I wonder what boobs feel like. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to grow side burns. I wonder how Jason Mraz does it. I wonder if my baby fat will ever leave my body. Maybe it’ll stay and then turn into adult fat. I wonder how I’ll change the world. I wonder how the world will change me.
Then, a piece of half-chewed prime rib ricocheted off the kitchen wall from the thrust of my water hose, landing on the inside corner of my un-kissed, fourteen-year-old lips.
My thoughts – my life – had been completely and unapologetically interrupted by my first taste of employment.
Gone were the days of meeting at the park and bombarding through contacts in my LG Rumour to con someone to legally purchase a two-six of vodka for myself and my childhood gang of hoodlums. Gone were the days of street hockey marathons, Xbox basement binges, and 7-Eleven penny-candy stock-piles. My race against imminent adulthood was up. Once again, my love handles slowed me down.
Miraculously, which by the way, is a synonym for “because mom helped”, I was hired by a hoity-toity, upper-class restaurant to scrub dishes. If only the snobs knew I had an ecosystem of dirty chocolate milk glasses under my bed.
I was a dish bitch.
My office was an eight by eight pit, secluded from the rest of the kitchen and its staff. I was surrounded by a monument of plates, salad dishes and cutlery, covered in the regurgitated spew of people who could afford to stuff their holes with over-priced, melodramatic feed. I sifted through sauces, spit and grease, lining each dish into a tray, then gunning them down with the spray of my hot water hose. Bordelaise and frustration swirled down the drain.
I worked evenings until eleven o’clock on weekdays. Weekends were a different hate crime against teenage rights. Fairytale weddings for the previously neglected daughters of arrogant CEOs eliminated my chances of arriving fashionably late to any party, trapping me in that dish pit until the early morning hours. Every Saturday night I’d look at the time and dream of the fun I could be having, the cheap beer I could be chugging and the uncoordinated, unashamed drunken teenage make-outs I could be participating in.
After one summer, I realized a career in any kitchen wasn’t for me. But every dish I washed, every chunk of rich guy food I accidentally ate, and every internal dialogue begging me to shatter a salad bowl and quit, actually taught me one of the most valuable lessons of my short existence. When I was fourteen, I realized I needed to find something I loved to do, and do that for the rest of my life.
I realized my occupation, whether I liked it or not, would define who I was as a person. I know you’d hate to admit too. But it does. The first thing people ask after they find out your clunky, mispronounced name is what you do to earn a living. How do you pay for toilet paper? How do you make the number increase in your bank account? What do you do with your awkward body and mind from Monday to Friday?
A drunk man in a bar once told me “work to live, don’t live to work”. But why not do both? Why make it such a dramatic and miserable border in your life, you boozehound?
Live. And work a job that makes you feel alive.
Do something your soul thanks you for until you sniff dirt. My first job was the first introduction I had to the real world. And as soon as I stepped one foot in, I said: ew. I’m going to find something I like to do and get paid for it. And every time I’ve had a bad day since, I take a deep breath and sniff in the fumes of congested wealth and digested meals from the customers who once ate from my clean dishes. Every Monday morning, I wake up with a crooked smile reminding me I’ve found a place in time that I get to earn my life with something I love to do.
And for that, I toast an impeccably clean glass.
Just like hockey skates and Hilroy binders, my first job was handed down to me from older brothers.
For years, I watched them peel themselves off of the couch and away from the air conditioning to go outside and cut grass, while I grabbed the remote and another blue Freezie from the basement.
We grew up in a bungalow next to the railroad, in a town that used to have a school, grocery store, and a church. But, that was when my dad was a kid. Now, there’s a couple teeter totters, a war memorial, and a community of people who wave at each other over the wheels of their cars.
Somewhere in between Grade 7 and getting buzzed on Sourpuss for the first time, I was called outside to start work. I would pull my ponytail through a Redfern baseball cap then cover my arms and face in creamy Coppertone, the kind that smelled like a school bus on its way to the beach in June. In a tank top and running shorts, I walked over to the shed to meet with my boss. My dad.
Like most iconic fathers, my dad was a little scary, could fix anything, and loved to mow the lawn. If mom had pork chops on the barbeque and there was cold beer in the garage, then the cherry on top was a quick ride on the Cub Cadet just as the mosquitos were starting to come out.
He started me out on the Weed Wacker or was it the Whipper Snipper? Whatever you want to call it, it was terrifying. Images of my shins getting shredded like cheese filled my mind as he inserted a new foot of orange string into its head and poured fuel in the tank.
“Just go follow your brother around,” he’d say as I slung the machine over my skinny 13-year-old body. “Don’t cut up the tree trunks.”
He promoted me to the ride-on once my brother got his first car and a job laying patio stone.
Before heading out for my shifts, I would stand there at the shop, handing him screw drivers and rags as he cleaned out the blades and greased things up. Sometimes the engine started right away and sometimes it didn’t, but it always started when Dad turned the key.
I putted down our lane and bounced across the train tracks. The only sound around town was the hum of a hot afternoon and the roar of my mower.
While I got my face whipped by the Caraganas and cobwebs, I sang Miley Cyrus and Faith Hill and dreamt about what high school was going to be like next year.
I maintained all of the municipal land, the shoulders of the roads, the ditches around the hall and the entire park. I also did the yards of Diane and Jean, both crowded with bird feeders, clothes lines, and flower beds overflowing with peonies and gladiolus. Even after Jean died, I still cut her lawn and picked her rhubarb for jelly and crisps.
What I would give to spend three hours alone, making some scraggly landscape look lush and green. No cell phone to pass the time or Netflix episode to look forward to. Just a 14-year-old girl basking in the peace that is imagination and sunshine.
My first job.