Two months ago, there was this impending fear hanging over the heads of all of us in the restaurant industry.

We watched helplessly as this pandemic forced many local bars and restaurants to permanently close their doors, and we wondered if our places of employment would suffer the same fate.

Personally, I did not see any way possible Santa Fe County would ever reach the yellow (or green, for that matter) level of restrictions before spring. It felt like an impossible goal. I was even more afraid I’d have to get a new job that I would not love.

When I was younger, I read somewhere that we spend something like a third of our lives at work. If we aren’t happy at work, we are not going to be happy in life.

I am a happiness addict, so I’ve always made it a point to never stay at a job I don’t love.

Just knowing that this pandemic could very well force me to work somewhere I wouldn’t be happy was a hard pill to swallow.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

On Feb. 11, my boss called and asked me if I would like to come back to work. It is a phone call I likely will never forget. Three months of fear, isolation, depression and anxiety all dissolved with a five-minute chat.

I cried what felt like an ocean of “relief tears” after I hung up the phone.

I’ve been back to work at Harry’s Roadhouse for a little over a month now, and you would be hard pressed to find a happier waitress in Santa Fe than me.

I have always loved my job, but these days I carry this new intense sense of gratitude with me every time I walk through those doors, because for three months I not only worried I might not get to come back, I also didn’t know if the restaurant industry as a whole would survive this pandemic.

To say it has been amazing to be back at work would be an understatement. I have loved witnessing the restaurant start to come back to life.

Watching our regulars slowly trickle back in has been like seeing long lost family for the first time in a year. Seeing my work family for the first time in three months turned my heart into a pool of mush.

There is not a single person I work with who doesn’t feel like family. Harry’s is a special place, and I truly feel blessed to be back at work.

There seems to be an unspoken promise among us to not discuss fears of another surge of COVID-19 cases and the closures that could come with it. Nobody talks about it.

Right now, for the first time in 365 days, the world feels quite a bit lighter. People are smiling again. Joy is creeping back in, and I plan to savor every single drop of it.

Making It Through is a column by Santa Fe workers and business people about the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. Jen Stillions is a waitress at Harry’s Roadhouse, a hospice volunteer and a professional photographer.

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