Me Too, Age 16

Photo by Joshua Sazon on Unsplash

Women are posting “Me too” in solidarity with others who have experienced sexual harassment–and worse. My curiosity was sparked by the ones who said “Me too” but didn’t elaborate. My heart reminded me some stories are too painful or private to share.

Even the less painful ones leave a lasting impression, though they can take a while to unpack. Here’s an essay I wrote years ago and didn’t publish, though I used bits of it in another post. Think it’s time to share this version.

Babysitting didn’t count, though it paid better. My first real job was at Jerry’s Subs and Pizza. A restaurant job felt official; it came with a uniform and a printed paycheck. Jerry’s made me the offer in the spring of 1985: $3.35 an hour to sling subs and work the cash register. The perks were obvious to any sixteen-year-old: free fries and a job on the edge of Maryland’s biggest university.

The college students were uninterested in my co-workers and me, but we entertained ourselves just fine. Nicole and Beth* were pretty, fun and eager to share the valuable social lessons imparted by their co-ed Catholic high school.

We were friends and rivals; all three of us had a teen crush on John, the cute assistant manager with the piercing blue eyes. His mullet alone could have starred in Days of Our Lives.

John flirted with all the girls who worked there. Then rumor had it something happened with Beth. All we knew for sure: one day John was gone. No details were forthcoming. Nicole and I asked but Beth stayed mum on the matter.

There was new drama. One of the line cooks had started to stand way too close and said things that made me blush. I didn’t want to go out with him; I wanted to be left alone.

One day I had enough and marched into the manager’s office. He was already a nervous, perspiring man; my complaint made him sweat more profusely than usual. After an awkward silence, he addressed the ceiling: “So where do you want to go to college?”

“I don’t know. Maybe Duke?” It was a reach but sweaty manager guy didn’t know that. He brightened. “You’re a smart girl, you’d do great there. That’s just where I want my daughter to go.” Then he turned serious, saying he’d take care of “things” (waving vaguely, in case I wore a wire?), telling me I had earned myself a fifty cents-an-hour raise for being so smart.

“Just don’t tell the others,” he murmured, turning his swivel chair away from me.

There was no time to think, just register the words “smart” and “raise,” shake his damp hand, and exit the room unclear of what just happened.

The line cook stayed. And while he was often vengeful (rude customers had their food thrown on the floor or spit on before serving) he stopped needling me.

I wondered if he got a raise too.

The Jerry’s girls went to a Springsteen concert together. Ironically it was the cook who sold us the tickets at scalper’s prices, but we were desperate to go. We were spirits in the night, all night.

The concert was amazing, though Beth disappeared for a while. After it ended she lay down in the grass outside the stadium, refusing to get on the metro. She told me she couldn’t handle crowds and my dad had to come get us. I finally persuaded her to get on the last, empty train home.

I left Jerry’s soon after for Chi-Chi’s, where I talked Maryland basketball with the guys on the line. They laughed when I dropped a massive tray of food on one table but made replacing it their next order of business. My managers were solid and covered me the two times a table ran out on their check. I socialized with my new co-workers, lost touch with Nicole and Beth.

I used to joke that the price for my silence at Jerry’s was an extra 50 cents an hour. It was like a punch-line, one that got many a woman nodding knowingly.

What’s not funny is that I never spoke up like that again at work, not when a male boss screamed obscenities at me, not when a tipsy state senator insisted on walking me home one night, despite my protests. Instead I went to my trusted friends–male and female–and we talked it through.

At least I knew to do that. I’d figured out how it worked at age sixteen.

I wonder how Beth is.


*not her real name


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2 Responses to Me Too, Age 16

  1. Mary October 16, 2017 at 2:09 pm #

    Well written story about how you felt at the time. Makes me wonder what kind of stories our granddaughters will be telling one day. Hope they will be strong and able to,protect themselves in the world we live in.

    • Kristin O'Keefe October 16, 2017 at 2:26 pm #

      It feels like the world as a crossroads, doesn’t it? I think it helps that all your grandkids have strong, loving women and men in their lives. That’s a huge thing, to know you are always supported. It’s a gift.

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