Courteney and I were direct opposites. She was bursting with spirit for things that didn’t even register in my mind – like country music and sports and God. If we hadn’t spent hours at the restaurant together, I doubt we would’ve made it as friends.
The first day she stepped into the restaurant, I was intimidated. Courteney was thin, tan, and beautiful and, for our first few shifts, I felt less than good enough around her. And then one day, just by chance, we had our free meal at the same time and started talking. She was kind and smart and awkward to the point of hilarity, and from then on, I loved her. I’d call her C-Dazzle and C-Dizzle and anything stupid to make her laugh at me.
When I became her boss, I always had to tell her to stop talking – or to talk and walk, talk and sweep, to do something ‘productive’. And she never gave me shit for it. She’d smile and take the broom, barely faltering in her story-telling. Courteney also listened to every single god-awful story about my ex-boyfriend. She’d never yell at me or tell me I was stupid for sticking around for a man who continuously hurt me. Instead, she begged me to do something good for myself.When I finally cut him out of my life, Courteney hugged me and let me cry until I was empty. Then she told me how proud she was and that good things would be coming.
She was right.
The story about Courteney that I hold most dear is one that many people, even our coworkers, don’t know. In June, I had to leave my beloved restaurant because my manager refused to protect me from an aggressive, mentally unstable man who threatened to assault me. That same manager then told me and my entire staff that I was such a slut, I had no right to be afraid of any man. I’ll never forget when I broke the story to her. She was so angry that she was silent for a second.. but then Courteney said the most amazing thing.
“I’ll quit with you. The way she’s treating you is so wrong, I can’t believe this is even happening.”
And my heart almost burst in that moment because finally, someone saw and understood just how wrong the situation was. Someone believed me and loved me and knew I didn’t deserve to be mistreated. But I couldn’t ask her to go. This time, I embraced Courteney and asked her to stay. To watch out for everybody, since I wouldn’t be able to do it anymore. And she cried with me, just a little, just for a moment.
The last time I saw Courteney, I had popped in the restaurant to turn in my things. She raced from behind the counter like a baby giraffe and landed in front of me, absolutely beaming. She gave me an update on the boy she had been pursuing – I told her I finally got to date my crush, the same one she watched me pine over for ages. And she squealed and hugged me and made me promise to come back.
I fucked up, Courteney. I’m so sorry. Once Fort Collins was in my rearview mirror, I felt so relieved that I forgot to hold on to the people who made that town tolerable. I didn’t mean to let go. I thought I’d have time to get back to you, to go out and drink shots and watch you dance like an absolute weirdo.
I miss you. I’m going to spend the rest of my life missing you, threading you into the stories I tell and the poetry I write so that you can live on in me. I love you, Courteney. Thank you for your loyalty, your heart, and your spirit.