Nadine Jordan will be working late tonight. She does so every night, often from five in the afternoon until two in the morning, handling the steady and familiar flow of customers at the U-2. “It’s usually pretty busy here throughout my shift,” she says. “I hardly get a chance to catch my breath.”

But this is a job she needs. The sandy-haired, former stay-at-home mother took this job, with all its drama and tedium, because she needs the paycheck. Yet like most who appear to live simple, unencumbered lives, there is more behind this cashier than just cigarettes and beef jerky. She has a long and heartbreaking past.

Nadine was born in Rosenheim, Germany in 1968 and came to New Jersey ten years later. Her father was a physically abusive alcoholic who would “beat the hell” out of his wife and two daughters. He abandoned them when Nadine was young. Her mother, who came to America to get an education, could not support her daughters by herself. As a result, she would send Nadine and her sister to spend the summer with their grandmother in Rosenheim, a town of 60,000 in Bavaria that hugs the Inn River, so that she could save up for when they returned. Despite her perfect, unaccented English, Nadine speaks German fluently.

Nadine hoped to possess a little more stability in her family than her mother possessed. However, this has been difficult to achieve. Nadine—who has two girls, Charlotte, 11, and Emma, 8—recently got divorced after 13 years of marriage. Her husband, a former prison guard, “couldn’t separate his job from reality,” she says, and he was often verbally abusive to her. In self-defense, or so as not to re-live her own childhood experience with her father, Nadine took her kids, ran out, and moved in with her sister and sister’s partner. Nadine’s husband now lives with his girlfriend and their twin children in Nadine’s old house, with her former belongings, paying Nadine $100 a week in child support for the two children. Her alimony, she says shaking her head, will run out in five years.

Nadine’s relationship with her husband started to fray when Emma, then nine months old, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare form of juvenile cancer. Right after Emma finished her chemotherapy, her sister, Charlotte, was diagnosed with epilepsy. In a cruel twist of fate, the U-2 provides medical insurance, but it doesn’t cover her daughters’ neurologist and oncologist. Financially speaking, Nadine would prefer to find an approved doctor under her plan, but her daughters won’t willingly subject themselves to more tests. Nadine doesn’t want them to go through any more trauma. Charlotte has said to her mother, only half-jokingly, that “if she had to go through another MRI, she would find a new mother.” Nadine bites the bullet and spends the extra money to keep her daughters happy.

For a newly single mother, with two daughters who require constant attention, working the late shift can be difficult. Her personal calendar, with her daughters’ faces on the cover, reveals her concerns about being absent too often. While the hours she works appear on five out of every seven days on the planner, the words “make dinner,” almost randomly sprinkled throughout the calendar, don’t appear nearly as much. Her sister picks up Nadine’s kids from daycare, makes them dinner, and tucks them into bed while Nadine works at the store. Her work is dedicated to her daughters. In addition to the cost of medical care, she pays extra just so her daughters can go to daycare after school. Yet despite the odd work hours, she recently took her daughters to a Black Eyed Peas concert, and she always spends her days off with them.

Nadine is joined in the store by a colorful cast of cashiers headed by Priscilla, a grandmother of 11 who has become so close with some students that she was invited to attend one senior’s graduation this June. Adrian, a soft-spoken, gray-haired woman, is an avid fisherwoman, and she has dreams of selling the Navajo-style necklaces she has begun making. Joe, a diminutive, quiet man, has a PhD in Physics and works the night shift.

Nadine Jordan’s mother came here inspired by the American dream, and Nadine believes that her mother has succeeded. But Nadine isn’t sure that she has achieved it—yet. “I haven’t accomplished the American dream,” she says, “but it should happen some day.” With both children now healthy, and now that she holds a steady job, Nadine has begun looking for a house and.