I’ve been living on my own, for what feels like all my life. I know a lot of children who feel like they have always been on their own, but I mean really on my own. I started working an after school job at 8 years old because I had already grasped that one of the things that made my family different from others was money. I thought that by getting an after school job, I could help my family, my mother. I had always been quite over protective of my mother, but I didn’t even know why yet, at that age.
My first job was cleaning the garbage and litter from a lumber yard down the road, where my, at that time, step dad, mother’s boyfriend, Earl, got some of his supplies. Moore & Garvey Lumber Yard and Building Supply at the end of West Lake Drive. There was no lake on our street, so I have no idea why it was called West Lake Drive. Regardless, this street and few streets connected by paths through the woods, were basically my entire world as an 8 year old. As far as my bike and chubby legs would carry me! So naturally, my first job was at the end of this street.
I was there with Earl one day picking up my mother while she was taking “Lemon Drop Shots” the chosen libation of the era. (Is it strange to name eras of your life by your mother’s correlating addiction?) While I was standing next to Earl as he spoke with Greg, a big round bellied man from “Joysie” (New Jersey), about some supplies or some upcoming job, I began to notice the surrounding yard was littered with scraps of packaging, plastic, and old fast food containers. In my 8 year old mind this would never do, I was part of the “We are the World” generation. I still believed the Earth and all of the animals were my friends. Nature was my sanctuary and still is to this day. Also, at that time, I had become obsessed with this notion of “money making the world go around” and had come to realize my family never seemed to have enough of it.
Without even thinking, I blurted out, “Mr. Greg, this yard is a mess! There is litter everywhere!”
He and Earl exchanged a glance, and thankfully Greg laughed, and Earl un-tensed. Greg said, “You’re right! What should I do bout it?”
“You should pay ME to clean it up”I quickly said.
Both men laughed. To my surprise, Mr. Greg agreed and told me to come down after school the next day, and he would have me some cleaning tools rigged up.
I felt so proud of myself that day. I think even the very easily angered, Earl was kinda proud of me. He was a very hard worker. He often worked from before sun up until well after sun down, and in every spectrum of climate.
I walked in the door to our small flat topped box house beaming with pride. I couldn’t wait to go to work, and see what all of the fuss was about. I wanted to join the very adult club of complaining about work, but also of being able to buy things with money I earned, and was beholden to no one.
At that time, with that “step father” my older sister Danielle, was the favorite. She had figured out at a very young age with a nudge from my mother, that calling them “daddy” was the key to the world. She used it to get rides to her friends houses, have slumber parties, and get treats bought for her. For some odd reason, my stubborn ass, just couldn’t call any of them “Daddy” seamed like it was supposed to mean more than just “the man who lives here for right now”, but if any of them deserved to have been called “Daddy” it would be Earl. He really did try. He really did love us, and he loved our very wild and hard to handle mother.
The next day, after school, I walked through the sand spur and cactus speckled sandy field to the lumber yard, Moore & Garvey, walked into the giant warehouse hesitantly, and found Mr. Greg.
He smiled and half chuckled, “I ain’t think yous was gonna show up t’day”
I smiled, “I told you I would come clean up all this litter if you paid me.”
He put his hand on his thigh, and pushed his enormous torso up to stand. He walked behind the desk of the office and grabbed a broom stick with a 9 inch nail fixed through the end,along with a bucket, and presented them to me.
He said, matter-a-factly, “Yous is gonna stab the trash with the stick and put it in da bucket. Empty the bucket in the dum’ster when it’s full. I’s gonna pay you $2 an hour. Yous come here e’rryday after school ’til yous done. Capeesh?”
I smiled, inspected my new tools, and headed out the door.
It was winter. I could only work about two hours or so after school before it would get dark, but I did work until dark everyday after school that entire week. I meticulously scanned the entire terrain for every scrap of trash that may end up in the mighty ocean at the end of the other street across Highway 158. I cleaned the entire yard of every piece of trash, and I worked until Greg would send me home.
I would go home tired and sore, eat dinner, do my homework, take a shower, and go to bed. Then the next day, I would do it all over again.
At the end of the week, I had worked 16 hours! Greg stayed true to his word, and payed me $2 an hour in the amount of $32! I thought I was rich! He paid me in five dollar bills and one dollar bills, which made it seem like even more money than it actually was, but to an 8 year old, I had enough money to rule the world! I didn’t want to spend the money I had earned because then it would be gone. There was no more trash to pick up at Moore & Garvey, so I quickly realized, I would have to find another source of income, soon, or I would be in the same spot as I was in the beginning.
It wasn’t long after this that I began babysitting for my Aunt Dinah, here and there for a few hours at a time. At first, just tagging along with my sister, and eventually on my own, once I had been deemed mature enough to do it alone. Soon after that, I had a job in a fast food restaurant, Kentucky Fried Chicken, before it was just KFC. That was my first legit job. I still babysat when I had free time, and I worked well over the legal limit of hours for a 14 year old with a worker’s permit. I became obsessed. It was like a game to me, to see how many hours I could work, and how much money I could make. By the time I was 16, I worked at several restaurants because one job alone would never satisfy how many hours I wanted to work, or how much money I wanted to make. I finally had the key to being able to buy the clothes I wanted, the shoes that were in style, and everything else it seemed like “normal” girls from “normal” families came equipped with. I had it down to a science, how many hours I could work, and still get some sleep. At that age my motto had become, “I’ll get enough sleep when I am dead” Something I had often heard my grandparents say when someone suggested they rest.
I should have seen the warning signs of addiction and of being an addict. But I suppose when our addictions are socially acceptable, they are easy to overlook. No one else noticed these warning signs either. To everyone else I was driven, responsible, mature, and a go-getter. No one realized, along with myself, that I was running myself ragged, running away from life. But I am getting ahead of myself, and I will get into all of that at a later time.
So this is the story of how an 8 year old realized the power she had within herself, to change her circumstance, and later, how the power within herself could become dangerous if not unleashed in moderation.