I slam the truck into reverse. I’m small, sitting at the wheel, but I maneuver with power. The truck is menacing, large and brown, but I back it up perpendicular to the dock using the side mirrors, and I align it perfectly, centered, to the amazement of my instructor. He checks his clipboard and gives me a silent smirk. I give one, too. I’m victorious. I’m hired.
I’m a girl.
I drive home with my sack of brown shirts, brown pants, brown hat, and belt. I show the parents who sent me through four years of college the uniform I’ll be wearing to my blue-collar job. They feign excitement. My mother gives me that look she gives me when she’s trying not to say what she’s really thinking, but it’s obvious what she’s thinking because her eyes say things for her. She’s thinking, “Where did I go wrong? What the hell is my daughter doing? Where is she going?” My mother is giving me the look that says she’s disappointed, that she expected more. She’s judging me for settling for a job that’s beneath me, or beneath her. She looks to my father for backup, but he left the room five minutes ago—or was it five years?
She says my shirt needs ironing. I say no it doesn’t. She says yes it does. She says I’ll do it for you. I say okay. I say whatever. Whatever makes you feel better, I don’t say.
We’ve been tip-toeing around each other since I moved back from New York, since I gave up trying to find that Madison Avenue job, since my ex-boyfriend left me for film school. I’ve been draping my listless body over my mother’s custom-upholstered sofas, flopping myself onto pool floats and drifting, dragging myself down the stairs for breakfast, usually too groggy to acknowledge my mother’s jabs about why I’m up so early, at noon.
In orientation I sit with the other new employees, drinking coffee out of Styrofoam, and watch a video about time-saving maneuvers I’ll use for the rest of my life. The video shows us how to buckle the seatbelt and start the ignition at the same time, how to open a door with your back so you can be entering data at the same time, because every combined movement cuts time when time counts most.
When the dispatch manager issues me my route, he says I’m going to be downtown in two of their tallest buildings, 101 Ross and 500 Elm. He says I’ve probably seen 101 Ross before. It’s the one with the big hole in the middle. I know it well, I tell him.
I have a hole in the middle, too.
He says I look strong, but that 101 Ross and 500 Elm share the dock at 66 Pearl, and that those buildings are accessed through an underground tunnel that runs uphill. At the height of the season, you’ll be pushing two overstocked dollies up this hill for an entire city block, he says. “You think you can manage that?” he asks.
I sit in the chair across from his desk, littered with stacks of thin paper and a beige computer displaying tracking number upon tracking number. I blink and blink, tossing the “should-I’s” and “shouldn’t-I’s” back and forth, wishing I was the kind of person who wouldn’t settle.
But I do.
I decide that when it comes to conquering a truck, once is enough. With a nod, he demotes me to “Helper,” explaining that all I have to do is meet the driver at the dock and help him unload his route.
I weigh shame and relief in each hand, equally.
The packages have to be delivered by 9:30 a.m. No excuses. It’s up to me to foresee the obstacles and to plan for them.
I use the time-saving maneuvers the orientation video taught us to combine movements. I enter the data while walking. I push the cart into the elevator while pressing the floor button at the same time. I sort and organize the cart while the elevator moves me. The next package is always on top, the address ingrained in my head, the door codes of the mailrooms, memorized.
“Never just stand there,” the video said.