Maybe I just need to write about myself. Maybe that is just as important as making a research paper out of what I am going through. Maybe I just skip the middle-man and write what I am going through.
So working is scary for me. It is related to trauma. I am sure I’m not the only one who has had this experience, although it might not be widespread.
When I was seventeen, my step-mom took me to get my worker’s permit. I remember going with her to my high school for it, or maybe I needed some certification from them. I wasn’t scared. I remember my first job was at a summer camp when I was a sophomore. The feeling when I got that first paycheck was powerful. Accomplishment, power. I had power because I could turn something I owned, my time, into money.
The first permanent job I had was at a donut shop, selling coffee, muffins, and yes, donuts. But it wasn’t just about selling. The majority of my shift, the evening shift, consisted of cleaning: scraping and washing the pastry trays, sweeping and mopping the floor, cleaning the display case, washing the coffee makers. It was simple by itself, could have even been satisfying, but the problem was, every time a customer came into the store, I had to stop everything I was doing and help them. This meant that my cleaning work was interrupted over and over and over again. And I couldn’t show my frustration at these interruptions. Customer service! I had to make every customer feel like they were appreciated — even though I wasn’t getting paid a commission on their purchase and I just wanted to get back to the cleaning that I had to finish before I could leave. In the four years that I worked there, I remember getting more and more frustrated with this situation, and finding it increasingly hard to hide my frustration. One night, I was in the back room, washing trays and when that damn beeper went off, the words, “God dammit, fucking, shit!” came out of my mouth. I didn’t just say it. I shouted it. I was horrified. Had the customer heard me in the front? I was losing it! It was at that moment that I knew I had to get out of that job, before I did something I would really regret.
I only stayed at that job for four years, because I felt I had to. My senior year of high school, my step-mom informed me that I would not be allowed to go to college. That I would have to work after I graduated. This was not because they couldn’t afford it. I was third in my class, a straight-A student. I could have easily earned a scholarship to college. It was because, according to her, I didn’t deserve it.
I won’t go into the details of why. Her justifications were crazy, esoteric theories about me being an evil, sadistic person who was ruining her life. Sufice it to say, I was her scape-goat. I was her Cinderella. And just like Cinderella, I slaved away without any compensation. Every paycheck I earned went to her. I realize now, that she hadn’t worked for years, was always struggling with money, and probably had a plan to use me to make ends meet. But that’s not how it was presented. There was no request, no choice on my part — unless it was a choice to defy her. But she was good at manipulation and I believed her for a long time, that I didn’t deserve to have the money I earned. Eventually, I did rebel in small ways, secretly keeping my tip money so that I could afford to buy snacks while I was out, or clothes at the thrift store. But I felt guilty about the secrets, and I never even considered telling her, “No. I’m keeping these paychecks for myself.” I don’t know what would have happened if I had. She probably would have hit me a few times. But she did that anyway, and I was an adult by that time, almost as tall as her, and I could have fought back. She didn’t control me physically. Her control was all psychological. Sometimes she hit me, sometimes she spit on me. Both hurt equally.
So that was my first experience with work. It didn’t happen right away. While I was in school, I was usually allowed to keep my paychecks. Her control increased gradually over time. When I was 21, she decided that it was time for me to go. Looking back, I think it’s because she realized that I had been secretly defying her, and she knew that if I ever took it far enough and told the right person about what was happening, the game would be over. So she bought me a one-way ticket on the Greyhound and shipped me 3,000 miles away to Dallas, Texas. My mom, fighting for me in the tiny ways that she was able, insisted that they find me an apartment and put down the first month’s rent, so I wasn’t homeless when I got there, but I was jobless, and friendless. I knew no one.
Within my first three days of arriving, I found a job. I remember marching right into a Ross Dress for Less and asking the manager if he was hiring. I remember my utter confidence in my experience when he asked what kind of work I had done. I was good, and I knew it. I worked at Ross for a year, and also picked up a better paying job through a temp agency. And all the money I earned was mine! For awhile I had more money than I knew what to do with!
To be continued…?