Voicemails from my Mother

Below I have transcribed the best voicemails my mother left for me in 2014. Happy New Year!

 

 

“Hey Tasha it’s your Mom! The TV just fell off the wall, if you can believe that. I just called your Dad. It’s unbelievable. Missed Bart by a hair! He came screaming into the kitchen. And I was on the phone with a new provider trying to get information for Noah and you can imagine what I screamed. I’m sure she has special notes in her folder about how I need mental health referrals too. Oh my God! Oh my God! Unbelievable! It’s still playing smooth jazz, but the whole front, I mean there’s no cracks or anything, cause it bounced off the dog bed, BUT everything is a color grid. So I’m sure it’s like totally totaled. Your dad is having a fucking fit, as you can imagine. I missed your call last night cause we were out to dinner! We went and, um, opened a bank account, got a safe deposit box, you know, very close to the house and then we went to this Prime Cuts place that’s crowded all times of the day, every day of the week, and it was excellent, absolutely excellent. But I’m at the dog park now and there’s nobody here for Bart to bully so I thought I’d call and chat. A Cane Corso just left the other fenced in area and him and Bart were going at it through the fence, it was giving me a heart attack. And this woman was on the phone the whole damn time! These people with dangerous dogs show up and they’re on the phone the whole damn time, it just makes me crazy. But, my dangerous dog is like by himself with his brother, the poodle, so that’s the only reason I’m calling you. Just want to clarify. Bye!”

October 24, 2014 9:46 AM

 

 

“No!… Tasha, I need you to hashtag or tweet number sign boys sade and type in Delvin, because I don’t know how to do that and they’re eliminating my two favorite stars which is Delvin or Sassandra! Please do it quick! Bye!”
May 6, 2014 8:59 PM

 

 

“Hey Miss Natasha, it’s your mother and I was calling to go over this San Diego information with you. There’s a couple things I know your dad would really like to do. One I think we should drop him off and go somewhere else but Old Town is mentioned throughout so I’m sure if that’s where you live that’s cool. Um… what else… Oh, what was the name of the place that starts with a ‘B’ and has a bunch of museums and stuff? You can just call me back, maybe we’ll talk this weekend. It’s about a quarter to nine here and I’m exhausted so I’m gonna be going to bed soon and um I’ll let you, You probably heard that our second offer on the house, our counter offer, was accepted so we got a really good deal and Bethlehem is a great area to be in. So, I think we’re very fortunate. Um, that’s it. I don’t have to go back up there on an emergency house hunting trip, put the dogs back in the kennel. So I cancelled again! She’s gonna think I’m insane because I just begged her to take them this morning, thinking I had to go up there and look at a half dozen more houses. So, we are done, we will have the closing done the week of the 22nd, the week before we leave to come out to you. Hopefully we’ll um I’ll be moved in by mid-September and this will be listed by the beginning of October. But, I can purge happily! The garage door is broken and I can’t get out or get the trash out to the curb. I mean it really could have injured me today. It came right out of the ceiling, the entire frame, and Wow. Um, luckily Weasley was already in the car and I wasn’t standing where I usually stand when I push that button. But anyway, I couldn’t get back in once I got out and shut it so, um, hopefully the fix it man can fix that tomorrow. That’s it! Have a good evening. Hugs to Murphy. Hugs to Josh. Goodnight! (long yawn).”
August 7, 2014 8:45 pm

 

 

 

 

“Hi, it’s me just feeling sorry for myself because everybody’s at Ludfest, but me! WAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Goodbye!”
August 8, 2014 8:09 PM

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The summer of my discontent (part 2)

For this interview, on July 9th, I wore my professional clothes once again, but it no longer felt like a disguise, as I allowed my hair to remain in it’s wild wavy state. I was fairly certain my interviewer would be dressed this way as well. Confident I had a reasonably accurate picture of what to expect, my nerves were only marginally spiking.

I drove inland for fifteen minutes, where mountains, dry and sparsely green, bubbled upward and the temperature escalated dramatically. It had been ninety degrees when I left my apartment, but now my car read one hundred and two. My gps instructed me to an open air school, uncovered hallways and buildings with sports fields sprawling outward paralleled the beautiful school in the dark movie, Thirteen. Once again I checked my email for the address, as this did not appear to be residential treatment, but, once again, I was in the instructed location.

I parked my car and found a map behind thick plexiglass mounted onto a wall near what I assumed was an entrance, as there was a break in the chain link fence. Apparently there were many offices here as well as the school. I followed a yellow line painted on the ground to a door marked 136 LLYC and entered.

“Hi, I’m here for an interview at 10,”

It was 9:30. I am habitually early in my efforts to not be late.

“Alright, do you know who with?”

“Hmm, it’s for the Mental Health Counselor position in residential, …” I really couldn’t remember the name of the person who had called, his accent had made our conversation feel like a Jenga puzzle, where I carefully interpreted what I thought he was saying and slowly shifted blocks around in response until he emailed me this address.

“I gotchu, you’re with William, I’ll let him know you’re here.” She handed me a clipboard of paperwork.

I sat in a small knook of four wooden armchairs and squinted at the small print. There were seven pages to fill out,

“Hi, sorry to bother you, I filled out this information online too… Do I need to do this paper copy in addition, or…”

“Yes. They would like the paper copy.”

“Ok, just checking. Thank you!”

I sat back down.

A Hispanic family entered, a young boy flanked by his young mother and grandmother. They nestled around me, talking to each other in Spanish. It seemed the mother was nervous, her knees jolting up and down. The grandmother appeared to be more nervous, wringing her hands. The boy was silent, sullen, uninterested. He kicked my chair as he leaned back, jolting my pen across the page.

“Alejandro, stop!” His mother said, and smiled nervously at me.

Alejandro crossed his arms in front of him.

“It’s fine, really.”

Alejandro swung his legs precariously close to my chair for the next ten minutes, his mother staring so hard at his scuffed sneakers, waiting for him to kick me again, that I thought they might ignite.

I didn’t want to participate in this stalemate.

A woman with a silver gray bob appeared from down the hallway and leaned down, her sweater flowing open, revealing overflowing and freckled cleavage, “Hi, is this Alejandro?”, she gazed at the woman surrounding him.

Alejandro stared at her, and said nothing.

“Yes, hi, I’m his mother, Maria, and this is Alejandro.” She gestured toward her son and then her mother, “This is his grandmother, Carmen.”

The woman looked at me expectantly, “I’m just here for an interview,” I smiled.

“Alright, well I think if it’s ok I’ll just talk to Alejandro for a little bit on our own. How does that sound Alejandro?”

He stared back at her, unblinking.

“Alejandro! Go!” The mother swung her arm around his back and leveraged him upward. He slowly walked beside the woman down the hallway and the mother and grandmother resumed speaking in Spanish.

I turned my clipboard in, “I’m finished, here ya go, thanks.”

“Perfect, thank you. William is ready to see you, so if you go outside and walk three doors down, on the left, just knock and someone will come let you in.”

“Awesome, thank you.”

I continued down the sidewalk, knocked, and waited. Another woman opened the door to reveal an identical set up as the previous office. I was escorted down the hallway.

“Hi, I am William, so nice to meet you!” William extended his hand. His skin was dark and shiny, like he was a wooden man crafted from Burma Blackwood and vigorously polished each morning.

“Natasha Foster, nice to meet yoh!” We sat at a small circular table across from his desk, in navy plastic chairs, which matched the carpet, “I know that my accent make it difficult for people to understand what I say, so please, if I say anything you don’t understand just stop and I will repeat myself, Ok?”

I nodded, “Sure, I’m really sorry about our phone conversation, but I think it’ll be fine in person,” I smiled.

He opened a manilla folder and placed my resumé and cover letter beside each other. He lowered his head into a separate folder, “So I see yoh have worked in residential treatment befoh and also with trohma. That is very good foh us. Tell me, how does Lyle Lincoln Youth Center fit into yohr career path?”

“Well, from the information that I’ve been able to read online it seems like a good fit, consistent with the other non-profit organizations I’ve been able to work with in mental health. Ultimately I’m interested in going into psychiatric nursing so I’d like to stay in direct care in the meantime, until I’m able to make that transition.”

“Nursing, yas, that is great, great. Yoh could even stay, we have a medical coordinator position for nurse!” William looked down again, at his stapled packet. He was reading from a list, “Tell me about a time in yohr work or educational experiance where you were faced with a challenging situation, and how yoh responded,” He looked up and smiled.

“So when I worked in residential, my second week, another new staff and I took a group of boys outside to a little playground and two of them broke into a fight. We tried to walkie for more staff to come, but no one came. We got them to separate and then the larger male, who was over six feet, ran around the side of the building so I followed because I knew I had to keep him sight. He was extremely escalated and ripped a wrought iron fence out of the ground,”

“Oh, wow,” William smiled, he was entertained. People who work in mental health always have these sort of stories. Whenever I am asked, What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen?, by curious parties I can’t  even choose, and I’ve barely started my career.

“Right, it was quite a scene. So he’s pulling the fence up and there’s dirt flying everywhere and then he turns around runs past me, and starts kicking out the glass doors and windows to the main building. I start repeating his name, because I think I’m going to be able to get his attention and, snap him out of it, I don’t know. But when he hears me, he turns and punches the wall beside my face and yells ‘SHUT UP’,” I hold my palm in front of my face to communicate how close he was,  “At this point another of the residents, who was also very large statured, comes around the corner and basically takes him down into the grass. Then staff finally came because they had heard the glass breaking from inside.”

“So another resident restrained the one acting out?”

“Yep. He had lived there like three years and whenever things got out of control he acted as if he were staff, which was an entirely separate issue, obviously.”

William laughed, “What an introduction, yeah? So what did yoh learn from this crisis?”

“To check that my walkie works as soon as I get it… Never to be alone with a resident, and to take a lot more space when someone is escalated. Not to send two new staff out with a group of adolescent males.”

“Yas, Natasha, these are all important lessons to learn!”

“I couldn’t agree more.”

“So, given that this work is very difficult, uh, very emotionally challenging, how do yoh practice self care?”

“Well at my job in Pittsburgh I worked a huge amount of overtime, there were always extra shifts available so I doubled several times a week. I don’t do that anymore. It was way too much for that setting. I have found that I have to have a certain amount of sleep to be at my best and making sure I have time for friends and my boyfriend and my dog, things like that, really rejuvenate me to be present and focused at work.”

“Yas, yas, that is great!” At this point William switched from asking me questions and writing down my responses to just handing me the packet of questions and telling me to fill it out. At the end he began introducing me to everyone in the office, which felt like a sure sign I had the job, despite that the people I was being introduced to seemed decidedly bored by the disruption.

I followed William through the school, into the classrooms, and onto a sports field where the “participants” were dribbling basketballs.

“Hello everyone, this is Natasha, she is interviewing for the MHC position.”

They turned and nodded, “Hi,” one of the girls eyed me suspiciously.

William lowered his voice, “So our residents often have cognitive delays or developmental delays. Sometimes from, neglect you know, sometimes autism spectrum. Right now everyone is pretty high functioning, but yoh’ll notice in the school program that many are doing work at an elementary level. The girl with the dark hair and pink shorts, you’ll here people call her Apple, she has a very strange voice,” he gestured to his throat in an up and down motion, “but she’s actually very smart. She’s obsessed with pets though. Talks about them all the time. She’ll probably ask yoh about yohr pets.”

“So, is she allowed to talk to me about my pets, or?”

“Yes, as long as it’s appropriate, yoh know, she likes to talk about, uh, where they poop, yoh know. Just don’t talk about their poop.”

I smiled, “Noted.”

William then had me follow him to the actual residences, which were a mile away. A steep driveway, landscaped for privacy, led us to an archipelago of buildings amid an abundunce of palm trees and overgrown bushes. A tall black gate enclosed the outdoor space between the buildings. It reminded me of my story, and I wondered how deeply rooted into the ground it was.

“So these are the cottages, where our participants live. All of the evening shifts will be at this location, where as some of the morning shifts begin here but are mostly at the school,” He jangled a ring of keys between his hands as we walked, “These are the vans where yoh will drive the participants to school, yoh will not have to use yohr own car for that,” he opened the gate and walked into a beautiful courtyard, “Hi, this is Natasha, this is Jasper our AM assistant supervisor.”

RT3

Jasper was rail thin and tall, leaning dramatically backward in his seat. From behind his mirrored sunglasses he said, “Not too much going on today, Juan is having a hard time, taking some space.”

Juan was twenty paces away at a picnic table, he glared dramatically over his shoulder in our direction at the mention of his name.

We entered one of the cottages, the sudden darkness in comparison to the outdoors was disorienting. When my eyes had adjusted I scanned the room for signs of violence. The furniture was unbroken, heavy wooden chairs and sofas, with plastic maroon cushions, appeared worn, but– Ah, they had been screwed into the floor. The television was bolted to the wall, behind plexiglass. A massive chart of levels and rewards displayed a list of about a hundred actions which constituted aggression, which was an automatic demotion to copper level.

I needed more information.

William introduced me to Melinda, who was sitting in a tall captains chair inside the office. The office was smaller than my closet. The open door masked the shelves of binders and toiletries behind it, while the other side had a raised counter with a singular computer and shelves above it. This is where Melinda sat, kicking her feet against the chair. Behind her was another door which led to the staff bathroom. There was not enough room for both doors to be open at the same time.

“Hi Natasha! I’m Melinda! I’ve been working here on-call for about four years now. I love it. It’s a fun job. I know it’s really quiet right now but that’s not really typical.” Her blonde hair was so light it looked almost transparent.

“Oh, I’m sure,” I nodded, “Can’t trust it.”

“Exactly,” She brightened, “Have you worked in mental health before?”

“Yep,” I smiled.

William spoke, “How many kids stayed back from school today?”

“Just the two.”, she pointed her pen to the door across the living room, “This one is on freeze because she won’t take a shower, and that one is sick as a dog. The nurse is supposed to be here any minute.” She looked at her watch.

“How long has it been since she showered?” William asked.

“Two and a half days. I really don’t want to go down this road with her again.” Melinda shrugged, “But you know it’s up to her.”

“Yas, yas. Alright,” William tilted his head toward the kitchen, “This way,”

“Nice to meet you Natasha!” Melinda said as we exited the cottage and entered another building.

“This is building numbar tree. This is where we have all of tha staff mailboxes and walkies and where yoh clock in and out. This is the schedule. So the position we have open for full time is from two to ten pm with Wednesday and Thursday off. And then we have on-call open too. Would that work for yoh?”

I imagined a florescent sign flashing, ISOLATION, above the schedule.

“So I would work every weekend? It doesn’t change?”

“Yas, all of our full time positions work weekends, but their schedules do not change. You know exactly when yoh will work, always,” He jangled his keys in his hands and smiled, trying to make this positive.

In Pittsburgh the schedule had rotated so that if you had Thursday/Friday off the next week you had the following two days off and so on. Which meant you eventually had Saturday-Tuesday off every six weeks or so. Always rotating. In Baltimore, I had thought working every other weekend was awful. Ha! Ha! Ha!

I shifted gears, “How many shifts do on-calls generally work?”

“It depends, of course, but most work four, maybe five shifts a week. Morning shifts are hard to get. A lot of our staff are on call, but they do not get benefits and their schedules are always changing.”

Before the move to California Josh and I agreed that neither one of us could be regularly absent for work. We would be too far away from anyone else to leave the other on their own. This conversation arose when he warned me that he might be MIA quite a bit, and I had recoiled from the whole moving idea. So he promised that if his hours got really late during the week (as hours are wont to do when working at a start up) he wouldn’t work on his side projects that weekend, and I, in turn, had promised that I wouldn’t work exclusively evenings and weekends. We had to protect our together time, out here on our own.

And here I was, having been always available a hundred percent of the time since the move, but still– “I think on-call might be a better fit.”

“Really? Why is that?” William tilted his head and jangled his keys. He was clearly struggling finding someone to accept this schedule.

“Well, I can’t do most of that self care stuff we discussed earlier if I work this schedule.”  The issue seemed really obvious, to me, at least.

“Alright, on-call Natasha,” He put his keys back in his pocket, “Please let yohr references know I will be calling them.”

“Wonderful, thank you!”

We shook hands and I cheerfully bounded to my car, feeling a resurgence of confidence rush through my veins. I will be gainfully employed in no time! I can put all of this morose depressive bullshit behind me and if I’m on-call I can definitely swing school! Look at me now, func-tion-i-ing!

Boston Traffic 6 am

As I merged onto the freeway a faded red Ford Explorer blew out a tire in the far left lane. The vehicle tilted forward, and flew across six lanes of traffic, desperately trying to make it to the shoulder, and narrowly cut me off. They hit the large hill which bordered the freeway and rolled upward. The impact into the drought deadened dirt exploded an orange-brown cloud across traffic.

I couldn’t see anything but the murky red of brake lights ahead. I slowed to the right, onto the shoulder.

Horns were erupting loudly.

And within just a minute, the dust had settled. Another car had stopped ahead and the battered SUV had landed right side up, facing oncoming traffic, but mostly in the relative safety of the shoulder.

I dialed 911, and exited my car. Another driver stopped on the shoulder leaned out of her window, “Oh good, you’re calling 911 right? Ok, I’m gonna go, but I saw the whole thing. Their tire blew out and they were going way too fast.” With that, she clicked on her blinker and merged back into traffic.

I approached the car cautiously, as I gave the dispatcher our location. A stout Latin woman placed her child in the grass, speaking Spanish rapidly. An equally petite man was walking in circles around the vehicle. All of the windows had shattered and there was glass everywhere.

The dispatcher asked, “Was anyone thrown from the vehicle?”

“I really don’t know. They’re walking around, but they’re all bleeding. The glass shattered in from the windows.” I approached, “Did you all get thrown out of the car?” The woman stared at me for a moment and moved to shuffle things around inside the car. I turned my attention to the little girl sitting in the grass, her eyes were as big as saucers. She looked to be around five.

“Is anyone bleeding from the head?”

“Yes, but not profusely.” I scanned scene, “They’ve all got cuts on their head, and kind of all over…”

“Ok, we need them to sit down. We don’t want them walking around and–”

The woman approached me, her long dark hair was knotted. A thick strip of her upper leg was hanging away from her body, blood pouring down toward her foot, “Agua?”

“She wants water,” The girl said.

The woman pointed to her feet,

“She wants to wash her foot,” the girl said, staring ahead blankly.

The woman seemed completely unaware of the portion of her leg that was dropping away from her, gravity pulling the piece downward, “Water? Sure, ok.” My eyes lingered on her injury, it didn’t even look real. Like we were on a movie set and were meant to believe Freddy Krouger had reached for her as she ran past him in the boiler room. From my phone I head the dispatcher say,

“Don’t let them drink anything, it’ll make them nauseas and they could throw up.”

I reasoned if I gave her the water to wash her feet she would continue washing her leg and readily discover the injury on her thigh. That seemed traumatic. Plus, I couldn’t guarantee she wouldn’t drink it.

“Sorry, I don’t think I actually have any water. Lo siento, no aqua, lo siento,” I said. Then squatted down beside the girl, “Hi, my name is Natasha.”

This broke her trance like gaze, and she turned toward me.

“Do your parents speak any English?” she shook her head, “But you do,” She nodded.

“Awesome,” I squatted down beside her, “So I know this all seems really scary right now, right?”

She nodded.

“Car accidents are really scary, I know, but everything is going to be ok. I’m on the phone right now with someone who is sending doctors who are going to help us, ok? You’ve been to the doctor, right?”

She nodded.

“So it’s just like that, except they’re going to come in a big vehicle that has lots of lights and sirens. It can be pretty loud. And they might all be wearing the same uniform, which looks different than what a doctor wears, but they are here to help. They’re going to clean us up and make sure we’re all ok so we won’t get sick, ok?” I wondered why I always talk in plural to children. They’re not going to be cleaning me up, but it seemed more reassuring if I included myself.

“Ok,”

“Everything is going to be alright, we’re completely safe” I reiterated.

The mother began speaking to the girl in Spanish, assumably wanting to know what we were talking about. Her voice grew louder and she reached for my phone, “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!”,

I stepped backward and held my phone away from her,

The girl spoke, “She doesn’t want the police to come!” Tears welled up in her eyes,

“Stop. Stop.I’m sorry, they have to come,” I extended my right arm completely forward, holding her at bay and tucked the phone into my left arm, it hung up. “When you’re in a car accident you have to see a doctor, to be safe. They’re already coming,”

The girl spoke to her mother, again, in Spanish. The mom abruptly turned and started rearranging duffle bags that were inside the vehicle. The father threw up his hands, and continued to walk around the shoulder as cars whizzed by, picking up random debris that had been thrown from their car.

I really wished he would sit down.

I walked past the girl to try and tell him to get away from the road, as I passed I realized that the back of the girls shirt was saturated in blood. Her shoulder opposite me had been bleeding freely while we talked.

Shit.

A weird vocalization escaped me, “Aeroohhh, Hey, honey, can you do this?” I crossed my right hand onto my left shoulder. The girl mirrored me. “Great! Awesome! Just hold your hand there really tightly ok?”

She nodded. Surely her own germs, through the t-shirt, was better than no pressure at all? I really had no idea if this intervention was remotely helpful. You put pressure on things that are bleeding… you raise injuries above your heart to slow the bleeding, right? I knew only so much. I had no idea what to do for the mother, for instance. Surely pressing the skin back in place would just pack in the germs and visible dirt? I only had a Murphy blanket in my backseat. I smiled to myself, I can’t imagine how irritated the paramedics would be if they arrived to discover a dirty dog blanket wrapped around a wound. If we were in the woods or something though it would have had to do.

Plus, I was certain her ignorance of the injury was probably best at this point. With no medical background whatsoever I decided she wasn’t in danger of bleeding out in this short time before professionals arrived, and kept my distance from her erratic behavior.

Luckily my best guess response wasn’t being relied upon, and finally, the ambulance and policeman arrived, almost simultaneously.

“Here they are! It’s a lot of people, but they’re all just here to help! They’re safe.” I said to her before backing away. I was really hoping a kernel of what I was saying would make this whole ordeal less frightening, if she at least understood what was going on. The men descended, kneeling around her, others speaking to the parents in Spanish, getting them to stop meandering around the scene. The girl let out a loud cry, and finally, tears arrived.

The policeman grilled me about what I saw, drawing a diagram of the six lanes of traffic. I was asked many pointed questions about what speed I estimated they were going when this occurred.

“I really don’t know. I was entering on that ramp so I was going only like 40-ish, so they were going probably twice that and they didn’t appear to slow down at all before they hit the hill,” I gestured to the hill behind us. The vehicle beyond was bent severely inward and the roof was now concave, “So they rolled up and then back down.”

In truth I believed they were going faster than that, but who was I to assign a number?

He took my information and I drove home. As soon as I was parked I called my Joshua and relayed the story, “And of all the ridiculous things that make me anxious, I felt totally calm! What sense does that make?”

“I really don’t know. I would have passed out. That’s so crazy. You’re a hero, Zoots!”

I laughed, “Hardly, I had no idea how to help, I just called 911. It actually really frustrated me that I didn’t know what to do, but I’m glad the carnage didn’t freak me out like I always thought it would. Maybe I could stomach nursing.”

“Yeah, absolutely. You could definitely do it. How was your interview, by the way?”

“I’m pretty sure I’ve got it. It pays marginally more than my last job, but my hours aren’t for sure. It could be kind of violent. We’ll have to see. I’ll tell you about it when you get home.”

“Yeah, we’ll have to talk about that,” he said, “Love you.” and hung up.

treewalk

So, with that, my interest in going back to school rekindled. It would be much cheaper to go to a community college for the pre-requisites at least and I applied for the one I was geographically closest to. Within the week I had been accepted and ironed out my federal financial aid. I was told that I would be last to register because I already have a degree, and because it was already July and classes started in late August. That seemed fair. I might not have an ideal schedule, but since my schedule was wide open I could make it work.

The week William called,  “Hello, Natasha, this is William. I have only heard from one of yohr references. I need to speak with all of them before we can proceed,”

I was confident everyone I had listed had glowing remarks and I had left them messages. They had all agreed to be a reference when I started job hunting, but that was approaching five months ago. I emailed him additional references, and apologized, offering that perhaps the time zone difference was a contributing factor.

In mid July, he called to offer me the job. Or rather, the following e-mail read “conditional offer of employment” and “Please let me know if you do not receive the pre-employment conditions in your email by the end of the week”. It was Monday.

The idle misery that had reigned over the summer was getting kicked to the curb, and a wave of relief swept over me. I counted the months on my hand, April, May, June, July. Had I really disintegrated that rapidly in just four months? The timeline alarmed me. The barricade against my depression that I had secretly, and fervently, congratulated myself on achieving was much more fragile than I’d thought. At least it had only been the slow circling at the top of the well, right? I hadn’t gotten really bad, after all, I reassured myself. No matter, I was going to be in school and working and all this would fade away. I could return to the obnoxious, funny version of myself that I liked best.

On July 24th I opened an email from Eugena McNulty, the directer of HR over at LLYC. There were thirteen attachments, and a highlighted warning that I had one month to complete the pre-employment conditions.

A month? I intended to complete them tomorrow morning.

“Hey Josh, I need to go to Kinkos, can I use your card? I also need to get a new clasp for my swimsuit at Michaels so it doesn’t fall open,” We had figured out early on it was much easier if he just left a credit card with me than to have him depositing money into my account all the time, during this period of dependence. It felt decidedly parasitic every time I used it. I reminded myself that, indirectly, this was his doing. I didn’t have a job because I left the one I had to follow him out here, after all. He knew he would have to support me when he conjured up this plan, but still, I hated using his card and always felt the need to justify what I needed to buy, no matter how small.

And while I had this internal debate about using his money Josh stated simply,

“Of course,”

By the time I had printed everything off it was twenty dollars, and I needed to fax back most of the paperwork, after signing or initialiing it, in addition to my college transcripts. Geez.

joannstore

I stopped into JoAnn’s fabrics, just across the street, to replace the swimsuit clasp and pick up some hair ties. It was six dollars, I swiped Joshua’s card at the reader in front of me. The machine blinked, and didn’t respond.

“Here I can do it back here,” the cashier stated, taking the card. And then, “Can I see your ID?”

Well, this was unexpected. The card did not say See ID. I presented my ID, “Sure,” Her teenage eyebrows furrowed, “But this is my boyfriend’s card. He knows I’m using it.”

“This isn’t your card?” She asked loudly, with thinly veiled excitement seeping through her suspicion.

“No, it’s my boyfriends card. I can use this one instead,” I extended my bright orange debit card across the counter.

She picked up the phone, and over the store intercom she said, “Can I have a manager to register one, a manager to register one, please,”.

“Um, I have my card right here you can use.”

The young woman was holding my ID and Joshua’s card hostage. She hadn’t taken my debit card off the counter. Her eyes were narrowed to slits.

“Yeah, I get that but you can’t just use someone elses card. Plus I have to void it out and start over. A manager has to do that,”

“Alright.” I rolled my eyes. If I was going to go on a spree with a stolen card I would not be stopping into Joann’s Fabrics for six dollars worth of plastic clasps and glittery hair ties.

The manager appeared, pleasantly plump and bespectacled, “What’s going on?”

“This woman is trying to use someone else’s credit card to buy her stuff,” the cashier stated in a stage whisper, handing the woman my ID and Joshua’s credit card.

“Oh my, where is she?” The woman pushed her glasses upward, into her hair, and held the cards close to her face.

“I’m right here,” My blood pressure was bubbling upward, I gestured like Vanna White to the counter, “My card is right here, ready to pay the six dollars.”

“Oh, I see,” she said. They exchanged a look, “I’m not sure what to do here,” she picked up the phone, “Mary can you come to the front please, Mary can you come to the front.”

I took a deep breath. A line of customers had formed behind me, “I’m pretty sure the best course of action is to let me pay with my card, the one right here in my hand, so I can leave.”

Who I could only presume to be Mary appeared, with silver hair in a bun and a bright red apron. The three huddled together, and the original cashier laid out the facts as she saw them, This disheveled woman is trying to commit fraud! She has a stolen credit card and is making off with our quality merch on someone else’s dime! Now that I’ve caught her she’s trying to just use a different card to get off easy! Who knows what her real name is! That’s probably not even a real ID!

“Here I’ll ring you up on this register down here,” Mary said judiciously, eyeing me up and down before handing both my ID and Joshua’s card back to me. We both stepped three feet downward and she dumped the small plastic bag out on the counter and began the process anew.

There were five people behind me in line.

“I still can’t void this off,” the original cashier said, jamming buttons dramatically with her index finger, blatantly disappointed the police weren’t being called.

As soon as I made it to my dented car and shut the door, I screamed at the top of my lungs.

july-2014-calendar-image

On July 28th I faxed my paperwork back to Eugena, and emailed her, wanting to confirm that she had received my paperwork and informing her that my fingerprinting appointment was for the following morning, so that would be taken care of soon.

My fingerprinting was booked at what turned out to be an immense office park. I approached the large building skeptically. When I had been fingerprinted before it was done at a Post Office Plus, where you could also get your picture taken for your passport, or in-house. I was forced to enter this monstrous building in my standard yoga pants and t-shirt uniform, carrying an iced coffee from Burger King, walking in beside men in formal suits.

My instructions of “Suite110-A” had led me to picture more of a strip mall set of offices, but Suite 110 turned out to be a doctors office? I surveyed the empty waiting room and glass encased counter. There were posters of children running after each other, the text read, An Active Child is Having Fun. A door beside the glass encased counter read “110-A” and had a paper clock taped to the front. Will return, the clock indicated nine o’clock.

It was 8:50.

I played Hello Kitty Café on my phone until 9:05 when a man hurriedly entered the waiting room, “You here for fingerprints?”

“Yep,” I stood.

“Awesome, just wait one minute.” He opened the door narrowly, and squeezed in, taking the paper clock with him. A loud humming noise emitted from the room and I heard a woman’s voice greet him.

“Alright then,” I sat back down.

At 9:15 the man opened the door. He gestured for me to sit in a folding chair immediately to my left, and he shut the door. My knees were touching the end of a table where a woman sat, shuffling papers. To the right was the giant humming machine which would scan my fingers. There was scarcely enough space for the three of us to occupy this room.

“Do you have your employer’s paperwork?” The woman extended her hand, impatient.

I produced the single sheet from my purse.

She stood, “We have seventeen appointments today you know, we can’t afford to get backed up,” she said to the man, who was entering information into a second computer, which rested on a raised desk beside the machine.

“Yes, I am aware,” he retorted, typing quickly.

The woman’s dress was completely open in the back. She was braless at work. The hi-low hem was alarmingly short in front.

How bold, I thought.

“Great, good,” She copied my paper, and handed one to him and the other back to me.

“For billing did it end up being—”

She cut him off, “The memo in your email already explained that. I’m not repeating myself today, Sonny. Not today,” she leaned back in her chair, and her head bumped into his backside.

He pressed himself into the desk, “Yeah ok, excuse me,” as she recoiled forward into her desk.

What a work environment, I thought, trying not to giggle.

Sonny then took my fingerprints, a bright green light scanning them repeatedly as I twisted each digit against the glass, following instructions to “roll them all around” one at a time.

The woman handed me my sheet.

“Do I need to fax this to my employer or do they get a copy from you?”

“We do it, that’s just for your records,” She said, picking crud from underneath her acryllic nails with a paper clip.

“Alright, thank you!” I exited carefully, since the door opened inward we all had to reposition ourselves cooperatively to release me.

Geez.

I emailed Eugena, on July 29th, having still not heard from her,

Eugena,

Good afternoon! I faxed my documents yesterday and did the fingerprinting this morning. Just writing to confirm that you received them. Would you like me to fax the sheet from finger printing to you in addition to the copy that they are sending? How do we go about arranging the medical clearance appointment?
Thank you!
Natasha Foster
On August 1st I received a reply,

Hi Natasha,

 The original email I sent you had the instructions I’ve attached to this email.  Please review this document.  It has information on how to complete the conditions of employment…

 You asked: Do I need to fax the sheet from finger printing to you as well?

Initial Steps: Live Scan Fingerprinting

 ….After you have completed your fingerprinting, the person conducting the fingerprinting will give you a completed “Request for Live Scan Service” form. You must retain this form and submit it to the HR Department.

 Where to Submit Documents

You must submit several documents to the HR Department to meet the conditions of employment. You may send them via fax.

 You asked: How do we go about arranging the medical clearance appointment?

 Next Steps: Health Screen & TB Test

An HR team member will contact you to make arrangements for your Health Screen/TB Test (and Drug Screen if applicable) after you have complete all other non-medical related conditions of employment.

Have a great weekend.”

 
 Josh returned from work, carrying his spring green laptop briefcase and a plastic bag of tupperware I would inevitably later discover in the sink, covered in corroded salad dressing and soggy sandwich crumbs. He surveyed the living room in a single glance. I had spent the entire day playing a delightfully weird text based game on my phone, A Dark Room, and alternatively reading every single article anyone I was friends with posted to Facebook. I had absorbed a varied and strange array of information.
“How was today?”
“Oh you know….” What had I actually done again?,  “I finally heard from Eugenics the HR lady a week after I originally emailed her. She still has not answered if she actually received my faxes that cost a fortune to send and was super passive aggressive. I asked her how to set up the medical clearance and she basically sent me a screen shot of her first email which has an attachment that says that I would be contacted by HR about it. Well, I haven’t been contacted, Eugenics, that’s why I’m still emailing you about it. C’mon,” I turned my computer toward him, the affronting email on display.
Josh smiled, “So now we’re calling her Eugenics?”
“Absolutely. Rude. So rude.”
He pulled my lap top onto his lap and read the chain, “Ok, so you could have figured out to send the fingerprinting sheet, but she also legitimately emailed you fifty pages and we’ve already spent a decent amount faxing her things.”
“Hitler liked Eugenics,”
“Yeah, I get that. Well, just send her the stuff I guess and see what she says,”
“I just want her to answer my questions! It takes a lot more time to construct these rude screen shot emails than to just say you received the faxes, still need the other thing faxed, and whatever info on the medical appointment!”
We drove to Kinkos and faxed her the sheet. I emailed her back promptly,

Eugena,

I have faxed the fingerprinting information. Did you receive it? Hoping the medical clearance can be scheduled soon!

Thanks,
Natasha Foster
 images-9
This was August, our fifth month in California. Not a sentimental passage of time, but a benchmark nonetheless. While I had things lined up, I still didn’t have the traction I’d hoped for five months in and the long-winded process of actually beginning my job was draining my relief at having gotten it. My mother left voicemails, “Natasha Marie, stop saying you’re doing nothing and nothing is happening. You’re working on that app with Josh, and YOU’RE WRITING AGAIN, that’s huge! That’s what you were put here to do. I’m sure Murphy is the happiest he’s ever been. The summer isn’t a wash at all! And I can’t wait to see you! Just a few more weeks!”
At five on the dot Josh appeared at the top of the stairs, dropping his things onto the counter, “You know you drag me out here, make me leave everything behind, and I’m supposed to just cater to your every need? Make your lunch like you’re a little boy? It’s ridiculous.”
I brightened, this was my favorite game. I dropped my voice an octave, “You know I go to work every day for eight, ten, twelve hours while you do who knows what here at home. The least you could do is have the house proper when I get home. Make a dinner with the groceries I buy you. What do you have to be so melancholy about?”
“What do I have to be so melancholy about? You drag me out here away from everyone I know to follow some haphazard dream to make it big and we’re eating manager’s special meat and rice all time time. We can’t even go to the movies. Some provider you turned out to be!” Josh kicked off his shoes, “Can’t even buy me new sandals…chump,”
I slammed my fist into my knee, “I’M DOING THE BEST I CAN, WOMAN! You don’t know how good you have it! I wish I could nap and laze about at my leisure. You’ve got it made! How much Netflix have you watched today while I coded til my fingers bled?”
Josh, tilted his head backward and rolled his eyes, “Oh yes, here I am in the lap of luxury sitting on my used sofa I had to strong arm you to buy. Can’t even go on that Vegas trip you promised. So much to write home about!”
“Woman, I said ENOUGH!” I giggled, and threw a pillow at him. Our hyperbole role reversal fights proved to be remarkably fun and cathartic for our changing relationship dynamic. I broke character, “You know I really don’t care that we didn’t go back to Vegas, right? I hardly need a vacation from having nothing but time and sunshine. I just want to hang out with youuuuuuu,” I rolled onto my back and flailed my limbs, “SO I’M NOT ALONE ALL THE TIME LIKE A HERMIT CRAB! Eckeckeckeckeck!”
This behavior was why I could not be left alone all the time.
“Yes, I know. But I do have an idea for a weekend trip to LA that I think would be fun. Warpaint is playing,” He shimmied his eyebrows at me, “Anything else you wanna see in LA?”
(to be continued, again.)

The summer of my discontent (part 1).

When I left my job in Baltimore to move to San Diego it never occurred to me I would be unemployed for long. I pride myself on being both more resourceful and more adaptable than your average bear, by my own assessment. I fully anticipated a month-ish of unencumbered freedom in a brand new city before jumping into a new job. When I moved from Pittsburgh to Baltimore it took a month to solidify my bartending/nanny income. After my nanny contract expired for the following summer I was nestled into my new job, again, within a months time. Things always worked out. I presumed this would be the approximate time frame for starting over in San Diego.

I was wrong.

April came and went without much action on the job hunting front. I was flush with savings and obsessively organizing and purchasing things as thriftily as possible for our new little home. It was a surprisingly time consuming hobby to cruise thrift stores and check Craig’s List daily. It became kind of a game and I enjoyed myself. Aside from the trauma of the demon sofa I was fairly successful within the parameters I set for myself. The sun was so refreshingly warm after the brutal East Coast winter, and I now live ten minutes from the beach. So, to be honest, I wasn’t trying very hard in April. I applied to only a handful of jobs. I went to Coachella. I went to the state fair. My head wasn’t in the game.

May arrived.

I had decided back East that I wanted to be a psychiatric nurse. I had been in grad school to be a therapist, but decided that I did not want to hear the nitty gritty of trauma stories for the next thirty years. I couldn’t commit.  As a psych nurse, I reasoned, I would still be working in mental health, which I enjoy, but would get paid significantly more and have a lot more versatility should I want to change settings. Given my work history, it’s pretty apparent that I like to change settings. My Joshua, ever supportive, assured me he would help float me while I went to school. I researched all the programs available in San Diego throughout May. There was a common theme: many years of school and many more loans. In short, despite all these promising reasons to go back to school, I got cold feet. In fact, my feet were freezing.

I arrived at the proposition of a “normal job”. Out of all my peers I know who make significantly more money than I do I have observed two things: they work in an office environment and they don’t appear to do very much. I listen to their job descriptions with incredulous attention, So that takes you eight hours a day, all year, just to do that? Really? You do that for forty hours a week, fifty-two weeks a year? Invariably, it turns out, that they don’t. Instead, they spend many hours, per work day, trolling the internet or dicking around, and they are out by five and have weekends off, only to complain of boredom. It’s sickening.

So I added my perception of “normal jobs” into the net I was throwing out. Since college I have worked in customer service, residential mental health, nannying, inpatient mental health, bartending, etc. and thus scultped a variety of resumés. I applied to somewhere around a dozen jobs a day. I also applied to temp agencies, counting on an immersion into the sea of arbitrary boredom to test the waters. I applied to be a bank teller, a “pet care specialist”, a cashier at a book store, a teacher at a child care facility, a hospital attendant, an administrative assistant, a secretary, a personal assistant, marketing whatever, make-up guru at Sephora, or Ulta, ABA therapist with CARD, this and that in mental health, blah blah blah. I could do anything!

KdL9Svx

June began.

My phone finally rang.

It was a temp agency, arranging an interview. Truth be told, I thought this was ideal. I could trolley around the new city and try out all sorts of new jobs in Boring land and learn how to operate fax machines and whatnot without worrying about making a lasting impression of myself as an imbecile. Perfect!

I arrived at the office in my business wear costume, with my hair straightened and a freshly printed resume in a brown Kinkos paper bag, and this tucked in my giant leather Ralph Lauren handbag.

The lettering on the outside windows read, “CONSTRUCTION LANDSCAPING CATERING”. I double checked my email to confirm the address… yet this was the intended building.

I walked inside and found a long hallway, the paint peeling, which deposited me in a mustard yellow waiting room, filled with half bathed male laborers. I got in line.

“You a tall glass of water. Look how tall she is,” this man elbowed another man beside him, “Mmm, what’s your name?”

“Nope.” I smiled, feeling my blood pressure bubble upward. I find the phrase tall glass of water particularly triggering ever since a homeless man leaned in to call me that while I was volunteering at a shelter, with my church youth group, in middle school.

“What’s you problem, girl?”

I excused myself to the front of the line, “Excuse me, sorry, I have an appointment at 9:30 with Michelle.”

“That’s in the office work building across the courtyard, building three” The receptionist gestured over my shoulder.

I pushed through the door to find a drought deadened courtyard with several cottage-like structures in a semi-circle. It continuously amazes me how many buildings in California are set up as several small structures with outdoor hallways.

I sat in an empty waiting room, empty aside from a middle aged woman in a very revealing skirt suit and silver iridescent heels. She smiled at me, and continued idly looking out the window.

Michelle appeared. Her blonde hair was unwashed, in a pony tail, and she was wearing two different shades of black.

“Hi! Welcome, let’s take a look at your resumé!”

We simultaneously shook hands and seated ourselves in an adjacent room that had two folding chairs on opposite sides of a faux wood table.

“So, I’ve done a lot of different things. I’m interested in trying office work sort of positions, temporary things I could easily transition in and out of, or transition into permenant positions if they’re a good fit.”

“Did you answer phones at any of these jobs?” She scanned my resumé.

“Answer phones? Yes.” Of course I can answer phones. Jesus Christ, I have a college degree.

“Like, multi-line telephones.”

“Yes.” I smiled. Are these real questions?

“Ok, you should put that on your resumé,” she put the paper down and stared at me.

“Alright, I can do that.” I envisioned a sales pitch from Billy Mays, Not only can she lead forty-five minute groups for a room full of acute patients, on a variety of subjects!, independently!, but she can answer telephones!

“Where do you live?”

“Old Town. I’d like to work downtown since I live right on the trolley line,” I had fantasies of meeting up with Joshua for happy hours in my business wear costume, reporting all my trivial complaints about emails and phone calls and faxes while I downed five dollar Jack and Cokes on special until six.

“But you do have your own vehicle, which is reliable?” She tilted her head.

“Yes, it would just be nice to not have to commute considering I’m right there.”

“Right, it would be nice… Do you know Microsoft Office, Outlook,…” she trailed off.

I had listed all those programs under the special skills section. In truth I had taken one intro level computer class in college, which I got a C in. I got a C because my pseudo-brother roommate intervened when I confided I couldn’t figure out any of my assignments and was dangerously close to failing a gimme course. He completed my entire course load the day before the bulk of my assignments were due. Such a gent, that one.

“Yes, and I type quite quickly,” I pointed to my special skills section across the table. When I had been through this process in Pittsburgh the recruiter had been nothing short of ecstatic that I typed 75 words per minute during their test, and demanded I bold it on the top of my resumé, which I never did.

“Yes, that is good too. Which do you prefer, full time or part time?”

“Either will work out.”

“Are you looking for something permenant or temporary?”

“Either is fine, if it’s a good fit I’d like to stick around. Ideally I’d like to work somewhere that has a team environment and a shared mission, like at a non-profit, or something similar,”

Michelle looked at me as if I had four eyes and six heads, “Right, of course,”

I back peddled,”But anywhere is fine, I guess,”

She circled my phone number and stood up, “So we will be in touch. If you don’t hear from us just call and check in to make sure we still know you’re looking.”

“Of course, thank you. Do you have any suggestions for changes to my resumé?”

“We don’t really do that.”

“Oh, ok. Thank you.”

I crossed the court yard and bolted through the waiting room and into my car which had now reached molten lava temperatures. I chided myself for putting so much effort into what already struck me as a fruitless endeavor. My smooth, straightened hair immediately warped in the intense heat.

Of course, I didn’t hear from them. I called a few days later and inquired about possible oppourtunities,

“We do have something that just came up, it’s from eleven to four AM downtown and pays fifteen dollars an hour.”

“Eleven to four… in the afternoon?”

“Nope, it’s eleven to four in the morning.”

“What would I be doing?”

“Well it’s an event job so you’d do whatever they needed, really. Sort of similar to an usher.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Ok, well that’s all I have today.”

“Umm… ok.”

She hung up.

All of my following calls resulted in zero offers, even strange ones were absent. These people had nothing. I called the jobs I had already applied to, only to repeatedly be met with crushing statements that it had already been filled, or worse, that the person on the other end had no idea what I was talking about. I left my name and number with countless individuals who never returned my calls.

Knowing that structure is important for me, or more directly, my mental health, I had been following a loose routine since my arrival in California. I woke up early, I got ready for the day, I took Murphy to the park or a walk, we worked on his puppy training, I read, I wrote, I obsessively cleaned. I prepared meals and bagged lunches. In the evenings Josh and I would go to the gym, on the weekends we went to the beach or on a hike or some other random excursion to explore our new city.

By mid June this structure deteriorated. In a shamefully rapid deviation from my plan, I began sleeping in until whenever, wearing the same yoga pants and t shirt ensemble from the day before into the night into the day… I stopped wearing make-up. I stopped preparing meals, I stopped cleaning, I stopped answering phone calls because few people seemed to understand any discontent I alluded to. I was met with, Well, at least you’re at the beach! or You’re lucky you’ve got Josh to support you! Stay at home girlfriend, haha, and It’s not so bad, you’ll find something soon, and in the meantime you’re in California!! Benign questions like, “So what have you been up to out there?” came across as aggressive, condescending.

I was broke, extremely isolated, and increasingly frightened of my precarious mental state. Having been a headline rider at the Clinical Depression Rodeo before I knew I was slowly circling the top of a very deep well.

down the rabbit hole

down the rabbit hole

Josh was very practical, and direct, “What’s going on?”

“I’m on strike,” I said cooly.

“Why’s that?” he scooped me into a hug.

“Because you smell like Murphy,” I joked and then added, “and I’m sad,”

“Yeah, well, I’m concerned, and I know that you know better than anyone what needs to be done to help you.”

I rebuked, “I need a job. I used to have a job that mattered to me. You remember. K. Thanks.” I held up my fingers as a peace sign. Despite the snark, I was listening. I didn’t have insurance, naturally, so I attempted to treat myself…. Which is what I do anyway, while I can. I like to try to intellectualize my way out of things.

My mother started keeping close tabs on me, calling frequently. Her spidey-mom-senses were tingling, “Tasha you’re worrying me. I know this is really hard. The first year is going to be really hard. You need to get out and join things, start volunteering! One of my friends has a friend that just moved back from San Diego, they said the job market was terrible, a total nightmare. It’s not you, honey.”

I texted my friends back East. I continued to do my Instagram challenge of #100happydays which forced me to focus on the positives of each day, which was typically my pets nine times out of ten, or my proximity to the ocean, or my Joshua. Things weren’t so bad, right? PULL IT THE FUCK TOGETHER, I’d glower at myself in the mirror.

In the midst of this I accessed the environmental non-profits that call San Diego home. I applied to CalPrig by responding to an ad on Craig’s List that claimed they needed advocates, and these advocates would be paid fifteen dollars an hour, on average.

The phone interview was easy, as when asked why I cared about the environment I launched into a sincere rant about the environmental atrocities I had seen transpire in one of my home states, West Virginia. The most recent of which being the polluted drinking water, an issue I had followed very closely in the news.

I was scheduled for an interview.

The office was about five minutes from my home, but I arrived thirty minutes early, again assembled in my “young professional” disguise. I climbed the threadbare staircase and turned into a largely empty room. There were five folding chairs in a row in the center, a filing cabinet shoved in the corner, and large collapsable tables lining the far wall. I stared at the posters which papered the wall, environmentalist slogans were paired with sea turtles caught in trash or starving polar bears.

“Oh, hi! I’m Laurie! Nice to meet you! Sorry I was just in the back!” she extended her hand,

“Hi, I’m Natasha!”

“Great, wonderful! So just take a seat, we have some paperwork for you to fill out here.” She handed me a clipboard. The first sheet was printed with groups of four lines, in three columns, “So on the first sheet what we’d like you to do is to share some referrals. I always say that awesome people tend to know other awesome people, so anyone you know who is also passionate about the environment, or looking for work, just let us know and we’ll reach out!”

I nodded, but made no motion to fill out this page.

Laurie stared, smiling.

“Yeah, I just moved here I don’t really know anyone who would be interested.”

“That’s fine we have affiliates all over the country!” she walked across the room to a map of the US that had brightly colored thumbtacks stuck in most of the major cities, “We have offices in D.C., Atlanta, all over really!”

I really didn’t feel comfortable giving away people’s information to this sun damaged woman, but also felt intense pressure under her gaze, so I wrote down my mother’s phone number.

Laurie, peered over my shoulder, “Chris, is that your husband?”

“No, that’s my mom. She lives in Pittsburgh.”

“That’s perfect! We’re doing a lot there with Marcellus Shale and fracking. We can go on to the next page, just try to think of some more people. I really encourage people to come up with at least three.”

I filled out the rest of the paperwork, which included several petitions to sign. Other people began to filter in, and Laurie bounded across the room with clip boards and pens to greet them. A petite man with curly hair seated himself directly beside me, despite the extra chairs available,

“Hi, I’m Matt!”

“Hello, I’m Natasha!” I nodded. I had filled out all of my paperwork and was increasingly confused by the operations at hand.

Matt was wearing filthy skinny jeans, combat boots, and a neon yellow tank top. He dug around his satchel for wrinkled papers to assist him in filling out his paperwork.

“Laurie? Hi! I’m Matt. Do you guys really need to have my address today? It’s just that I moved awhile ago, and I don’t know my address yet. You know how it is,” he shrugged, “Also, I thought I had my resumé in here, but it doesn’t look like I do, so can I just email it in again?”

“Well we use your address for a commute stipend, if necessary, and also it helps us decide what areas to put you in… but just get it in as soon as you can.” She nodded blankly.

Another man entered the room, middle aged and wearing cut off shorts and a tank top with ragged flip flops. He looked nothing short of bemused at my professional attire in this run down room. Even Laurie, the woman interviewing us, was in jeans and a t-shirt. I had missed a memo somewhere.

Finally, Laurie stated that we would be interviewed individually outside. I was relieved there was a reprieve from what was clearly turning out to be a cattle call. I followed her onto an alarmingly narrow balcony outside the room. The afternoon sun was streaming in heavily and we were forced to face the row of windows from the room we had just exited.

