Operating since 1947, the Colonial Diner, in the little southern New England beach town called Napatree is open from sunrise to 1 am every day except Fridays and Saturdays, when it is open 24 hours.
The servers consist of the very old and the young. Ladies who have been working at the greasy spoon for decades, and young girls taking shifts in between college classes at the nearby University of Rhode Island.
The menu had all of the comfort items you’d expect sitting down at your grandmother’s dining table, including fresh seafood, thanks to the proximity to the docks and fishermen that deliver their catch daily to restaurants in the area.
The diner has many regular patrons of all ages. As with any long operating establishment, their customers are often generational — the cradle to grave sort of clientele fast-food chains like McDonald’s crave.
One such patron just parked his older model Dodge pickup truck and is listening to music loudly before exiting.
Inside, Manny Deteves, the busser, notes the Dodge and its owner and walks up to two of the servers who are standing by the toasters talking about which satellite radio channel they prefer to listen to during their shift.
“Hey, big boy is here.”
Barbara Malone, a 70-something grandmother of three and Jenna Barrett, a 60-something part-timer look at each other as the shift manager, 35-year-old Claudette walks out from the kitchen.
“Manny, don’t say that. Tony needs you to mop up a spill back near the freezer, please.” Claudette said.
“I’m not in the mood today to take care of him, take him for me, will you?” Jenna said with a smirk.
Barbara doesn’t answer as the bread she had in the toaster popped up quickly. She began to slowly spread the whipped butter onto each slice. She didn’t like to participate in the disparaging gossip about the customers some of her co-workers immaturely engaged in.
As far as she was concerned, as long as they paid their check, and gave her 15%, a customer was a customer.
The staff went about performing their side chores as the man everyone had been discussing walked through the front door. The little bells still up from Christmas five years prior announced his arrival.
“Hey, Brian, how ‘ya doing, ‘ya old so and so?!” Barbara said as she was delivering the small plate of lightly browned and buttered toast to a table in the rear of the diner.
“Hi, Barbara. I’m alive.” Brian said as he slowly takes off his very large light coat.
As he sits down and adjusts his seat, he makes sounds like it’s an effort for him just to get comfortable.
Manny arrives promptly at Brian’s table with a glass of lemon ice water and unsweetened ice tea with lemon. He nods with a smile that just about anyone with an ounce of empathy could tell was sarcastic.
Brian nods his thanks and takes a big gulp out of the lemon ice water, sucking down about half of the contents quickly and wiping his forehead with the back of his hand after putting the glass down.
As Manny returns almost immediately with the water pitcher, Brian takes out his keys, his wallet, and his smartphone. He places the wallet and keys off to the side, against the glass exterior wall.
He lines up the silverware, salt and pepper shakers, napkin dispenser and all of the various condiments in their chrome basket so that all the labels are facing front and everything is in its proper place.
He picks up his smartphone and turns it on, beginning to read headlines of the day on his news app when Barbara walks over to him with a bright smile that cannot hide a little pity around the corners of her eyes when he looks up at her.
“Hey darlin’ I haven’t seen you in a few days, of course, I took Wednesday off and went up to Foxwoods to get in my points and help keep the tribe afloat. How have you been?”
“Hey, everyday I wake up is an automatic 10 points in the win column.”
“Right? I tell my husband Frank, you’ve met Frank, right?”
Brian nods his head, patiently waiting for this tedious social interaction to end as he picks at his thumb trying to distract the rising anxiety with pain.
“I tell him just about every day that when I don’t wake up, just roll me out to the backyard, dig a little barbecue pit and light me up. Simple as that.”
Brian smiles and adjusts the water glass which has a bead of water slowly running down the side. He runs his finger up the side of the glass to remove the streak of water.
“So what are you in the mood for today?”
Brian adjusts himself in the seat trying to get his back and butt comfortable.
“I’d like to start with a bowl of chili and beans. Cheese and sour cream, no onions.”
“Ok, sounds good, hon. You want the crackers?”
“Ok, coming right up.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Brian sees and hears Manny say something in Portuguese to the other busser.
“O gordo bastardo vai ter um derrame hoje!”
Brian’s best friend is Portuguese and while he doesn’t speak the language, he can understand enough to know Manny thinks today is the day he will stroke-out at the diner.
Manny’s younger co-worker laughs loudly until he looks up at Brian and realizes Brian not only heard them but might even understand what they are talking about.
Brian returns to his smartphone, he feels his cheeks get flushed with embarrassment. He slides one story up the screen after another, holding back the urge to cry.
Barbara returns to the table with a bowl of chili, a blanket of cheddar cheese across the top and a basket of crackers — Saltines and the chowder variety.
“There you go, hon. Let me know when you need something else.”
Brian nods his head and manages a smile. When she leaves, he carefully takes two of the paper napkins and puts them together, tucking them into his long sleeve shirt as a bib to prevent any food from dropping on his belly.
