Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Memoir

Working Girl
Eighteen, invincible, and preparing to graduate from high school, I was sure the world was out there, waiting for me. It was 1972. The part time job I held for the past three years felt like a strait jacket. Working at the local county hospital since age fifteen, I had been trained as a ward clerk to process admits and discharges, moving from floor to floor pushing paper and a time clock. I was a glorified gofer, with more responsibility than most high school students wanted. At thirty hours a week—3-9 shift, five days per week, rotating weekends, I couldn’t participate in clubs or attend most sporting events, extracurricular activities normal and fun for someone my age. My pay, commensurate with an adult, pushed me beyond my immature peers and mentally tethered me to the work world. My plan was to get out on my own as soon as possible. Why? I’m not sure, but the world was waiting.

School was a drag. I had taken college prep courses because my folks held high hopes I would attend college. Running with a working crowd, four more years of school sounded like a death sentence. Spoiled and independent, life equated to an apartment. Steeped in the 60’s lore of freedom and love, I was eager for both. I was ready to start the glamorous life of an adult, better known as a rut, so I started looking for full time employment.

The hospital posted several job opportunities opened for employee bidding. The position I qualified for, a surgery technician, required no education only on-the-job training. I was certain it was my calling to be gowned in green scrubs, splattered in blood while standing under high intensity lights, slapping instruments into the waiting surgeon’s hand. In those double-aught days of fairytales and spies, I was born for such a mission. However, the hospital didn’t hold my lofty opinion.

Refused, rejected, I was sure it was solely because the hospital didn’t want the hassle of training another ward clerk, the job I had become proficient preforming. They were surely afraid they couldn’t find another teenager to overpay who was as dedicated and efficient. Stunned that life had handed me a lemon, I decided to hand the fruit to my father, along with my car note on a lemon yellow AMC Gremlin. I would go to college and show that hospital and the world.

My parents were ecstatic, but it was June, and I hadn’t applied anywhere. Luckily, (if you believe in such random destiny) I had taken a vocational course my senior year where the forward thinking teacher had given us an assignment to pick three vocational schools and send away for information. We researched our choices and wrote an essay. Because decorating an apartment was all that interested me, I had chosen interior design by default. The brochures from Harrington Institute of Interior Design, located on the third floor of the Roosevelt building in beautiful downtown Chicago, Illinois had won hands down. Only three interminable years of school, and 150 miles from Mayberry, Michigan, it seemed I had the perfect fallback plan.

Undaunted, I applied and by July my mom and I walked sunny Michigan Avenue while the breeze blew my hair and the Windy City wooed me to come stay. In September I held the key to my first place. It was a 12x15 foot cracker-box on the sixteenth floor in a dorm off Canal Street that I shared with another woman. With sturdy hotel type furnishings and a gang-john down the hall, it wasn’t exactly the apartment I had envisioned, but the adventure was just beginning. Country come to the city, I fell in love with art and architecture. Unable to tolerate the noise, crowds, and impersonal urban lifestyle, I stayed all of nine months—one semester at Harrington and one at the School of the Art Institute.

A wiser and humble young woman, I moved back to Michigan. I spent one last semester at another design school in Grand Rapids before love prevailed. After forty years of marriage and raising four kids, I hold no regrets. Life has been full to overflowing. I’ve served on boards and committees, remodeled two homes, and went back to school part-time to get my BA in English—and it only took ten years! Oddly, when I get the yearly statement of Social Security benefits, their records show I haven’t worked since 1972.

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