Working the 24-Hour Shift, With No Time to Be a Teen









Commentary, Imani Lopez

I take a deep breath before opening the door to my first Friday class. I am once again ten minutes late. I’m walking to my seat with my head down when my teacher barks, “Ms. Lopez! The next time you’re late, you will be getting detention. And the next time after that, a referral.”

I nod my head and take a seat at my desk. I don’t bother trying to explain my case. I want to tell him everything. That I’m late because I have to get my two younger sisters ready for school every morning, occasionally driving them there when they miss the bus. That giving me detention wouldn’t be cutting into my leisure time, but it might cost me the job that I’m using to support myself.

I go through the motions for the rest of the day. In my last class, I help my teacher with some paperwork and ask in return that I be allowed to leave one minute early in order to beat the school parking lot traffic. She agrees, and once the bell rings, I am already at my car rushing to my job at In-N-Out Burger.

Despite the head start, I am still late clocking in. My manager angrily hands me a money drawer and sends me to take orders. I know this is punishment for being late — dealing with out-the-door lines and angry customers with a smile on my face until midnight when I am finally set free.

I’m home by half past midnight. I sneak in trying not to wake my grandparents. I quietly shower away the stressful day and go to sleep.

My alarm starts blaring the moment I close my eyes. Well, that’s what it seems like. I roll out of bed and drowsily put on my soccer uniform while packing my uniforms for my two jobs in a bag. I throw everything in my car and peek into my sisters’ rooms; they’re still sleeping. I write a note to them saying that I won’t be home until midnight again, and that I’m sorry and I’ll take them out soon. I leave my house at 6:45 in order to reach the soccer field at seven for my game at eight. We win, 7-0, even though we only have eight players. It’s an amazing win, but I have to skip the team breakfast afterward to go to work.

I rush to my car, driving the 15 miles to Vallejo where I work at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. I change my clothes in the car and surprisingly make it there on time. Some rides are closed due to understaffing, so I listen to guest complaints all day until 5:30 finally comes around.

My coworkers call me lucky to be able to go home so early. I can’t help but think about their words as I walk to my car and drive back to In-N-Out for my late night shift. I arrive and clock in on time, but I’m sent to take orders outside in the cold. The slowly moving shift finally ends and I get home at 12:30 in the morning again. I expect to quietly make my way to my room without waking anyone, but this time my grandpa is waiting up for me.

“Where were you?” he asks, glaring at me from the couch.

“Work, Abuelito. Where else would I be?” I say, frustrated.

“It is illegal for them to keep you this long! And you are not allowed to drive past eleven with your driver’s licence,” he says in his heavy accent.

Having anticipated the interrogation, I hand him the timesheets showing my clock-in and clock-out times, while explaining that my work permit allows me to work until just past midnight on a weekend.

“Why do you do this to yourself, Mija?” he asks. “You work way too much!” My grandfather is a very prideful man. He has worked so hard his entire life. He continues to work tirelessly to make a decent living for my sisters and I, because we can’t count on my mom.

But I’m prideful too. Even though I’m still in high school, and relying on an adult is expected, I work so I don’t have to be dependent on anyone. I work so my grandfather does not need to worry about a school trip that might cost $300. He won’t ever need to stress about my not having clothes or shoes. It’s my goal to put myself through college and pay for my own housing.

My grandfather should have retired years ago, but has continued to work for the sake of me and my sisters. I am unsure if he understands how I feel about him, and why I do what I do. Maybe that’s why he’s so adamant that I work less. Neither of us ever wants to admit that we might need help.

And so he demands that I speak to my supervisor about my hours and focus on being a teenager. I agree, to make him happy. We’ll have the same conversation again and again, neither of us saying what we really mean.

I take a shower and climb into bed. After dozing off during a cell phone conversation with my boyfriend, whom I haven’t spoken to all day, I wake up to a dead phone battery and only ten minutes to get ready for work at Six Flags. I throw on my uniform, take a bite of toast, and run to my car. I rush to Vallejo, unable to call in late because of my dead cell phone.

I arrive ten minutes late, right in the middle of the leadership team’s morning meeting.

“Nice of you to join us, Imani,” my boss says. “Care to explain why you’re late today?” He’s polite, but I’m still embarrassed.

“Car trouble!” I lie. I don’t want to admit that I just overslept. He nods and continues with the meeting.

I get through the rest of the day, welcoming children and families onto the rides. At the end of the day, I walk to my car, and there is my boyfriend with flowers in his arms. The fake smile that I wore all day at work turns into a real one. But the happy feeling fades as I realize I have so much homework to do that I don’t have time to go have dinner with him. I don’t want to disappoint him, so I go anyway.

After dinner and a walk on the Vallejo pier, I finally tell him that I really need to get home. I get home at 8:30 and tell myself that I’m going to work hard and get all of my school work done by ten. I fail to meet my expectations and fall asleep on a bed of papers at one in the morning.

I wake up Monday morning dissatisfied with the amount of work accomplished. I shove my papers into my backpack, and pack another bag with my soccer clothes for practice and my uniform for my Monday night shift at In-N-Out.

I wake my sisters, help them choose their outfits for the day, and make them a small egg breakfast. We leave the house. It’s a new week.

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