Kitchens breed a complex affection. We saw each other every day, taking two or more meals together. I developed favorite coworkers — the washers who will plow through the dishes quickly, not the washers who realize they are paid the same no matter how many plates they wash in an hour. We celebrated each other’s joys. The cook might bake a small cake to celebrate a staff wedding, or streamers might appear outside the dietitian’s office on her birthday. On Friday we might go drinking — it was a special challenge to pressure the people working the dinner shift on Friday and the breakfast shift on Saturday to do a “turn and burn.”
It was on one of those Fridays that my coworker Erin told us she was pregnant, that it was unplanned and unwanted, and that she didn’t know what to do. She was likely, she said, to have an abortion.
On another Friday, in my home, maybe a week or so later, I had friends over — friends from both the kitchen and from college. I was 21, I was broke, and I was teased mercilessly for serving Milwaukee’s Best beer. Erin drank three of them in an hour, which I know wouldn’t make a koala bear tipsy. Nonetheless, I was young, I was stupid, and so I said to her: “You’re drinking?” I wasn’t sure she was 21 even, but I was sure she was pregnant.