasons I survived in the teaching profession for so long is because I entered each day knowing that many of my students did not come from loving, supportive environments where they were taught right from wrong, appropriate vs. inappropriate. Many of them were wounded birds that came to school needing that extra care and attention because they had fallen out of the nest and it was our job to catch them. Like Kaitlynn. Kaitlynn had good days and bad days. I could tell that she really wanted to succeed and graduate, but the rope she clung to to hold herself up was severely frayed one weekend when her junkie mom decided to smoke meth with her because she didn’t want to do it alone. I had never witnessed someone coming off a meth high until the following Monday morning. I was trying to teach a health lesson, and Kaitlynn was on her phone. Unaware of the weekend’s events, I asked her to please put her phone away. She ignored me. “Kaitlynn, I need you to not be on your phone during class.” You would have thought I threw her phone out the window.

“Why you gotta be such a fucking cunt?!”

No one had ever called me a cunt before, at least not to my face.

I knew immediately that getting upset would only make the situation worse, so I calmly said, “Kaitlynn, it might be a good idea for you to step outside and rejoin us when you’re ready.”

She stormed off, but did come back eventually.

Now I work as a cocktail waitress/server/bartender in a hotel restaurant; I don’t really care what you call it—I serve drinks to functional alcoholics. Some of these unique individuals have a hard time understanding phrases like, “I’ll be with you in just a minute,” or “One second, we just need to print out a receipt for you to fill out.” I am happy to report that the majority of adult humans are patient and receptive when given incredibly simple instructions. Others, not so much. There are some fully-grown people out there wandering around society having rarely been told “wait,” or “sorry, we don’t have that”, and when these triggering words hit the ear canal they either:

a) Take a few seconds to try and comprehend why food just can’t be delivered right to their room and that they will in fact have to put on pants and come downstairs, or

b) Accuse you of having an attitude because they just found out they’ll have to wait 15 seconds longer than expected when all they wanted to do was charge a snack to their room.

The former happened to me last night.

A woman came to the host stand to purchase something from the gift shop. I was busy closing a ticket for one of my tables and in a demanding tone said, “I’d like to charge these chips to my room. Room 203.”

I replied, “Just one second ma’am. We’ll need you to fill out a ticket.” I said this while barely glancing at her since I was busy with another task. I don’t know how to spell the sound that came out of her mouth, but it was something like, “cchguhuuhghh.”

It was the sound of absolute disgust.

I looked at her. “I’m sorry?”

“That’s fine but I’m just so sick of the attitude!”

“Well, we just need you to fill out a ticket.”

“Well that’s fine, but don’t roll your eyes at me!”

I could have said to her, “Listen, you impatient twat. I didn’t roll my eyes, but I’d be happy to if that will make you feel justified in your nonsensical accusation.” But I didn’t. I used a strategy I learned as a teacher. I calmly said, “Okay,” and walked away. Don’t worry–the hostess was there to ring her up so she could go upstairs and furiously munch her way through a can of Pringles.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that she wasn’t coming off a meth high, but maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she got into a fight with her husband or boyfriend, or maybe the airline lost her luggage. Maybe something really horrible happened like she found a crouton in her salad when she specifically asked for none, or maybe she’s just a huge bitch.

I may not technically be using my special education degree right now, but in a way I am because I know that behavior is a science. When a child (or grown-ass adult) gets upset or tries to make you feel small, it rarely has anything to do with you. These responses come from individuals who have some instability in their own lives so they try to exhibit that desired control over whoever crosses their path.

I know that woman wanted me to get upset and say something back, but I refused to give her the satisfaction. How nice would it have been, though, to use those words I learned working with Kaitlynn? But asking her why she was being such a fucking cunt probably would have made the situation much worse.


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