It’s a frigid Wednesday night in February and we’re preparing to close early. The temperature has never inched above five degrees. Domino’s pizza delivery might be busy but we sure as hell aren’t.
Sitting around counting our meager take for the night, we hear Caroline having an animated conversation with her boyfriend on a borrowed cell phone. I know what they are talking about. Crack.
Caroline and her boyfriend, also a waiter at a nearby restaurant, are degenerate lovers of the rock. Homeless, all their possessions stored in a beat up old car, they migrate from motel to motel, one fix to another. Tonight they have a small problem. Their combined nightly earnings can get them a motel room or drugs – but not both. They face a dilemma. Motel or crack? Crack or a motel? Hit the sheets or hit the pipe?
Sayeed, the manger, offers to let her crash in our warehouse a few blocks away. It’s unheated and only locks from the outside. In so many words he tells her that for his largesse sexual favors are expected. A pretty girl, whose looks are just beginning to be ravaged, Caroline has not yet reached that bottom. She takes a pass. Tears in her eyes, she walks over to the front door and waits for her boyfriend to pick her up.
We tell Sayeed he is a pig. He just laughs us off saying, “Let her freeze.”
I walk up to the front. Caroline’s face is pressed against the window looking onto the empty street. The wind howling outside only accentuates the feeling of desolation. Thinking of my nice warm apartment I do a stupid thing. I reach into my pocket and hand her my tips. Forty bucks.
“You can’t stay in your car tonight. Get a room.” I say as the boyfriend’s heap pulls up.
“Thank you.” she whispers. I watch her drive off. She waves smally.
I would like to say that Caroline slept well and decided to turn over a new leaf but that didn’t happen. Caroline didn’t get a room with my money – she just bought more crack. Her and her boyfriend slept in their car with the engine running.
Avoiding death by carbon monoxide poisoning, Caroline returned to work the next day. Unkempt and dirty, with pinpricks for eyes, she stumbled about making a million mistakes. Her tips were nonexistent. Luckily for her, the boyfriend had a banner night; crack and clean sheets for everybody.
Then a few days later she was gone. Word on the street was Caroline ditched her old man and took a bus down South to her parents. Maybe on that cold night she had a moment of clarity. Maybe she didn’t. Odds are she’s still a crackhead. I prefer to think of her sober, married, and living behind a white picket fence. I’ll never know. Whenever it’s cold and the wind howls I think of her.
Be well Caroline.