Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hard at work or hardly working out?

Why is it I always think I am going to do these simple little blogs and end up telling a long story? So...where did we leave off? Oh with Christopher!

Okay, so when Christopher was just about 3 Brent got out of the Navy, we moved back to New Mexico and I went back to work. Since I had been out of the work force for three years I thought the best way to dive back in would be through a temp agency so I became a Kelly Girl. My first job was as a fill in receptionist for a car dealership. And that was my last temp job as well. It was supposed to be a two week gig while James, their head receptionist, was in Germany on vacation. Well then when James came back he had a lot of catch up work to do as he was also in charge of the Service Department's paperwork, so they asked if I could stay on another week. Then another. And then another. Finally Kirsten, the head of HR asked me to just fill out a resume. I did and she looked at my job history and my degree and pulled me off of the phones and into the office. I started as the AR/AP clerk and worked my way to Deal Processing for Honda then to Office Manager for Infiniti then for Mitsubishi.

My time with the dealership was an experience and a half. The work load at times was unbelievable. Sales people get paid twice a month, and the more deals they get through the more commissions they make. There are two finance people and 15 sales people, so you can see where the bottle neck occurs. Well, as deals would get hung up in finance and time to process commission checks would hit all of a sudden finance would put on a push to get the deals through which then meant we would go from 5 or 10 deals in the office to enter to over 100. I can remember hauling home boxes of deal folders to code at the kitchen table just so I could pretend like I wasn't at work. And it was like that twice a month every month for about a week at a time. So that's two weeks out of every month that is crazy busy, and two weeks that is just a little busy.

I also worked for a woman we called the Great Soulless One. She was the owner's wife and a CPA and brilliant. But had absolutely no compassion for anyone. She loved her dogs, Princess Diana and her sister, in that order I believe. She tolerated her husband (now ex-husband) and showed open contempt and disdain for anyone that wasn't of use to her. When Princess Diana died I thought she was going to lose her mind. We had to listen over and over and over to where she was when it happened, and did we all know that people always told her she looked like her (could be because you cultivated the look) and what was SHE going to do now? Like she was part of the family and this was a personal loss. It was weird.

The three biggest lessons from working there. First off, I really enjoy and am good at forensic accounting. When I first moved back into the office they had Honda and had purchased Infiniti about six months before. The person they had running the office for Infiniti was in over her head and things were not posted the way they should have been. There was also a lot of cross posting of things that went into Honda's accounts that should have been Infiniti's and the like. As I moved through the ranks of the office I ended up with ownership of finding and fixing all of those issues. It was really fun and satisfying. And something that I would use in my next two bookkeeping jobs as well.

Second, know when to quit. People were worked hard there. Too hard. And for some reason we all stayed. It was a miserable work environment. You knew the boss didn't appreciate you, you knew the job wasn't going to get better, but for some reason we all stayed. I can remember getting in my car at the end of the day and screaming at the top of my lungs just to get out the frustration before heading home. I don't know if it was because those of us in the office were so close that we felt like it would be letting down the other girls if we left, or if we were all too panicked about the job market to go. There was a little economic downturn happening right then in Albuquerque and jobs were not that easy to come by. But no matter what we all should have left. The biggest tip off was when someone would quit and then we would have lunch a month or so later and it was always, "You look Great!" and they would! So much happier and their color would be better and they just all looked great. When a job takes a physical toll on your appearance you need to get out.

The most important lesson was one everyone needs to know. Email was really new when I worked for the dealership. In fact it was only interoffice. Nothing could go out into the wide world yet. By this time I had given my notice as we were going to move to Oregon and so I was on my last few weeks. One of my closest friends in the office was just at the point of overwhelming frustration. She was (and still is) a really gifted CPA, smart and funny and an exceptionally hard worker. And the Great Soulless One used her for everything she possibly could. Worked her like she worked all of us. Well this particular day she was called into the boss' office and had a meeting with her about some additional projects that needed done, when she got back I sent her an email asking how it went. There was no reply function, you just had to start a new email to reply. We were in the same back office, just divided by book shelves and filing cabinets so we couldn't see each other, but I could hear her typing away furiously. Then it was silent. No email. Nothing. Okay, she wasn't ready to tell me what happened no big deal. Then our boss came to the door of our office. She called my friend down the hall sat her down and fired her. Seems that the email she thought she was sending to me, describing how horrible our boss was, went to our boss instead. Oh shit. The lesson? Always, always, always double check the TO line!

I say I learned those lessons, but the two out of the three that were mistakes I would make again at the agency! Oh well, sometimes you need a refresher course in lessons, right?

Okay, so that covers my first job back in the work force after having Christopher. Only four more jobs in my work history! Two more blogs you think? Any one taking any bets?

Monday, March 15, 2010

You better work it, girl!

Okay, Christopher says I didn't really explain how I ended up working the back office instead of the floor so I will back up a little bit at Beall's.

Let me just say this for anyone who has never worked in Retail or in Customer Service, it's hard work. That person who takes your order at the counter of your favorite fast food joint? That woman with the smile who finds you that next size of jean to try on? The guy out there getting you three different styles of shoe to see which fits better? They are working HARD. A full day is a 9 hour shift, because you don't get paid for your lunch hour, and you are on your feet for basically 8 of those hours. You are smiling, you are taking orders, you are restocking, you are cooking, you are cleaning, you are moving...constantly. It's tough.

So when you are working the floor in a retail store waiting on people and hearing for the 20th time as a customer returns a dress that smells of smoke and sweat and has deodorant stains on the tags that were obviously tucked into the bodice so they could wear it and return it...that it just didn't fit right after they got it home...and you still have to smile and act like you believe them and not tell them that they are thieves and just stole that dress. Well...after doing that a few times as well as just being dog tired at the end of the day and feeling like you used up all of your smiles on strangers instead of the people at home you really want to smile at, those ladies sitting in the back office look like they have it pretty sweet. So I started campaigning for a back office job. Mark, my floor manager, was my first target. I let him know I wanted the position as soon as one opened. My next target was one of the ladies in the office. I would have her show me everything I could get her to do, and I started covering her for breaks. This moved into me getting the job part time, part time on the floor, then eventually full time in the office, along with overtime hours for the merchandising.

I learned a few extra things working in the office, one was people making payments on their store credit cards are not very happy to do it. Once someone is walking in a check by hand they have missed the deadlines to mail it in, which usually means that they are not sure that check is going to clear. Policy was to call the bank and verify funds right then and there. People don't like you to do that. They get testy. And you still have to smile at them while they call you names. The other thing I learned was how to wrap a present. One of our services was complimentary gift wrapping and it was the job of the people in the office to do the wrapping. I learned very quickly how to wrap a gift neatly, professionally and quickly. Before I worked retail I was a fan of the more tape is better method, now I can wrap a gift with 3 pieces of tape and have it look tight and have patterns matched up and everything. The scene in Elf where the store manager lectures Jovie about the length of a ribbon curl? Yeah, we had to pre-cut the ribbons and they had to be measured out to a certain length, don't ask, I don't remember!

So anyway, I was in the back office balancing tills, making bank deposits, taking payments for credit cards, entering inventory, all of that good stuff. But best of all, I only had to deal with cranky customers for a small portion of my day and I got to sit down! So when we moved to Idaho Falls from Florida I made sure I was hired at a department store as the office help instead of on the floor. And that would have worked out except they wanted me to start right away covering someone else's floor shift, for only two weeks, then they would move me into the office. I never did get moved into the office, spent the entire time I worked at Lamont's on the floor. They felt that I was "too valuable" on the floor to lose to the office. Oh well! What did I learn there? Not to agree to doing a job you don't want because you might never get moved into the job you do want, no matter what they tell you. I should have turned down the job at Lamont's and kept looking. But I did get a great wardrobe, excellent employee discount program.

After Idaho Falls was the move to California and after a time out to get my degree in Accounting it was on to Full Charge Bookkeeper at a wholesale pottery company. This was the most challenging job I had experienced up to that point. I was the only bookkeeper in the place, would send my information in to the accountants at the end of the month and they took care of taxes and such things, which was great. But the part that wasn't great was that there wasn't a lot of money in the company at the time. They are still in business and have moved to a larger facility, so I am guessing time has been very good to them, but at the time it was a struggle. Balancing who to pay with what check while keeping enough in the bank to cover the salaries of the 5 of us that worked there (okay, 4 of us who WORKED there and the owner who showed up once a week to pick up his check) and keep the suppliers happy and shipping pots was a daily nightmare. But it was a good job experience.

First off David, Sherma, Sam and I were it on a day to day basis. There were a couple of other warehouse guys that would come and go but the four of us ran things. Once a week the company picked up lunch. This might seem like a silly perk for a company struggling with money, but it was really well received. For about $25 it was a huge morale booster. Sandwiches from the deli down the street or Mexican from the place up the hill, these were big deal lunches to us! Good things for managers of departments to understand, the money doesn't have to be big for your employees to enjoy the perk. But the most important thing I learned from my time there was that people just want to be heard. Our suppliers knew that money was tight. They knew we were holding on just by the skin of our teeth. And they also knew that when I got invoices I was going to call and let them know what they could expect to be paid on right away and what they were going to be waiting on. If I had ignored them we would have been cut off and that would have been the end of the company. But I developed pretty solid working relationships with all of them and they knew if I said they were getting a check on Friday, they would get a check on Friday. But they also knew that it did them no go to ask for a check on Friday if I told them I couldn't get them one.

