I took a creative writing class a few years ago and one of our assignments was to write a coming of age story. The kicker was that it had to be our (the students) coming of age story, or at least one of them. So, like the good student that I am, I wrote the story, and like any good writer, I started with the truth and then took a few liberties. So here is my (mostly) true coming of age story:
It was the summer of 1999 and I was fresh out of high school. I had my whole life ahead of me and could hardly wait to embark on the wondrous journey that was life as an adult. I had a vision of how awesome my adult life was going to be. First, I would move out of my parent’s house and into my own cozy apartment, then, I would purchase my own brand new car, adopt two cute little Chihuahuas which I would carry around in my Gucci purse, and of course, last but not least, meet my tall, dark, and handsome (and hopefully quite wealthy) soulmate and live happily ever after. But my first order of business was to acquire a job. No, not a job … a career.
I must have put in an application at every restaurant, gas station, and shop in our small town and within two weeks I had landed the prestigious job of manning the shoe department at our local Wal-Mart. I was beyond thrilled! What a great job this was going to be. After all, I had a closet full of shoes so I definitely could be considered a shoe expert. There weren’t many options when it came to shopping in our town so I would be able to flirt with all the cute guys who caroused the shoe aisle and I would probably meet Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome (and hopefully wealthy, though I’m not an entirely materialistic person, so just moderately well off would do) even sooner than planned.
On my first day of work my shift began at ten in the morning, so I got up at eight-thirty (ridiculously early I know, but career women have to make sacrifices and apparently a few hours of beauty sleep was going to be one of them) showered, shaved my legs, and took great care doing my hair and make-up. I arrived a little after ten, earning a dirty look from Nancy, my supervisor. I’m not sure what her problem was, did she think I woke up looking fabulous for goodness sakes? Then some time was spent arguing about whether it was really necessary for me to wear the famous Wal-Mart apron. I tried to explain to Nancy that I would sell way more shoes the way I was dressed than I would with that baggy apron covering up one of my cutest outfits, but she didn’t seem to get it so I finally just put the silly thing on and tried not to think about it too much. Nancy introduced me to my fellow shoe department associate, Sasha (a thin girl about my age with long, stringy hair with purple streaks in it), and handed me a handheld scanner and demonstrated how to operate it. She then took me to one of the back aisles of the shoe department where a large pile of shoe boxes were stacked against the wall. She explained that I was to scan each shoe box and then put them on the shelf in the appropriate section by size. I quickly got to work so that Nancy would see I was competent and leave, as I was worried that she would scare off all the cute guys with her frizzy hair and bad attitude.
I didn’t actually meet any cute guys that day, but I figured it was because I was stuck in the back behind the aisles scanning shoes all day. I assumed that was just an initiation of sorts and I would start my real work selling shoes the next day. But all I did was scan and stack, stack and scan, that next day and the entire two weeks afterward. It was mind-numbingly tedious, and Sasha was always giving me the stink eye. She normally scanned shoes in the front aisles, but every now and then she would slink to the back aisle and scan shoes with me, and I could feel her watching me out of the corner of her eye. She was Nancy’s goon, I could tell. But then there was a light at the end of the tunnel … PAYDAY!
I got to work five minutes early payday morning, receiving a look of surprise from Nancy and a smirk from Sasha. I ignored them both, imagining everything I was going to accomplish with my first paycheck. I would be able to set up first month’s rent on an apartment and maybe even have enough left over to buy a new pair of shoes (not from Wal-Mart, of course). I bounced on the balls of my feet impatiently as I watched Nancy go to her desk and retrieve two envelopes (no direct deposit in those days), handing one to Sasha and then, finally, the other to me. I could hardly wait to rip it open, but Sasha was hovering a little too close for comfort (trying to sneak a peek, no doubt), so I decided to wait until my shift was over and I was safely in my car. The day dragged on and on, but finally it was over and I made a beeline for the parking lot. I tore open the envelope and eagerly looked at the check in my hand. My heart sank. There seemed to be something wrong with it, some numbers were missing. Panic began to creep in, but then I took a deep breath and told myself to relax. Payroll had obviously made a mistake, I would just show it to my dad and he would help me figure out what to do to get it corrected. No big deal.
When my dad got home from work that night, I immediately accosted him about the check. He sat down with me and explained that I was working a minimum wage job and that taxes and social security were taken out of what I earn and that without a college education blah, blah, blah (I pretty much tuned him out after I realized that he was saying the amount on the check was correct). I couldn’t sleep that night. Peanuts, I was working for peanuts. My lower back ached from bending to stock shoes on the bottom shelf and my feet had blisters from all the constant standing (and yeah, probably from wearing heels and chunky sandals everyday), and I was doing it all for hardly nothing, not even enough to purchase a new purse or a good pair of shoes. At this rate, I would be thirty before I could afford my own apartment. And that was (shudder) old.
I dragged myself to work the next day, and scanned away, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore (not that it had ever been all that invested before, but the promise of a big payoff had at least kept me somewhat motivated). Let’s face it, I wasn’t a shoe sales associate, or even a full fledged associate. No, I was just a stock girl. And not even a very good stock girl. This realization was depressing, to say the least.
My career at Wal-Mart lasted another two months (yes, I hung in there for a while, if only to appease my parents). Turns out that at a job they actually expect you to work… a lot. And they only want to pay you a little, no matter how fabulous you are. Yep, my job at Wal-Mart gave me my first glimpse of what the real world is really like, and it kind of sucked. Though there would be many more to come, my experience at Wal-Mart gave me my first cold dose of reality and nudged me that much closer toward adulthood.
When I pulled this story from the archives and re-read it, I realized that there are things I envy about my eighteen year old self, but then there are things I don’t. Of course I envy her innocence and naivety. She had not yet had her heart broken and had yet to experience the pain of real loss. She was blissfully unaware that the dad she adored (and who adored her in return) would only live another nine years and that her mother (who was always there for her) would follow him to Heaven only two short years later. She didn’t have to deal with the everyday stress of adult life: a mortgage to pay, kids to raise, working hard to further a career. But she also had yet to meet her soulmate and had never known the joy that comes with loving someone more than you love yourself. She hadn’t yet met the two children who would show her that she is capable of so much more than she ever dreamed she would be. Life is a constant journey, with many twists and turns, and a large amount of teachable moments. This experience happened near the beginning of my journey, now I am approaching the middle of the journey and look forward to finding out what the second half has in store for me.