It was the summer of 1998, I was nineteen and home from college. I landed a job at Chef Andre’s newest restaurant on the west side of Albuquerque. I’d waited tables since I was fourteen, but this was my first upscale gig with its seared seabass and parmesan stuffed mushrooms. Fancy as it was, somehow, my clothes still reeked of garlic and grease, the exact same as they had with all the other restaurants.

It was a Monday afternoon, and I was ironing my white collared shirt to report to work. The phone rang, and I carefully balanced the iron on the edge of the board, reaching across to grab the corded telephone on the wall. It was Chef Andre on the other end.

“Shea, we have a change of plans for this evening. I have two friends who flew in from NY.  I promised to take them to Santa Fe, but something came up, and I cant go. They’ve been traveling since 7 am, so I would like it if you gave them a break and drove for them. You’ll be like a chauffeur for the evening.

I’ll pay you $100 bucks, and you’ll be back by 10:00. Just drive them around the touristy parts of old town and be sure they make their seven o’clock reservation at Geronimo’s.  Meet over here at four o’clock and Sara will go with you.  You can drive up in my Denali. No need to wear your work attire.”   Before I could respond he hung up.

I despised ironing and was tickled to pull my shirt off the board, tossing it back into the pile of clothes on my closet floor. I threw my hair up into a ponytail, searched through my hamper for my black Gap jeans, then slipped on a black v neck shirt and my favorite turquoise bracelet. I arrived at 4:00 on the nose. Sarah was waiting by the SUV wearing a cute wrap around sundress with baby-blue flowers and strappy shoes.

“Hey Sarah, You look nice. Do you think I’m underdressed? I was going for a stylish Santa Fe chauffeur look.”

“You look fine. Why do you think they wanted both of us?” she asked.

“Oh, you know, like safety in numbers. So that we’d be comfortable; besides, this place is always dead on a Monday night. He doesn’t need us here anyways. A cab back and forth to Santa Fe would cost a fortune, “ I replied.

Fifteen minutes later, Chef Andre opened the back door laughing with two men by his side. Ray was from Queens and Nick from Brooklyn. The men were in their early 40s, both wearing jeans, polos, and tan leather shoes. It was the basic dad uniform.

We all jumped in the Denali and started our 55-minute drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. We drove through the plaza filled with jewelry, leatherwork, and art galleries. They seemed less than impressed by my knowledge of Georgia Okeefe’s work, making a crack that her pieces looked like a woman’s vulva. They were by no means wrong, so I guess I couldn’t be offended by the observation, not to mention I wasn’t confident on the definition of vulva.

I parked in the lot just south of the plaza. They wanted to stop at Jalisco’s Cantina for a Cadillac margarita before their dinner reservations.

“Okay, we’re here. You gentlemen have a great time. Meet back here at 6:45, so we can make your 7:00 dinner reservations.”

“Shea, you don’t need to stay in the car. Join us for a cocktail, ” Nick insisted.

“Thanks, but I’ve got a great book, and Sara’s gonna window shop for a bit. We’re totally fine,” I said as Nick presumptively opened the driver side door and took my hand, encouraging me to get out.

Sara and I looked at each other. I didn’t love the idea of hanging with older men I had just met but sitting in the car didn’t seem fun either as Sarah lacked any real personality.

We hopped out and walked toward the plaza coming across a chic clothing boutique filled with broomstick skirts, concho belts, and Stetson cowgirl hats. Ray noticed my eyes stop at a chunky turquoise necklace displayed in the window.

“Let’s peek inside, ladies. Maybe we can get you something to make you feel special.”

Sarah was in and out of the dressing room a half dozen times, settling on a new dress as I cautiously perused the racks, knowing I would happily leave empty-handed.

My mama taught me never to let a man buy me anything unless I was interested in the night going further. She told me that money is power. Who has the money has the power. I saw this first hand as my friend Veronica never paid for a drink through all of college. But it came with a price of being sucked into long, dull conversations often accompanied by heavy thigh petting, all just for a nine dollar cocktail. It didn’t seem worth it.

