I empty the contents of the bag and watch as they plummet into the boiling oil. I watch as the frozen chunks of potato set off a reaction causing an eruption of foam like bubbles on the surface of the oil. It reminded me of filling the sink with soapy water before washing dishes, only much dirtier.
“Hmm?” I turn my head toward the noise but keep staring into the oil.
“I was just saying that while the tots cook I check the back line to make sure it’s stocked.”
I finally snap out of the trance and remember where I am. “Sorry Todd. Stock. Got it.”
Todd is my manager here at Speedy Burger and has been training me for two nights. He is also a junior in high school making him nearly ten years younger than me. I asked him my first day if that was weird for him, to which he replied “I know right?”.
He points out all of the items that need to be stocked and tells me where I can find things that are needed.
“Everything looks stocked pretty well, so we can just wait. They’re almost done anyway.” Todd says as he leans against a metal shelf that according to him is stocked. “So what did you do before this?”.
“Well I was in school until a couple of months ago, but I dropped out. I haven’t worked since last year and that was at a movie theater.”
“My brother Conner works at the movie theater, you might know him.”
“No, this was in Indiana where I used to live.”
“Oh okay…Why did you move?”
Great question Todd. “It’s complicated.” I say, hoping we can just move on.
“Was it a break-up?”
Not much for social cues are we Todd? “No there was no break-up. Actually my parents…”
Beep beep beep.
“Okay, they’re done.” Todd says as he goes to the fryer. “Now all you do is hit this button to stop the alarm and rack the basket up here.” He hangs up the basket over the fryer. Oil rains back into the vat rippling the surface. “We can leave this here to dry off a little, I am going to use the restroom real quick.”
“Yeah me too.” I follow Todd to the back of the kitchen where we hang up our aprons. I go into the girl’s employee bathroom and lock the door. I didn’t need to go to the bathroom. I just needed a minute to compose myself. Just the thought of my parents and moving still shake me. I’m still not ready for that conversation.
I know I’ll need to talk about it eventually. In one of my psychology classes the professor talked about the effectiveness of sharing your pain. He said he found that talking about issues was the best way to learn to cope with them. If only I had someone to talk to. I don’t have any friends to speak of, at least not ones that I am close enough to confide in. The only people I have in the world are my biological parents, who I can’t find…so I guess I don’t even have them. That’s what happens when you are an extreme introvert and the only people you’re close to are your adopted parents.
To be fair I did’nt expect to be an orphan again at 25. Which oddly enough feels identical to being an orphan at 7. When I came home with my parents I thought that was it. I thought I I wouldn’t have to be alone anymore. But they’re gone now, and they didn’t have family either. My dad always used to say that they needed me a lot more than I needed them. I believed him.
When I was 8 David and Alice Wright adopted me. I spent 17 years with those remarkable people. 17 Christmases, 17 Thanksgivings, 16 birthdays, and 17 Easters. Now all I have is their last name and a single image of them burned into my mind. I can’t remember what my mom looked like the first time we went to the beach. No matter how hard I try I can’t picture my dad when he read his newspaper at the breakfast table. I remember facts about things that we did but I can’t visualize any of it. All I see when I try and think of them are matching wooden caskets with brass fixtures that caught the sunlight as the were lowered into the ground.
I think in a way that is sadder than death, being forgotten. That is when you truly cease to exist.
I splash some water on my face, hoping that no one notices my blood shot eyes. I grab the door handle to leave the restroom when I hear a man scream.
“Everyone get down!” BANG!
I jump back from the door instinctively jumping away from the deafening noise. My back hits the tiled wall and I slide to the floor, my arms pulling my legs into my chest. My entire body tingles and my breathing becomes shallow and rapid.
“Listen everyone.” The gunman says.” I want you to empty your purses and wallets on the counter.”
Shit! I grab my phone to call 911. My hands shaking so badly I have try three times before I get the number right.
“911 what is your emergency?”
“There is a man robbing the Speedy Burger.” My voice pitches higher as I speak. “He has a gun.”
“Try and stay calm. We have just been notified of the robbery and have dispatched officers. Are you safe?”
“I’m in the bathroom hiding.”
“Good. Just stay hidden and the police will be there soon.”
“Please just stay on the phone.” I plead.
“I’m not goin’ anywhere. Everything is gonna be fine.”
“Who’s the manager tonight?!” says the gunman. No one speaks up. “WHO IS THE FUCKING MANAGER?! Come here!”
“Let me go!” I hear a woman scream.
“Erica, who is the manager tonight? You have three seconds before I…”
“Todd! Todd is the manager.”
“Where is Todd?”
No! Oh God!
“Todd! Get out here or I blow Erica’s brains out!!”
The bathroom door next to mine opens and I hear Todd’s trembling voice “I’m here.” It’s obvious that he has been crying. Under the door I see his shadow pass by and hear the sound of his slip resistant shoes shuffle by.
“Please don’t hurt him. Please, please, please.” I chant quietly into my knees. I feel tears stream down my face to my neck. My nose is stopped up and I try my best to breath quietly, certain that the gunman can hear my breathing.
“Ma’am…ma’am” I hear my phone from my lap calling for me.
“I’m here.” I whisper, fear pouring out of my mouth.
“Can you tell me what’s happening?”
“He’s trying to get the manager to open the safe.”
“Open the safe Todd and I’ll leave.”, says the gunman.
I hear Todd trying to control his voice and fail “I don’t have a key.” His voice breaks and he lets out a muted cry.
