Contemplating my role reversal fantasy – hardly as kinky as it sounds……
It all came into focus back when I was a waitress.
I’m one of those reluctant members of the restaurant business. After slogging through summers at McDonald’s in high school, I found myself working part time as a server to make ends meet after college. I did as much for nine years to follow, trekking many miles up and down restaurant isles, foregoing holidays and nights out in order to pay my rent and explore life as a free-lance flutist. I couldn’t stand it, but it was part of the life I had chosen. I tried my best to be professional, and after almost getting fired from my first waitressing gig (where I was upfront in revealing that I had no experience yet they failed to train me anyway) I did eventually become decent at it in my own right.
After years of double shifts that entailed, among other things, getting spoken to as though I was worthless scum by citizens of Long Island’s north shore, I made the transition to owner as I helped forge the existence of my chef husband’s first restaurant. I decorated the interior, designed everything from the outside signs to the business cards, project managed the opening, painted, spackled, cleaned, you name it, whatever needed to be done (that we had no money to pay someone else to do) to get it off the ground. For all of the tragic irony in my life as of late, one of my glorious ironies is that after years face down in the trenches of the food business it actually ended up providing me with an amazing husband (we met while working) and a living, as he is now the co-owner of five restaurants.
On the floor of a restaurant and in and out of the kitchen for hours on end is no place to be for someone such as myself to be. No, no matter how tough one is, an overly observant human being with a super charged nervous system and a piece of crap short term memory indeed belongs elsewhere. When you’re taking in every single expression and body language idiosyncrasy you see amid the noise stimulation of a busy shift, in addition to putting together the life stories of those customers who will tell, who in the hell cares who ordered the pork chop??? I am a foodie no doubt, my lethargic truth being I INFINITELY prefer ingesting food and drink over serving it.
So it was during my time in the restaurant business swamp with no light at the end filtering through the heavy mist that I had plenty of opportunity to observe and experience some of the inequities of human life. In addition to the presence of many kind beyond description customers, I also noticed the condescending manner with which some of the corporate types, those with supposedly fancy degrees, and those with likely no job at all spoke to restaurant workers, their excessive demands and expectations often defying reality and existing past the boundaries of actual food preparation and service. And I innately knew that for all of their dismissiveness, if they were in my position they’d shrivel up and whimper. Yes, the very folks who assume serving is easy are the first ones who would suck at it.
I remember working with a nice well-meaning gentleman who had found himself a manager in the restaurant business (GOD KNOWS WHY) after what seemed like a successful career as some kind of executive for a well known corporation. Although he eventually adjusted, in his early days I recall him being quite flabbergasted when equipment malfunctioned and problems needed to be solved and he had no one to turn to. The thing about the restaurant business is that, no matter how high on the totem pole you are, you actually have to do shit, like, YOURSELF. Just this past week my husband, who many presume is a rock star because he owns successful restaurants, moved equipment weighing hundreds of pounds up and down stairs, cleaned up trash left at their construction site, and hung around waiting for the health department inspector who was supposed to come anywhere between 8:30 am (NOT a restaurant owner hour of the day!!) and 5:30 pm. He ended up coming at 3:00 pm.
I certainly don’t expect people to understand the inner workings of my life at any given point and time, as I admittedly don’t understand theirs. It’s the assumptions that what I’m doing is easy, or insignificant, or that I’m not going through anything at all that really presses my buttons. It always has.
So when customers copped their “I’m smarter and better than you are” and their “getting me what I want should be simple” attitudes, the fantasy wheels in my brain would start to role. I’d give anything, ANYTHING, to take these people and put them on the floor on a Saturday night. And then I’d get to be a spectator for the whole thing. I’d watch in delight as they recoil from the mistreatment they get from the customers they once were, and revel in their vacillating as they stumble over trying to make lightning speed decisions they likely have more time to make in their “real” jobs. The evening would end early, with glowing satisfaction as they would crumble mid service, not being able to pull it off. Contrary to what it seems, it would not be their failure or their ineptness that I’d be basking in. No, it would be the knowledge that they experienced the other side, had been put in their places, and would go back to their normal lives knowing that this job they disregard is actually very tough and more so that they had gotten a taste of how it feels to do it.
The appeal of the role reversal fantasy has reintroduced itself during my infertility journey. Especially on days OH such as this one where I’m locked in my house. The days leading up to this Halloween were nothing short of irritating. Normally my husband takes the day off and we spend it in the city, circumventing the families with children hoopla that way. But as he is in the middle of working on his restaurant, due to open any day, I’m on my own. I had thought of going into the city myself but I have a lot to do so I’ve decided to stay home. The notion that I should lose a day of work in pulling my life back together after infertility because of what tribes of people with kids happen to be doing was pissing me off, quite frankly. And with our empty light blue bedroom that was supposed to be the nursery leering at me, a day at home to prep the room for its next (and much less baby oriented) paint color of spring leaf green is in order. Sometimes I get a kick out of designing a fertile world escape. And other times the idea of altering my path that I would not otherwise alter is not so amusing. Today is one of those times.
