When I was young, I felt that turning thirteen was a pretty big deal. For some reason I thought that it was a major stepping-stone into the beginnings of adulthood and forever leaving my childhood behind. I remember being so amazed that I would, in fact be, a teenager on my thirteenth birthday. I remember thinking also, that people should be making a bigger deal out of it as well.
Where was my spotlight?
I am going to implore that you, the reader, reach back into the depths of your own childhood memories when it comes to birthdays in order to visualize the pain of this story. Birthdays were a big deal weren’t they? Don’t you remember having a massive cake coated in sugar, fire and wax? Remember the friends and the family surrounding you (and only you) as you tried your best to blow every last candle out with one breath? I should confess that I have never blown all of the candles out in one breath. Never.
It was a couple years before my thirteenth birthday that I had started to go to work with my dad. It started out innocently enough. One day a week I would get up early like he did, dress up in something warm, like he did, ride all the way out to the job site like he did, just to play with the left-over blocks of wood, like he did not. This was something I could handle and in a lot of ways, it was something I enjoyed.
Then one day, things started to change.
I was building some cool “houses” out of the leftover blocks of wood when dad told me to pick up the broom and sweep up some of the sawdust on the newly constructed floor.
It was a minor inconvenience, but it was something that I could do. I was not naïve enough to believe that I was “one of the guys” in doing this. I knew that if I weren’t careful, I would be in the way. I did, however, enjoy a lot of the jokes that the guys made and would subsequently relate them back to my mother. Most of the time you had to have been there to get them.
After sweeping a big pile of sawdust into the middle of the floor, I returned to building my super cool houses. I had been looking at them as I was sweeping, cascading into the bank, and decided that I should turn them into a village.
Next up: a grocery store!
“Trevor, take that shovel and scoop up that pile into this bucket.”
Ok, that wasn’t too bad. Perhaps I could also make little roads to connect the houses in my village. That would be really cool!
“Trevor, what are you doing? I asked you to sweep up all the sawdust!”
Honestly taken back, I responded:
“I did, I even scooped it up into that bucket.”
Then, in his incredibly belittling tone, my dad explained (as if I should have already known):
“There are all these other rooms to be swept Trevor.”
Fuck! When would I get the roads built? I would need to hurry on this whole sweeping business. But, as it turns out, there was not enough time to get back to my little village. There would never be enough time from that day on.
Ready or not, I would have to grow up.
Looking back on that whole situation, it makes a little more sense. I blame a lot of this on Jacob. He was my dad’s, boss’s son. Its ok, take your time to read that again because it is a little confusing in print. I blame Jacob because he was not only the boss’s son, but he was a good kid. Always eager to help was he. He is a couple years younger than I, but seemed to love being on the job and helping his dad out as much as he could.
Apparently he was very naïve.
My dad would observe this little guy’s behavior on the job and then expected me to act the same. He also wanted an eager helper on the job that he could be proud of. I would have rather played in the dirt.
This became the start of my going to work with dad… to actually work, every Friday.
This wasn’t too bad at first and I really enjoyed it! I would go the same time that Jacob did and we would have a lot of fun playing/sweeping. We got a lot done together, but most likely did not get all that much done. This is when it was decided (most likely by my dad) that I should come on Wednesdays to clean up, and then Jacob should still come on Fridays. This would sort of spread out the cleaning of the job and would create a happier atmosphere all around.
This was not cool to me.
I was then expected to clean even more! All by myself as well. I am not sure when this happened, but I was no longer able to use the excuse that there were power cords on the floor. I had to find a way to suspend them from the floor in order to sweep… under them. It was very complicated. I think it was the boss; his name was Kelly, who walked in and began laughing when he saw all of the cords hanging across the room in mid-air. I had accomplished quite a feat and was busy sweeping away.
One day a week turned into two days a week (this was also staggered with Jacob’s schedule). Jacob and I began leaving secret messages on the job site for each other. This was pretty fun, until it got carried away with insulting messages. I added the last straw when I left a hand with a single finger pointing up reading, “You’re number 1 Jacob!” that was made out of leftover plumber’s putty.
My dad found it before Jacob did. No explanations are needed here.
It wasn’t long before I started working with dad everyday. Jacob and I ended up working together a lot. We graduated from sweeping to insulating and began making an actual hourly wage. I hated it.
I hated getting up early. I hated being in the severe heat, or the severe cold, or the rain or the snow. I hated not being able to play with my friends when they came over. I hated that if my friends stayed long enough to see me when I got home, that I would show up when they were in the middle of a game with my sisters and I would be wearing dirty work clothes and would be too exhausted to play. It was humiliating for me.
The day I turned thirteen, I had to go to work as well. I don’t know why, but I thought that I would get the day off to hang out with my friends and have fun. But no. I was destined to sit and sand logs on the hottest day of May.
Kelly had gotten really sick at this point and so he wasn’t coming to work very often. Subsequently, neither did Jacob. He was still quite involved in the job process, but by the end of May, 2000, his cancer had gotten so bad that he was not able to come to work at all. A week after I turned 13, Kelly would pass away.
As I was sitting on these gigantic logs and sanding them to make them look new, my mind kept going over what thirteen should mean and how people should care. I couldn’t believe it. It was the first birthday that I have had to spend at work. It drove me crazy with anger. I felt abandoned, unloved and used. Not only did I hate my job (I didn’t consider it a job for several years, but it was something that dad made me do), but I hated that my first day as a teenager was being spent at the place that I hated the most.
Looking back, I can see that I was really immature. After all, I was a twelve year old that was just one day into his thirteenth year. My attitude became a breeding ground for intense hatred and anger. This is something that I still deal with. For years I resented how I was made to work everyday of my youth. I became the person that my dad relied on completely to get the job done. It was a lot of responsibility for a thirteen year old. It was a lot of work. But I made it through much stronger and smarter.
When I got home that day after working very hard and having been intensely bitter over having to work, I was greeted with friends, my grandparents, and a cake that was made to look like the sinking Titanic (oh my God how cool!).
I am loved.It was a great evening and I had a lot of fun. I went into that day thinking that I had been the unluckiest teenager in the world, but as it turned out, thirteen can be rather lucky.