I also learned that sometimes you just have to stand up to your boss, no matter what the voice (Dad's) in your head is telling you! Brent was out to sea a lot of the time we lived in San Diego. He had been out the entire time I was working for the company and was on his way home from a 6 month cruise. I had cleared with my boss and the owner that I was going to be taking off from the Tuesday before Thanksgiving through the following Monday. The ship was pulling in on Wednesday and I wanted Tuesday off to get ready. And because I knew I wouldn't be any good to anyone that day, just too excited about him coming home to focus on numbers. So Monday I am on the phone with the owner and he gives me a project he wants to go over with me the next day. I told him I was off, and he said, no. He had changed his mind. In fact since the ship wasn't pulling in until late morning on Wednesday there was really no reason I couldn't just take off around 10 on Wednesday and then have the Thanksgiving Holiday with Brent. I was livid. I had gotten that time off cleared, there was no way I was going to work the MORNING the ship came in let alone the day before! But there was still that voice (Dad's) in my head, telling me that if my boss said I had to work, then I had to work. But I listened to the other voice (the 6 months without my husband screaming banshee voice) and told John that I was taking the time off as planned. He threatened to fire me and I told him that would be his call. If I came in on Monday and my key didn't fit the door then I would know what he had decided. And I took the time off. He didn't fire me and didn't even mention it again.

Okay, so back to Idaho Falls again after this time in California. But I cannot possibly sum up what I learned from my next job in a few paragraphs because my next job was Mom. I was blessed to be able to stay home with Christopher for the first three years of his life due to an extremely low cost of living in Idaho. That particular job is ongoing and I am continually learning new things. So my next section will wrap up the jobs after I went back to working outside the home.

So far, working for the family, working as a cashier, working in fast food, working in retail front and back of house, working as a full charge bookkeeper for a wholesale pottery company and working as a stay at home mom...and I was 24 when Christopher was born. :-)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Get a haircut and get a real job...

Graduation! Time for freedom and that last summer of laziness before heading off to college and beer. Or...if you are getting married in 6 months and moving across country it's time to find a full time job and start saving your pennies! I always consider my first job out of high school as MY first job. Yes, I had been working with the family and on my own for years by this point but this job I got because of me, not family connections, but me. So that meant something.

Graduated June 2nd, had my wisdom teeth pulled June 5th went to work for Schlotzsky's on June 8th. Started as a crew member in June, was promoted to assistant manager by August and offered my own store by November. Fast food moves fast! I turned down the store because I knew I was moving after Brent got out of Basic Training and I didn't want to put them in a bad spot having to replace a manager that quickly. My area manager was so impressed that I was honest about leaving and didn't want to put them in a difficult spot that he gave me a raise. Nice balance there! I learned a lot by working at Schlotzsky's and I was also able to apply things I had learned at my other jobs.

First off, the restroom cleaning schedule rotated through every shift member, if you had bathroom duty Monday, you knew you wouldn't have it Tuesday. And I kept myself on the list as well. Figured if I wasn't willing to do the job then I shouldn't expect the people that worked for me to do it either. Secondly I asked the folks that worked for me where they wanted to work, counter or back of house? For the most part there were only 5 of us that worked nights and usually there were only 3 of us in the restaurant at one time. So it didn't seem to make sense to force Jackie to work the grill and Shelby the counter if Shelby liked making sandwiches and Jackie liked waiting on customers. I like to think I was a pioneer in Strength Finders Management. (I know! I need to get that blog written some day soon!!)

I also discovered that sometimes you have to change your management style to fit the current situation. I am not in favor of bosses publicly reprimanding employees, I think it's just degrading and unnecessary. For the most part. But I did make an exception for Steve. Steve had been the assistant manager when I first started. He stepped down to go back to school and that's how I was promoted. He went to working day shift on his off days from school. When our manager went on vacation I worked days covering her shift while she was gone. Bigger staff, busier store, more responsibility, but nothing I couldn't handle for the week. Steve was on break from school that week and so had a shift every day. And for the first two days every time I would assign him to a station he would wander away. Supposed to be cutting tomatoes, he was busing tables. Supposed to be assembling sandwiches, he was trying to work the counter. Finally I had had enough.

The beginning of his shift the third day I put him on steamer and I turn around and he is in the stock room getting chips to restock the front counter. I asked him what he was doing back there and he told me that I wasn't paying enough attention to what REALLY needed to be done so he was helping me out by covering for me. Now, normally I would have taken an employee outside (no private office so out back was the "private meeting space") and discussed things with them. But I felt that he had been pushing me all week so I needed to show that I was the boss. I explained to him that Janelle was restocking and if he would have paid attention he would have seen her taking notes on what was needed before beginning the job. Because that is how I told her to do it. And that is what I expected to happen when I told someone to do a job, that they do it. So he could either go work the steamer, and by the way, he was already behind 2 orders, or he could go home, and go for the rest of the week, and he could take it up with Janice when she returned from vacation. He told me he didn't believe me. I walked over to the time-clock, picked up his time-card and went to clock him out. He moved right over to the steamer and got to work. We had a follow up meeting after his shift was over and I wrote him up formally. I never had a problem with him or with any staff member doubting I was serious again.

After Schlotzsky's it was McDonald's for a brief spell. It was the McDonald's on base in Orlando and I had never seen and have not seen since a store so busy. I would get on shift at 4:30 AM. The doors opened at 5 AM and I spent the next 4 hours cranking through hundreds of customers, and just at my register, there were 4 of us ringing up! The lobby was packed, the restaurant was standing room only, it was amazing. We had a lull between 9 and 10 where it was just a little busy, only 2 registers needed, so we would cycle through breaks at that time. Then when breakfast shifted to lunch at 10:30 the second rush of the day would hit and we would be slammed again until my shift ended at 1. I was exhausted. But the shift moved quickly and that was a blessing!

Working at a fast food restaurant on a Navy Base serving people who are far from home for probably the first time in their lives is a good lesson in how important a smile can be to someone. My last week there as I was leaving to move on to the big bad world of retail sales, I was letting people know that I was going. I served the same group of people breakfast and lunch every day, so you get to know your customers at least by face pretty quickly. As I told them good bye and let them know it had been a pleasure serving them quite a few let me know how much they had enjoyed coming in for breakfast and being greeted with what might possibly be their only full on smile of the day. That made me feel great. What a small thing to give to someone, but what a huge difference it can make in attitude.

So on to the world of retail. First it was Beyond/Viva designer electronics. The biggest lessons here were that it's much better to be slamming busy than dead slow. An 8 hour shift can seem like minutes when you are busy but passes like days when you are slow. Designer electronics was a slow business. I took what I had learned at McDonald's about the smile and applied it to the mall even more. The mall was within walking distance of the base and so we had a large contingency of sailors coming in to spend their money. I had something going for me right off the bat,my husband was in the program most of them were heading to, so when they came in to buy their new calculators that they would need for school I could steer them away from the very expensive completely programmable model they all wanted to the lower end graphing but not programmable one that would be allowed in class. Lower commission for me, but why sell them something they weren't going to be able to use? Customers appreciate honesty. And they show their appreciation with loyalty. So when it was payday and they "needed" a cool new radio who did they buy it from? Me. And I sold it to them with a big smile, and tried my hardest to remember everyone's names. Greeting someone with their name and a smile can make their day. Simple. Easy. Effective.

I left B/V when they started to shut down stores and re-arrange staff. The drive to the mall that had room for me wasn't practical. But as luck would have it Beall's (a department store in Florida pronounce it like Bell) was opening a store right down the street from where Brent and I lived. I went to work on the floor then moved into the office while I was there. I also did displays for them. That was great fun! I have explained in an earlier blog why I shifted to the back office so I won't go into that again but I do want to talk about being in displays.

It's a seemingly simple job with a lot of rules! You had to make sure that the mannequins were dressed in the newest items, but not items that were on too big of a sale. If you could, you should really try to keep a continuing color theme through out the store. And NEVER EVER undress a mannequin in view of a customer. I would try and get everything set up during hours we were slow or if I was scheduled for an hour before open or an hour after close I would take care of it then. But sometimes the way shifts worked I would need to do the displays during store hours. This meant hauling a mannequin into the dressing room, changing the clothes, doing all of the pinning and adjusting that is done so the outfit looks perfect and not at all like it's going to look on you when you buy it, accessorize and then re-setup. And you could never as a sales associate take an outfit off of a mannequin to sell to a customer without first taking the mannequin off the floor so no one would be offended by their plastic nudity. And they could also not be dressed in any way shape or form "suggestively". Now how in the world I could make an almost androgynous plastic mannequin suggestive was beyond me. I look at the new model mannequins now that come fully equipped with erect nipples posed with their legs spread and butts in the air (thank you Forever 21) and think somewhere Mr. Beall is rolling over in his grave!

