I was 16 or 17 years old, working the Drive-thru at Taco Bell. I loved that job. I worked with an amazing family of illegal Hispanics, who were hard working and loving. To me, being a cashier was a game, as was preparing food on the line. It was all an internal competition. To go faster, or to spend entire shifts not making a single inputting error into the terminal (which meant listening to entire orders before placing them--because people change their minds!).
For a while, that place was my identity. I even fell in love with a coworker, Belen. She was dreamy. She barely spoke English and I barely spoke Spanish. She had a boyfriend back home in Mexico, but I thought she was the bee's knees and tried hard to make her laugh. I was frequently successful and she let me kiss her once. My sweet Belen.
Over time, that job became my home. It felt like family. It became safe. So the night when an older teenager took his bag as I extended it from the window, and then spit in my face, it was my identity that felt cracked.
It was a heartbreaking moment. Judgment raining down upon me, telling me that my happy little world was the world of a loser. I was less than. I was uncool. I was nothing.
I don't remember what he looked like. Or what kind of car it was. I don't remember how many kids were in the car, though I do remember it was a few. I don't remember if I was still wearing glasses, or if I had just recently gotten contact lenses and left behind the glass and frames that shielded me from the world.
What I do recall is the heaviness. The feeling of my rose colored glasses being stripped off my face. The darkness of a world I hadn't known and the pain of a chisel being driven into my self esteem.
I've spent my life since then controlling my circumstances so that I get to keep my rose colored glasses on most of the time. I attract people who are like me. I cultivate safety. I extend love in an effort to invite love.
But every now and then, amidst so much control, the universe will send someone to knock off those glasses and shove a harsh reality in my face. Now it doesn't come in the standard package of anger or aggression anymore, but in a more sophisticated lack of alignment, or the disappointment that comes from watching someone I admired fail to walk their talk. When it happens, I find myself back to that moment of rocking the drive-thru, only to have reality hurled at me as a sticky yellow loogie.
It shakes me. I frequently freeze in disbelief. And then I head to the sink to wash it off, dry my face, and step forward into another day. Thankfully, my terrible memory helps me move on from disgrace quickly. But I also know these sadnesses have become part of me. I feel them in between my joints when it rains. Or when I have a mild fever from a cold. They ache. Reminding me: there is the world I choose to see, and then there is the world.