Now and again we run into an old friend and wonder why we ever lost touch. Sherry and I were so close when we were in our early twenties but for some reason, we drifted apart. Before running into her, I hadn’t given it much thought. But it all came flooding back to me – the social isolation that comes with having the courage to be different.
Separating From the Pack
Choosing to join the army and become a mechanic when I got out of high school was a great decision for a lot of reasons not the least of which was it gave me a steady income. There was a price to be paid for this decision to be different – one of the areas where we suffered some growing pains was in the relationship area. Not many of the women that I knew were doing anything that was not traditional. I had stepped outside the norm, I stepped way out. My choice to become a mechanic and the choice to join the military served to “separate me from the pack” so to speak and it was painful. The pain dulled but it was a tough go in the beginning.
Where Do I Belong?
Those early days were an emotional roller coaster on every front. We expected challenges in the workplace but we were not prepared for what might happen in our personal lives. Getting along with “the boys” became easier in time as we developed strategies for dealing with one another. For the most part, we developed a working relationship that often blossomed into friendship and mutual respect. I became “one of the guys” and sometimes even that was to my detriment.
The differences between me and my female friends who had chosen more traditional routes became more obvious over time. For example when we would get together over a meal or a night out, they mostly monopolized the conversation – there were more of them and only one me. They chatted about events that were happening in their lives around children, relationships and decorating new homes. I was still single, had no children and my days were filled with car parts and exciting excursions into the bush. There was never a right time to jump in on the conversation. I was pretty certain that they did not share my excitement around the trick I had developed to get the fuel pump in the car. Tying a string around my wrench to ensure that it didn’t fall into the flywheel opening paled in comparison to the smell of fresh washed linen. I often left those gatherings feeling disoriented. What was wrong with me? I also felt a little invisible as there was no place to share my experiences.
I enjoyed it when we planned a social outing with the co-workers and their spouses. But I’m not certain that I fit in any better there. The men were discouraged from chatting too much with me when the women were around and so that meant I had to sit with the ladies. Most of my stories were the ones that I shared with their spouses – they were already suspicious about that relationship and I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire by sharing a moment that I had shared with one of “the boys”. Talking about how we had covered one another’s ass at work would not have gone over well.
The guys avoided me at these times too – not only because their wives gave them the evil eye but also because I wore a skirt and heels on occasion – it didn’t go well with the oil that never seemed to come out from under my nails but I liked the feminine side of myself. They looked at me like I was strange whenever I wasn’t in coveralls. Where the heck did I fit?
One night I went out on a date with 3 other couples – we were travelling home from the bar in two cars when our car broke down. My date was driving and he pulled up to the other car to get a boost. They were having some discussion about where to hook up the cables. I told my friend Sharon to move over into the driver’s seat as I went to show them what to do. I kicked off my shoes, grabbed the cables and hooked them up. I gave the universal signal to turn the engine over and when the car started I reached under the air filter and cranked the valve that operated the accelerator on the carb. When I turned around there were 7 eyes looking at me as I slammed the hood shut. It was kind of quiet as we drove home – a chilly climate has descended on us – I wasn’t that sexy as the lady that rescued her boyfriend. He never asked me out again…..Oopsie.
Looking back, the pain went away, but those times were tough and I felt all alone with no one to share in a very important part of me. We had no role models to tell us what to expect and to share in their own journey. We needed people who shared in our experiences and we needed to embrace our uniqueness – I hope that ladies today have it easier.