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D's Friendly Diner

She was a hopeless case. Almost.

Dana Smith

I walked past the diner every day on my way to work. The diner was called Mr. Om-elette. It wasn’t fancy. A counter and tables. Breakfast and lunch. Smelled good outside. Lots of regulars. Everyone seemed happy.

I worked at McDonald’s. It was a job, and I was grateful to have one. Still, I wondered what it would be like to work at Mr. Omelette. Probably better hours. Nice to be around happy people. Some employees at McDonald’s were mean.

I was too intimidated to apply. They’d never hire someone like me. I was a recovering drug addict. I lived at a women’s shelter plus care program (supportive housing for people with substance abuse or other challenges) while I attended drug court. I had no car, no driver’s license. I’d lost custody of my kids a long time ago. This wasn’t my first arrest for drugs. I’d gotten caught with opiates this time, but I did lots of drugs—heroin, methamphetamines, crack cocaine, alcohol. Lots of other bad stuff too. Stealing. Prostitution. I sank about as low as you can go and then some.

I was sober now. Not for the first time. I started every day praying to stay sober. I went to outpatient drug treatment, attended support group meetings and always showed up to work on time. I really wanted to change my life. After more than a decade as a drug addict, I wanted so badly to make my kids proud. They were young adults now.

Let me tell you something. It is hard to stay clean from drugs. When you feel ashamed and hopeless, it is so hard to resist using. My life is worthless, you think. Might as well get high.

Picturing myself working at Mr. Omelette—serving all those normal, happy people in that bright, pleasant place— helped me hold out against drugs. What if the owner did hire me?

Wouldn’t happen. Those nice people would stare if I went in. Or leave.

I used to hate drug addicts. There was some problem drinking in my family when I was growing up. I wanted to emulate my parents, hard workers who did their best to raise my siblings and me.

I had bad acne as a teenager, and I got bullied a lot at school. I had zero self-confidence. Despite my good intentions, I was primed for addiction.

I graduated high school and completed a one-year nursing program. I found a job at a nursing home, then moved to a hospital. I went back to school to become a registered nurse.

I met a man at work who flattered me. A few months later, I was pregnant. We married, but things got dysfunctional pretty quickly. After another child, the dysfunction got worse. Eventually we divorced. I became a single mom.

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September 2019