Farewell Joni

There’s a scary reality that all living things face – death and its finality.

At night, when you nestle your head into that pillow or each morning when you pull out of the driveway, it never feels like it may be the last time you do it. You expect to see your home again, wake up from your slumber and return to doing the same routine things you do every day, the same way you have for years.

It’s never intended to be the very last time you grab your keys, slip underneath the covers or check the rearview mirror while leaving.

I got a frantic phone call this morning, in the wee hours before the sun was up. I usually go into work at 7 a.m. so I was shocked to see “Worrrrrrrrkkkkkkk” popping up on my phone. My immediate thought is “Sheet, I’m late!”

“Hey – it’s Wayne, there’s an emergency. I don’t have any openers and I’ve tried calling the other 7o’clock servers but have gotten no answer. I need you to come in early, I’ll explain then, please, I’m sorry for waking you up, but I need you.”

While I was still not sure if I was dreaming or not, I mumbled “of course.” I rolled out of bed and stumbled through the dark halls trying to find the back door. My dogs knew I was up and expected me to let them out and then feed them. I cursed whoever it was that caused me to be woken early.

My shoes were the last thing I needed to find and as I searched I began to register the voice of my frantic, breathless and somewhat desperate tone of voice my manager had so early in the morning. I tend to go straight to worse case scenario, a trait I swore I wouldn’t receive from my mother, and I hardly will say them out-loud.

Although I wouldn’t say it or let myself to think it, I had a horrible feeling and knew something bad had happened. The thought sat in the back of my mind, hiding somewhere behind my eyes, holding its breath waiting for someone to confirm its truth.

Finally, I made it to the front door of my workplace. As I stumbled into into the building, I realized I looked like I had indeed just rolled out of bed. My apron was untied and hanging from my neck, my shirt was buttoned but I missed one, in one hand my belt and the other a grapefruit.

My fear got the best of me as I headed towards the back of the restaurant and into the kitchen. Who wasn’t here? What’s going on?

“Oh, thank God,” I said. ” I thought something happened to you. Where’s Joni?”

“She called in, she went out last night with some friends to celebrate it being Friday. I think she had a little too much fun.”

Well, damn. I got a breathless manager calling me in early to cover, sounding frantic and encouraging my worrisome-self to imagine the worst. I had began to thought they had gotten into an accident that morning. They drive together some mornings and in Texas the highways aren’t lit through the long patches between cities, anything can jump out and derail you.

As I knocked on the office door to get my manager to swipe me in for duty, I looked into his eyes to see if they would deceive his calm demeanor. “Help me set up the store,” he said. “I’ll tell you later, just please help me.”

I stumbled down the server isle, into the refrigerator walk-in and around and back through dry storage. I gathered containers for ice and lemons, sugar to sweeten the tea and labels for the perishable items. All awhile imagining the conversation I would have with Joni the next day at work.

“Joni bologna, you know you got me in here two hours early because of your old partying bee-hind.”

I imagined what she would say also.

“I know that’s not you talkin’ to me like that! I know you know you can kiss my A double S!”

We’d laugh and she’d probably reach out to smack my butt. I’d respond with my usual, “harder” and the normal banter between us would ensue the rest of the day.

Before I knew it, my fellow opener, friend and co-worker was being called into the office. “I’ll speak to you next.”

I made myself busy for a few minutes, pouring myself a cup of coffee and stirring the right amount of sugars so It would make the color a nice caramel shade. I starred at the office window wondering if I should peek in, knowing I would know what was occurring the second I saw her face.

I peered into the window and saw tears streaming down her face and still I didn’t believe it.

It’s my turn now and as I walk into the office I crack a joke about how hot it is. “Yes Wayne, it’s hotter than Hades in here, can’t you just enjoy the cooler winter months temperatures?” With his back to me, he replies with a smart mouth joke. In the same second, he turns and looks at me with a look that can only described as regret. What ever he had to tell me, he didn’t want to.

“Joni’s sister called me this morning, there was an accident last night-early this morning and we’re not entirely sure what happened.”  He paused for a bit and then said, “she didn’t make it.”

I sat there bewildered with the truth finally showing its ugly face. I picked at the laminated calendar on the desk and fidgeted in the wheeled chair for what seemed like forever before I could simply say, “okay.”

I got up, headed towards the door and said I’d watch out for my fellow co-worker. They were close friends. I opened the door and went straight for my friend, gave her a hug and told her it wasn’t her fault and she couldn’t of prevented it.

I was a shoulder for each co-worker today, for anybody who wanted it. My shoulder was soaked with tears as they shuddered in my arms while bellowing out their sorrow and sadness. All I could do was stand there, they needed a shoulder and I wanted to be that rock for them.

I can’t remember a time in the long 8-years of serving that the back of house was silent. There was no obscenities being thrown around, or jokes being told. The grill cooks weren’t screaming for servers or vise versa. Nobody knew what to say to each other. They came into work that morning to do a job, and there were plenty of guests that needed our attention.

I came home and went to my rock, my husband. While I laid on the couch voiceless, he let me. After a substantial amount of time, he reached for my hand and asked if I would go outside with him. When I couldn’t find the words, he just nodded and said, “I know.”

Life is such a beautiful thing and it’s a shame when somebody has to die to remind you. There won’t be anymore tomorrows for my friend Joni, so make the best out of yours while you still can. Life is beautiful and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

I will miss your cackles every weekend that accompanied your crude banter. You always talked about how much you missed your mom, at least we can all find comfort in knowing you’re finally with her again. Rest in peace.

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