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It was 1968, noon, Saturday. I crouched onto the toilet seat hiding my feet behind the locked stall door. I balanced there eating lunch, a hard-boiled egg. The other receptionists hated me. “Who the hell does she think she is? She’s here two weeks and gets moved up front. She’s a bitch!” The “shhhhh” of hair spray and clink of a metal can onto the porcelain sink signaled they were nearly finished. I held my breath. Two weeks ago, I didn’t see this coming.

My classmates worked after school jobs babysitting. An older child in a big family, I had my fill of babysitting at home. I answered an ad, “Telephone receptionist wanted to build itineraries at Continental Trailways Bus Station, downtown Denver location. Must be mature and have a professional phone voice.” I was sixteen. I lived on a little farm north of town and took a risk to be a grown-up in the city. Why not?

Strolling to the second week of my job, I slowed the pace to stare in department store windows past pencil-thin mannequins I did not emulate, to judge my hour-glass self. “Hey, baby,” a wolf-whistle echoed down 16th Street. Something new to me. At sixteen with a wobbly self-confidence, it was oddly encouraging. My posture straightened, a different direction from how I felt at the Catholic Denver high school where bussed-in farm girls were not accepted and hour-glassed girls were not asked on dates or called in the evenings. Something thrilling and worthwhile came over me.     

The click, click of my red heels on the Terrazzo floor called attention as I walked through the terminal. Passing the male ticket agents, I sensed their eyes on the swing of my butt. With a backward glance in their direction, I entered the receptionists’ room excited to answer phones and build itineraries for would-be passengers. The youngest “gal,” I took my spot in the far rear, away from windows and ventilation. There was a pecking order. The desk, by the open window, belonged to Marlene, my trainer, a single lady in her thirties and a topic of office-gossip. She wore oversized blouses to hide the baby bump she and Ronny, a married ticket agent, had created.

“Good afternoon Mr. Dalton,” a chorus of adoring females greeted the station manager. We hadn’t practiced, but it sounded as though we had.

“Good afternoon, gals.” A wave from a big man with a big smile. Mr. Dalton, mid-sixties and balding, wore trousers belted at the waist of his rotund middle. He was kindly but all business, right down to which desks we occupied. He swayed left to right walking toward me.

“Dianne, I’m changing seat assignments. Get your things. I want you to sit up front from now on.” He turned and left quickly. What did I do wrong? My only reference was an angry nun who had moved me up front in Algebra for talking in class last week. My hands shook as I stuffed a crinkled brown sack, into my purse. I heard the hard-boiled egg crack. Is it the red heels? I know I wasn’t late. Don’t cry.

My naïve shrug and frightened look towards Marlene were met with a squint, I’ll get even, bitch. Confused, I sped to the door. Smile. Smile.

Mr. Dalton pointed to a desk in the open. On display. “Am I in trouble?” My voice was hushed and trembled. He asked a hurried, “What?”

“No, dear, my pretty girls always sit up front where the public can see them.” Though his grandfatherly tone was calming, something seemed off. Something I might mention next week in the confessional if I could name it. Even so, I felt noticed and special.

The next week at high school, I walked with a straight back, sat with crossed legs, and refreshed my frosted lipstick between classes. My classmates talked about their babysitting jobs. I said nothing. Still ignored by the boys from school, at my job I would sit up front and allow someone’s opinion of my beauty to hold sway over me.

***

Today, sitting at my office desk, Marlene’s face, rejected and angry, fills my mind. At sixteen, I balanced on a toilet seat, nearly worthless. At school and at work I was an outsider. Except while sitting at the desk up front. On display. Being Pretty.

It took decades to steady my wobbly self-worth. It was neither attached to the high school boys who didn’t call nor to Mr. Dalton’s “pretty girl” nod. Taking chances, living outside society’s expectations, becoming, I uncovered myself somewhere between how I look and who I am.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dianne Blomberg a writer/speaker living in Denver Colorado, currently working on a memoir, Before Lunch. Her work can be read in Feminine Collective, Across the Margin, Button Eye Review and soon in DoveTales. She has two published children’s picture books. Her research in personal relationships has been featured in publications like Good Housekeeping, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Denver Post, Family Life, Newsday New York, Boston Globe, and more. Visit Dianne Blomberg, PhD at https://www.DianneBlomberg.com

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