An Open Letter to Johnny’s Roadside Diner

To the Yee family:

My name is Marie Billiel. You have perhaps seen my name sprinkled in the local media throughout the last couple of years in correlation with the criticism and closing of the Route 9 Diner. I posted the original blog post Tales from the Diner that led to many other women sharing their own grisly experiences with the former staff and management during their employment. As I’m sure you know, the details we shared were so appalling that the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office took notice. Because of the negative publicity,  the owners made the decision to close, thus allowing your family the opportunity to broaden your horizon within the Pioneer Valley’s restaurant scene.

I know well that the Route 9 Diner’s closing was a loss to the community. During my tenure there I grew to know and love many familiar faces: the many late-night fraternities and sororities who would stumble in at 4am and never seemed to know the size of their parties; the early morning regulars who listened with rapt attention to the goings on of my personal life; the elderly people who enjoyed the ease and comfort in the routine of eating lunch at the Route 9 Diner and taking their leftovers home for dinner.

Because of this, I have routinely championed the opening of Johnny’s Roadside Diner. I was grateful that the building would no longer stand vacant in the Stop n Shop Plaza as a reminder of its quick and sour ending. I was confident that your family would breathe new life into the tired old space.

It is because of this that I am concerned with a piece of information I was given recently. About a week ago the Attorney General’s case against the former owners and management of the Route 9 Diner once again made headlines. As with every bout of media attention, I received hateful messages from former coworkers. At this point  they have become less painful and I recognize that although they are sent my way from a place of anger and hurt I do not have to engage with them. However, one of these messages revealed something to me that makes me feel as though I would be neglecting my due diligence were I to ignore it: I learned that you have chosen to hire some of the former cooks of the Route 9 Diner.

As I’m sure you know, there are many public recitals of the atrocities we were subjected to by the Route 9’s cooks. Some of us were forced to show our tongue before being given our tables’ orders; were regularly accosted in the walk-in coolerand were pressured for dates and sexual favors. Of course, that’s hardly the tip of the iceberg.  It is because of this that I am admittedly uneasy about your decision to hire anyone in their former Back of House.

Allow me to make clear that I in no way attend this to be an attack on your business or your integrity. I do not claim to know who it is you opted to hire nor what your terms were. I was downright ecstatic when I learned that you hired some of the diner’s former waitresses. They were undeserving of the fallout caused in the aftermath of the Route 9 Diner’s closing and I was grateful they were able to once again find a place in that chrome community staple.

It is in this same vein that I must acknowledge that the cooks and dishwashers also experienced their own hardships with the sudden loss of their jobs. I am putting my faith, albeit hesitantly, in the idea that these men, though previously consistently inappropriate and sometimes predatory, have learned that this behavior is unacceptable. I trust that the change in management and corresponding shift in culture sees that the work environment is no longer a toxic and hostile one, but one of growth, opportunity, and safety.

I am leaving behind my dismay and anxiety in favor of hope.

Respectfully yours,

Marie Billiel.

Jack

I have been dying for something to write lately. I’ve had posts slowly forming in my head, being forgotten and then rewritten before they ever make it to paper. Although I have ideas, nothing has yet compelled me to the point of settling in and writing it out. That is, until this week, when something has happened that is so devastating to me that I need to write so that I can attempt purge the sickness from my heart.

I knew a girl once. Her name was Amber. Her hair was short and she wore children’s barrettes to keep her ponytail in place. Her hair was dyed red and it clashed with the long sleeve button-down shirt that was the uniform of the restaurant where we worked.  She was visibly pregnant and entering her second trimester. She would become, for a time, one of my dearest friends.

We bonded quickly; I gave her a ride home one night and we stopped for snacks along the way. The same week we stayed up late together and visited my boyfriend on his overnight shift at the Whately Diner. We became regulars here; routinely monopolizing the jukeboxes, our laughter echoing off the steel walls.

But there was another routine too; this one less joyful and carefree than our gleeful late night rides. Randy, Amber’s boyfriend, took issue with our outings. Once, while we were driving to my apartment, he called and demanded to know where we were. Unsurprisingly, he did not believe that we were simply en route to Sunderland. Citing my radio in the background, he insisted that we must be in a nightclub and demanded to know where. When he and Amber got off the phone, he called her back. He continued to call her for the next ten minutes until she shut off her phone. Then he moved on to calling my phone until I was also forced to power it down. This happened multiple times.

I remember one morning, as I was waking up at my boyfriend’s house in Turners Falls, Amber called me, frantically crying and begging me to come get her from her apartment in Greenfield. I rushed over to find that she was trapped in her bedroom, Randy cursing at her on the other side of the door. I called the police, who told us that they had no power to make him leave the house, as they were both subletting and neither was on the lease. This happened at least twice more.

Although Amber officially ended her relationship with Randy, she had no choice but to let him continue living with her. When I went to her apartment I found poorly-written letters from him, promising her that he wanted to work it out and this wouldn’t happen again. When she was at work he would sit on the bench outside the restaurant, staring into the windows, waiting for her to get out.

In December, a month before her son was born, Amber left Greenfield and moved back in with her mother in Central Massachusetts. A few months later Randy contacted her, threatening to gain custody of his son, whom he called by the incorrect name.

My relationship with Amber has been spotty since she moved. We have reunited, we have fought, and we have lost touch. It had been nearly a year since we last spoke. But out of the blue, she messaged me: “I wish you were here.”

It has been a week since then, and in that time my heart has sunk deeper every day. On Wednesday she told me that her son was in the hospital. She told me that he has been in Randy’s custody, by her mother’s doing, and that she had been refused her visit the previous weekend. On Thursday she sent me a picture of him in the hospital, full of tubes, unconscious and unresponsive. On Friday I learned that his kidneys were failing when he was initially admitted to the hospital and we touched, though could not bear to address, that he may not make it.

