When I was 14, my chores included clearing the table, doing the dishes, laundry, dinner on Tuesdays and cleaning the upstairs bathroom. I earned 35 cents a week. To make up for what I considered not enough pay for hard labor, I babysat. I was fierce. I baked with toddlers and I took the big kids for field trips on the public bus. When the parents got home, everybody was sleeping and the house was clean. I couldn’t be touched. I owned Kenyon street, Oxford, and North Beacon, and worked an average of four nights a week. I spent next to nothing. I liked the feeling of money in the bank.
It made my step father nervous.
We were in direct competition for who was the boss of me.
He didn’t have a regular job and I assume he had no money in the bank. He knew he was losing. I bought my own clothes, my own shoes, shampoo and snacks. I could have bought my own food if I had to. I said nothing about school, and never had a complaint come back from the office. I left the house early and came home late. My mother was tired. She worked.
My total control lasted until my first kiss. It was at Jackie Maurer’s on Halloween night, and it was the best thing that had happened to me since my first grand jete. The feeling of flying through the air in a full split, had been replaced.
I was in a constant shudder of hope that it would happen again, right there in the middle of the day. School didn’t suffer, it just got harder to walk the hallways. Even after I accepted that the one who had kissed me would never look my way again.
Inside me though. Inside was a forest with no floor. I was devastated. I couldn’t understand it. How you could love someone from the truth of who you had never dared to share, and they were unmoved.
When you are 14, you don’t question the love you feel, only the love you don’t receive.
It shook the waters of me that had been previously undisturbed. I could think of nothing else but how undesirable I must be. Not in a sad way. I wasn’t sad about it, I was just trying to face the facts. There was something about me that must not be right.
I went shopping. I took the bus to the suburbs where I thought the answer might be. I poked around with my skinny butt and fat wallet in the Junior Miss section. Typically I bought stripes and solids. Painters pants or kakis. Work clothes from the Army/Navy. But I was on a mission for another kiss. I thought a maxi dress would be too much. I picked out a pair of blue grey thin wale corduroy flares and a peasant blouse sprayed with tiny flowers that oozed pink and satin ribbons. I matched it with my Frye boots and a lavender cream shadow for my eyes. I felt I might turn the world and Jacques Q. upside down.
I had forgotten though, about the in house contest. When I came down the stairs in the morning, I was unprepared for comment from the stands.
My stepfather could feel the weakness. He could feel it without touching, that my skin was thinner. I still have a fear of losing my callouses.
“Well you look like a whore in uniform.”
Coming from a God fearing man that believed in good manners.
I lost being the the boss only for a tsunami of seconds. And then I collected myself.
I stayed silent. I turned my left heel into my right arch and anchored my left hand to the same hip. I looked him straight in the eye and smiled. Then I left.
Every night that I was assigned dinner, I made a slightly underdone, barely warm, potato and cottage cheese casserole. And then I would catch the bus for the late class to grand jete across a solid linoleum floor.