Monday, August 11, 2008

This Used to be My Beach (Part 2)

* I'm changing some names here to protect the innocent and to make writing the stories simpler, but the stories from the beach continue.

The beach is measured in mileposts, rather than in exits. We moved into a furnished, two-story house on stilts at MP9 in Kill Devil Hills, which had a small apartment below, and we worked at MP2. Speaking of restaurants, shops, or tourist areas always involved describing the place by its proximity to a milepost and/or saying whether it was on the beach road or the bypass, as in "Oh, that's on the beach road, milepost 6."

The woman who lived downstairs owned a powder blue Mercedes and woke us up each morning trying to start her car. She didn't understand the glow plug that older Mercedes used, and so she went about it all wrong. John* (boyfriend's father) tried to explain it all to her once, but either she outright ignored him or just could not get the hang of the right way to start the car. Therefore we never really slept in. The fact that there was no air conditioning other than the natural flow of the ocean breeze from the front rear windows to the front, made everything that much louder.

Most days there was no sleeping in for Pete* and I. The pancake house opened at 6 a.m. and closed at 2 p.m. If we were lucky, that meant 5-6 days a week. At the time when we arrived on the Outer Banks, most seasonal jobs were full, but we found work at the pancake house alongside a couple of busboys, another cook, a dishwasher, the owners - Gus* and Anita* - and their two sons. Pete worked for minimum wage as a line cook, while I worked as a waitress for $2.01 an hour (plus lousy tips). On the days when we had no ride, we left at around 5 to get there on time. Getting there late - even a minute or so - would raise the anger and wrath of Anita. She was one scary woman. Some of the things she would not tolerate for any reason included --
  • Tardiness
  • (Perceived) backtalk (Anita was always right)
  • Calling a dish by anything other than the name written on the menu board (no shorthand!)
  • Dragging butt (even if it was just perceived butt-dragging)
And a miscellany of many, many other rules that she would make up on the fly. Each day brought something different that I did wrong, and the tips were terrible. The customers were confused by the fact that they ordered while going through a cafeteria-style line but had their food delivered to the table. Did they tip? Didn't they tip? Sometimes yes; sometimes no. It certainly didn't guarantee minimum wage for me, but it was the only job on the beach for an unskilled worker. I worked as hard as if I were working for $20 an hour.

There was still time for fun, thank God, because we were out of there by 3 p.m. every day. We could walk on the beach, sleep, talk, or just be. There was no cable TV, so we never sat in front of the boob tube. There was always something to do. On mornings when we weren't working, we would go to the Kitty Hawk Pier (the old one, before it was washed away by a Nor'Easter), and we would eat the 99 cent breakfast (2 eggs, toast, and unlimited coffee) and smoke Winstons. It was a little slice of heaven.

Later that year, Pete's mom, sister, and younger brothers showed up. We got moved out of the bedroom and onto the sofa bed, despite the fact that we were paying our share of the rent. It's just the way things went. It wasn't all bad. I had lived with his family briefly in Houston, before his mom decided that there was no room for us and that we should break up. She would let him stay, if we broke up. My sister would take me in, if we broke up. They felt strongly about it. I don't blame them. It was what it was. By the time NC rolled into our lives (or should I say, by the time our lives rolled into NC), I think our families were beginning to get it. We were together to stay.

Times were still lean, and I believed in being as self-sufficient as possible. One of his brothers bought a fishing pole, a rod-and-reel that was a step up from what I had. The only problem was that he didn't know how to fish! Add to that the fact that he was freaked out by baiting a hook. We went to the pier and bought a bucket of bloodworms and took them out to the beach that evening. I grabbed a worm and hooked it several times, making sure it would stay alive and continue to wriggle enticingly for the fish. His brother did a bit of a squirrelly dance on the sand as he watched me hook the worm. I showed him how to cast his line without damaging anyone on the beach, and soon we had landed two large bluefish while the ghost crabs danced around our feet in the shadows of the Kitty Hawk pier.

Our night's catch in hand, we walked home, just a few blocks, and lay the fish out on the picnic table on the deck. We had to gather some utensils from the kitchen to gut and clean the fish, something else his brother wasn't used to.

While we dug through the drawers in the kitchen, we heard a thump! on the deck. Pete ran to see whether one of the fish had flopped off the table, but instead he found his sister's cat, Muffin, making off with a bluefish twice her size! He shooed her away and recovered the fish. We ate well that night, and we saved the head and tail for Muffin, who was pretty sure she'd been scammed.

Instead of a lean life living under the San Jacinto bridge in Houston, we were having an abundant life in nature's paradise. We didn't feel deprived or impoverished. We felt lucky. We felt blessed.

There was only one problem. While we were in Houston, I had gotten pregnant. Yes. I was homeless, living in a car, and I had gotten pregnant. It wasn't on purpose. We simply had no healthcare and no money for protection. We were careful, but one can only control so much. A couple of months into the pregnancy, though, I lost the baby in a rush of blood and cramping. It happened during one of those rare times when we had a bed for a couple of nights, a place to share some take-out food, beer, and to take showers. During a one-week period, I also found out that my father had died in Georgia, finally succumbing to lung cancer, and that my cousin had also died and was ruled a suicide. They were both buried before anyone told me. It was horrible. This friend allowed us to stay with him for a few days while I recovered from the shock of losing two of my loved ones and from being unable to get to them, even to say goodbye. It was truly a low point of my young life. Pete was there with me, comforting me, and then the baby went away, too.

While I had been pregnant, Pete had contacted the Marine Corps recruiter and signed up for a delayed entry program. I also went and took the ASVAB test and met with a Navy recruiter. (I, in no way, wanted to be a Marine). I wanted delayed entry, too, because I thought I would have the baby first. All we could think about was finding some security.

As it turned out, things didn't quite go as we planned. Oh sure, Pete ended up going off to USMC boot camp, but life handed us some more changes along the way. The baby was one. Losing my father and cousin were a couple more. And there was more to come.

This will be continued. Thanks for riding down memory lane with me, and I will be visiting all of you and catching up with what I missed over the weekend!

Peace - D

5 comments:

Not Afraid to Use It said...

Great second installment! What I want to know was why did Pete's mom and brood show up in NC? After all the flak they gave you, then THEY wanted to MOVE IN with YOU? Or am I not understanding the picture? Either way, I hope you are finding these memories beautiful and the reminiscing with Pete enjoyable. You guys are just so special.

Akelamalu said...

I can't imagine how hard it all was for you, but I'm there with you whilst reading, willing good things to happen. x

RiverPoet said...

NATUI - Since "Pete's" mom and dad were on-again/off-again and were in an on-again period, it was her "right" to move in and take over, I guess. I was just the girlfriend and had no say in the matter. Needless to say, there followed long stretches of time in which the MIL and I had problems. "Pete" says she's older and trying to get into heaven now. ;-)

Akela - I'm glad you're enjoying my end of summer series. Stay turned for more.

Peace - D

Jay said...

Gosh, quite an eventful time in your life. Both good and bad, but plenty of life experiences. I guess that shapes your character and makes you mature more quickly, but no fun to live through I would think, especially the losses of family and baby.

Hilary said...

Sometimes it's good to be late to the party. I've been away for a bit, but now I see that I don't have to wait for future installments. Off to read the next one.