Tuesday, June 02, 2015
When I Grow Up, Part Two
I learned of a volunteer program at the local hospital: I could become a Candy Striper, going one afternoon each week to fill water pitchers, distribute dinner trays, run errands for nurses, and even feed patients too sick to feed themselves. I'd read all of the Cherry Ames books back in junior high school and thought this might be the right thing for me. I was excited when I went into the uniform store across from the hospital to buy my jumper, and was careful to remember to wear a white blouse to school on Mondays.
I loved being a Candy Striper. I thought perhaps becoming a nurse would be right; but my sister had become a secretary and that had worked out very well for her. When it was time to choose courses for eleventh grade, my parents kept my options open again: they signed me up for Spanish 3 and for Typing 2 and Shorthand 1. Nursing school would require chemistry, but they pointed out I could take that in twelfth grade. It made sense.
A few weeks before tenth grade ended, my father died suddenly and without warning. This was the beginning of a horrible year. Alone at home with a mother who had always found -- and taught -- me to be a disappointment, I was not allowed to visibly grieve. My father's death was all about her, the grieving widow with the naughty child. It was tough. No counseling or support was offered to me; I was told my job was to do my school work and not make life harder for my mother.
By the end of the summer, she -- who had been a housewife for over twenty-five years -- got an office job at the local hospital, the same place where I had been a successful Candy Striper. I hated the thought of sharing this place with her. But somehow it worked out. My work on the med-surg floors was nowhere near her office. During the eleventh grade year, any talk of my future held two possibilities: become a secretary or go to nursing school at the local hospital. There was no option of a different nursing school. Things between my mother and me deteriorated further; having no place to deal with my grief and no support from the school counselors, I began acting out. Though this only made things worse at home, I was powerless to stop.
When it was time to select courses for twelfth grade, I was the one who wanted to keep my options open if I still could. I was pretty sure that being a nurse was what I preferred. I loved being helpful to the nurses, I liked interacting with patients. Besides, this path held the added bonus of my living in the hospital's nursing school dormitory -- away from my mother, though still at the place where she worked. I wasn't sure if it would work. My three years of Spanish filled one college admission requirement; I had managed to complete the necessary math courses. Nursing school meant I needed chemistry. The secretarial field called for Shorthand 2 and Transcription; an option for that career was something called Office Practice. I signed up for Chemistry. I wanted to take Spanish 4 because I enjoyed the language, but something deep down told me to sign up for Shorthand 2 and Transcription, just in case. My mother and I were in full agreement about the selections.
Senior year began; Shorthand met first period, followed immediately by Transcription. At third period, when Office Practice began in the same classroom, I left and went down the hall to Chemistry where I was introduced to the Periodic Table. Chemistry was going to be hard, but I thought I would like it. During the second full week of school, my mother surprised me at dinner: "I have wonderful news! I spoke to the director of the school of nursing and she said that you didn't have to live in the dorm! You will have special permission to stay at home and go to the hospital with me in the mornings!" Thus she let me know that I was still completely under her thumb.
At school the next morning, I went straight to the guidance office and requested a drop/add form. I swallowed the tears when I returned my textbook to the chemistry teacher. I pretended to be excited when I told the Office Practice teacher, "I've decided for sure. I really want to be a secretary."
(to be continued)
Posted by Nancy, Near Philadelphia on Tuesday, June 02, 2015