Barbara goes over to the milkshake machine to make a malted milkshake for another table when Jenna walks up to her.
“So, how long do you think he’ll be here today?”
Barbara shakes her head.
“I don’t know, Jenn. He didn’t tell me.”
Brian is savoring each spoonful of chili. Most restaurants use the old meat in their soups and chili to get another few days out of their investment.
Colonial Diner’s original owner was a big chili connoisseur having spent time stationed in Texas while in the military. The chili recipe was given to the next owners along with all of his secrets to running a New England diner, and no day-old meat was going in his chili.
Almost at the bottom of the bowl, Brian took out a Saltine cracker and spooned some of the beef and beans onto it, making sure to soak it first in the tangy liquid.
He cleaned up after himself, putting everything in a tidy pile for the staff to retrieve. He made sure the table was clean before he went back to reading his news and waiting for Barbara to return for his next course.
Most of the news is dominated by politics. Trump did this. Trump did that. No real analysis. Just clickbait headlines. He scrolls each headline up, uninterested in the noise of the current news cycle.
His phone beeps signaling that a text has arrived. He exits the newsreader and checks to see who it’s from.
Dr. Sinkwitz: Brian. You missed another appointment.
Dr. Sinkwitz: You know our arrangement. You need to be consistent with your appointments.
Brian read the texts over and again. He went through a few possible versions of responses he could give and decided not to engage. Just ignore the psychiatrist.
He went back to his news reader.
Barabra walked up and picks up the plate with the empty chili bowl with a warm smile.
“Anything interesting going on out there today?”
Brian can’t look up at her. At anyone yet. He is emotional after thinking about the texts he just received.
“No. Apparently Donald Trump is the president.”
“Yeah, don’t we know it. What else can I get for you.”
Brian looks up at Barabara and manages to smile at her.
“I’ll have the NY Steak and eggs. Steak medium-rare. Four eggs. Over medium. Wheat toast, two slices not cut and a side of English Muffins.”
Barbara doesn’t need to write it down, and not just because of her server memorization skills, but because it is one of Brian’s regular orders. She nods.
“Sure thing. Coming right up.”
Brian returns to his phone. Scrolling through headlines from around the world:
“Coronavirus: Ukraine protesters attack buses carrying China evacuees”
“Likely military data breach may have compromised service members’ personal information”
And then, he stops on a piece from a health and wellness blog:
“It’s Your Responsibility To Realize That Only You Can Heal Yourself”
He pauses. Looking at the headline. Reading it again and again. His cheeks get flushed again, but this time because of a fit of anger rising up in him.
The phone beeps again. Another text. He angrily switches apps.
Dr. Sipwitz: Brian, if I do not hear back from you by the end of the day, I will have to move forward with plan b.
Brian deletes the thread and slams his phone down. Breathing a little heavier. He takes the ice water and downs the whole glass in one swig, inadvertently slamming it on the table.
Manny hears and walks over with the water pitcher.
Brian picks the phone back up again and returns to the newsreader, clicking on the story about healing yourself.
As he reads, he shifts uncomfortably in his chair. He is getting agitated.
Manny and his co-workers talk quietly about him behind the drink station.
Suddenly, Brian returns to the text app and stats furiously typing to the psychiatrist.
Brian: Dr. Sipwitz. I told you last week I am not coming any longer. There is nothing left to talk about. Stop texting and calling me.
Brian returns to the article on self-healing. He is becoming more anxious. Another beep.
Dr. Sipwitz: Brian. We cannot talk specifics about your care in text because of HIPAA. You know our arrangement and you know that you need to return to the office before any decision like ending our sessions is made.
Brian deletes the text.
Barbara returns with a few plates in her hands and balancing on her forearm.
“Here you go, Brian. I made sure he used a nice big cut of steak and he made the potatoes nice and crispy as you like.”
Brian uncharacteristically grunts at Barbara instead of mustering up some polite interaction.
“Ok. Hon. If you need anything else, let me know.”
Barbara walks away starting to wonder why she sticks up for him.
Brian begins by cutting a piece of the steak. A charred piece of fat and meat. He closes his eyes and experiences all of the flavor and texture. His heart rate lowers.
Another beep, but this time Brian is determined to shut out that which is currently bothering him and proceeds to get down to the business of eating his meal.
Bright yellow yolk running all over the plate. Eggs delicately placed on top of the wheat toast. Crispy potatoes with ketchup and salt. Swirling the steak and the English Muffins in the pool of yolk with each bite.
Brian begins to eat faster and faster, he is completely unaware of what he looks like to anyone within the eyesight of his frantic eating.
Food dropping onto his makeshift paper bib. Dropping on the floor. One, two, three bites in his mouth before he has swallowed the first. Gulping his ice tea.
Manny and his co-workers are no longer making fun of Brian. They are a little alarmed. It looks to them as if Brian isn’t so much eating as he is murdering someone.
Another beep. And another.
