I got into my faded tan malibu and slammed the driver’s side door closed. I gently tossed my tawny canvas bag onto the passenger side seat before Ieaning back against the driver’s seat, closing my eyes. I took in an exhausted and exasperated sigh of a breath from completing another day I couldn’t get back. I opened my eyes and looked at the over-worked, tired, sagging eyes in the rearview mirror. My blue eyes were once bright and ready for adventure. I never used to keep my brown hair short, and my skin was never this pale. The only thing keeping me from looking dead was my genetic tan. When I was younger, I wore colorful makeup that said “I, Caline Johnson, am here!”
I wasn’t old in my early thirties, but social media and my jobs made me feel washed up. I looked into my dull eyes and my lower lids were ready to cry. To escape them, I looked down at my lap. Black dress trousers and a button-up light blue blouse; the tag had read ‘office blue’.
My current job is as an office secretary; the actual job title was something else, but I knew what it really was. My previous job was at a silicone sealing factory. The job before that was as a bartender.
As a bartender, I could mostly wear whatever I wanted; hair color whatever, makeup whatever. As long as I could work, it was mostly allowed. But on my feet all day at someone’s beck and call, literally getting ordered around. And the service industry doesn’t pay well-even before the lockdowns, I wasn’t usually making in rain. And the nights that did meant giving up almost every weekend and they didn’t end until after 3am. Sure, the bar closes for patrons at 2am, but I had to do my accounts, paperwork, stock, and clean up. And managers of service industry people often forget we’re servers to the public, not servants to them. No benefits, no promotions, no future, and I was always cutting it close when it came to paying bills.
So, I got –what the older generations call- a ‘real job’. (Personally, if I have to clock in and out, and get a paycheck, it’s ‘real job’ but whatever). I started working at a factory that made waterproofing seals for windows, cars, and roofs. Ironically, parts of our building roof leaked, which really filled me with product-confidence. It had paid more than bartending and had benefits but no promotions. But what it cost to work there was I had to wear jeans and steel-toed shoes -which no matter how hard you shop, are all ugly- and so were the light brown-grey shirts with the company logo that we were required to wear in certain areas of the building. I got second shift, and I didn’t get home until 10:45pm and couldn’t get to sleep until after 2am. So, I often woke up after 10am and thus mostly could only get stuff done on the weekends. Cleaning, shopping, and laundry meant I really didn’t live it up. And not to mention, doing the exact same thing over and over and OVER again for 8-10 hours drove me bonkers. Just a robot with a heartbeat but no real life.
So, once again, I changed jobs to an office job. It paid about the same, but I could wear more variety (albeit with an office-dress code) and not steel-toed shoes on concrete floors. Benefits and options for promotions. But I had gotten passed up-yet again- for such a promotion. This was like a horrible combination of both previous jobs; getting ordered around to do the same thing every day with no increased pay and overly late nights that often left me drained and depressed.
I never went out or made connections; I didn’t know how and didn’t have time. I still barely had time or money to do the basics. And I didn’t have the energy to engage with others. I always felt on the outside because I changed jobs a lot too. Everyone already had their cliques and groups and didn’t have the space or time or energy to include me beyond basic co-worker interactions. I often felt very lonely.
I was lost in my bleak thoughts and barely noticed the wet spots on my pants that had formed from the drops going down my face. I had these same pants forever and wore them sometimes three times a week. I hated it. I hated it all; the long unappreciated hours of your life you can’t get back to trying to pay bills in a crappy area in a going-nowhere city and state where the only options for work were service, factory, or office-pooper-scooper. I always thought I’d get adventure, travel, and excitement. Not jaded, repetitive meaninglessness. I was going to waste away; I WAS wasting away.
And then I did my usual Friday post-work-ritual of laying my forehead on the steering wheel and sobbing. After a few minutes, I looked back into the rear-view mirror and wiped my eyes. I had no makeup on and so other than red-puffy areas of my face, I didn’t look too bad post-cry. Then I stopped mid-sniffle.
