Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Word - Part One

One winter afternoon a few years ago found me hurriedly running holiday errands with Caden and The Tank. We planned to attend a Hershey Bears hockey game later that evening to support their special Children's Miracle Network Hospitals night. Unexpectedly, Caden fell asleep in the car between store visits. We opted to take advantage of the surprise nap so he would be fully charged for the hockey game. The Tank suggested we grab takeout somewhere and drive around feeding our bellies while our little prince slumbered away. We decided on a chain restaurant that had recently hosted a fundraising event supporting CMNH. As we pulled into the designated takeout parking space, The Tank volunteered to stay with sleepy head while I picked up our food.

Surprised that the restaurant was so busy at this time of day, I stood next to three college-aged men watching football on the overhead television as they dined at the bar. The pretty bartender brought over my order and took my credit card. The young men next to me suddenly got rowdy about a play on the screen and a certain player that they clearly didn't like. A server walking through the bar area chimed in loudly, "Oh, you mean the guy that looks like a RETARD with Down Syndrome?" They all laughed as the server disappeared into the kitchen.

My face flushed with red hot anger that threatened to spill into tears as I looked outside at my beautiful, snoozing, perfect boy, so blissfully unaware of how his diagnosis had just been used in a horribly demeaning way.  I wanted to grab my credit card and run out of the building but the bartender was already walking back towards me with the receipt.

"Get that man to come back out here - that server that just walked into the kitchen," I told her in a deliberate and controlled tone. "My son has Down syndrome and he is right there!" I pointed out the window but no one dared to look. "Thank god I didn't bring him in here with me to hear what was just said."

Apparently the three football fans had just realized that their meals were fantastic as they lowered their heads and focused soley on their food. The whole place seemed to have quieted or maybe the blood boiling in my head was drowning out all the sound. The bartender returned alone, explaining that she had told the server what I said and he was sorry. Then she smiled and said nothing more.  I realized he had no intention of facing me.

"You mean he's not coming out here to talk to me?" I couldn't believe he was being this cowardly, hiding in the kitchen and not willing to own up to what he had just blurted out so casually in a public place, his work place no less, and leaving his coworker to deal with me instead. "Get your manager," I demanded. I begged my eyes not to cry so I could represent my son coherently and with dignity.

The young manager finally appeared with gift cards in hand and already apologizing. "I'm sorry for what he said. I have a cousin with autism so I understand how that must've felt. He should've known better and I've talked to him." She was sincere and profuse with the apologies but I didn't want to hear it from her. I wanted the server to face me and to see how much his words hurt. But he stayed in the back, gutless.

I expressed my frustration not only at the server's words but also now his lack of accountability for the impact of his words. I shared that we specifically selected this restaurant because they supported CMNH and I would've expected much more compassion and respect from them. It was dissatisfying to be having this conversation with anyone but the server and I felt like they were protecting him. The manager handed me $20 in gift cards and I laughed incredulously. There was no way I was coming back. All I wanted was an apology from the right person but instead I was left irreparably disappointed and heartbroken.

Sickened, I climbed into our car next to my innocent boy and explained to The Tank why I was inside for so long. We were both gutted but I thought we should stick to the original plan of eating dinner while Caden slept and then heading to the hockey game. I had lost my appetite and didn't particularly want to dine on anything from this establishment but I unpacked my salad and placed it on my lap anyway. Almost as if to save me, Caden suddenly woke up and fiercely vomited, several times, everywhere. Especially hard hit was the food as I unsuccessfully tried to use the containers and carryout bag to catch the mess. It was a nightmare but couldn't have summed up any better how the restaurant experience had made me feel. We headed home to heal, in more ways than one.


helen platt said...

That is absolutely disgusting!! I was shocked when i read what they had said. In this day and age how can people talk like that?! Why that manager didn't frogmarch the server upto you is beyond me.

Jessica said...

Believe me, I was shocked too!