Water fills my eyes, threatening to spill onto my cheeks.
My lungs inhale the gray cloud blanketing me, my body trapped directly in its path.
Nausea churns in my stomach, the queasiness expanding, growing.
I am helpless. Trapped.
The tainted air claws at my windpipe.
A cough rises. Then another.
I try not to breathe.
“I’ll have the club sandwich.” The man speaks, folding the laminated menu before him. He picks up his cigarette, basking in its haze. Blowing another cloud my way.
I fight another coughing attack. And lose. I take a quick step backwards, grasping for the oxygen offered just a few feet away. I return to the table. “And what can I get you ma’am?” I ask.
“I’ll have the chicken tenders.”
“Excellent. My name is Kelly, if you need anything else.” I flee the nicotine cloud, my throat already raw.
I’m fifteen minutes into my five hour shift.
I tap the order into the touchscreen computer, my eyes traveling to the chart above.
It’s covered in black outlines of tables, each with a number. A dry erase marker circles the various sections, each servers name inscribed in a block.
Six servers work tonight.
Five of them smoke.
Only I do not.
The name “Kelly” scribbled into the only smoking section.
Nobody wants it, the flow of customers too unpredictable.
For me, it is torture.
Every time the hostess seats a smoker, they immediately pull out a plastic covered pack of their brand. They light up.
This is when I greet them, as any good server does, within the first minute of their arrival.
The thick cloud travels from their lips, as they puff and blow, making a beeline up… up…
Directly into my face.
The full brunt of it assaults me, invading my body.
As the night wears on, the sickness grows.
I’m busy tonight, totally in the zone. My section fills to capacity.
I try to think of the money.
I refuse a break, knowing returning after sitting down is worse.
And someone always takes a smoke break in the break room if I do.
The churning continues and I fear I will be sick. I race to the bathroom.
I gag, but manage to keep it down.
I return to work.
“Hi, my name is Kelly, and I’ll be your server this evening. What can I get for you folks?”
Two more hours.
I leave for the night, my appetite gone.
My eyes gritty with debris, my throat raw from the coughing, my lungs angry about the invasion, and my stomach a storm of bile.
My apron full of cash.
Not enough payment for my pains.
My job makes me physically ill, each time compounding on the last. This night the worst so far.
Tomorrow. I’ll talk to the manager tomorrow.
Write about the first (or second) memory that comes to mind when you see this: