In 1993 I was a social worker for a mental health facility in Columbus, Ohio. My job was to rehabilitate people living in the state hospital – mostly schizophrenics – to the point where they could function in the community. Why would I do this, you ask? Well, state hospitals cost a lot of money to run, so the Reagan administration threw out a big word called “deinstitutionalization,” which basically means “let’s throw all the mentally ill out on the street”. Many of the folks I worked with had been in the hospital for years. They had no idea how to do laundry or to balance a check book or cook a meal, so that’s where I came in. After all, I was in my early 20’s. I had finished college two years before. I knew how to clean up after myself and cook my own meals, but interestingly enough, I still lived with my parents. I hadn’t been deinstitutionalized myself.
In July of 1993 I was sitting in my psychiatrists office. I was still reeling from the deaths of a couple of my clients who had no business being released from the hospital. That was, unfortunately, part of the process. Release all these people and see what happens. Some will fly. Most will sink. A few will die. I just couldn’t wrap my head around this particular job. I hated it. I wanted to leave it so I came up with a plan. I was going to take a break and move to Colorado for one ski season. I would come back to social work – perhaps in a different capacity – after one ski season. As I was working on this plan with my doctor I kept fiddling with a lump in my neck. My psychiatrist noticed that I was poking at something and mentioned that I should get it checked out soon. I told him I would.
Within a week, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Don’t worry, it wasn’t a “bad cancer” – I mean, it wasn’t neuroblastoma for crying out loud – but it still required me to go through treatment. I had a couple of surgeries and some radiation therapy. Five year follow-up. Anticipated that I would survive for a long time. Blah, blah, blah. But to my 25-year-old self, I decided that it was time to get on with my life.
I quit my job and, as soon as I had enough range of motion to turn my head, I drove all the way to Colorado. I got a job with what eventually turned into Vail Resorts. My first job was as a hostess. Then I moved to the front desk, which lead to a management job. Then I got my dream job as an interviewer in the HR department. I love to talk. I love to match people with jobs. I love to talk people down from their fear of taking a drug test. I had reached my job nirvana.
I got a call from my supervisor stating that the marketing department was going to a trade show and one of the marketing folks had come down with a cold and couldn’t go. The company had already paid for two employees to go and they didn’t want to lose out on the airfare/room so they made a really weird decision to send an HR person. I was the chosen one. My supervisor told me that she didn’t expect me to hire anyone while I was there – this trade show was geared toward condo sales and selling season tickets – so there was absolutely no pressure on me to perform. Wait. You mean I’m going to get paid to go on a road trip, have an expense account, and there’s absolutely no expectations of me? Sign me up!
The next day, I jumped a plane to Portland, Oregon. I immediately fell in love with this place. The beautiful shades of green. The constant precipitation. How clean everything smelled. It was beautiful. I checked into the hotel and met my “teammate,” a super suave dude named Mark. He was all about making the sale and, while he didn’t really understand the point of my being there, was glad to have the company. We went out for dinner and planned our line of attack: he was going to sell a lot of condos and lift tickets. I was going to look cute and pass out candy (this trip just happened to fall on Halloween).
I’m not sure what happened once I arrived to that big room filled with tables and booths. I was in my element. Every person that came to us got an earful of how much I loved Keystone Resort and how it changed my life. I would give them a tootsie roll in exchange for Sarah’s story of How I Became An Adult. By the end of my yarn people were so entranced that they wanted to buy a condo AND a season pass. And, lo and behold, five people wanted a job. I told them, of course, that they’d have to pass a drug test.
Five Portlanders came to me that ski season. They had the time of their lives and two of them returned for a second season. I was never so proud. I feel like I taught them how to fly. And that was something I was never able to teach my schizophrenic patients.
I am confident that I truly knew who I was when I lived in Summit County, Colorado. My one ski season turned into eight years. Of course, I didn’t have the cares that I have now, but that time of my life is when I truly became an adult. I knew what I wanted. I understood “Sarah”. I don’t know when I lost sight of that, but I often mourn that I didn’t stay in touch with that girl….
I think I’m going to have to look her up.
Sean Reid gave me this word. It’s technically two words but I knew I had to write about it. I generally don’t like to do too much thinking about the words I’m given but I went into a bit of a mourning period when I saw “trade show”. I’m so sad that I’ve given up so much of myself to things I just can’t control. I’ve forgotten how to live.
I haven’t known Sean for very long. I’ve met him a couple of times and we talk often enough so I know that I sincerely like this person. He’s smart and funny and ultimately very caring. He lost his young daughter a few years ago and understands what it means to face adversity and struggle with the tough stuff life throws at him, yet he’s still standing. I admire that. Plus, his mom and dad are super awesome. I put in a bid to be adopted by them over a year ago, I think we’re still tangled up in paperwork. Thanks, Sean, for your friendship. I sincerely hope to call you “brother” some day.