My first is at fifteen, slinging neon syrups at a shaved ice truck. I make $5.50 an hour under the table. I swat mosquitos while grabbing ice blocks, spin that "Wildflowers" album on repeat (a gift from my first boyfriend). I watch teenagers spike their slushies on the picnic tables under the attached canopy. Sweep empty rum bottles from the gravel at closing. Break down the machines and dunk them thrice through the sanitizing sinks. My grandpa Walt picks me up from my shifts and lets me drive the truck home for my permit hours.
Then I'm sixteen, vegetarian, working at Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is funny. The polo shirt and pants I wear are heavy with grease, the floors slick with it. I am miserable just because I've been reading Howl, but everyone I work with is really nice. I spend my breaks drinking chocolate milk and smoking on a milk crate behind the drive-thru. I am in love with someone much older than me. My boss makes me cry when he scolds me for looking sad. I keep my uniform crumpled under the glove compartment.
Here I am, seventeen, working in the kitchen at the local hospital. I work here with one of my best friends, assembling cafeteria trays for patients and cleaning them when they come back. When the plates come through the conveyor belt they're clean but hot as hell. I grow callouses and grab them quick. One of the cooks is a raging bitch and knows it. Still, I buy some Avon jewelry from her, and when I pick it up from her house she is sitting on her porch in a good mood.
When I am eighteen I am still working at the hospital, but I pick up another two jobs. The first is in retail, at a successful chain, and it is exhausting but oddly satisfying. Who knew selling jeans could be so genuinely rewarding? My bosses are very sweet and even sympathetic when I dye my hair black. I get my first credit card and go to town.
The third job I pick up is a nighttime custodian gig at a paper plant. I report to work after getting off from the other two jobs. I meet another custodian there, who is a recovering meth addict, and we split the building in two to get it clean fast. The other custodian wears her blonde hair in one long braid, which she shoves under a baseball cap. She punctuates long silences with a well-told story a few times a week. She takes no bullshit from me and has excellent character judgment. A man who works at the plant sees me cleaning windows and starts staying late to visit with me. He doesn't talk much about himself but asks me a lot of questions. One night I wheel my trash can into the conference room and he's sitting there in the dark, waiting for me, drinking coffee from a Styrofoam cup. "That man is a pervert," the other custodian says after the shift, over cigarettes. "But you shouldn't roll your shorts up like that neither."
Then the getting off ritual where I rev up my red car and light a cigarette and turn up the radio and drive maybe to the gas station to buy cigarettes or Big Gulps or weird cock rings as a gag or maybe to my friend's house where I wait outside with my car in neutral so her mom doesn't hear her sneak out or maybe to a boy's driveway where we get stoned and make out and listen to Strawberry Jam or maybe to Taco Bell and then home to watch Westerns with my grandpa, that is, before he died, and my friends went away to school, and I moved out, because after all that I just drove.