Todd responds, fully sobbing. “Jeremy…I” he tries to catch his breath.” I don’t have…”
The sound rings and echoes in my ears and it’s all I can hear for a moment. The world slows down for a moment as I come to understand what that gun shot meant. The next thing I know I am doubled over vomiting down my shirt. Before I can stop myself I hear “NOOO!!!” as it leaves my throat.
“WHO’S BACK THERE!” The gunman shouts and I hear footsteps running toward me. “YOU BETTER NOT’VE CALLED THE FUCKING COPS!!”
The gunman pounds on the door. “Did you call the fucking cops?!”
Between sobs I manage to say. “No…no cops.”
“You’re lying! Open the door.”
“Please! Please just go.”
From the other side of the door I hear metallic click as he cocks his gun.
“No…DON’T!!” I scream and hold up my hands in defense.
BANG, BANG, BANG.
Holes appear suddenly in the door, light chasing the bullets as they come through. I feel bits of tile fall on my head as the bullets connect with the wall behind me. I raise my hands to shield my body instinctively and scream as I hear blast after blast from the gun.
The gunfire stops suddenly and I hear another voice shout something but I can’t make it out. The shouting sounds are muffled and distant as if I’m underwater. I realize suddenly that I’m on my side. I try to lift my self off the floor but can’t move.
I struggle to keep my eyes open but I can hear the door to the bathroom open. Then I’m lifted off of the floor and dropped on my back onto something soft. I open my eyes and see the ceiling moving by and a man running next to me.
I drop my head to the side and see a pair of legs sticking out from behind the fryer. The familiar slip resistant shoes confirm what I already knew.
“Todd.” I whimper as I lose site of him. My only friend, gone.
I lose and regain consciousness over and over. I see the inside of an ambulance; a paramedic frantically working to save me. I try to ask what happened but I black out again.
I feel my body lifted and then I am dropped again on a hard cold surface. I hear shouting but can only make out fragments.
The edge of my vision grows darker and darker like the shutter of a camera. The moment before I black out…I see my mom and dad.
It’s the day they adopted me. They’re standing in the hall and I’m moving toward them, moving toward my new family. My dad is squatting down waiting for me. He’s wearing his tan corduroy pants and his favorite navy blazer. Tear tracks mark his clean shaven face and his smile spreads across his face revealing his dimples almost like a ripple of happiness. My mother is kneeling behind him her left hand on his shoulder. She has on a blue sundress with white flowers. Her hair spills over her left shoulder, laying next to her pearls that my father gave her to commemorate me coming home. I see her hazel eyes and they see me, her daughter. Not the orphan. Not the little black girl that the white people adopted, her daughter. The look in her eyes says “I may not have carried you in my womb but I have carried you in my heart”. I walk into the embrace of my parents and for the first time in my life feel like I belong.
My father cups my face and looks into my eyes. “Don’t give up Hannah Banana. It’s time to wake up.”
I look at my father and mother and see them as they were before they died, before the wreck. I see the grey hair at my father’s temples. The crows feet at the corners of my mother’s eyes marking years of smiles.
I look into my father’s face, then press my face into his chest. His familiar scent filling my nose and calming me. “I need you daddy.”
“We needed you more.” My mother and father pull me in and hold me tight.
I wake up, but keep my eyes closed. I’m scared that I may forget what they look like again if I open my eyes. I lay there for a long time, hoarding my newly found memories.
I eventually try opening my eyes and fail. My eyelids feel as if they are glued together. I manage to part them slightly and wince at the brightness of the room. My eyes adjust to the room and I look around and see that I’m in a hospital room. Usually when someone is in the hospital there are cards and flowers and people telling them to “Get well soon”. None of that is in my room, obviously. I look out the window to my right and see a bright cloudless day.
I then notice that on the windowsill sits a clear drinking glass; in it a single white lily. I stare at the flower puzzled, unable to come up with an explanation.
I hear the sound of a toilet flush, followed by a sink running. The door to the left of my hospital bed opens and out steps a nurse in wrinkled scrubs. She has circles under her eyes, her hair disheveled as if she hasn’t slept in days. Our eyes meet and I watch a wave of emotions ripple across her face. She gasps holding her breath in while her hands jump to cover her mouth. Her eyes glisten, moments before a tear from each eye run down her cheeks.
“You’re awake.” She says. Her voice raw with exhaustion or emotion or both.
I open my mouth to speak but it’s too dry. I managed to whisper “Water.”
The nurse rushes to the roll away table that’s been pushed against the wall and grabs the styrofoam cup with the pale pink handle and puts the straw up to my lips. The cool water fills my mouth and washes down the back of my throat. I’m suddenly able to move my mouth again. I feel like the Tin Man, the nurse playing the role of Dorothy, the the styrofoam cup my oil can.
“Thank you. Are you my nurse?”
“I was.” She says after a moment. It’s clear she has more to say but can’t seem to find the words.
I realize now that she hasn’t stop staring at me since coming out of the bathroom. It’s not an uncomfortable stare, in fact it makes me feel…warm. I look back at her. She opens her mouth several times to speak but never does.
While I look at her I get the strong sense that I have seen her before but don’t know where. Her high cheek bones, the slight dimple in her chin, her smooth ebony skin, even the way she stands is too familiar.
Then it clicks. She looks like me. My mouth drops open slightly and my face starts to tingle as I realize.
She walks around to the side of the bed and sits in the chair next to me and takes my hand and kisses it gently.