My first job other than babysitting was as a dishwasher at Pizza Hut when I was in grade nine. I worked a couple evenings a week and on weekends for $6 an hour. I was one year older than the majority of the kids in grade nine because I repeated grade seven. I was the first to have my learners drivers license and was the only one of my friends who had a real job, complete with payroll deductions.
I primarily worked with the same crew which consisted of the Assistant Manager, university students, stoners, and regular people who put their time in to earn a pay cheque. I quickly fit in very well with all of them.
On my first shift during my break, I sat at a small table in the hallway near the back door and ate my free personal pan ham and pineapple pizza. Staff were allowed to drink as much fountain pop as they wanted and received a personal pan pizza for their meal break. The small table in the hallway had one chair, partially blocked the emergency exit, was next to the mop and bucket room, and beside a small bank of lockers. The Assistant Manager asked me why I was sitting there and I responded that I was told to sit there.
“In the evenings, we take our breaks in the restaurant,” he said, “come with me.” I learned that customers were rarely seated in a particular booth near the front doors unless necessary. This booth was where staff ate, talked, read, slept sitting up, and paperwork was done.
Lesson: If you see someone eating alone, always invite them to join you. They may enjoy their alone time or your invite could mean the world to them. If there is not room, scooch over and pull up a chair. There is always space if you make the effort.
One university student often had her books sprawled out on the table before her shift and during her dinner breaks. She drank countless glasses of Pepsi to keep herself awake and wore headphones to block out the noise. She had a really nice smile, was super nice to me, and one of the guys working with us had a huge crush on her.
The majority of the line cooks were all stoners except for the odd one who wasn’t. They would come visit me in the dish pit after taking a short break outside, the scent of weed and cigarettes trailing behind them. They regularly messed up orders on purpose so they had more pizza to satisfy their munchies. It was obvious what they were doing but were never reprimanded. They were generous with their creations and shared their ultra-sweet dessert pizzas with anyone who wanted a slice.
The Assistant Manager was in his early 30’s, drove a black muscle car, and liked to smoke weed at the end of his shift. He sometimes drove me home and I loved the way the seat rumbled under me as we drove. I begged him to let me drive his car but he always said no. He was really nice and often gave the university student who studied tirelessly a basket of garlic bread to munch on before her shift.
Lesson: Kindness and camaraderie looks different based on what someone is able to offer at that particular time in their life. Be grateful for the time people spend with you and for their thoughtful actions. Remember to pay it forward when you can.
I was working at Pizza Hut when my world was flipped upside down. Phone calls at Marymound were strictly limited, the number had to be dialed, and a staff member stood listening. I called my manager to let him know I would not be able to make my shifts for the next week because I was at Marymound. His response was, “what the fuck is that?” I told him not to worry about it and that I would explain when I saw him next.
I wasn’t allowed home after spending a week in the Crisis Stabilization Unit at Marymound. I took two buses from my foster home with a transfer downtown in order to get to work. I dropped out of grade ten shortly after my time at Marymound. I asked the Assistant Manager for more hours and he said he couldn’t. “A: you should be in school and B: there are no hours available so if you want full time, you need to get a different job.”
Lesson: There is no shame in asking for help as hard as it may be to swallow your pride. Most people in this world are good and generally want to help if they can.
I was kicked out of my foster home due to my alcohol-induced behaviour and spent two nights at a youth shelter. I was kicked out of a group home when I didn’t show up one night combined with missing curfew a couple of times without a valid reason. They knew my work schedule. I knocked on the door to come in but they wouldn’t let me in. I went to the youth shelter that I had been to before but there were no beds left. They put me in a taxi and sent me to a different one. I didn’t stay for breakfast.
I kept in contact with a friend of mine who was straight-laced and whose parents ran a tight ship at home. They let me stay with them for about a week on their basement couch. I ate meals with them and her dad picked me up from work once or twice. A crew member drove me to their place the other time. I was a mess and not a good role model for their three daughters, two who were younger and wondered why I was not in school when they let themselves in during their school lunch break.
Lesson: Guardian angels put people into our lives when we need them most. Pay it forward and help someone if you can, even in small ways. Helping does not always require grand gestures.
I told the evening crew at Pizza Hut that I didn’t have anywhere to go after my shift and with their eyes wide, they couldn’t believe what they were hearing. They were all adults and I was fifteen. My Assistant Manager let me come to his place for the night and his girlfriend who he lived with was not happy about it. I didn’t meet her and had only heard her voice from the bedroom, “one night only!” He and I smoked a joint and I fell asleep in a large, cozy, round wicker chair. I awoke to find that his girlfriend left me granola bars on the glass coffee table.
Lesson: Food is essential for our survival. The feeling of hunger is painful and I do not wish it upon anyone, regardless of the choices they have made or the cards they were dealt. Our circumstances are all different and some are out of our control. Throw an extra potato in the pot and please do not ever let anyone go hungry.
I bounced between friends houses and slept where I could. One friend snuck me in through her bedroom window after her parents went to sleep and I remember her giving me cheeze whiz and celery to eat. I felt safe at her place even though I couldn’t leave her bedroom to use the bathroom and I had to stay incredibly quiet. This same friend took bedsheets from her hall closet for me to put on the bed at the foster home after I told her about how filthy the bed was.
Another friend had heroin addicted parents and they didn’t care that I was there. I had beer with me one time and her mom begged me to let her have some. I didn’t feel safe at her place because of the random people coming and going and her dad was always drunk or high. He was a very scary man. I saw him punch my friends mom and another time, he threated her with a knife while my friend and I locked ourselves in her bedroom. Her little brother banged on the door to be let in. Through all of that, it somehow felt better to be at her house than to go to a youth shelter and hope that a bed was available. I don’t remember how long I was homeless for but it felt like an eternity.
Lesson: When you are doing what you need to do to survive, there is no time to be scared. You need to be planning what your next steps will be. Cowering in fear will not suffice. I read a fantastic book a few years ago called Mastering Fear: A Navy Seal’s Guide and I highly recommend it to all.
I celebrated my sixteenth birthday at my aunties in the small village of Winnipegosis. She found out what was happening with me and invited me to come live with her and my little cousin. I had my own bedroom that I quickly made my own with pictures cut out of magazines. I went to church most Sunday’s with my auntie and I helped her cook meals at the local seniors drop in center where she worked part time.
Lesson: Relish the times that you can breathe easy and soak it all in. People are placed in our lives for short moments but can make large impacts, like the seniors I spent time with at the drop in center. Make connections when you can. It can heal your soul and maybe even theirs too.
During one of our many conversations, my auntie asked me if I had ever been hungry enough to eat out of the garbage, like she had seen homeless people doing when she was in the city. I told her no. The Pizza Hut crew always made sure I was well-fed and because I was working part time, I had a bit of money for at least one meal a day. I spent some of my days riding around on Winnipeg Transit buses from one end of the city to the other. I remember eating a sandwich from 711 while I waited for the bus outside a high school.
Lesson: People are homeless for a number of different reasons and a lot of them do work. Stable, safe, and affordable housing is a barrier for many, especially if sobriety is a requirement. Only look down on people if you are extending your hand to lift them up.