If it were just a bunch of kids coming to my door, it might be tolerable, although it is still too early after the loss of our children to witness excessive portions of what we’re missing. But the fact of the matter is that my husband and I really like kids of all ages, and, they often if not always seem to gravitate towards us. In the past few months my husband and I have come to the conclusion that it’s their parents we, at least for now, need to avoid like the plague. Along with the cultish presumptive attitude that sometimes occurs amongst those with children, it’s the sappy, gleeful looks I cannot connect with from the parents I ultimately find so impaling. They have absolutely every right to be happy and I do not for a moment begrudge them that. But I can’t have it in my face. Not this year.
My first natural order of business as an infertile at home on Halloween was to disconnect our doorbell. I was somewhat taken aback at the way I fumbled through this. I even had to playfully remind myself “Come on, dipshit….you helped open a restaurant and found your way through redoing a fixer upper house, surely you can make your way through disconnecting a door bell!” But I guess it’s one of those associations you don’t see coming – that Halloween equals doorbell disconnection was not exactly visible on my horizon five years ago. As I make the simple turns of two screws necessary to complete the job I find myself musing…..what if you can get electrocuted by a doorbell? I can see the headlines now…….”Infertile zapped to death disconnecting doorbell in effort to avoid trick or treaters on Halloween”. Sure ain’t how I wanna go down.
My mind then wanders back to mother’s day of this year, which was undoubtedly harsher. Three months out of our last failed fertility treatment I spent mother’s day alone enveloped in waves of grief. The photographs of our twenty four beautiful embryos sat inside a music box, ready for burial, as I sat inside my home with blinds drawn, TV and computer off, as removed as possible from any kind of mother’s day reminders. Like I needed any.
And at one point I became angry. Angry that the world, especially on this day, was so unsafe for me and others like me. Angry that I had to close, unplug, and disconnect everything in order to not feel assaulted. Angry that there was nowhere for me to go. But there’s nothing like being stuck between a rock and a hard place that makes the creative gears of the brain start to grind. And so once again I started indulging in the fantasy of role reversal. I imagined that there was a day (preferably a stunning spring day) when all fertiles had to stay inside on lock down while all infertiles could roam out in the world, knowing at least for that day they were completely safe. I let myself sink into this forceful yearning for people to know, just once, what it’s like to be on the other side. To have the very thing you worked harder for than most people but still lost in your face all of the time and even more pointedly on holidays. To live in a life where protecting your emotions and your PTSD all too often entails a skillful aversion of the majority. And to anticipate the judgments and lack of understanding that may or may not be there. Those coming to my door on Halloween may not be committing a blatantly disrespectful act like some of the people I used to wait on. But how many of them have it anywhere on their radar screens how painful it might be to have throngs of children in costume and their parents coming to your door when you’ve been denied entrance into that world?
As I burrow inside my home this Halloween I recall the dark, seemingly empty houses I used to pass during the trick or treating escapades of my youth. As well as the negative comments my parents would make about them as far as how wrong it was for anyone not to be there for the kids on Halloween. Perish the thought. My parents have been wonderfully supportive on this infertility journey of ours, but in looking back they were quite pompous fertiles. Easily conceiving public school teachers who sometimes voiced opinions that everyone’s life should revolve around kids whether people had them or not. I’ve pointed out to them in recent years that now we perhaps have more of an insight as to what may have been going on in some of those homes that remained dark on Halloween.
I see my role reversal fantasies as part of my dark side, which I’ve quite honestly never had much of a problem with. My dark side is flawed yet serves a purpose just like the other parts of me. However I have to admit I find my role reversal fantasy immature and unrealistic, maybe embarrassing evidence that at age 42 I somehow haven’t quite accomplished an acceptance of life’s unfairnesses. Or perhaps it is just the remnants of my inner child poking its head up for air every now and then, wanting so badly to be seen, heard and understood.
But I think it has a point too, if only theoretically. Back in my waitressing days there was a guy who came in every Friday looking for the manager (who was supposedly HIS friend). He would hang around, acting as though I was his personal assistant and hounding me for details I didn’t have as I would frantically seat people, answer the phones, and serve the lunch shift that was often understaffed and only a prelude to the dinner shift I would also be working. Years later as I sat down to eat lunch at a restaurant, I looked up and there he was as my server. “Now that I’m on the other side I realize all I put you through and I’m so sorry” was one of the first things he said in a rather embarrassed tone. Although he really ought to have realized some of that at the time (I mean how hard is it to assume most things are more complicated and tougher than they seem??), I was moved by his candor and generosity, and thus went easy on him. An acknowledgement is really all I ever need. “Well, you know now, so don’t worry about it”, I said. “Actually being in it gives you a whole different perspective, I know.”
LIMELIGHT BY RUSH/Living on a lighted stage approaches the unreal/For those who think and feel/In touch with some reality beyond the gilded cage/Cast in this unlikely role/Ill-equipped to act/With insufficient tact/One must put up barriers to keep oneself intact//Living in the limelight/the universal dream/For those who wish to seem/Those who wish to be/must put aside the alienation/Get on with the fascination/The real relation, the underlying theme//Living in a fish eye lens, caught in the camera eye/I have no heart to lie/I can’t pretend a stranger is a long awaited friend/All the world’s indeed a stage/We are merely players/Performers and portrayers/Each another’s audience outside the gilded cage