I had another friend who found herself legs-up in the backseat of a car after her date had spent $100 on dinner. He guilted her into it, saying it was their third date, and it was rude of her to continually be a taker and never a giver. They never spoke again.

We got to the Rooftop Cantina, and I ordered an iced tea. Sara looked beautiful in her new dress, though uncomfortably shy, as Nick brushed back her auburn hair from her face saying, “You have the most beautiful brown eyes. I could look at them all night. I hope I get to.”

His attention towards her didn’t sit well with me. The lighthearted ride up here was turning into a flirtatious evening. Ray looked over at me with my iced tea and my arms crossed, “I like your tough girl attitude. It’s cute on you. You’re sassy, and it’s sexy.

Over the next two hours, Nick drank four dirty martinis while Ray took shots of Patron alongside his Coronas.

I was nineteen and stupid, but it dawned on me that we had been pimped-out by our boss. These guys didn’t want a chauffeur. They wanted a piece of my 19-year-old ass.

Andre was known  as a womanizer. He had married the year before and was recently in the doghouse after being caught flirting with a hostess. The puzzle pieces all came together. He wasn’t allowed to come out and play, but he still wanted to look like a big shot by hooking his buddies up with some girls for a mere two hundred bucks; chump change to him.

I felt like an idiot. “Why didn’t I see it all along? Why would Andre do this to me?”

Just then, I heard my mother’s voice crystal clear in my ears, saying, “If you find yourself in a bad situation, get up and get yourself out of it.”

Just then, I heard my mother’s voice crystal clear in my ears, saying, “If you find yourself in a bad situation, get up and get yourself out of it.”

I had heard these words a hundred times, if not more. She said them as I kissed her head goodbye each Friday night. She said them as she dropped me off at the mall in 7th grade. She even said them as we pulled up to my very first slumber party.

Now, with sweaty palms and a nervous stomach, I knew I was in a bad situation, and it was likely to spin out of my little girl hands unless I got my ass out of it.  It was dark, I was an hour away from anybody I knew, I had no phone and was in the company of two drunk men twice our age who wanted to teach Sarah and I a few new tricks. I told them I wasn’t much interested in magic, knowing full well what they meant.

I had been pressured into sex just a year before. After thirty minutes of “no babe, not tonight,” I gave into him, worried I was a tease or a prude. I promised myself that I would never give in again. I didn’t consider myself a victim then, and I wasn’t about to be one on this night.

A boy could call me a prude if he were so inclined (though not true), but a tease I would never be. I learned quickly that the price of a dinner wasn’t worth my self-respect. I would buy my own dinner and drinks, and I would never feel indebted to another boy or man for that matter.

Luckily, I grew up in the valley of Albuquerque, NM. No rich boys around there. My first date was at Taco Bell. My prom date, Daniel, decided we would go dutch at dinner but failed to mention this to me until the check came and he had exactly $30 for himself. My high school sweetheart, Ceaser, would count out his four dollars and twenty eight cents, which was exactly enough to pay for his Big Mac with cheese, fries, and a Dr. Pepper on our Saturday night dates.

I learned early on to bring my own cash. It prevented me from starving or having to wash dishes, but I also realized it leveled the playing field. I remained in control, indebted to no one.

We teach our daughters to be likable, gracious, and most importantly, grateful. But there is an internal struggle we battle with when somebody has spent their hard-earned money on us and is sincerely shooting to get lucky, or at least get some heavy petting in the backseat of their car. Many young girls worry that he’ll never ask them back out again if they don’t seem grateful or show him that she is genuinely into him.

Having been in those situations, I learned quickly to take my own money and drive my own truck. How could I get myself out of a bad situation if I didn’t have a means to leave? Getting a DUI was a concern but equally was my fear of getting stranded at a sketchy house party at 1 am. Here I was, breaking my rule with no car of my own to get out of the situation.

Ray could see my scattered mind racing. I casually reached for the keys on the table just as he snatched them up.  In his thick Brooklyn accent and a crease between his brows, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Shea, you need to lighten up a little. You are so sexy but wound up like a fuckin hag. Loosen up, and you might have some fun in life. Guys would like you if you smiled a bit more.”