“Sorry, it’s awkward to be staring in at them for this. I’m going to go close the blinds,” she squeezed past me.

I sat down at the small bistro table, forced to face the wall rather than the opposite chair due to lack of square footage to accommodate my legs. Laurie returned,

“Alright, so tell me why you are interested in us!”

I rotated my torso inhumanly to face her, “Well I have worked for non-profits since college in mental health, and since the contaminated water issue in West Virginia I have been following environmental issues more closely and would like to become involved.”

“Yeah, yeah absolutely, that was an awful situation. Our focus changes, so right now we are focused on the Greater Pacific Garbage Patch. Are you familiar?”

I shook my head.

“The GPGP, which is this soupy plastic mess off our coast, right here, is toxic and dangerous and literally growing every day. Recently we were also petitioning to challenge the fees that Capital One had accessed Californians falsely, and we won. We put over a million dollars back into the pockets of Californians. I like that because it’s like when you work for an environmental non-profit do you stop caring about everything else? Of course not. Our longest running initiative has been to remove plastic bags from grocery stores. That’s a huge component of what’s in the GPGP. And it’s just awful, those bags never go away, they’re strangling our marine wildlife right off this coast right here, just for five minutes of convenience. Simple convenience! I’m so passionate about it, I think it’s just out of control. I mean the reusable bags are RIGHT THERE! You can keep them in your car. That is also convenient and doesn’t permenantly jeapordize our environment,” She took a deep breath and passed me a petition to sign about banning plastic bags in my new state of California, “So does this work still sound like something you’d be interested in?”

“Sure. Although, I would like to know more about the nuts and bolts of the work as well. What does a typical day look like?” This question was featured on an article I had read on Things To Say To Appear Engaged At An Interview, or something like that.

“Awesome! Great question! So, starting off as a canvasser we would need you here at about noon, daily, and we practice our script as a team, review goals and new materials, then distribute maps of the areas each of us is expected to canvas for that day, canvas, and then return to the office at nine to wrap up. A lot of times we’ll go out together afterward, since walking for that many hours builds up quite an appetite,” she laughed, “But, yeah. That’s generally the nuts and bolts of it. We pay based on commission, so you make forty percent of whatever donations you bring in. That averages out to around fifteen dollars an hour. If you don’t get any donations that day you always make at least minimum wage, which is really nice. Everyone always gets paid. It is important that there aren’t many days like that though, on your first day it’s necessary to show you can get a yes.”

My interest was rapidly waning, she leaned forward conspiritorily, “I’ve got to say though you’re a lot more serious than a lot of the canidates that I interview and I’d love to put you directly on the career track. You strike me as a leader. I was on the career track when I started too,”

I grinned. I struck myself as a leader too, “What does that entail?”

“Well, you canvass, and after proving that that is something you excel at, that you’re passionate and dedicated to the bare bones, so to speak, you start to manage. You do what I’m doing now. You have an office, you interview applicants, you run the morning meanings, you track our fundraising, you run a portion of the operation.”

“How long does that transition generally take?”

“A few months, maybe longer. It varies for everyone, but it took me only four. After that you switch to salary, and the fundraising is a bonus.”

“So you’re still canvassing?”

“Yes all managers canvass three days a week. Saturday is our office day, where we meet to catch up on paperwork and we’re off on Sunday. Tuesdays we do interviews, like today, and the rest of the days we are canvassing too. It’s six days a week, but the Saturdays are really easy, we’re usually done in the early afternoon.”

“So when you canvas, are you in pairs, or…?”

“Well your first day you would be with me, and then after that we’re on our own!” She smiled as if this was exciting.

I grimaced.

“Until nine at night?” My resistance was swelling.

“Yep!”

“I don’t know if I’m entirely comfortable with that. I just moved here and walking around unfamiliar places after dark… it’s just,”

She cut me off, “Oh don’t worry, we have maps for everyone that show exactly what doors to knock on and where to go. They’re very detailed. One girl even puts the addresses in her gps app on her phone,” she giggled, trying to include me in the amusement at the absurdity of this, “but really, it would be very hard to get lost.”

“Hmm, it’s more the walking around after dark piece of it,” I started.

“Oh some of my best contributions I’ve gotten at 8:45 pm! Last month I rang a bell at 8:50pm and twenty minutes later had a check for five hundred dollars, forty-percent of which I got to keep. It was a very good day.”

“No, I’m sure it’s very productive, but walking around alone at night with an entire days worth of contributions seems pretty unsafe… it’s actually kind of insane to me, to be honest.”

Our eyes locked for a moment. We were at an impasse. I shrugged, and opened my hands. I may have done many reckless things in my life, but traipsing around unknown neighborhoods collecting money, after dark, wearing a shirt advertising that you are collecting money, telling everyone you meet that you’re carrying money… It seemed nothing short of, a phrase I detest, but thought nonetheless, asking for it. The “it” being to be mugged, maybe violently, maybe not. Either way, not an experience I was interested in.

My interviewer found words, “Well, I can tell you that nothing has ever happened to me and I’ve been doing this quite awhile. I understand your concerns having lived in DC for a portion of grad school, and I know you’re from back East. It’s not like that here. It’s really safe. I’ve never even felt marginally threatened doing this work.”

I didn’t believe her. Even if she was telling the truth, there’s a first time for everything. Sure, canvassers being brutally robbed might not be a regular calamity but it’s certainly happened, and it will certainly happen again.

“Yeah, having just lived in Baltimore it’s hard to imagine this. I would never do this there.”

“Right! It’s different! It’s so different out there. Being from here and moving East I was, like, totally shocked at how brutal things could be. It’s just not like that in San Diego, really.”

“It is a different land,” I conceded.

She skipped ahead three spaces, “Are you available tomorrow?”

“Yes.” At this point my desperation for work and ready made friends was teetering against my safety concerns on a seesaw internally.

“Great! Wednesdays are always canvasser appreciation day so we get pizza after we wrap up! I’m going to email you a link to the career track! It’s just a test and instructions for how to continue on that path,” She handed me a piece of paper, “This is the script! So try to memorize that as best you can by tomorrow. We’ll meet here at noon and then canvass together!”

“Alright, Sounds good! I hope I can learn all of this in time,” There were several conversations printed on the page.

“It’s really easy, I promise,” We stood, and she squeezed around the bistro table to hug me, “I’m so excited Natasha! I’ll see you tomorrow!”

I explained the job to my Joshua, and my parents. I sincerely hoped someone would convince me this was an exciting prospect with the career track, and all, but I was met with a resounding , “No“. I emailed Laurie the next morning, explaining that I could not ignore my safety concerns. She never responded.

The doldrums returned with a renewed veracity. I wallowed. I watched an entire season of Abby Lee’s Ultimate Dance Competition in one day, my Apple TV queuing up the episodes seamlessly. I had been completely absorbed into my sofa and a distorted dream sequence of shouting and crying adolescents before I forced myself into the car with Murphy and took him to the dog park. While he ran wildly, I stared directly into the sun.

My daily schedule shortened to one goal: shower before Josh returns from work, appear to function, go to the beach with Josh and pretend to be a normal human being.

And then, Greenpeace called! Before applying I had checked to make sure that they only canvassed in public places, and as they did, I applied. Expecting it would be a similar to CalPrig I figured landing the job would be a given.

I repeated my emotionally charged rant about the environmental concerns in West Virginia. I was scheduled for what I now knew would be a cattle call interview.This time I wore a maxi skirt and sandals.

Curiously, the Greenpeace office was only two blocks from the Calprig office. I arrived early, as I tended to do, but this time only by fifteen minutes. There was another contestant already waiting, in a formal suit, with blazer. He was sweating profusely.

The stocky man who answered the door sported an unkept beard and tangled curly hair. His worn Greenpeace t-shirt had a hole near the bottom, and he wore tattered cargo shorts. This was the interviewer. Expected.

Our next contestant was a middle aged man who appeared clean, and more professional, until he asked our interviewer if he could “dip out” for some “snacks and coffee” while the rest of us finished our paper work.

Our interviewer, Adam, looked taken aback, “Uh, yeah man, just be sure to be here at 2:30,”

Adam disappeared into a back office and I took this time to liberally show myself around the broad room. There was a bulletin board of the top canvassers, which I noted were exclusively male. There were more radical environmental posters of animals and trash, like the last office, but some of them had been altered to include mustaches and bombs. It was casually unclean, crumbs left on desks and chairs that weren’t quite unbroken. A sliding glass door had drawn on depictions of cash money symbols and stick figures depositing it at the bank. There were trophies. It appeared to be a frat house for the environment.

