Vocational Training

I am aware that my relationship with Charlie is different than “normal” teenage relationships. It just doesn’t feel right to me, I feel that he always holds me at arms length when people are watching, yet he is being sneaky with his intentions. A normal teenager might like being sneaky, if everything was consensual. I felt dishonest and that we were lying to everyone. I also knew that if anyone found out, that it would be my fault. I was afraid of public shame, public or private beatings, isolation, or the unknown. I longed to talk to someone about Charlie doing things to me that I didn’t want him to do, but I didn’t know who to trust. I told myself “he doesn’t do that much, it’s not a big deal, he’s not hurting me, so it must be okay.” I kept all the worries and fears inside, and held a strong front.

I am 15 and it is getting more difficult for the teachers to give me help with school work. The motto of our school is “Training Young Men and Women for the Work of Life”. This is how they get free labor for the church businesses. As soon as a student is old enough, they start “vocational training”. You will work for the car wash, painting business, cleaning business, and for a while my Dad had kids working for his remodeling business. The kids kept messing things up, so he couldn’t have them help anymore. I would have loved to help my Dad. It had been my dream to run a business with Dad. I was interested in architecture and design. I thought we could call it “Willsie’s Woodworking and Design”, since the current business was Willsie’s Woodworking. However, if you were a girl like myself, it was more appropriate to work in the preschool, cleaning business, or car wash. The teachers told me that since I was getting so far ahead in my schoolwork (I was almost finished with high school curriculum) that I would start vocational training. They assigned me to cleaning houses and washing cars.

For the cleaning business, I went once a week with a woman and we cleaned one house. I thought it was great to be out of school and out from under the microscope, but also kind of weird. I always had this feeling like I was being watched. So I would always just do what the woman in charge told me. I was afraid that I would mess something up in the home. I never was assigned the dusting, she was afraid I would break something. I got to clean the toilets, showers, and mop the hardwood floor in the entire downstairs. We didn’t have a mop, so I cleaned on my hands and knees. I didn’t have any idea of square footage then, but from memory I would say it was approximately 1200 square feet.  The woman we cleaned house for was always working from home in her office. I thought “Doesn’t she think that it’s weird that I am a kid cleaning her house on a school day and that I’m not in school?” I secretly wanted her to ask questions. I guess subconsciously I was looking for an escape. I wanted the people in charge of me to be forced to answer questions. I was afraid to ask questions, so I wished someone else would.

I worked more for the car wash than I did the cleaning business. There are many memories of the car wash, as I worked during the school year and for two summers. As long as it was nice outside we had a car wash. Renee (Ted’s girlfriend) is in charge of the car wash. The church was on a busy street corner, so it was a prime location for drivers to pull in and get their cars cleaned. Most of the time, they would put the teenage girls on the street corner to hold the sign and call to drivers. Since I was one of two teenage girls who worked there (Renee was the other one) I got a lot of cat calls, and that made me feel a little exposed. I had gotten in trouble not too long ago for wearing a tank top and trying to get attention. Now I am confused because the associate pastor’s wife told me to wear short shorts and tank tops so that I can draw attention for the car wash. I feel like I’m being tricked. That one day the pastors will see what I’m wearing and I’ll get in trouble again. I couldn’t then tell them that the associate pastor’s wife told me to wear it, because that would mean more trouble for me. Thankfully, the pastors saw what I was wearing and didn’t say anything about it, but I was nervous every time I saw them. Sometimes Charlie would stand and hold the sign with me. I liked an excuse to be alone with Charlie, in public, so we could actually talk. The other half of my time was spent washing the cars. I am not very tall so Renee always had me wash the wheels or clean the inside of cars. I once was vacuuming and found a rifle under a driver’s seat. That was the first time I had held a gun, and it was heavier than I had imagined. I just put it back and acted normal.

I wondered what the customers thought of the car wash. If you didn’t drive by every day, you might think we were doing a fundraiser. But when it goes on for years, did they think it was a business? And why only teenagers working? I guess it didn’t seem suspicious to them. At the end of the day, Renee would count the tip money. The teenagers working at the car wash got to split the tips, the fee for washing the cars went to the church. If she felt that you had a bad attitude that day, had missed a spot while washing, had left a streak in a window or not done a good job vacuuming for example, then your pay got docked. When you got docked, the money went to the church, not to the other teenagers. I felt that this was a balance. I understood that we were in training for work of life. I understood that if Renee didn’t dock our pay, then that showed that she wasn’t teaching us anything. I understood that she had to balance docking our pay so that she would not get in trouble and lose her position. Yet, I wanted to save money. I thought, “If I could get enough money to buy a bus ticket to grandma’s house.” But then I would also want to buy one for Brother and Sister. Then I’d have to get them out with me. An officer or someone might see us and we would get caught before making it to Grandma’s house. I never came up with an actual plan, I couldn’t save enough money because I kept getting docked. I would usually get docked for not being enthusiastic enough on the sign. They wanted me to kick my legs and yell at drivers as they drove by, and I wouldn’t do that.

During summer, Mom would drive Brother, Sister, and I to the church. Samantha would watch Sister while Mom went to work and Brother and I worked at the car wash. These days were long. We would get dropped off sometimes a few hours before the car wash started, and if it rained then there would be no car wash and we would be left to just hang out at the church until Mom got off work. One morning I was laying down on a bench inside, closing my eyes before car wash started. I heard Charlie and Brother come in the door. I wasn’t in a mood to deal with Charlie, so I acted like I was asleep. I heard Charlie say to Brother “she’s so beautiful” talking about me! I was shocked! I had never heard him say anything like that before. The entire length of our relationship, four years, he never did tell me that when I was conscious. I always wondered why. Wasn’t he supposed to love me and say things like that? This day, I continued the act of sleeping. I was very happy, but also very confused.

~E

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