I hassled over the keys with him for the next twenty minutes. Sara looked the other way in an attempt to avoid the tension building between Ray and me.

Ray took a shot of Patron and turned to me with a puckered face, “Shea, just get a drink. I know what girls like you like.” Then he waved his hand to the waitress and hollered. “One vodka cranberry for the lady.”

His persistence told me that he had a definite plan for our evening, and there was no chance I was gonna get the keys back. So, I pretended to head for the restroom but instead snuck out to use the payphone we had passed along our walk. I searched through my purse and had just enough quarters to call long distance, thanks to my trip to the coin carwash earlier that day.

I thought to myself, “who could come to rescue us? Mom’s car is in the shop again. I don’t want to call Dad. What if he thinks I’m a gullible idiot or that I planned to hook up with these men then changed my mind.”

I decided to call Andre. He had gotten me into this shitshow, so he was gonna get me out. Luckily, he’d given me his home phone number before we left. The phone rang four times then his wife picked up.

“Hey Darlene, sorry to bother but Andre asked me to drive Ray and Nick up to Santa Fe and…”

“What?? Ray and Nick are in town? What are those idiots doing here? Oh, Andre is going to pay for this. What an asshole!”

Then she yelled with a surprisingly intimidating voice, “ANDRE! ANDREEE!! Get the fuck in here! Did you really pimp out Shea and Sarah to your jackass friends? They’re married and twice their fucking age, Andre!”

The married part came as a surprise as neither were wearing rings, but the dad bod made sense now. I heard no response from Andre. Then came the sound of breaking glass, which I can only assume was her bottle of chardonnay being thrown across the room.

“Shea, I’m so sorry. Stay put right where you are, and I’ll be there in an hour to get you,” she promised.

I casually returned to the table for an exceptionally long hour of dirty jokes and thigh rubs. They were taken back when Darlene finally arrived. It was an awkward scene as she swooped in to rescue us, wearing sweatpants and her hair in a banana clip perched on the top of her head. We had just walked out the door when Sara (bless her stupid soul) insisted on awkwardly walking back in to grab her old dress from under her chair. Turns out it was her older sister’s.

We drove home with no more than three words spoken. I assumed Darlene’s silence was on account of her regret for having married a jackass with little integrity. She appeared deep in thought as her eyes stayed fixated on the road ahead of us. I looked back at Sara, who also sat in silence but mouthed to me a single, “thank you.”

I turned around and stared out the window at the full moon now hovering over the desert. I do not doubt that Sara would have found herself under the weight of Nick that evening; not wanting it but feeling like she owed it to him after receiving a free dinner. I could tell she didn’t have it in her to say no. She didn’t have the confidence it takes to say it with conviction.

Mom always said, “God gives us good, good examples and God gives us good, bad examples. We can learn a lot from both of them.”

It was Sara’s lack of confidence that gave me more confidence. Her poor choices of letting them buy her things, made me stronger in my beliefs, as I saw all the power transfer to Nick. She wanted what she wanted, but she also knew it came with a price. It was a gamble.  But what price would she end up having to pay? I saw weakness in Sara, and I knew they did too. Once I recognized it I decided to do the exact opposite.

Many tell their daughters that a boy should treat them right. Their dates need to pick them up in their car and buy them dinner. But they forget that these girls are new to receiving from boys. By nature, they feel indebted to them.

As girls, we are raised to be likable, pleasant and grateful. We are raised to be givers, not takers. Those values are not easily brushed aside. Fully receiving with no guilt is a trait not attained by many.

I get it, we want to teach our boys to be chivalrous, but all too often the focus is on paying for meals or gifts and not on how to truly treat a woman.

To paraphrase Maya Angelou,  When you know better, do better. 

Let’s give our daughters the freedom and security to leave a situation any time they wish in their own car. Let’s encourage them to work hard and earn money to buy their own drinks, their own dinners, and their own dresses. Let’s teach them to hold their seat in the discomfort of being disliked.  Being disliked will at times be a testament to their integrity and self-respect.  Let’s model the confidence to raise our voices and the conviction to stand up for ourselves and others.  Let’s raise our girls to be women. 

 

Your friend,

Shea

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