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Early Lessons in the Teen Years

I have this bizarre and confusing memory of a time when I was first joining the working world.  It was only my second legal job, and I was only sixteen years old at the time. My first job was at a Wendy's fast food (queue the redhead jokes) which was a great launching pad to my second job as a waitress at the local Shoney's, back when it was still acceptable to call a female server a waitress. I was so excited to have my first ever waitress job.  My mother and several of her friends were insistent on telling me how much more money I would make per hour being a waitress, depending on the tips.  At Wendy's I was making a whole $5 an hour which was a full .25 over minimum wage. That was great money for me!  I was making somewhere around $300 a week, and for someone who made peanuts before that by washing cars in the neighborhood for cash or selling sprigs of hand-picked mistletoe I nearly died trying to gather, that was a lot of money.  It was life changing money for me.  Making even more money would be amazing!

I didn't do so hot my first few days as a waitress.  Another 16 year old girl there told me that there we certain 'secrets' to making more money, and of course I wanted to make as much as possible so I hung on her every word.  She told me that she made more money from the tables with just men sitting at them because she would flirt with them.  I don't recall her name but I do remember she was far more developed than I was at that age. Most girls were.  At the age of 16 I looked much more like a 12 year old.  At 13 I had someone offer me candy to get into their car, and I can only assume they thought I was closer to 7 or 8 based on my "Beauty and the Beast" shirt I was wearing.  I remember this girl emptying her pockets at the end of the night and showing wads of cash I could only dream of making.  Of course the server minimum wage was lower than the standard minimum wage, so I was going home with somewhere around $2 at the end of the night, while she was getting away with the astronomical sum of nearly $12 an hour!  I just couldn't understand how something like that would be possible.  

"You have to flirt with them," she explained.  I had no idea how to flirt. I was always the awkward kid in school; generally the boys didn't speak to me. If one of them did I wouldn't know what to say.  I asked her what to do or what to say to be flirtatious, but many of the efforts were lost on me.  I tried, but I failed.  The hair flip, the batting eyes, the compliments, the light touch on the end of the table while bowing ever so slightly - this probably looked very much like a goat trying to blend in with a chicken coop.  I don't know if I could have looked more awkward.  The first table of two men I tried this with actually laughed at me when I brought the check out.

"What are you," the gentleman on the left asked me, "about fourteen?"  They both snickered and I blushed fiercely.  Ashamed and already shy, I hung my head and hid in the back with the kitchen staff until they left.  I'm sure that had a negative effect on my tip, but at the time I just didn't care.  I couldn't stand to have them look at me again. 

One of the kitchen guys started whistling a familiar old tune while I was there.  I recognized it immediately as being the theme song from the Smurf's cartoon I grew up watching.  I may never remember his name but I'll forever remember the song.  Because of that day, he earned the nickname of Smurf.  He was fun.  I thought he was a great guy.  He was considerably older than I was, somewhere in his late 20's but very friendly.  He even told me that if I needed practice learning how to flirt with someone, I could do it with him.  He even told me I was a natural, just from the way we joked back and forth as I got to know him. I told him that was all the difference - I'd gotten to know him.  I knew what made him laugh.  

"The same thing would make other guys laugh, too.  You have to stop trying to ooze that sex appeal and worry about being you.  You're great at it when you aren't trying.  Give it a shot.  Trust yourself.  Make the people out there feel like they've known you their whole lives, like you've made me feel."  His honest advice was something I took to heart for quite some time.  

One night I was waiting for my ride to come pick me up. I started running away from home when I was a 15 year old kid, and I believe this was during the time that I had run away and was staying with someone else.  Before my ride had a chance to arrive, I was to walk across the street so it would be easier to be picked up.  The Shoney's parking lot wasn't the easiest to get out of, so making preparations was rather mandatory in the case of a fairly new driver. I was standing at the light, somewhere around 10:30pm waiting to cross the street when a carload of young boys started shouting crude obscenities at me.  Behind me, from what seemed to be from nowhere, Smurf showed up.  He wrapped his arm around me, his long black trench coat flaring out behind him like a dark crusader, and hugged me close.  The obscenities stopped, and Smurf continued to wait with me at the light. 

When finally the light changed, Smurf asked me for a hug before I left.  Instead, in one dramatic and rather terrifying moment, he avoided the hug and went in for a kiss instead.  I didn't have the experience with such things to know how to say no or to push him away, and while I thought about it at first, my mind quickly squelched the thought because he was someone I worked with.  I needed to keep working with him if I wanted to keep my job, and I rather needed it at the time.  As a teen runaway, I was trying very hard to be independent.  I couldn't exactly be independent without having a job.  Everything hinged in that moment.  Smurf, the 28-year-old father of two with a lovely wife who would, no doubt, murder me if she learned of this, was pawing all over the little 16-year-old terrified, un-flirtatious, scared, timid little me.  I had no idea what to do, except to pretend I was okay with the whole thing.  So, that was exactly what I did.  

Anyone who says that a 16-year-old kid can make solid relationship decisions about sex and love should keep this in mind.  I was warped at a very early age by the things that happened to me, but those events also formed who I am today.  At the age of 19 I married a man twice my age because I thought I needed to.  There were very distinct lapses in judgment when I was a child, many of which can be directly linked to some form of abuse in my earlier life.  But, abused or not, the fact remains that I was in no shape to make those kinds of decisions at 16, any more than I would have been at five.  

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