To remind myself life isn’t so easy, I keep a picture on my refrigerator of me screaming and crying in a bathtub with my three siblings.
I was 10 when the photo was taken. My parents would have put five of us in the tub, but my youngest sister wasn’t born yet. I was horrified mainly because my chest was just beginning to develop. I can remember my face heating up from anger and the adrenaline pumping through my body. I think it was the pressure I felt from being the oldest child. To this day, it hasn’t gone away.
During those younger years when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answers were a horse jockey or missionary. I’ll admit there were a few times joining the convent crossed my mind, but that idea fizzled when I discovered boys in middle school.
By the time high school hit, boys, friends, family, and work were the biggest focuses of my life. My parents were divorced when I was 16 so I often babysat my four younger siblings while my mom worked several jobs so we could stay in the home we grew up in.
My mom did everything my dad usually did when he lived with us. She mowed the lawn, shoveled the driveway, and even had us all get up on our roof one summer day to help remove the shingles because the job would be cheaper. There were no easy way outs for her. She had no man in her life to take over, save her and pay the bills. I learned how to work hard by watching her example.
That’s why the summer after I graduated from 12 years of Catholic education and was about to go into my first year at John Carroll University (a Jesuit institution), I worked as many jobs as I could. My main jobs were lifeguarding and teaching swimming lessons. I also babysat, but the money wasn’t enough. That’s when I read an ad in the newspaper that said: “Dancers wanted.” I figured I was a good dancer, so why not apply? The only thing was, I didn’t know that dancing really meant stripping.
I asked my stepdad for directions and he gave me them without any words of warning. The next day after lifeguarding, I drove to the Crazy Horse Salon in Cleveland, Ohio. It was dark and musty when I walk in. The smell of cigarette smoke was overwhelming. In those days, it was still legal for people to smoke indoors.
I interviewed with a manager who hired me on the spot. He told me I’d have to come up with a nickname and buy a few outfits (making sure I knew could only wear a T-bar which was one inch of material on my bottom). He introduced me to a stripper who was working and told me to go out on the floor and watch the girls dance. I was horrified. It wasn’t the kind of dancing I did with my friends and sisters when we were pretending to make music videos. This dancing was sleazy and embarrassing.
When I left the club and drove onto the highway, I pulled over to the side because I was crying so hard. I knew I couldn’t work there, and I wondered why my stepdad gave me directions. Later, he told me he did it because he knew exactly how I would react so he wasn’t worried about me taking the job.
As I drove back home to my little boating town of Vermilion, Ohio, I asked myself, “if you could work anywhere in Vermilion, where would it be?” My answer was Chez Francois, a fancy French restaurant on Lake Erie. I walked in and was hired on the spot by the owner to be a busser on the back deck.
I remember calling the strip club manager the next day and telling him I wasn’t going to take the job. He tried to talk me out of it, but it felt so good to say no.
I am proud of myself for never taking the job. That would have been the easy way out. But I could have never lived with myself if I had chosen that path. Instead, I put myself through college by doing as many respectable jobs as I could handle including lifeguarding, teaching water aerobics, babysitting, waitressing, walking dogs and typing up papers for $1 a page.
All jobs which I could do with my clothes on and my pride intact.