Against the Grain

“Speak!”

Wow. I didn’t realize I was a dog. Even in the heat of the moment, my brain had come up with that little thought. She was speaking to me as if I were a dog she were attempting to train. By “she” I mean the district manager at the sandwich shop chain I had been working at for months (in 2017).

I call this job “my first real job” because it was the first one I had gotten on my own. The only other job I had prior to the sandwich shop was a minimum-wage work-study job at a university. I rarely count that as a job, considering I never worked more than three hours a day and made next to nothing.

Anyway, I was rather proud of myself for securing a job all on my own. I had recently dropped out of college (after attending for two-and-a-half years). It was the beginning of a long-term game I like to call “Prove It!” in which I proved to myself that I could do things I would only dream of. Dropping out of college was one. Getting a “real” job was another.

The initial interview hadn’t gone too well. The general manager only let me come in for a second interview because, “the other guy didn’t show.” That was fine by me. I was bad at interviews. Especially sandwich shop interviews. What was I supposed to say? That I looked forward to making a living putting together sandwiches? That I will devote the rest of my life to eating sandwiches? That making sandwiches was the most desirable thing I could possibly be doing with my time? YAY! SANDWICHES!

I actually ended up enjoying the job. The general manager (who was the assistant manager when I first began) mostly had me working the register. It was the same task every day and, although repetitive, I appreciated the fact that I was rarely moved to a different station or pulled out of my comfort zone. All I had to do was greet each customer, push a few buttons, swipe a card or take some cash, and wave them goodbye. Simple. Practically scripted.

I enjoyed how fast-paced the lunch rush was. It was such an adrenaline high to be working the register, gathering soups, and creating milkshakes while the line was long enough to reach the parking lot. It was like a game of diner dash except in real life. I ended up working there for a year-and-a-half.

The only problem was that the sandwich shop’s system, or culture, involved the guy at the beginning of the line shouting soup and milkshake orders that the person at the cashier’s side of the line was supposed to shout back. I always almost nodded instead or, when we were really busy, I pulled a piece of receipt paper and wrote the orders down. This was why the district manager was standing next to me one day, ordering me to speak. Even if I could do just that, part of me didn’t want to satisfy her. I remember thinking, “You know what, lady? If you’re going to fire me, then fire me. I don’t care.” But she didn’t. She just watched me stare at the soups.

“Fine,” she huffed before moving on.

I felt proud of myself then. By this age (21) I was done trying to make other people happy. I was used to my disorder and I didn’t see or care how much it affected my life. I had moved past the “Why can’t I be normal?” phase and moved right on into acceptance. This was my life. I wasn’t even going to try to be normal. THIS was my normal.

The general manager seemed to accept this idea – this version of me. He never really tried to change me. It was only in the few times when we had corporate inspections that I would get some begging and pleading from him or one of the shift leaders. For the most part, my coworkers liked me. It did seem like some of the newer girls were a little jealous because they couldn’t understand why I was never asked to do certain things. Honestly, I was a little jealous of myself (if that’s at all possible). Like, how dare I get special treatment?

My time at the sandwich shop was one of the few times in my life in which I felt I were being treated appropriately when it came to my disorder. I didn’t grow up with a diagnosis and nobody ever felt my silence constituted a different plan or approach. I was treated like all the other kids, pushed like all the other kids. Part of me is glad I grew up that way. I was told, like all the other kids, that I could do anything I wanted, and that pushed me to play games like, “Prove It!” with myself. I don’t always sit around feeling inferior, as if I could never do things because of my disorder. It’s not true. I could do whatever I want, I just had to figure out how to push my fear aside in order for me to do it (which is harder for me to do than for most “normal” people).

I still play that game – “Prove It!” That game led me to an interview with a science group that performed experiments at birthday parties. I didn’t get the job (no surprise there), but I was able to prove to myself that I could put together a performance like that. That game led me to my current job – my first full time job. It was the first time an interview went extremely well for me. The game led me to preach a sermon at my cousin’s very tiny church. The game led me to be a worship leader at that same church. The game landed me in my first apartment. Most recently, the game led me to sign up for a voice acting class. At 23, I’m learning to take the risks I’ve been afraid to take for years and I’m excited about where it will lead me.

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