I have not seen this boy since he was three years old, and I have not touched him since he was an infant, but my heart is broken. Today Amber’s story made the news, and the details have repeatedly made me tearful and nauseous.

According to court documents, doctors found the child was suffering from “starvation and dehydration” and had become unresponsive as a result. A state police report indicates the boy’s injuries are “life threatening.”

A police report states that the little boy also had suffered bruises to his forehead and jaw, which Mr. Lints allegedly said were caused by a fall from the child’s bed, something doctors determined wouldn’t have caused such injuries. The boy also had what are believed to be bleach burns on his hands and knees.

The police report indicates that the child was rarely out of his father’s sight and that there is a history of Randall Lints limiting “consumption of food and liquids,” which is an issue that had been addressed by a therapist in May.

Worcester Telegram

I don’t know what to say. How do these things happen? DCF placed him in Randall Lints’s care; why doesn’t the system work?

I don’t have a point. I don’t have an empowering ending. I have only sadness right now. Send Amber your love and support. My god, she needs it.

Update 7/24: Jack Loiselle remains in a coma, but is subtly responding to stimuli. The media has picked up his story as well, demanding answers for DCF’s gross negligence. I have set up a donation site to assist Amber and her family with any accrued medical and legal costs:Please help if you can.

An Open Letter to Lindsey Stirling

Hey Lindsey-

I have a bone to pick with you.

Last week you came to Boston and I was fortunate enough to see you at the Blue Hills Pavilion. I have been listening to your music for the last few years and I have been hooked ever since the first song I heard. Your show was beautiful. Sharing your music with some of my closest friends and my very musically-inclined boyfriend satisfied me in a way that not much else can. But the truth is that you said some things that truly marred the evening for me and I haven’t yet let it go.

Towards the end of your set you put down your violin for a heart to heart with the audience. You spoke of how you are often complimented on staying so true to yourself and not being afraid to do so. You confided that you have not always been this way and that you suffered a bout of depression. I wish you had stopped there.

You see, when you continued on to say you were self-absorbed as a depressed person and that you simply had to change your mind, you stopped being helpful. I could no longer identify with you because I was instead disappointed and somewhat insulted. I believe you when you say that you practiced changing your frame of mind the same way you practiced your arpeggios worked for you, and I am truly glad for you. But please don’t make the mistake of thinking that it is that simple for everyone.

I have now been aware of my depression for over a decade, though I suspect it was present even in my childhood. I am as well-versed as anybody could be in the routines of self-care. I try to sleep well, eat well, hydrate, do things that make me feel good, enjoy the sunshine, etc. But the fact of the matter is that sometimes none of these things work and sometimes I am simply not capable of doing any of them. I promise you that if I could think my way out of depression I would have done so many years ago. Instead, I am left hoping to be functional at best and proud of myself when I go a full two weeks without randomly considering suicide. This is an illness; it cannot always be walked off.

Please know that I do not intend to one up any experiences you have had; depression doesn’t behave the same for everybody. But this is the point that I am trying to make: your experience is not universal. As you must be aware, there is a certain stigma that people who are mentally ill must battle. It is a kind of illness that is not widely understood and often gets brushed off in ways that are harmful – frequently by people who are close to us. We are often misunderstood as lazy or flaky or self-absorbed when we are simply not as able as an average person. It is not about choice; it is about capability. 

Your music has become my go-to writing music and I have written countless blog posts and letters while listening to it. II believe I understand very clearly the emotional messages conveyed in your music that you described to us last Saturday. I understand the deep somber beginnings and the crescendos of hope. You have helped me and inspired me with the beauty of the pieces you have composed more than you could fathom. You have, in your own way, already saved me.

This is why I am asking you, Lindsey, not to insinuate that your experience is the same as mine or anybody else’s. Please do not speak as though you are the authority on depression and the way out. You have such a large audience to hear you; please do not reaffirm the stereotype that people with mental illness need only to think their way out of it and to try harder. Please do not blanket all of us with your statements while neglecting that we do not all feel the same things, we are not capable of the same things, and we do not all have the same resources.

I believe fully that your intentions are only good. When you are next on stage and sharing your struggle with your fans, tell them this:

“Depression is terrible.”

“It gets better.”

“You are worth it.”

Yours,

Marie Billiel

Here are some of my very, very favorite resources for helping people understand depression and its stigmas:

Adventures in Depression By Allie Brosh

What if People Treated Physical Illness Like Mental Illness? via HuffPost

Depression Quest By Zoe Quinn – This is about as real as it gets, folks

June 17, 2013

I am a bad writer.

 

I am disorganized. Melancholic. Distracted. Exhausted.

Exceptionally exhausted.

 

I have been told that writers should write something daily. Truthfully, I have been trying. Unfortunately, I find myself that I am piecing together essays at supremely inopportune moments. As I’m steaming milk for someone’s extra-shot-half-skim-no-foam latte sentences suddenly start constructing themselves beautifully in my mind and I have no way to record them. I promise myself I will remember. I promise myself that this afternoon will be different and that I’ll finally sit down and somehow write the pages and pages that feel as though they are trapped in my very fingertips. But I get home feeling utterly beaten after a long day of burning my arms on plates of eggs and somehow the words never get let out.

I’m trying something new. I think that part of what is keeping me from writing is that I have a lot of ideas for specific pieces I want to write. For now though, I do not have it in me to complete them and as such, they are blocking up the way of my writing anything at all. I feel guilty for not finishing these specific posts, but if I refuse to move past them then I am only condemning myself to my own continued discomfort and unproductivity.

Anyway, things are happening to me. I want to write a book some day. I better start recording this nonsense.

 

Blogging: Take 10.