She is 23 years old. I sent her a last minute text message- “I have to interview a woman for class tomorrow! How about you?”
I understood. It’s strange to be asked for an interview. Might it be invasive? And why would someone want to interview me, of all people? Taysia and I think similarly; I can guess what she’s thinking. The assignment was to interview a woman who is influential or has the potential to be influential in your life, and naturally I look towards intriguing sources. But it isn’t as though she’s a life-long friend: for a long time, I just knew her on the fringe. Taysia was a friend of my sisters, Megan and Kayleigh. She lived with them at my mom’s house briefly in high school. She shuffled around several places, and lived in my living room by some manner of circumstance and Irish-Catholic hospitality the summer I was twenty.
“Who would you have asked for an interview if it wasn’t last minute?” she asked me. I responded in horror that I still would have chosen her, and it was true. It’s eery the amount of times that she says something that completely captures how I feel; sometimes I wonder if I’m completely alone in seeing the degradation in our society, but she hates it as well. Our environments, however, are very different. That makes the prospect of understanding why she thinks the way she does so compelling: there are opportunities to learn about ourselves and each other there.
When she stayed at my apartment when she was 17, she was a party girl. She was never home. The TV was on top of her dresser and her queen-sized bed took up an entire third of the living room. We lived next to campus, just off of 10th ave and 19th st, and she often crashed frat parties in the neighborhood. One night she came home and told me she’d almost been raped by a neighbor. I was both enraged at what she was telling me, and furious at her for getting drunk with random strangers. I thought she should know better: then again, just three years before I had been doing the same stupid things. The stability of being with a man who wasn’t out to dominate me had made me forget about the little games that other world played. Eventually she just kind of disappeared from my house. An awkward room mate we shared, combined with her transient nature, kind of just dissolved the situation. At some point, she met Sean. Sean liked to play games with her and assert his dominance, but still she loved him.
Maybe she loved him because she had it rough growing up. For a long time before I really knew her, she was a mythic glow in my mind, thanks to a vivid description I heard of a fight she was in. There are certain behaviors they say are more likely to afflict the children of poor families: promiscuity, drug use, having problems in school, whether academic or behavioral. Taysia was an “at-risk” teenager.
And then she got pregnant. Sean didn’t really want the responsibility of a baby, so he was hoping for a miscarriage, or even that she would get an abortion. Sean’s parents, however, did want the baby, to adopt and keep as their own. This would have not only freed him of financial obligations, but also of any moral regrets later in life. So he recruited some of Taysia’s friends to plead his case. These so-called friends wrote a letter to the court, saying they thought Taysia was an unfit parent, because of her history as a party girl. They cited her former drinking and recreational drug use, in addition to a history of cutting her arms, as proof of her ineptitude. What all of them failed to disclose was that Taysia has stopped all of those behaviors when she found out she was pregnant. The new life inside of her had given her the focus and drive to do something more with her life, and she was making changes for her baby and herself. All of the people she was supposed to be able to trust allied together to take away the most important decision of her life: the decision to keep and raise her daughter.
“Everyone except for your sister…” Taysia says sadly. Like I said, I met Taysia through my sisters. She was best friends with my youngest sister, Kayleigh, for years. When Sean and all of Taysia’s friends took her to court, the only person who stood by her the whole time was Kayleigh. By this point, my family had become a second family for Taysia- she’d lived with my mom and with me; and even my older sister, Sara, had offered to let Taysia stay with her. Despite the fact that we grew up dirt poor, my mom was a college-educated woman, a government worker for the Department of Social Services. My sisters and I, used to the notions of poverty, dysfunction, and abandonment (our father only calls once a year), had a habit of bringing stray people and animals home. A falling out between Taysia and Kayleigh, directly precipitated by Kayleigh’s fiance, has kept them from talking to each other for a year. Kayleigh is forever convinced she’s right, and Taysia doesn’t want to swallow her pride.
I wonder about them a lot. I know that might sound funny, but I do. I had a falling out with my best friend once. Suddenly not having the person you trust and love the most around anymore is painful. And even when the pain fades, it always leaves a sting if you dwell on it for too long.
Sean’s attempts to take their daughter four years ago failed, and now she is the primary caregiver. Taysia and her daughter, Ava, live with Taysia’s boyfriend, Pat. I ask her to talk about what she does now.
“I work at Cactus Canyon. My job requires that I be comfortable wearing a bikini at any time.”
Cactus Canyon is one of the most degrading bars in Greeley. The cocktail waitresses dress in as little clothing as possible, and they are required to wear dark, slutty make-up. They have “beauty” competitions where the male management hands out slinky lingerie to patrons. The girls then stand in a group in the back room and undress in front of these managers- a way to “keep them from stealing stuff.” The managers then bring them out to the dance floor and MC the contest- which involves sexy dancing and a lot of innuendo dropped into a series of questions. At the first contest Taysia saw while working there, one of the regional managers for the chain wrapped a girl’s hair around his hand and bent her over on stage to fondle her ass after she made a comment about being dominant.
“You don’t know anything about dominance. Let old Louie show you who’s boss.”
The 21-year-old drunk co-ed squealed in delight for the attention.
Taysia and I talk about sexism a lot. She think it’s sad that these girls find this demeaning behavior degrading. It isn’t just the customers, it’s her co-workers as well.
“I can’t tell you how many girls just… they just hook up with guys,” she says, “ They think it gets them better tips. And they feel, like, good about themselves. They feel like they’re wanted, they’re desired.”
“If you feel this way about the environment you’re working in, why do you continue to work there?” I ask.
“Because I honestly choose money over happiness. I’m materialistic. And not only the materialistic aspect, but I have to be able to pay rent, and support my child- so I definitely choose money over happiness.”
Someday, she wants to become a P.E. teacher. Someday, she won’t have to work a degrading job to pay the bills. When that day comes, she says she’ll definitely speak out publicly against places like Cactus Canyon- but she can’t tell them to shove it now if she wants to keep a roof over her head. She’s looked for a better job but hasn’t found one that will make as much as she does now. She says she wonders sometimes what would have happened if she hadn’t kept Ava- would she had been better off if she’d just made it on her own?
“But overall, I’m happy I made the decision to keep her,” Taysia says introspectively.
Taysia isn’t stupid. She’s remarkably intelligent and she’s stunningly pretty. She has artistic talent. Unfortunately, she isn’t the only woman with great potential who has to work a degrading job to make ends meet. It’s a common affliction in our culture. But if people like Taysia, who thinks the behavior is degrading, mean, sick, and wrong, work jobs like this to maintain a decent lifestyle, what changes can we hope to see in the future?