I returned from volunteering overseas this summer with two significant problems; nits and unemployment. Now truly at the threshold of adult life, embound in stigma and accessorized with dirty buzzwords plucked from early and later years both, I began age 24 with a weary reluctance.
My childhood was punctuated by lice. And by this, I am referring to a childhood punctuation, whereby each ‘subject-verb-object’ three word phrase is stopped short by a big black (shuffling) dot. I began secondary school with corn-rows, their cutting edge slightly blunted by the creatures shuffling hastily between the tunnels of scalp and hair. With my mom deceased, and a father not quite yet accustomed to teen and pre-teen tangles, I was (at least, we were) packed off to a family friend’s house for the dreaded nit-combing procedure. (I will always be indebted to this wonderwoman for her superhuman commitment to my crawling scalp!)
Anyway, at age twenty-four, nit-combing is not a question of delegation any longer. It is your own job now. Like ironing, replacing the loo role, buying stamps or actually doing the washing-up after baking. No pest control services are offering to sit behind a young woman and gossip as they comb her tresses and pull at stubborn lice with long, strong nails, squishing them into the corner of a soft white towel. And even if such services were available, it would be of no use anyway; I was unemployed.[pullquote]At age twenty-four, nit-combing is not a question of delegation any longer. It is your own job now. Like ironing, replacing the loo role, buying stamps or actually doing the washing-up after baking.[/pullquote]
I visited the dole office for the first time the morning after my twenty-fourth birthday. I had spent the previous day in battle with a migraine and the societal expectation of fulfilling a ‘happy birthday’. As a result, this morning my senses were simultaneously heightened and dulled and I was still in a considerable amount of pain. This day was to become the first of an unhappy saga; like a rapidly reproducing nit population, so too did my negative experiences with the dole office spawn.
Immediately, I was treated as a subject of suspicion. It became a quest to pull at the stitches of my faux gold lined pockets to find beneath an expansive property portfolio taped to my leg like a Huzzar naggin bottle at an underage disco. And I was stereotyped; an Arts Student, freshly returned from a volunteer stint in a Developing Country where she seeked to encounter first-hand a hardship that had never before brushed her privileged existence. She lives with Daddy. Writes poems?? Probably fecking gluten intolerant too.
I was interrogated about my ongoing volunteering commitments and my participation in an accredited evening course; information that proved an obstacle for paperwork, not an opportunity for development.[pullquote]An Arts Student, freshly returned from a volunteer stint in a Developing Country where she seeked to encounter first-hand a hardship that had never before brushed her privileged existence. She lives with Daddy. Writes poems?? Probably fecking gluten intolerant too.[/pullquote]
Now, plastic surgery ‘documentaries’ (very factual indeed) were all the rage in the noughties. It was a craze that I greedily indulged in, and frankly they made for a nice distraction as my hair was being yanked from the roots.
So, as I continued my job seekers application process, I was reminded of said ‘documentaries’. I saw the late-middle aged man, thinning hair dyed a trampled-leaf brown, whitened teeth that only served to highlight his saliva-stained chin, and thick, stumpy Donald Trump-esque paws. He was holding a permanent black marker. And with it, he was drawing on a young female surgery victim. Her hips, he began, – too broad. Nose – crooked. Bum – cellulite. Breasts – sagging. Arms – wobbling. Lips – empty. Eyes…etc. He replaces the lid on his marker, smiling to himself as he succeeds to complete the task with just one hand. He looks to his victim with a forced pity. He quotes her a price and as she reaches for her purse with hands much finer than his, he changes his mind. Retracts his offer. Slices the string from the dangling carrot. And with a feigned polite pity, he asks her to leave – still marked with his black pen.
And this was how I felt. Not once granted a smile, I was an object of flaws that in the end, was not deemed worthy of assistance. Without consideration to a proven social commitment, to persistent challenges of ill-health nor the significant medical costs as a result, I was unworthy.
And really, my gripe was not such that I was unworthy of financial assistance but rather that I was unworthy of respect, encouragement or dignity. I felt embarrassed, I felt ashamed, greedy, dishonest and lazy. And I’m not that.
The day of my final appointment, I was asked if I had any further questions. I shook my head. I looked up and succeed in time to catch my smile as I shared one last piece of myself with the Dole Lady. She called number seventeen, and as I left the building, she scratched her head.