Of late, life has taken an unexpected turn for me.
I’m barreling down the motorway in my brother’s bomb of a car, heading towards training to become a cleaner. I’ve only ever worked in corporate jobs before, so I’m well out of my element and feeling a little raw. My brother’s car is a six-cylinder behemoth with an engine that loses power now and then, just to keep things interesting. I’m waiting for it to break down at some crucial place where I can’t pull over and have a cry.
I listen to Courtney Love through one earplug from my iPod, since the radio drains energy and I sing-shout along to the lyrics. It’s hot in the car but I’m too terrified to use the electric windows, in case I stall the motor. My brother has instructed me to just call him and he’d come and get me. This is little comfort, as there are many fine places to breakdown and clog the already congested Brisbane morning traffic. I have visions of the Seven News helicopter reporting on the traffic jam, showing shaky images of me on the roof of the car, giving the sky the finger. Somehow, this disaster of a car feels like a big stupid metaphor for how I feel.
In a past life, I worked as a graphic designer in a large engineering firm and life was gravy. Sure, there were ups and downs, but just like high school, all I can remember were the glossy good times and how well I was paid. Then I had kids and since my husband earned a nice wage, I didn’t return to work for a couple of years. One day, reality penetrated my kid-soaked brain that financially we needed more money coming in.
I applied for part-time jobs but got no call backs. I practised about what to say in job interviews when I was asked about the gap in my employment. Raising a family, I’d reply. Then there would be the dreaded pause, maybe punctuated by pursed lips. Eventually, I realised I needed something. Anything. I finally decided the only job with the flexibility I needed was as a domestic cleaner. A few phone calls later, I was signed up for training and since my husband needed the car, I resorted to borrowing my brother’s death-trap-on-wheels to drive myself to the training.
The instructor is a well-dressed woman with heavy silver jewellery. All I can think while she’s talking is that I want her job. There’s about fifteen other women in the training session. Nearly all are mums and most are, as it was so succinctly put to me, ’on the wrong side of forty’. As if the years of sacrifice they’d made to look after their family made them a liability on the workforce. It reminded me of the time an employer told me: hiring mothers was a pain in the arse.
While the instructor demonstrates how to make a bed, I tell myself if this was a Martin Scorsese film, then I’d be Al Pacino and I just needed to find out who I had to metaphorically shank to make it to the big time. Then I’d rise to power, face full of cocaine and a fistful of bullets, telling everyone to say hello to my little friend. The instructor moves on to cleaning products and regales us with some horror stories of what can happen when you don’t read the instructions properly on a bleach bottle. I firmly put aside fantasies of fortune. This was a real job and it was going to be hard.