I began my teaching career at twenty-seven. I was a late starter, career-wise, even though I started out as the youngest person in my high school class. I turned 17 in March of 1989 and graduated three months later. I spent most of high school bummed out that I couldn’t drive a car until my senior year, but I consoled myself that at the twenty year reunion, they’d all be 38 while I would be 37, and I knew somehow that it would MATTER. And, oh my, did it ever.
I didn’t go, but that’s a story for another time.
I thought I was going to be an actress. My family had several “connections” in show business, so I was lucky enough to get an appointment with a talent agent. She told me quite frankly that as an agent, she couldn’t see making any money off of me. I was not pretty enough to be sent out for leading roles, and I wasn’t nearly funny looking enough to be a character actress.
Personally, I thought I could have had a pretty good career as the awkward, sarcastic best friend type. If I could act.
So, I went to college. I figured I may as well pick up my childhood dream of being a veterinarian. I got a summer job working for the two meanest veterinarians in Southern California. Maybe even the world. I hated the job. I loved animals, but in a vet office, all of the animals you see are suffering. I think that loving animals might even be a liability in that business.
The two doctors I worked for were married to each other. I knew this because there was a photo in the office of them at their wedding, not because they ever said a kind or affectionate word to each other. They didn’t treat animals or clients poorly, just staff and each other. In fact, they positively doted on their own pets, who came to the office with them every day. Even their pets were assholes. On my first day, I was instructed never to try to pet them, as they were likely to bite me. One of my duties was refilling the water and food bowls for them, which I did through a nervous sweat with shaking hands as the dogs bared their teeth and growled at me.
That job pretty much changed my mind about being a vet. The majority of our appointments were dogs and cats with rashes caused by an allergy to fleas. It was repetitive, boring work. One of the doctors would always say snidely to the client, “If you were covered with blood sucking parasites, you’d have a rash too.” I gave lots of baths to unwilling and usually hostile pets. I had to do something called “express anal glands,” which is not as horrific as it sounds. It’s much worse. I knew it was time to quit when, after assisting with a euthanasia, I was in the back room crying and one of the other assistants asked me, irritated, “What’s the matter with you?” I said we had just put a dog to sleep and she rolled her eyes and said, “Oh, brother.”
I am a person who is affected by my environment. It wouldn’t have taken me long to adopt the shitty, mean-spirited, heartless bitch attitude of everyone else in that office. I had to get out. When I gave my notice to the head assistant, she was baffled. “YOU’RE QUITTING? WHY?” I told her truthfully, “Because the doctors are so horribly mean to each other, and they’re MARRIED. What hope is there for me?”
She actually laughed at that and said I had a point.
I changed my major to Comparative Literature, because that’s what I loved anyway. I was done with the charade that I was going to prove myself worthwhile by having DVM or MD after my name. It was time to admit out loud that I wanted to be a teacher and a writer. No matter how much my father assured me that any writer, even one with talent, had about a five million to one shot of ever making a career out of it, I majored in literature anyway, minored in French (just to make my degree even more useless in the real world), and excelled in every class.
I know my dad was probably just trying to save me from disappointment and heartbreak. And needing to borrow money from him for rent. He effectively convinced me, though, that there is way too much competition out there and I shouldn’t pursue writing as a career. My Toxic Best Friend was a high school teacher and told me it was a great gig, so I became one too. It was that easy in the nineties. You just needed a college degree to get an Emergency Credential.
When I started my career, I was one of “the young teachers.” Recently, at a technology training, I looked around the room and spotted them. The realization that I’m no longer one of them hit me a little harder than I expected. I’m not a hardened, gruff old-timer yet, but my twelve years on the job and cynical smirk clearly identify me as a veteran. The pretty young, new teachers huddle together with their Starbucks cups and their cute shoes, whizzing through the technology training because they’ve never lived in a world without the Internet.
The man who officiated at my wedding, a fellow teacher, assured me that, while I will never be young again, because I am a teacher, I will never be old. “Think about it,” he continued. “Our teachers never aged. They stayed the same forever. Teaching keeps you frozen in time. None of my former teachers look old to me.”
You hear that, neck? FROZEN IN TIME FOREVER.