I met Tabitha because she was a fellow thespian with my daughter at their high school. They became fast friends and soon Tab was spending a lot of time at our house.
So I know things about her: she loves steak but not vegetables. She is quiet, responsible, respectful and determined for her life to make a difference. We were in Loves Park, IL.
We wanted a sandwich place, but the one we chose was closed, so we went across the street to the Basil Cafe, a favorite of mine for Mediterranean food. I wasn’t sure how Tab would like it.
Soft jazz greeted us with white tablecloths even for lunch, and a friendly greeting by our hostess. Perfect, I thought. I ordered spanakopita, goat cheese and spinach stuffed filo pastry.
“You’re not a goat cheese person, Tab, huh!”
“Nooooo,” she giggled.
I sighed, knowing this meat and potatoes girl would always be the slender beauty she is now.
“You’re studying to be a social worker?” I asked, launching our chat as we waited for our food.
“I decided on community college for two years. It would save a lot of money, and I don’t have a lot saved up. I knew Tab works many hours at a local restaurant as a server, just to afford the community college tuition.
“Are people good tippers?”
“No, not really. Some are. As a server you expect 20 percent if you give good service and you refill drinks, and the food comes out with nothing wrong in the order. If you give them everything they need. I don’t think people should tip less than 15 percent. ‘Cause if someone gives me less than 10 percent, it’s like an insult, like I did something to offend them, or didn’t give them good service.”
“Do you like the school?”
“They have really, really good teachers, and good programs, and get you ready for a four-year, so, yes, I like it.”
“Sounds like this is a lot about finances.”
“Does social work pay well?”
“Not so good. But I wouldn’t give up this career for anything.”
Challenges are nothing new for Tab. Besides working full time while going to school, she had to take a year off for medical reasons.
“I had really bad headaches. There was a whole time when we were trying to figure out what it was. They misdiagnosed me a couple of times…then found I had torn something in my spinal column–a tiny, tiny tear that caused me to have headaches. They stopped the leaking. Spinal headaches are just horrible.”
“Hopefully that is behind you,” I said admiring her courage.
“I’m probably always going to have migraines.”
“Are you feeling like you are behind?”
“So many people are switching majors, still in their sophomore year at my age. More people just aren’t sure what they want to do.”
Tab is not ambivalent.
“I really want to work with kids up to the time they are teenagers. Kids that have dealt with domestic violence, and also with battered women. I want to support and understand them, not judging. I want to teach them how to be strong, how to make it, that’s it’s okay, and that what happened to them it doesn’t make them less of a person.”
“Is your pizza good?” I interrupted.
“The crust is a little tough,” she said. “But it’s homemade sauce–very, very good.”
“Has studying for social work made you see things you didn’t see before? At your restaurant? Abusers?” I was curious.
“When you see a guy and girl sit down at the table, you’re like, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ and she just looks down at her plate. I’ll say, ‘Can I bring you something to drink?’ and try to make eye contact. She won’t look at me, and he’ll order everything for her. You can tell she’s hesitant to say anything, scared. I just want to pull her aside. You can’t do that, because if you say anything, he’s going to get irate and she’s the one who’s going to have to deal with it when she gets home, and not you.”
“What motivates you to help?”
“‘Cause I’ve been through bad situations, and I’ve come out and survived them. And, it made me a better, stronger person. You just have to get through it day by day. Forget regret, your life is yours to miss.”
“That’s from the musical Rent?”
She nods and smiles that I knew her favorite show.
“If I think I’m going to regret something, I’m going to do something about it. I don’t like to live in regrets, because then you dwell on them so long that you’re missing out on a lot of things.”
“Are you thinking dessert?” I knew she was.
Turtle cheesecake won. Tab had a big slice. I tasted a corner of hers. “Yum, lots of caramel,” she enjoyed.