I’m at work typing furiously, transcribing five pages of printed information – complete with tables and headings – into a new document. This task was handed to me five minutes ago and I need to have the whole thing typed, formatted, and emailed to the executive team before their meeting ends in an hour. The thought goes through my head, “I went to fucking college so that I could do data entry?” But then I remember…
I’m eleven years old and there’s my mom sitting behind her desk at KSVP, the tiny AM station that serves southern New Mexico’s Pecos Valley. She’s looking down at a piece of paper containing information she’s inputting into a document on her state-of-the-art IBM Selectric typewriter – the one with the efficient little ball that spins around when she strikes a letter and that makes a rapid little tickticktick noise when she types, a sound infinitely more pleasing than the thunkthunkthunk of the older typewriter with the long arms containing a single letter that smashed against the paper that she used to have. It’s not the sound of the letters hitting the page I love so much, but the plastic echo of the keyboard as she rapidly keys in the data. I stand there, entranced, until she breaks the spell by stopping to read over the document and then carefully erase backwards to the spot where she’s made the error. Then she starts typing again.
I’m so proud of my mom and her new job, though she’d never know it. She had my sister and me young and has worked a relentless series of blue collar jobs until now: convenience store clerk, production line at a Christmas ornament manufacturer, housekeeper, and, mostly, waitress. But last year my Grandma, my stepdad’s mom, encouraged my mom to learn to type and to get her GED. Grandma said if she did these two things, she could get my mom a job at the radio station where she’s worked for nearly 20 years.
My mom went to night school to study for the GED and to get her typing certification. She worked hard and beamed when she achieved both. Adolescence was setting in, as was the building resentment I felt toward her, and so I responded by both telling her how great she did and shaming her. I was a huge fan of The Beverly Hillbillies, a TV show about people living way above their lot and I correlated my mom’s movement into white collar work with this show. I felt anxious about her new life – worry that it would all go away, amount to nothing. That we weren’t destined to be more and people would see through us for the hicks we were. So, instead of letting her have her moment of glory, I made up a song for her that matched the tune of The Beverly Hillbillies theme song.
“Now here’s a little story about a women with a GED (pronounced Jed). She can be a brain surgeon ’cause she was in special ed.”
I sang this song at my mom for the first few weeks after she got her certifications until she put an end to it. I thought I was brilliant.
Still, though, I am proud of her. I look at her every morning when she puts on her dress with the shoulder pads, pantyhose – which no one who works at a convenience store would ever have to wear, and high heels – which also make a staccato clicking I love, and I think, “That’s my mom.”
She’ll lose this job within a year, though. I’ll stay the night at a family friend’s house one day, a friend who’s seen the fear in all of our eyes and who is worried about my and my sister’s well being. This friend, a beautiful woman who I think is so elegant, will get me to open up about the violence in my home. The next day, she’ll call social services and, yet again, my mom will be forced to remove my sister and me from the home or risk losing us to foster care. Once again, she’ll go stay with her sister in a nearby town, as she has nowhere else to go. After missing work for the fourth consecutive day, she’ll be fired.
When I’m in seventh grade, I’ll take typing as my elective and I’ll be at the head of the class. I’ll close my eyes as I learn to type, letting the sound of the keys and the letter ball guide me as I type by feel, rather than sight. I’ll take one computer basics class before I get out of high school. When I’m nineteen, I’ll get my first office job and I’ll be proud, like I’ve finally made it.
I think about all of this as I transcribe the document for the executives, scurrying to meet my deadline. I realize that this actually is exactly what I went to college for. I was never going to achieve a higher wage without a college degree, so I went to school to get one so that I could make an annual wage that was exactly what I make now. What I didn’t realize is that when I graduated college at thirty-years-old, I would realize for the first time in my whole life that I could actually be anything I wanted to be. That I was smart and talented and, despite years of not knowing it though it was right in front of my face, an artist. I hold the image of my mom in her business dress, pantyhose, and high heels and the glorious sound of her fingers clicking on the keys of her IBM Selectric in my head as I finish the document in front of me. When it comes time for formatting, I put a little extra thought into it, make it look a little more polished than it need be. I send it off with five minutes to spare and start on the next task.