Again, this is really long and we haven't even left Florida, so I am going to wrap up and get back to work tomorrow (ha! Get it? See what I did there??)! But one last thing I learned at Beall's. This is a great line to have in your arsenal as a clothing salesperson..."That line runs really small. I had to buy it two sizes larger than my normal size." This prevents those size 12 ladies from insisting they are no bigger than an 8 and busting out the seams of whatever they are trying on. It's a brilliant line, and I died a little inside the first time someone used it on me! ;-)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Working for a living...

This is a requested blog. See? I told you all I took requests!

I have worked in a huge variety of jobs. As you know from reading my other blogs working and working hard is just part of the family make-up. My dad was born in 1930 and my mother 1932 and have strong depression era values, especially my father. You work hard, no matter what job you hold you need to be the best at it you possibly can be and be grateful you have the job. My dad was the main financial support for his mother and brothers and sister from a very young age. When he reached retirement age from the labs he retired, went home and painted the house inside and out, dug up the sprinkler system and put it back in in a different pattern, rebuilt the porch and then winter came and he had nothing to do. I jokingly suggested that he go be the little old man that greets people at Wal-Mart. Next thing you know he is running the automotive department at the new Wal-Mart. Fifteen years later at almost 80 years old he is still working there. He just doesn't know how to not work.

So we were all taught that working was just what you did. And I think all of the siblings started young at jobs. My parents had been raised on farms so it wasn't unusual for them to look at kids as workers who pitched in on family jobs. You call it nepotism we just call it hiring people you know are going to do the work right. I've told you that my first "job" was working with my dad at the gas station. And it felt like more of a game than a job. Even those nasty bathrooms. I had a real sense of accomplishment when I could get a bathroom nice and clean that had started out just awful. My second job was much like the first. Helping out on another family member's job. My father's second job was as a dock foreman at the Journal (Albuquerque's Morning Newspaper) and my brother went to work for them as well as a route supervisor.

What a route supervisor does is make sure all of the papers are delivered on what ever area of the city they cover. So what this boils down to is if you don't have a paperboy on a route then you cover it. Or if someone calls in sick, you cover it. You also have to go out and drum up business. So knocking on doors getting subscriptions. What this meant for me is that I was recruited to help out for Sunday delivery and for getting subscriptions. So every Sunday morning at 3 AM Jeff would come in and wake me up, we would go pick up the newspapers for what ever route wasn't going to be covered, and trust me A LOT of people call in for Sunday delivery and I would sit in the back seat of the car and bag papers so Jeff could toss them on to porches. We are talking about hundreds and hundreds of papers. By the time we were finished I would be covered in paper dust and my hands would be black from the ink. To this day I cannot stand the smell of newspapers. But if I hadn't gotten up to help it would have taken him twice as long to get through the job. So I went. Sometimes with more grace than others. Jeff always handled my crankiness very well. Patience of a saint being raised with sisters I think. But the main thing it taught me is that even if you are grumbly and cranky you still show up and do the job before you. And once it's done you get breakfast. Okay, well that didn't pan out in other jobs, but for this one it did!

The next job I held was at The Car Wash. Weekend cashiering for Mom. Susan held the job before I did and when she left I slid in and took over. Mom had been training me for years without me even realizing it. I was counting tills and balancing receipts from a very young age. I would count the tip box out for distribution I think from 9 or 10 on. So sliding into an actual job at The Car Wash was just the normal progression. I worked every Saturday and Sunday and filled in after school as needed. There are benefits and drawbacks to working for your mother. You have to do your job perfectly. There is no margin for error or you will hear about it at work and at home. Also everyone that works there knows you got your job because you are family. And some people will resent you for that (lesson learned more strongly in my next job) and some people will think that if they get in your good graces they will get in management's good graces so you have some really fake people as well. But one of the benefits was on Sunday evening I wouldn't get off work until 5 but I needed to be at youth group by 5 as well. In most jobs this would have meant too bad, you can't be in two places at once, but since mom was the boss she and dad would come in at 4:30 and close out for me so I could leave. So sometimes being the boss' daughter was a pretty sweet gig.

I also learned that places will pay to keep valuable employees. I had been there just over a year and I wanted to quit. I was busy. I had church obligations, I was working on a play at school and then adding working was all starting to make life a little too busy for my Type B personality tastes. So I told my mom I wanted to quit. She told me I would have to tell Bill (the actual owner of the Car Wash) myself. Good lesson, Mom, no quitting by proxy! So I went in to his office and let him know that I was giving two weeks notice. And he gave me a pretty substantial raise and I stayed for another year. :-)

The Car Wash gave me a lot of important skills for future work. Cash handling, which was invaluable later, the ability to handle customers, happy or cranky. The ability to work with a variety of people and keep things flowing smoothly and quickly. Nobody wants to wait in a long line for anything, but if you greet people with a smile once they reach your counter you can make 80% of them forget that they were cranky about the wait. The other 20%? Well sometimes they want to let you know that they weren't happy that there was a line and if you just listen and then say that you understand, they are pretty content and then there is that small percentage that are just going to be unhappy no matter what you do. And that's a good lesson to learn as well. Sometimes people are just unhappy. Doesn't reflect on you or the job you do, they are just unhappy. And that's okay.

I guess to back up a little bit, before the Car Wash I was also working at home. From a really young age I was responsible for the housekeeping and the laundry and a share of the cooking. Much to my father's chagrin when I tried making Spam for dinner one night...never make Spam for an Army vet. Taking care of the the house was probably my least favorite job. It was a never ending cycle. When I cleaned, it was just going to get messy as soon as everyone got home from work and dumped their things. When I did laundry people were just going to wear the clothes and get them dirty. It just never ended and I couldn't stand it. For the first few years Brent and I were married I had no pictures on the walls and very few knick knacks. The house was always spotless. I loved the fact that I could clean on Monday and it was still clean on Tuesday! It took me a few years to settle in to the slob I am today. :-)

So, back to the outside jobs. When I was in High School, I want to say it was junior year, but it might have been senior year, a new Burger King was going to open by the school. I wanted to work there. I was tired of working at The Car Wash and I thought BK would be a good trade. I would be able to not work every weekend all weekend long, but still get in the hours so I wouldn't take a pay cut. It was right by school so I could head over when classes were over (like I went to class! Ha!) and work for a few hours every night. It was going to be great! A lot of kids in the neighborhood thought the same thing and the interviews were packed. I went in with my application all filled out ready to impress the hiring manager with my skill set, and he looked at my last name and said, "Are you Ruby's daughter?" I said, "Yes" and he said, "Show up for training on Monday." So much for getting a job on my own merits! But I got the job and that was the important part! Or that's what I thought.

I lasted at BK for less than a week. Looking back I probably should have stayed until the store I would have been working at opened and given it a shot there with a different crew, but I didn't. Basically the lesson I learned is that if you go into a job with "The Boss said this one is special" tacked to to you you are going to pay. And pay. And pay. My first night was great. I worked with a shift leader who taught me the register and because I had experience already it was pretty easy. I approached the training tools like I was taking on the world. I memorized the packing order for meals, I memorized the construction order for the burgers, I was just raring to go! And my shift leader was impressed. Then the next night I went in and that was the night I was going to meet the manager and pick up my schedule. Now I had requested no later than 9 on school nights and no Sunday evenings. I was scheduled until close Monday-Thursday and Sunday from 12-8. I went to the manager and asked if this was just for training purposes or if this would be a standard schedule. This was when it started to be clear. She let me know that she made the schedule in her store and she didn't care if the district manager thought I was something special she wouldn't be told how to run her restaurant. Ah. Got it. I was a pawn in a pissing match. But it was still my job so I still did the best I could with it, I was determined to show her that no matter how I got the job, I was a good hire. That night I worked the back of the house. The manager decided that I wasn't good enough for the front counter, she told me she had received a lot of complaints (news to me!) so I needed to work in back. Fine. I felt like I needed to know how to do everything anyway.

So that night I made burgers and onion rings and fries and had a good time working with the back of house crew. A good time was not what she was interested in me having so the next night I was on cleaning duty. I was to patrol the parking lot picking up trash, patrol the restaurant clearing tables, and clean bathrooms. Ugh. Back on bathroom duty! When it still didn't seem like it was phasing me enough I was given the great task of cleaning the grease trap under the sink. Grease traps are vile. They smell bad, they are slimy, they are disgusting. She gave me a bucket, a scrub brush and scoop to clean it out. I had been working on it about an hour when one of the cooks had had enough. He let me know that they had a company that came in and cleaned the traps and she was just having me do it because she hated me. She overheard him and threatened to fire him for insubordination. Can you believe that? Insubordination at BK. Well at that point it dawned on me that there was nothing I was going to be able to do to make this situation better. If I had been older with more outside job experience I would have known to complain to her boss or stick it out until my own store opened and hope for a new manager with a different attitude, but as it was I just saw this as enough. I told her that she didn't have to fire anyone because I quit. Turned in my name tag and walked out the door. Lessons from that job? That fast food is hard. But it can be fun (the shift I worked with my shift leader was great) or it can be miserable. The manager of a store dictates that attitude. And I learned, again, that there are people in the world that you are just not going to ever be able to please.

This is getting quite long so I will stop there and pick up the jobs after High School in the next blog. So, Scott, is this along the lines of what you thought when you requested a blog on my jobs?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

And the challenge comes to an end....

So there you have it. A month (plus 2 days) of a blog a day. Since the last series of blogs went from about 3 in my head to 11 in reality I still have a lot of topics from the original list to cover and of course there are new ideas forming and reforming every day.

I am not sure that I will continue the pace of one a day, I am still trying to decide what the "right" amount of writing is. But at least now I know that when push comes to shove I do possess the discipline to put words on the page (screen?) every day.

Thank you for reading and for commenting, either here or on my Facebook page. I really appreciate it! And remember I do take requests for future blogs. :-)

So though it might not be daily...keep watching this space for new posts!

Friday, March 5, 2010

The part where I put it all together...

So here we are FINALLY to the last part of this. The part where I put it all together, built a bridge and got over it! But there are few more wrap up pieces to the story to show where my head really was.

After Brent and I got married we moved in with his parents. They had the back section of the house that we could have that basically gave us our own bedroom and living room. I say we, but Brent left for basic training a few weeks after we were married so it was mostly just me. This was a good move for a few reasons. One it helped me establish a better relationship with my in-laws, especially with Jack (here) and it gave me space to get away from my family which I desperately needed by that point. I really do feel that if I had stayed in that over crowded house for much longer I would have burnt every bridge on my way out. But as it was I got some much needed space to breath. I was working 6 days a week, going to the gym to work out probably 4 nights a week, writing a long letter to Brent every day and then spending Sundays relaxing with Jack and Black Jack. The routine was a good one for me.

There was one incident that started me down the path of figuring things out that happened right before I left New Mexico. I was at my parent's house with my sister and my mother. We were discussing something that was in the news, I don't remember what anymore, but it led my mother to say, "I raised you kids better than that" I didn't even think before responding, "You didn't raise me, she did" pointing at my sister. My sister nodded and said, "Yeah, you kind of dumped her on me." Now this wasn't fair to my mother. She had raised me, for the most part. I was 7 before she turned over the main care-taking to my sister and I am sure she never viewed it that way at all. But later (almost a year later that's coming up) when I examined that conversation it illuminated two things for me, one I viewed the years with my sister as a form of abandonment by my parents and two, my sister viewed them as a punishment. I was dumped on her.

I understand this feeling. Remember how I had to take care of my grandmother? I was a kid and taking care of another person like that was too much responsibility. No matter how mature I seemed. I had one hour every week to myself. On Friday afternoon Jim would call and ask if I was ready, I would say yes of course and then about an hour later Ron's El Camino would pull up and Brent(years before we started dating), Jim, Ron and I would go up the road to McDonald's for a coke. That hour every week kept me sane. It was nothing big. Just time to goof off and not think about the things that 80 year old women with Alzheimer need. For instance, I had a lipstick that came out of the tube like a missile from a silo...for some reason this fascinated the guys and they had no end of fun playing with it. Sound effects and everything. And it was just so nice to sit and laugh with people my age. I have no idea if Jim knew how much that time meant to me, but I think it's what kept me tied to that group of people as tightly as I was, and through that of course I ended up married to Brent so you never know how big a small act of kindness will get.

Anyway...I understood a little more about what my sister must have felt about being stuck with me. I only had my grandmother for a few weeks every summer, she had me constantly. It doesn't excuse anything she did, but it helped me understand the level of frustration she must have been feeling. And because I felt like I could understand her a little more I felt a little more sympathy towards her. Or at least toward the 14 year old kid she was.

I would like to say that from that point on I was a better person and it was the dawn of sunshine and roses but I had one more big financial event to cover with my parents and nothing can tear you apart more than money right? All through high school I drove my first car, a Vega Station Wagon. Yep, I know, you are all so very jealous. Well, for a combination graduation/wedding gift my parents said they would give me their old car when they bought a new one. So instead of my 15 year old POS I would get a 6 year old car that wouldn't die at random times or get me pulled over for excessive smoke. So they followed through. Sort of. They got their new car and handed over the keys to the old car. As I was getting ready to leave for Florida I asked for the title so I could get all of the base registration taken care of. They said they would send it later. And I kept asking for it every few weeks while we were in Florida. Oh they had forgotten where it was, they would give it to us later. Then we were in an accident. Then another one. This was a bright yellow car mind you, but for some reason people couldn't see it and would run right into it! So we decided that we would trade it in for another car. I called my parents and told them we were going to sell it and needed the title. Well, that wasn't going to happen. They had used it as collateral on a loan, so we couldn't sell it. We didn't own it. I was livid.

Technically the car shouldn't have been out of state at all. If the loan company had found out we had taken it to Florida my parents would have been in default of the loan. We had (inadvertently) lied on our registration paperwork with the base by stating that we owned the car. This was a huge deal to me. You don't lie to the Military when you are in the service. And then to add insult to injury the insurance company made the check out to my parents since they were the registered owners of the car. We drove the car back to New Mexico, held together with duct tape and coat hangers, gave it back to my parents went to the bank so they could cash the check and give us the money and bought Jim's car and drove that back to Florida. And they gave the car to my sister.

So that May standing in front of a rack of Mother's Day cards and getting angrier and angrier as I read the cards trying to pick one out I came to a realization. It's not often you reach an epiphany in a Hallmark Store but I did. I realized at that point in time I didn't want to buy my mother a card. I was furious with her. My anger wasn't just toward my sister it was toward my parents as well. And I thought, "I am done." I walked out of the store thinking that I was finished. That I would not be going back to New Mexico. That I would not be a part of my family back there any more. I was done.

Then I went back to our apartment and read a book. Brent had watch that night so he would be staying on base all night. I was on my own. I read in our quiet apartment and I felt really peaceful for the first time in a long time. Not angry any more. Just quiet and still. And in that stillness I was able to think. Why was I so angry? What exactly was fueling it? And that's when I started putting all of the pieces together.

Now all of you reading this can see the reasons clearly. But I was living them over a lot of years with a lot of other things mixed in so it was harder at the time to distill it down to myself and then figure out how to work past it. But that's what I spent the next few years doing. Yes, years. The first was probably the hardest, I know it must have been a little slice of hell for Brent, but it was a slow process to work through it all. But that night the first thing I did was decide to take a step back from the abyss and not cut off all contact with everyone back home.

And then I started looking at my life. Looking at decisions I had made and why. I realized that the lying was just a defense mechanism to keep people away from me. I didn't trust anyone. Not fully. So I had figured out ways to keep them away from the real me, even if I wasn't completely aware of what I was doing. I always maintained a distance between myself and everyone else. Didn't let people get too close. If they started to I walked away. I knew that if someone was going to get in my life then I would have to tell them the truth. Thank goodness the first person I told the truth to was Brent and that he took it the way he did. I cannot even imagine what I would have done if the first person I shared the truth with had rejected me.

The next trip home I talked to my sister about what had happened. Now this is the actually the second time we had broached the subject. Remember when she and I were close before her first marriage? Well we had a talk one night about the things that had happened when she was watching me while high. She didn't remember any of them. Not really. But I really wanted to figure out my life at this point and I knew that those few years were crucial in my understanding, so I asked her again. And she told me that since she didn't remember them happening that she really felt that they never happened. I showed her the scar which was still visible at that point and told her I could show her that one, the others she couldn't see but they were still there. She told me again that she didn't remember it so what's to say they happened the way I remembered them?

I was right back to angry. Brent and I went back home with me so mad I could hardly see straight. What it felt like to me was that I mattered so little, what happened to me was so insignificant to her that she was able to dismiss me and to deny me my most traumatic and shaping memories. And I stayed there for a little while longer. And I realized that part of why I was angry about it was that was what I felt my parents had done as well. As soon as my sister got clean they didn't want to hear about it anymore. They moved past and shut it down and so had she. So I was the only one left holding the bag and I had to decide what to do with it.

So I had a choice to make. Did I want to spend the rest of my life being angry? Blaming every bad thing in my life on my family back in New Mexico or did I want to move on? Remember at this point in time I was reading a ton of books on Psychology. I had a lot of big AHA! moments through those books. I was figuring out who I was and what was "wrong" with me. But I was also figuring out what was right with me. What happened to me could have flattened me out. Could have turned me into a horrible person. But it didn't. Yes, I was very self-protective. Yes I had done a lot of things wrong. But I also had learned some really valuable lessons.

And I chose to be happy. That was really the bottom line. I looked at everything that had happened to me and I realized that the important part was that they had happened. Past tense. Over with. Done. And by continuing to be angry, by continuing to push people away instead of letting them in, continuing to not share who I was with people I was letting those things control me. And one of the good things I learned through all of those years is that you should always be in control. So I chose to be happy.

And then I worked on forgiving myself and forgiving my family. My parents are really good people. Salt of the Earth. They love all of us very much and would do anything for their kids. They did the best they could with what they had. I really believe that. I also believe if I had ever actually told them what was going on they would have stopped it. But I didn't. That was part of what I needed to forgive myself for. And I have. I was a kid who didn't know any better. And those first 7 years with my parents gave me the strength of character to survive the time with my sister and come out the other end okay. I am a hard worker because of their example. My smile is directly from my mother. I appreciate the things I have and know I don't have to have a lot because we were raised without a lot of money. These are good things.

My sister was just a kid with a drug problem who was forced into a tough situation. She was dealing with her own demons while being expected to take care of a kid when she was just a kid herself. The abuse she suffered later in her life was so much beyond anything that I faced that I can't help but feel sympathy for her. And then pride that she made it through as well. She left him (the most dangerous time for an abused woman, abusers don't like to let go) she suffered another bad marriage and then got herself an education and a good job. She made it through the other side as well.

Now I still tend to get quiet and self defensive if I am in New Mexico for too long. Even after all of these years there is a part of my subconscious that goes on high alert back there. I am still working on that part. And I have little to no patience for people who play the victim card. Adults who continue to blame their parents for their failures get on my last nerve. People who pull out the oh woe is me theme when life doesn't go the way they want to get no sympathy from me. And yes, I have bad days and can be a bitch when pushed. But for the most part, I choose to be happy each and every day. And I am. And I hope you are as well.

It's the best gift you can give yourself. Trust me on that one.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Seriously, it's almost over!

Okay so now you know what was going on at school. Let's talk again about home and then, then we will be done! I don't think I will fully wrap up until tomorrow though so don't get your hopes up too high that we are finishing today! ;-)

I have talked about coming to the conclusion that I was leaving the church during this time period (here)and that was part of the distancing myself from my family that I went through. Though it really had nothing to do with them, it still put another space between me and everyone else and that becomes important later in this story. The part that will probably hit tomorrow.

I want to finish up with what happened as I was leaving New Mexico and why I thought I might never come back when I did. As I mentioned earlier in this series my relationship with my sister had vastly improved to the point where we were really good friends. We went to dinner, the movies and basically hung out quite a bit. Then she started dating the man (boy really, he was only 19 at the time) that would become her husband. She was working at The Car Wash at the time cashiering and he worked the line. Now you know when you meet someone and you instantly think, jerk? He was that guy. For everyone in my family except my sister. For some reason there was something about this just out of prison, missing part of his ear where he had an earring yanked out in a bar fight, scruffy looking piece of work that appealed to her. To this day I have no idea why or what it was.

Anyway you know those moments that stick with you and you don't know why? Then later you look back and they end up being really significant? I had one of those with my sister when she first started dating him. We were sitting in Schlotzsky's eating dinner and she was telling me about a conversation she had with him. She told him that he could never come between her and her sister. I told her, of course not, we are sisters no guy can do that! And she said, "If anyone could then he could." I replayed this conversation in my head a year later and was amazed. Because he had and she had to know at that point that he would.

Let me be very upfront. I believed then, I believe now and I will believe until my dying day that her first husband was a true sociopath. I always describe it this way; if a normal person sees something behind you that they want then they alter their path and go around you to get it, a sociopath doesn't see you, just the thing they want and goes right through you like you weren't even there. He was abusive on a grand scale, tore her apart from the ground up personality-wise and the put her back together all wrong. He isolated her from friends and family and then made her feel like it was completely her fault. And why did he do all of this? Because he could.

When they first started dating everyone told her how wrong he was for her. How she shouldn't date him. Basically let her know what a bad idea this was. Big mistake. If you tell someone over and over how awful someone is that they "love" you just end up losing the person and they feel like they can't come to you when things do go wrong. So once she decided to marry this guy we all resigned ourselves to the fact. No, we didn't all start liking him, but he was going to be part of the family and that was that.

Through their dating and the early part of their marriage he did a really good job of driving a wedge between she and I. I honestly think her telling him how close the two of us were put a target on my back for him. I was the first one that needed cut out of the equation. He found every way he could to alienate us from each other. Sex, drugs, money, theft. He covered it all. I had a collection of steel pennies and silver dollars and one day came home to find a few dollars shoved in the jar where I had them. As a "favor" to me he had taken the money and gone to Blake's to spend the change leaving me the dollars. I ended up at Blake's going through the tills with the cashiers trying to get back as many as I could. Ended up with about half of what I started with. My sister had no idea why I was so upset, after all wasn't it a nice thing that he had done? Gotten rid of my change and leaving me dollars?

He was inappropriate with the level of sexual contact they would have around me. I won't go into details, but it was enough that I spent more than a few nights sick to my stomach with anger out on the living room couch. After they were already married my senior year for Halloween I dressed up a Vampire. Now, it was a sexy costume and it was meant to be (I was chasing Brent until he caught me at that point in time) and he hit on me. With my sister sitting there. I looked at her like did you just hear what he said to me?? And she told me I should probably cover up a little more so I didn't look like such a slut. your husband just hit on your sister IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE and I am the one in the wrong? Are you kidding me? There were more things but basically my relationship with her was coming to an end.

The final straw came when I realized that he was abusing her physically. I was so mad at her for putting up with it. I couldn't understand how a grown woman would tolerate that behavior. Ironic right? I was still mad at her (deep inside at this point) for abusing me and now I was mad at her for being abused. Remember the story I told you about the last time she was physical towards me? Here is part two. Her husband, she and I are sitting at the kitchen table talking about something and she smarted off a joke. He reached over and slapped her. Right in front of me. I was stunned! I told him if she was stupid enough to put up with that shit that was her business but he was never to do it in front of me again. He looked me in the eye and slowly lifted his hand and then slapped her again. I was out of my chair and launched at him in a shot. I know he wasn't expecting it and I got in a few good shots before my dad walked in the front door from work. We took a step away from each other as Dad came in the kitchen to break it up. He asked what was going on and my sister told him that we were just messing around. I snapped around and looked at her and the panic in her eyes let me know that if I said anything she was going to face much worse when they got home, so I said nothing to my father. Dad left the room and her husband told me I was lucky cause he would have hurt me. I told him that was fine but I wouldn't have stopped until I killed him so he might want to rethink that position. I told him "I am not my sister and you should remember that." Remember what I told you about true potential for violence being apparent? He never hit her in front of me again and he never raised a hand towards me. Did it stop the abuse she was receiving at home? No, but that was something only she could put an end to.

But that was effectively the end of our friendship at that point. I couldn't stand that she let herself be the victim. I know now how he broke her spirit first then started abusing her in other ways. I know he had her using again and that the drugs clouded her brain to the point where she felt stuck. I know he was a master manipulator and did it to many others. I know all of that now. But at the time I was just so angry I couldn't stand to be in the same room with them for any length of time.

And the anger kept compounding. The walls I had built to hold back that piece of me weren't holding anymore. My parents were helping support my sister and her husband and I knew it, and it made me furious. Now I am a parent and I understand that you can't watch your child fail without trying to help, but at the time I was just furious. But I was still trying to hold it all in and down. I had bright spots. Theater at school was a group of fun kids who were all just marking time until graduation. Brent and I had started dating and that moved very quickly to deciding to get married after graduation. That for me was the light at the end of the tunnel and I think the piece that kept me held together. I was getting out. It ended up being the piece that almost sealed me off from New Mexico and my family for good as well.

I started working full time the week after graduation. I had worked part time at The Car Wash for a few years but this was the first job I had gotten completely on my own and I was very proud of it. And almost every dime I made went into a bank account so Brent and I would have enough money the first year of our marriage to get settled. By this time Brent was living with us (long story, another blog, but it one of the ways my parents showed their love and support of me) and my sister and her husband and their first born ended up moving in as well after they lost their apartment in an ill conceived venture to California. Anyway...picture a 14'x70' three bedroom trailer. My brother and Brent shared a room, I had a room, my parents had their room and now my sister and her family were in the living room. Obviously this wasn't going to work. Brent and I were getting ready to go out one night when were were ambushed by the whole group sitting in the living room.

They had found a bigger place to rent but didn't have the money for the first and last month's rent they would need to secure it. Dad could cash in part of his retirement fund to get the money but it would take awhile. Since I had the money then I could just give it to them and they would pay me back. I didn't rush right to grab my check book. I really didn't want to do it. It was 6 months of paychecks by that point and it would take almost all of them to cover it. That along with the wedding expenses I was having to pick up because my parents couldn't afford to cover everything any more and I was looking at starting our marriage broke. Just what I had been working to avoid. Then my sister told me, "Stop being so selfish, it's not like you won't get the money back!" Anyone who has ever lent money to a family member knows that's exactly what it's like. Treat it as a gift because it's not coming back. And to have my sister (who I blamed for the mess in the first place) tell me to stop being selfish was the last straw. Brent and I went out to dinner to talk about it, I told him that I was giving them the money, I loved and respected my parents too much not to do this for them, but then I was done. After we were married we would move in to his parent's house and I would stay with Jack and Ann until I left for Florida to join him.

So flash forward just a bit and see my last few months living with my family. We have moved into the new place, Mom and Dad in a room, my brother and Brent sharing a room, my sister and her husband in a room, her son in a room and me on the couch. Resentment much? For the house I paid for I was sleeping on the couch? Yeah, I was not happy. And I directed all of that anger at my sister. I felt it was all her fault. And there was a lot of anger, much greater anger in proportion to the actual offense and that's what I had to work through to get past the raging bitch I was to the person I became.

And that is a blog for another day...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

One more before the wrap up...

Okay, one thing I want to make clear. Even though I wasn't a former drug using ex-gang member and I could have been much much worse I was still not a good kid as a teenager. I tell everyone that Christopher is a much better kid than I ever deserved. I think that my parents were so tired out from raising all of us that they forgot to give me the curse, "I hope you have a child just like you!" Brent's parents were rebels and so wouldn't have done it just to be different. So in the end we lucked out and got a really super kid.

The other stuff I was doing was pretty out in the open. I drank. A lot for a few years, not so much later when I realized I was drinking a lot and didn't like the fact that anything was in control of me. I smoked. Had my first cigarette when I was 12 and was a closet smoker for a few years before taking it out in the open. In fact more than a few people in school blamed me for their habit! And I cut class. Though that is an understatement and it would probably be more correct to say I occasionally went to class. I got a lot of blame for everyone else cutting class as well. In fact the year after graduation they changed the attendance policy to a mandatory amount of days in class or you wouldn't pass. I am not saying it's completely my fault, but I did have it down to an art.

And though no one ever saw me fight again after George (and the riot our sophomore year, but I don't really count that as we were all fighting) that is not to say that I didn't hit a few people now and then. Macho posturing for the most part. When you have the reputation of being the baddest thing on the block there are two responses from people; one people will leave you alone which is the one I wanted and two people will try to knock you down, which I wanted to prevent. So every once in awhile when someone would be feeling their oats I would get a little shove or a little push towards a fight. I had absolutely no problem putting on my scariest face and telling someone to bring it on. If you really are a fighter you can recognize if someone is bluffing or if they really do possess the potential for violence. I was nothing but potential for violence. Most people that are abused are. Even the ones that seem to choose the victim role for themselves from there on out have that spark of rage in them that might flare at any time. This was enough for most people to back down.

Teenagers also do stupid things like punch each other for fun. Trying to give a charley horse in the leg, or just testing out who was stronger. Boys especially will do this. Now as I mentioned I can take a punch. High pain tolerance and knowing that moving with the punch takes the brunt out of it is the secret. So I would do this with the boys when they were punching each other. All it takes is hitting a few boys hard enough to make them say ouch while you are standing there taking it and asking if they wanted to hit you for real the next time to cement a reputation.

When I say pretty much out in the open it's because I was still doing the different person for different areas thing I did when I was a little kid. My friends from youth group at church knew my sister had a drug history but didn't know about the abuse (no one did) and they didn't know all of the stuff I had made up at school. I also didn't smoke or drink in front of them. So in their eyes I was a pretty good kid. For my friends at school different groups got different pieces of me. A few friends got pretty close to the real me, some got nothing but front. So it would depend on who I was with on what they saw and I was constantly juggling and trying to make sure the different groups were kept separate. The only person who had a clue that I was doing all of this was my best friend from 6th through 11th grade. But her mother was a con-artist (took me a few years to figure that one out and it's a story for another set of blogs!) so I think that for her my multiple lives thing was pretty normal.

My parents had very few rules for me by this point. My oldest brother said I had different parents than he did and I would guess he was right. Especially since he said it when I was fixing myself a rum and coke to drink at 14 in front of my parents. The rules were as follows: Curfew of 10 on weekdays and Midnight on Weekends. Do not drink and drive and do not get into a car with someone who has been drinking. Do not come home so drunk we have to pour you into bed. If you are arrested know that we will not be bailing you out until the morning so make yourself comfortable until then. Church and youth group are mandatory and you will attend both. That was the gist of it. Not, don't drink, but don't drink and drive and don't get too drunk. The curfew was easy enough to work around, I would just spend the night at a friend's house if I wanted to stay out later. The rest wasn't an issue. I didn't like being out of control drunk so that rarely happened (sophomore year graduation, not Highland's but another school oh my...) But like I said before, my parents really felt I was pretty capable of taking care of myself and didn't worry about me much. And after what they went through with my sister I am sure I looked like I was.

And to a certain extent I really did do okay. I kept my grades in the okay range. I didn't do any drug stronger than alcohol and nicotine. I didn't have sex, much to the chagrin of the boys I dated. I didn't spend any time in detention. I didn't get in much trouble that came back on them. Not to say I didn't get into trouble. Attendance was an issue. For some reason I had talked my mom into calling me in most days for school. I was often late for my first period class and if she called me in then I could miss it without a problem. Of course that meant I could pick and choose my classes for the rest of the day as well. It was a good system for me and honestly it only seemed to bug two of my teachers the entire time I was in school.

My geometry teacher was one of them. I would show up on Monday to pick up the assignments for the week and then show up again on Friday to turn them in and take the test. And of course because I missed so many classes on Monday when I would first get there she would send me to the Principal's office to get a note saying I could get back in to class. So off to VP Gonzales I would go, he would tell me, young lady you really need to make more of an effort and I would swear that I would and back to class I would go. That was if he even saw me, half the time the admin would just hand me my note (already written and waiting) and back I would go. Finally my teacher had had enough and she called for a conference with my dad and me and the VP. After raging on for awhile my dad very calmly asked her what grade I was getting in the class. She got angry and started in again about how that was not the point at all! He asked her again and again until she finally had to admit I had an A. Then he told her, "Then the problem seems to be with your class and not my daughter" and that was that. That visit to the office is what leads me to believe I was at least a little responsible for the new attendance policy. Of course I was in trouble at home for skipping that much, but it didn't slow me down at all. In fact the next year as I was meeting someone for the first time he told me he already knew me and we had had a class together. He had sat behind me all year in geometry and I had no memory of him at all! And he was right pissed when he found out I got a better grade in the class then he did.

The funny thing is it's not like I was doing anything when I would skip. Most of the time I would go to Winchell's get a donut and coke and sit and smoke and read a book. I just hated sitting in class bored out of my mind. It seemed like such a waste of time. There were a few classes I never skipped. Western Civ with the Figges was a must. I couldn't skip that class and still pass. I didn't skip Chemistry when I took it, and I still only lasted a semester before crying uncle and dropping it! And I didn't skip my theater classes. So if it was a hard class or an interesting class I was there. Otherwise, tests and homework days and sometimes just because I had nothing better to do.

The first day of each semester I would SWEAR I was going to be better about going. And I would usually last about a week before skipping again. Except for my junior year. The first day of school was my 16th birthday. Which my parents completely forgot. So halfway through the day when Matt (who shared a birthday) said it didn't seem fair that we were in school on our birthday and suggested we take off, I completely agreed! And we went and had lunch and I think went to the mall. It ended up being a pretty good birthday after all. Even with no one at home remembering it!

So now you have a snapshot of my teenage life. I was one messed up cookie. Aside from the fighting reputation I was also the queen at cutting you down. Remember I had learned at the hands of a pro to not waste my time with random insults, I would pay attention to what was important to you and then slice you up with insults tailored specifically to your weak spots. I wasn't random in my attacks. I would single out the bullies that picked on those they thought wouldn't fight back, I would pick on people who seemed to have an over abundance of ego in relation to accomplishments. And then when I was drinking I would slice open who ever was standing closest to me when the drink that tipped me from loving everyone to hating the world happened. Mean drunk. But if you see someone reduce the big bad bully to tears enough times you start to understand that they are a bitch and not to be messed with. And that was just the way I wanted it.

Tomorrow we talk about how I figured out all of the broken pieces and put myself back together again with liberal application of sunshine and rainbows. Or duct tape. One of those... Still with me?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

You don't know me at all...(part two)

Even though we were out of district I wanted to go to Highland High School. We used my brother's address so I could go there instead of Albuquerque High which is the district I was really in. This was the school my oldest brother, sister-in-law and sister had all graduated from and it was where I wanted to go as well. My other brother graduated from Eldorado which at the time was the "rich kid school" soon to be replaced by La Cueva...but anyway...I had no urge to go be the poor kid in a rich school again so Highland it was.

The fact that my sister had gone there presented a few challenges at first. She had ended up at Highland when Eldorado kicked her out. Highland was the only school that would take her with her already impressive record for a freshman, but there were conditions. For instance, she and my dad had to go meet with one of the vice principals weekly at first then monthly to make sure she was being mostly good. So anyway, one of my first challenges at Highland with the last name of Clifton was the people that remembered my sister. The kids that were seniors my freshman year had been freshman my sister's senior year. Now even though she must have been mostly straight by then she had a huge reputation as a bad ass. Now think about how big and bad the seniors in your high school looked to you as a freshman, add to it the stories true or false that swirled around my sister and know that they hadn't forgotten her. This is important to remember.

But my first real challenge my sister actually gave me a heads up warning on. Looking over my schedule before my first day of class and she noticed who my typing teacher was. She let me know I would be wanting to change instructors. I asked why and it turns out my sister had punched her in class one day. Okay fine...well I am not my sister so I am going to go to that class anyway! First day of class comes and Mrs. J. calls role..."Denise Clifton? Are you related to [my sister]?" "Yes, she is my sister and..." and I see her beady little eyes narrow and her grip on the attendance book goes I asked to be excused went to the counselor's office and transferred instructors. :-) I went home that night and let her know she hadn't been forgotten and that I had been able to transfer. She said she didn't doubt that, after all she was probably the only student to ever do that to her. I have to believe that was true.

Okay, a few months into my freshman year, I wear an outfit to school that I loved. But it was only, oh, 10 years out of fashion. After a morning of ridicule I convinced (bullied?) my best friend into wearing her sweats from gym and letting me wear her jeans. So I am rushing into Spanish after changing clothes in the bathroom. At the time the fashion was to wear a bandanna as a belt (how small were our waists?) I have my bandanna on the table while I tuck in my shirt and George picks it up and starts messing with it. I asked for it back and he starts twirling it around like he is going to pop me with it like a towel. I asked him again and no dice. I then told him he had 10 seconds to give it back or I would hit him. Now he thinks this is the funniest thing he has ever heard. He was a big bad junior boy and I was this little freshman girl and I was threatening him. So he doesn't give it back and I waylaid him. He was not one of those "never hit a girl" type guys and so he slugs me back. But the difference is, I knew how to give and receive a punch and he didn't. So we are duking it out in front of the kids shuffling in for Spanish when Senor Tafoya gets there, off to the principal's office we go!

Highland was a big school and each grade had their own Vice Principal. Since he was a junior and I was a freshman they sent us to the sophomore VP. Vice Principal Gonzales. Now, Gonzales thought that the whole situation was hilarious. Junior boy got his clock cleaned by freshman girl over a purple bandanna. By the time he was through laughing at us, we both thought it was pretty funny as well and ended up being pretty good friends over the next two years. But two other things came out of this. The first being my name started to ring a bell in Gonzales' head and he ended up pulling files, turns out he was the VP that had done those visits with my dad and sister, so he put in my file that he would be my VP no matter what grade I was in. So for all four years as everyone else changed vice principals I would stick with Gonzales and since I spent quite a bit of time visiting with him and he seemed to really like me for some reason that was nice. The second is the next big reveal.

Going back into class one of the kids sitting behind me kept bugging me about how I learned how to fight. I had a few choices at this point, first I could have told him it was none of his business which would have led to him bugging me constantly, second I could have told the truth, and we all know there was no way that was going to happen. So I told him that I had lived in the South Valley for a few years and he could figure it out. Yep. I had officially just joined an imaginary gang! And that one stuck with me all through the rest of high school.

The way a rumor blossoms is an amazing thing. Before I knew it it seemed like everyone KNEW I was a former gang member and you add to that those that KNEW I had a drug history and I was officially a bad ass. I got into one fight in high school and I just told you about it. But if you talked to people I fought all of the time. It would amaze me sometimes the things I heard I did. Some of it was actually things my sister had done. Remember those seniors who were freshman? Well, they took the stories they had heard about my sister and applied them to me. And what I would do is listen to them all and the ones that sounded the coolest or the most plausible I would take and use as mine.

I'm going to get into the whys in tomorrow's blog but I have a few more what the hells to cover in this one. :-)

There are two stories I wove that bit me in the ass. The first was my sophomore year. My closest friend at school at that time was this really wonderful girl who lived in Four Hills. Four Hills was the chi chi area in Albuquerque at the time. How I ended up friends with her is still a little beyond my grasp. I know that I wanted to be like her so very much but I am not sure exactly what she saw in me, maybe a project? Anyway...she and I became friends as freshman and she knew more about the real me than anyone else. I didn't really put on a front with her, now all of the stories about me were swirling around but we didn't talk about them. But I felt like with her I could talk a little freer and I had a ton of questions for her about what her life was like.

The switch happened our sophomore year. She had a clear goal in high school, she was going to be one of the popular kids. Me? I could give a rats ass if people liked me (remember,I wasn't even going to give them a shot at knowing ME) but it was important to my friend so I tried. Now at the time my mom worked at The Car wash. That's what we called it, The Car wash or her Car wash. So in front of the group of girls my friend was trying to impress I mentioned needing to go by my mom's car wash to pick up something after school, one of the girls said something about is that where she works in a really nasty tone (now I could have been just looking for the tone, since I didn't much care for most of these girls) and I said, no she owns it. Bam. Locked into the lie. And it would have been okay except one of the other girls knew the actual owners of the place. Oops.

Now I didn't like them and they didn't like me. And they really didn't understand what she saw in me. So this was the perfect opportunity to drum me out of the group. Instead of calling me on it right that minute they waited and planned for the "perfect time". So we are on our way to the State Fair. Back when I was in school we would get a half day off to go to the Fair every year. Crazy right? Anyway, we are on the way there and I need to stop by the car wash to pick up money. So innocently one of the girls says, "Didn't you say your mom owned it? I thought that my neighbors owned it." oh hell..well what do you do at that point you are busted right? So I said, "hmm...she must have sold it." Yeah, lame. So anyway we hit the fair grounds and I know my time with them is done. They have me dead to rights in a lie and I am not going to be able to put up with them anymore either. So we are walking around the midway and they don't want to ride rides because it would mess up their hair, they don't want to eat because it's all fatty food, they don't want to play games because the carnies are gross. And I had enough. A group of guys that I knew from honors English came by and they were going to the livestock barns to pet baby pigs. Made sure I could get a ride from the one driving and bailed.

Next day in school I walk in to the main hall where all of their lockers are (I was sharing a locker at the time with my friend from the group) they see me all make sure I see them and then turn their backs on me. I had been shunned. And it amused the hell out of me. I really thought, this is the worst you have for me? Turning your back like it's some sort of after school special? Really? I didn't feel bad for lying to them, there was no way I was sharing with them any more information than I had to, but I did feel bad for embarrassing my friend and if you are reading this J, I am so sorry, I should have been more respectful of you than I was. The funny thing is, even then, I understood that she had to stick with them and "shun" but she and I maintained a friendship through out and she is the only person to have signed my yearbook all four years.

The second time a big lie bit me was actually the end of the road for weaving false history for me. Junior year in honors English. Mrs. Toregeson (is that right?) anyway, this woman should have quit teaching about 10 years before that. She had reached the point where she wasn't teaching so much as preaching. She and I had already clashed on a interpretation of poetry. She had given us a poem to read and then write a paper on our interpretation of it. Then she proceeded to mock all of us who got it "wrong". I told her it was a poem, and if she saw the imagery one way and we saw it another that didn't make us wrong any more than it made her wrong. But she wasn't going to budge and I had to rewrite the paper. Which I did. With the same answers. So we are sitting in class one day and she is lecturing us on a poem about death and how we as teenagers had no idea about death and dying. I was getting madder and madder at her. Of course we had lost people in our lives, most of us had lost at least a grandparent by then. And the week before a friend of a few of us had died of a heart attack. Twenty years old out dancing, died. It was shocking and still raw and new. So I was furious with her by the time class was over. So I waited until everyone had left and marched up to her desk and informed her that I knew all about death and dying the impermanence of life. Because I had cancer. To this day I cannot believe I did that. But I did. And then I pretty much forgot about it. I just wanted to shut her up and make her think.

But what I didn't take into consideration was that though Mrs. T. might be a bitter lonely old lady she still was a person. And she still worried when the child she was teaching who she thought had cancer didn't show up for class for a week. So when she called the number in my files to check on me and my sister-in-law had no idea what she was talking about and took her number for me to call her I knew I was screwed. Completely and totally and most definitely screwed. This is the only time in my life I have ever been this desperate or this panicked, but I actually considered suicide at that point. I knew I had blown it and I knew I was going to have to admit it, and I knew that nobody would understand it, hell I didn't really understand it, and I just wanted out. I sat on my bed that night counting out Tylenol pills wondering if you could OD on them. Then I bargained. If God would let me out of this then I would NEVER do it again. EVER. So I marched in to Mrs. T's classroom the following Monday if this were an after school special this is where I would have admitted lying and explained that it was because I thought she was being unfair in her big brush strokes of kids not understanding and I wanted to teach her a lesson. She would see the error of her ways, I would see the error of mine and she would become a better person and a mentor to me, guiding me along to my first best seller...instead I...

Lied my ass off. I told her I had done it on a dare from someone who had questioned my acting ability. Theater kid, seemed like a good story. I apologized all over myself and cried (the tears were real) and told her how horrible I felt and how I was so sorry she had gotten hurt but I had been selfish and stupid and had just not realized that she would get caught in the crossfire. And I made it through and even passed her class.

And I then held up half of the bargain. No new lies. But what I didn't do is go back and clear up everything that was out there. I thought about it but when faced with the very daunting task of correcting everyone's version of me that they had it just seemed too overwhelming. So I didn't. So even through my senior year people thought that then knew me and they really had no clue. The only person I confessed it all to was Brent, and only because I felt like he should know and have a chance to back out of the marriage proposal. He took it in stride and told me that I might think he didn't really know me, but he knew me better than I thought, and that was that.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the other things going on but I thought I would cover all of this first.

You don't know me at all...(part one)

This next part is more difficult to write about. First off because there are only a very small handful of people in the world who know this, I haven't talked about it much and so I don't have as many explanations for it, I don't understand it as well as I do other parts of my life. And secondly these are my mistakes. Things I did. The other was something that happened to me. This is something I did.

When I wrote my blog about guilt I said I had some regrets. That I had made some huge mistakes in my life. What I am about to write about falls into that area. But at the same time, I did it, I chose to do it and it's part of what shaped me into who I am today. Okay, story time...

I have a huge and vivid imagination. I was an avid reader and like most readers I entertained the idea of writing for a long time. I cannot remember a time when I wasn't spinning some sort of story in my head. We had a flower garden on the lot in the south valley and I remember just laying on the porch above the garden looking down into the leaves and weaving stories about a whole community of fairies that lived there. I would entertain myself for hours with my Barbies, and they had HUGE story lines and continuing events that would happen to them. I read books and comic books and then would imagine what it would be like to be part of the story and would write myself in to them. Elfquest was a favorite and I had a whole extra life with Skywise and Cutter and Letah. Doing this during the worst of the time with my sister helped me have someplace else to go. Someplace better. (this is where the foreshadowing music should play in your head)

Being in a private religious school for middle school a lot of the issues that other kids our age were going through just weren't an issue for us. The middle school I would have gone to had kids that were already getting high and a few that were already sexually active. These things weren't really issues at Parkview. We had "boyfriends" and "girlfriends" but "going around together" (my generation's version of going steady) was nothing more than holding hands when the teachers weren't looking and passing notes and a few phone calls. Maybe a clandestine kiss on the playground, but nothing other than that. Drugs, smoking, alcohol, none of that was an issue. Until the end of my eighth grade year.

A couple of friends of mine had started getting high with friends from their neighborhood. They were in the very early part of exploration and were talking about it at school. I started to have little panic attacks. Didn't they have any idea what they were getting into? I started getting very agitated about it, really upset and I wasn't sure what to do about it. Drug use to me was not something casual or fun you did with friends, it was scary and dark and catastrophic. I decided that I could SAVE them by telling them my story. So I went to Mrs. Cyzac and asked her if I could do the morning devotion and tell a personal story. I was a good student and one of the leaders of the class so she said that I could without any hesitation at all. Not having any clue what I was going to talk about. So the next morning I marched to the front of the class, took a deep breath and...

Lied my ass off. I had decided overnight that there was no way I could out my sister as a druggie and no way I could admit that she had done the things to me that she had. I just felt protective of her and also of me. To tell someone something like that would be opening myself up to my most vulnerable and I could not do it. But I had already decided that I NEEDED to make a difference and I had asked to lead the devotion so instead I told essentially my sister's story but substituted me in as the user. I knew what the behavior was that came with being high. I knew the habits. I knew everything about it except for the actual act. I couldn't have told you how it really felt to be high, but I could tell you everything else about it and I did. I talked about it taking over your life and becoming more important to you than anything and how hard it was to get clean. Then I asked them for forgiveness and lead them all in prayer. There were tears from classmates and from my teacher, there were words of encouragement and promises that they would never get stoned again.

To this day I have no idea how come the teacher didn't call my parents about my grand confession. I guess because I had talked about them during the confession she thought the were obviously aware of the problem. But I didn't get caught. I felt a little guilty about it because I knew it wasn't true, but I also felt like I had done it for their own good and since school was over in a few weeks I knew it wasn't going to be a lie I would have to sustain. And I would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for those darn kids...

Flash forward to freshman year, I am making new friends in high school and the whole sordid drug history is behind me. Okay, pretend drug history. Then one of the guys that I am now friends with says that he goes to church with someone I used to go to school with. He has heard the whole story and he wants to talk to me about it. Great. So I have two options, coming clean about well, being clean, or continuing the lie. I continued the lie. I tried bluffing my way through questions for a little bit and then finally said that it was really too hard for me to talk about so I didn't want to. So people who met me in high school all "knew" that I had a drug history but I was clean now so not to offer me any.

That's one of the first things people "knew" about me. There were more. I know this is a long blog, but I have a lot more to add, so bear with me. But what I will do is cut this off for now and start a second blog. So take a walk, take a break, rest your eyes and then come back for part two.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Everything changes....

Today I want to talk about the evolution of my relationship with my sister. As I mentioned I was the good girl. I did what was expected of me and letting go of the past was what was expected. I didn't even talk to her about what happened between us until I was in my late teens and again in my early 20s.

Would it surprise you to know that within a few years of her getting clean she and I were very close? Even through the earlier years she was still my older sister and there was still a part of me that wanted to be like her. To have her like me. And when she stopped being so unpredictable it was easier to start forging a more normal sisterly relationship between us. Now don't get me wrong, we are still very different from each other and we still fought a lot and we still don't see eye to eye quite a bit of the time but it became more of a normal sibling situation. And we stayed really close until she and her first husband got together.

There was a stretch of time in my early teens where my parents started having a date night every Friday night and all of the siblings would have dinner together as well. Those are some of my favorite memories of all of us. My older brother and sister-in-law and my nephew who was just a baby at the time, my middle brother, my sister and me all at dinner laughing and enjoying each other's company. There was one night at dinner we were shooting the paper wrappers from our straws at each other and my older brother misses my younger one and the wrapped zings in to the back of the head of a guy sitting at a table behind us. He stands up and turns around expecting to see a group of kids messing around and my brother had to own up to it, now he was almost 30 by this time! Turning about 6 shades of red my brother apologized as we all tried our hardest not to pee ourselves laughing at him!

My family was and is still pretty tight. We would have these massive family dinners at holidays with all of us and all of the adopted family members as well. You know those "aunts and uncles" that you pick up through your life. My parent's best friends and their kids and the assorted friends that we added to the mix as well. Massive games of Uno and Spades were played. A lot of laughter around those tables and over those cards. This is a big part of why anyone reading the previous blogs would have been shocked to hear my story. There was no outward sign of it all. Everyone moved on from what happened and was relieved to be able to do so. And until I was older and dealing with the fall out I thought I had as well. It wasn't until much later that I saw how everything was tied together.

When I was 13 my sister was living in Dallas and talked my mom into letting me fly out to visit her for my birthday. Her roommate (whose name was also Denise) and I shared a birthday and they thought it would be fun to have me there for the celebration. I was thrilled and felt pretty grown up heading out there. I am staying in their apartment while Denise and my sister are out for the day at work and school. There isn't a lot of food there but I know that there is a grocery store within walking distance so I headed out to buy some supplies. I left a note on the counter and took off. Denise got home and didn't see the note and freaked out. She called my sister at work and then they both freaked out for a little bit. Now cut to me coming back and by this time they are both home and both more than a little concerned about my disappearing act. My sister is trying to figure out what she is going to tell my mom about losing me I am sure! :-) I walk in and my sister starts in on me about taking off without saying anything. I walk into the kitchen and show them the note and everything was fine. How is that for a change from the past?

But as life goes, if you don't deal with your issues they have a way of cropping back up over and over and over again. I didn't really understand why I felt the way I did about people but I knew I didn't trust anyone. Not fully. Now during that same trip to Dallas friends of my sister and Denise came over for dinner one night. I talked with one of the guys for awhile and we had quite a bit in common and he ended up asking me if I wanted to go see a movie and grab a coke. (being from the West coke is generic for any soft drink!) My sister encouraged me to go. I was 13 and he was probably 19. My first thought was that they had planned it to make fun of me. Like I would say sure and they would all laugh at the great joke, I mean why would someone that age be interested in dorky me? I told him no and spent the rest of the evening in my sister's room pissed off. It took a long conversation with Denise and my sister and then a phone call from the boy to convince me that it hadn't been a set up. I still turned him down in the end, I wasn't allowed to date until I was 16 and no matter that my sister said she wouldn't tell mom I was still the good daughter.

But that theme would happen over and over again. I didn't trust anyone and I didn't have a high opinion of myself. Tomorrow I will talk about how that ended up being a theme in my teen years and what I did to handle it. Crazy ahead. Be prepared.