When was the last time I put on makeup? I couldn’t remember. I had given up on putting on makeup a while ago. I think that was why; because the last time I considered it, I realized a bunch of my makeup was expired. I threw a lot of it away and thought of what a waste it was and never replaced it.
Maybe that was my problem. I didn’t take the time or put in the investments into MYSELF, and I allowed myself to fall into self-pity. Putting on a little bit of makeup isn’t that much time of the morning; to look and feel better? I could spare that.
And....and I had control over that, right? I had the epiphany that by not taking the time in the here and now to do things, I never would. And no one else is going to or be able to do those things for me.
Realistically, I wasn’t going to have a map of a hidden crystal, or something pushed onto me by my boss and then sent to the amazon jungle. Did I really need some Indiana Jones-level adventure to be satisfied in life? I could have my own little adventures.
The quote of “Do what you can with what you have where you are” by Theodore Roosevelt came to mind and “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way” by Napoleon followed.
I looked out my windshield and gripped my steering wheel; I COULD make and have my own adventures! I quickly buckled and backed out of my parking spot with vigor. Instead of going down the main road and making the two rights to get to my apartment building, I was going to turn left at the first light and go the long way around.
As I was waiting to turn out of the parking lot, I decided that I wouldn’t just take the longer way home, I’d take longer getting home by going out to eat. I deserved a treat or two after this week. This month. This life. I couldn’t go in my work clothes though; I could, but I wouldn’t. I looked at the time on my radio-screen-it was only 5:15pm. A little early for dinner for me anyway. I went down the main street and kept going towards the mall. I decided to buy a new outfit, a dress or a nice skirt and top. And some new shoes; I hadn’t bought myself new shoes in forever. I could probably afford a couple pairs. My bills were all paid this month. I went to TJ Maxx. The first thing I saw was the purse section and was lured by a light pink, square quilted purse with gold hardware and a gold and pink braided strap. As I admired it- and its price- I happened to find a beautiful luggage case; it was white, black, pink, and gold marbled leather. I didn’t even own a luggage case. If I had a beautiful luggage case, I’d take more actual vacations. It was affordable and so were the couple outfits I picked out. I bought some discount but non-expired makeup too. TJ Maxx was the place to have an affordable spending spree. I looked over my finds with glee. I was so pleased at having new things for the first time in a long time that I stopped at the nearest gas station to use the bathroom and doll up. I reached for my brush out of my canvas tote, and I looked at it in disgust. I quickly changed everything from the tote into the new pink quilted bag. In my new outfit, made up, fixed up, I didn’t even look like me. I wasn’t the same me who was sitting in a car crying about my pathetic, mundane life a little over an hour ago. I smiled brightly.
I exited the bathroom, started to get back into my car and then I looked at the clothes and empty tote messily draped over my arm. I shoved the clothes into the tote. Then I casually set it on the side of the pump and filled my gas tank. I got into the driver’s seat again, abandoning the tote, and went through the station’s car wash. Then I drove off and tried to decide where to eat dinner. Originally, I was thinking Applebee’s, but I caught my redefined, shiny blue eyes in the rearview mirror and decided I looked too good to go Applebee's. Maybe I could get a reservation at The Ivy. The closest Ivy was 30 minutes away from this crummy little town I called home that I needed to get away from.
I pulled over and called The Ivy; but not the one a half-hour away. I called the one almost two hours away. I also called The Hilton, just across the street from The Ivy, and made reservations for the weekend, including Sunday night. I checked into my office email and used vacation for Monday.
Two weeks later, I started a new job as a youtuber's assistant in another state. I had just blown up 3,000 helium balloons for doorway arches and getting paid way more than I had been double-checking report numbers or making up boxes. I put purple highlights over my hair and my ID badge for the set read 'Callie'. My new apartment had bay windows that overlooked the city. I still couldn't believe how long it had taken me to get home.