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Upon Seeing a Paycheck For the First Time

It was like it hadn’t ever been tangible, and there it was. What once seemed an impossible dream now was in my grasp. I’d never known the feeling that this kind of thing could bring. A small event, to be sure, but almost monumental for one glorious moment. One shining moment, raining light in the drabness of the overcast sky.

When I was working over the summer at the local Olive Garden, I knew there was bound to be something I was working for. But I never really knew what. I mean, yeah there was my dad constantly spouting WORK ETHIC like some cartoon dinosaur, with his miniature stomping rampages that IT WOULD BUILD MY CHARACTER (every time, I tried not to giggle, as he would hold his arms like a Tyrannosaurus Rex during said tirades), and yeah there was the feeling of accomplishment I got after getting into my car after an 11-hour shift, unbuttoning my collar, loosening my tie, and blaring my car radio and air conditioning to their maximum; and yeah, there was the money. Not like I noticed it all that much. I’m a thrifty person, and if I buy something, it usually comes after a long internal debate over whether or not I truly will die if I do not have this inflatable barbeque set.

But what I really was working for was myself. For the sense of camaraderie I got with my coworkers as we walked out of the building long after closing time and gave each other a high five before coming back to the same door in 10 hours and giving the same person the same high five. For that sense of pride and that swell in my chest whenever a waiter asked me to run food or drinks out to a table. For the blush and the confidence, for the thicker skin (thanks to two high-strung managers). I worked for me, and the people around me. Whatever it took to better the restaurant. I tried to uphold that every day.

So after a summer of bleary eyes and starched collars and endless crayon requests and watching people scarf down more than they could eat after I only had mints for dinner, I went to put some money in my savings account from my total paycheck. In order to do that, I had to withdraw a large amount of money from the ATM. So the twenties kept pouring out of the machine and my jaw kept dropping further in amazement. After all was said and done, I had enough money to feed a small country in my hand. In twenty-dollar bills, of course. I couldn’t breathe. I looked at the small fortune in my hand, fanned it out, slapped myself to make sure it was real. For once, I knew what it was like to have earned money, to have bled and sweated and cried for this money and it was mine, all mine, and no one could take that pride away from me. I knew what it was like to feel proud of my job.

I saw everything. Everything that was, everything that is, and everything that has not yet come to pass, for one shining moment. For a glistening throbbing second I knew what it meant to earn one’s keep in the work-world, that I had earned my keep, that I had been paid in full and deserved each and every cent.

But a part of me insisted, then and now, that I had already been paid in memories. And that is a far more lasting investment. This inauspicious day among days will fade in my mind as time plods steadily onward. But this summer, this accumulation of joy and character and armor, this effulgent summer, will shine brighter than any coin, or any bill, or any tear of happiness that I might cry over financial prosperity.

I stared at the stack of bills – at the money – in my hand and I saw it for what it was. Just paper.




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Zero_K This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Sept. 20, 2009 at 9:52 am:
I love this! I love the dinosaur analogy, but you better make sure your dad doesn't read this <(n.n)>
+++ZERO+++
 
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