Brian downs the lemon ice water. He is finished. He puts everything together neatly, cleans the table, removes his bib and returns to his phone.
Brian: Doctor I have nothing else to learn about my past. I know what my father did. I know what others did. I know what happened to me. I know what I am. I know why I am. I’m 51 and this is all I ever will be. There is nothing else to discuss. You did your job.
Barbara walks up and this time, Brian is able to behave a little more cordial, the last text giving him some composure.
“I’ll have a vanilla ice cream sundae with extra fudge, whipped cream, nuts, and two cherries, please.”
Barbara takes the almost spotless plates and doesn’t try to engage with him, only nodding her understanding.
Brian returns to the article:
“Someday, when you look back and recall how broken your soul was, you will see that even in defeat you have won and even in loss you have gained, perhaps wisdom, trust, love, friendship, maturity, a sense of self-worth — all of which are far greater than what you had initially hoped for.”
Brian lets out a long sigh. He closes his eyes and tries to hold in all of the emotions that are returning after being subdued by his feasting.
He tries to practice the relaxation techniques he has learned over the years and years of therapy. He closes his eyes and listens to the sounds of the diner.
Cups clinking. People eating. Sipping. Quiet conversations. Knives and forks striking the dishes. The dishwasher cleaning pots and pans. Sizzling on the grill. The smell of fresh-brewed coffee. Toast. His heart rate decreases.
Barbara is back with the sundae as requested.
“Hon, you look like you’re having an especially bad day today, so I brought you a little extra. Enjoy! “
Brian opens his eyes to find a small cup of hot chocolate fudge sitting next to the sundae in its old-time fancy glass vase, and, he feels better.
The cold vanilla ice cream paired with the hot richness of the fudge is simply sublime. He finishes the sundae and the extra fudge at a leisurely pace, the sugar rush adding to his calm demeanor.
No beeps yet. Maybe the doctor gave up for now. Brian thinks he will have to call and speak to him on the phone in order to get him to stop bothering him about going back.
Barbara walks up with the check in her hand.
“So. How was that?”
“THAT. Was the perfect ending to a perfect meal, Miss Barbara!”
“Aww. That’s good. I’m glad you liked it. You certainly look better.”
Brian takes his debit card out of his wallet and gives it to Barbara who takes it and goes to the register.
Brian decides to send one more text to the Doctor, hoping to avoid the possibility he will end up sending the police to do a welfare check as he had threatened to do in the past.
Brian: Doctor, I am feeling fine. I just need a day or two and I will call you back. I am going to go to the movies tonight and I have a new book I’m reading, I’ll be fine. Thank you.
Barbara returns with the credit card slip and his debit card. He takes it and signs it, giving Barbara 20% because, for the time being, he feels pretty good.
Brian gets up out of his chair, ignoring the back pain and his stiff legs. He puts his wallet in his right front pocket and his phone in his left. He has his truck keys and, he’s ready to go.
He looks for the staff and waves to them.
“Have a nice day.”
He receives a few awkward responses. Manny and his friends are starting to giggle and talk about him already as he exits the diner, the bells announcing his exit.
Outside, the crisp ocean wind blows across his face cooling his cheeks and forehead. He listens to the seagulls and the trees moving back and forth in the wind.
He hears a heavy truck driving behind him. It is getting closer and suddenly it sounds like the engine is revving faster and faster.
Brian turns around just in time to see the grill of a refrigerated box truck as it slams into him on the sidewalk between the diner and his truck.
The truck rolls over him, breaking his legs, his back, crushing his chest and causing all sorts of soft tissue damage so that he will be a closed casket.
The truck finally comes to a halt, the air brakes whistling. The cab door opens and the driver gets out screaming.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! I couldn’t stop. The brakes! Call nine one one.”
The diner staff run out to see if Brian was hit. Brian is still alive. Barely.
He sees the legs and feet of the diner staff. Barbara. Jenna. Manny. He thinks to himself how they might have been the only friends and family he could count on.
He hears the distant sound of sirens but knows he will not make it. His right foot is up by his chest. This is it. The moment he’s been thinking about since he was just a three year old and his father would take him out of his crib into his den where he would make Brian pleasure him with lots of assistance and coaxing.
“Is he dead?”
“What do you think? That fat sunnnuvabitch flipped back like a twig.”
“Ow! What? I’m just joking.”
“If you’re an adult who experienced sexual abuse as a child, know that you are not alone. Every nine minutes, a child is sexually assaulted in the U.S., and 93 percent know the perpetrator. Many perpetrators of sexual abuse are in a position of trust or responsible for the child’s care, such as a family member, teacher, clergy member, or coach. No matter what, the abuse was not your fault. It’s never too late to start healing from this experience.” ~ RAINN
If you or someone you know is thinking of harming themselves, there is help available. It is anonymous: National Suicide Prevention Hotline. (800) 273 – 8255.
Excerpt from Thought Catalog article: “It’s Your Responsibility To Realize That Only You Can Heal Yourself“