The man returned at 2:35 with a Starbucks lunch and a large coffee. He noisily unwrapped his sandwich as Adam began,

“I assume if you’re in this room you want to work with Greenpeace. I’m here to figure out if Greenpeace wants to work with you,”

Having been an active member of a sorority in college I internally noted that this was not a recruitment angle we would have ran with.

“So, let’s talk about Greenpeace and what it means to work here.” He asked open ended questions, in efforts to solicit answers from his audience of three.

Middle aged man and collegiate in suit actively participated. I contributed that Greenpeace was founded in 1972 and returned to inspecting the room from my seat while Adam rattled off facts. I had read all of this information online this morning.

“So does anyone know why Greenpeace doesn’t accept corporate contributions? Why we don’t accept government funding? Why we never will? BECAUSE IF WE HAVE THOSE MOTHERFUCKERS IN OUR BACK POCKET HOW WILL WE GET ANYTHING FUCKING DONE?,” I snapped to attention. Adam was bobbing his head and sending his tangled curls into a fury,” WE HAVE SOME GODDAMN INTEGRITY. So, NO, WE DO NOT AND WE WILL NOT ACCEPT THEIR DIRTY MONEY!”

I tried really hard not to laugh, and stifled a smile as I turned my head into my shoulder. Duuuuuuuuude. He toned it down,

“We are independent, and you know what, we’re winning! We are winning every day, every year, and if that’s what you’re about then, welcome.”

Case closed, this was a fraternity.

I immediately thought of my email address, natasha.winning@gmail, and considered making a joke about the correlation. Much like Charlie Sheen, and Greenpeace, apparently, I am about winning!

At this point a troop of young men in baggy athletic shorts and flat brimmed hats entered the room and high fived Adam as they headed into the back office. A lone girl trotted in behind them and skirted onto the balcony to smoke a cigarette.

He explained the stipulation that we had to make a certain amount of money within three days to stay, and that after that we could only miss the goal one week, a “warning week”, and on the second occasion we would be let go. During the first three days you were paid ten dollars an hour, and after that it fluxuated based on commission. Finally he said,

“I need everyone to take turns signing up on the computer, it’s real quick. The page is already loaded. We just need your contact information in the system for W2s and whatnot. Then I’ll call you back individually.”

A girl entered the room, frazzled, “Hi, sorry I’m a little late. Is this Greenpeace,” she pointed, “Adam?”

Adam turned emphatically to the clock behind him, “We started forty-five minutes ago.”

The girl smiled, “Yeah my ride took forever,” she dumped an armful of folders and bent papers onto the table, “So sorry,” a cloud of patchouli aroma swept toward me.

Adam stared at her quizzically, then handed her the paperwork and took collegiate-in-suit guy into the back room.

In about ten minutes it was my turn. I sat in the computer chair and rolled forward,

“Why Greenpeace?”

I talked about West Virginia, again. Despite having no experience advocating for the environment, I had a personal connection, I cared now more than ever, yadda yadda.

He asked me to convince him to donate money to my cause.

I said something along the lines of, “Most people cannot relate to West Virginia. Most people don’t even realize it is it’s own state. Yet what is happening to West Virginians is still important for everyone. Loose regulations allow corporate interests to ravage the environment and jeopardize the people over and over again. Americans have drinking water that smells like black licorice, is filled with MCHM, and no one knows what the consequences could be. The company responsible easily changes hands and their name and goes back to business as usual…It’s like nothing has changed since Erin Brockovitch, and how long ago was that? We need legislation… and we need money to do so. Today. Because this will happen again and it could happen here.”

He nodded,”I’d give you money,” he said, “but I’m an easy sell,” he asked if I could handle the sales pressure? I assured him I could.

I wanted to point out the fratty culture. I was an angel for a fraternity in college. Do you guys do chants? I’m really good at chants. I wanted to boast that I can drink a handle, once had a really good night of competitive flip cup, and make lots of jokes. I’m generally good for morale, just put me in, Coach.

But I didn’t say any of this. That would have been ridiculous.

As I went to exit my chair followed me, my skirt had rolled into the wheel and stuck. I yanked the turquoise fabric violently, hoping to jar it loose, but the chair nearly overturned. Adam knelt down and unspun my skirt from the wheel, then shook my hand good-naturedly, “We’ll let everyone know this week! Thanks, Natasha!”

“Thank you!”

 

 

I didn’t hear anything.

I was bitter. And I’ll probably never donate to Greenpeace because I’m poor, and because I hold grudges, and I really needed an out and the screaming hobbit man said no.

That weekend I was brooding, and Josh took me to the beach. We swam for hours and had a picnic dinner overlooking the water. We bought cheap wine and got drunk at the house and made up stories about our pets and watched ridiculous eighties movies. We listened to Warpaint and made up interpretive trance dances. I laughed all weekend, but on Monday I was alone again.

I hated Mondays more now that I ever had while I worked full time.

I continued to apply for jobs. I applied to everything. Literally. I trolled job boards and Craig’s List and newspapers. I took long winded and confusing assessments for big corporations and emailed my resumé to vague personal assistant postings. I cried hot and hateful tears while repeating through clenched teeth,  I have a fucking degree goddammit, which became a bitter mantra of sorts.

An organization called “Save the Children” called to schedule an interview. I honestly don’t remember applying for this, as it sounds like a satire of a charitable organization, like George Costanza’s The Human Fund, and initially I didn’t believe they were real. The hot California sun was streaming in through our metallic silver blinds, illuminating the dust and pet hair throughout our ultra modern apartment. Was any of this real? “Save the Children” obviously had to be an ironic play on my career thus far, and yet I was having this conversation,

“Hi! My name is Julie and I was just reviewing your resumé and thought you might be a good fit for Save the Children! We are holding open interviewing tomorrow and would like to invite you to come on down. The dress is casual and comfortable, as we’ll be playing games, kind of watching how you interact and respond. It should be a really fun time.”

The address was in the same neighborhood as CalPrig and Greenpeace. They paid twelve dollars an hour, and you could make your own schedule. They worked in pairs in public places. I was assured that there was a lot of upward mobility, that everyone started out canvassing malls.

“Sure, sounds good, I’ll see you there!”

I related the information to Joshua, “The part that I can’t accept is the playing games together at the interview and that she specifically said they would be watching how I respond and interact. It’s like a weird psych experiment. Are we playing scattergories? Are we playing kickball? I can’t go through this weird cattle call sideshow experience again. If I go and parade around like a textbook extrovert and still don’t get the job I’ll hurt myself, I really will. Save the Children doesn’t even sound like a real thing. It’s ridiculous.”

“It’s completely up to you, but you’re not allowed to hurt yourself,” Josh looked at me sternly, and held his hands up in the peace sign.

The next day I got dressed, wearing jeans and a t-shirt and tried to pump myself up to a confident, extroverted head space for my interview performance, but ultimately couldn’t go through with it. I didn’t even show up.

A few days later we ran into two women wearing bright red SAVE THE CHILDREN t-shirts at the mall. I watched in abject horror as one of them cornered Joshua outside of Game Stop. She showed him a map of the world and instructed him to pick a country. He chose the USA, and she launched into a rally cry to end childhood diabetes, explaining his money would go to after-school programs that promoted an active lifestyle and nutritional education and, randomly, children’s books. Once we talked the woman out of her pitch she explained that she used to work for a tow truck company and this job made her feel like she was paying off that bad karma, but she usually couldn’t get people to donate and was worried about being unemployed soon.

We continued on to the movies and I felt ok about my choices. Bumrushing people in public was not a good fit.

 

MidJuly I got a call for a Mental Health Counselor position at a nonprofit. An appropriate job had responded! The man on the other end of the phone had a heavy African accent, and initially, I was quite impatient,

“What? Who is this?” I repeated, thinking this was a collection agent trying to trick me into paying for my student loans or my miscellaneous Urgent Care copays of yesteryear,

“This is ____ _______ Youth Centa, is this Natasha Fostar? We want to interview yuh for tha mental health counselar position” he repeated.

Finally, we worked out an interview time. I felt confident, knowing that this was something my past work experience was at least appropriate for, and I had a clear notion of what to expect. Unfortunately, from the information I gathered this job sounded more similar to the violent residential treatment center I had worked at in Pittsburgh rather than the fascinating inpatient setting I had worked at in Baltimore. Still, this was relevant work. Surely, the storm was over now.

(to be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am born

Dear Diary,

Meowmy is feeding me cherry syrup and Catsip milk through a medicine dropper every four hours. I can’t control my bowel movements, and thus she has wrapped me in one of Dad’s stained fraternity t-shirts. He seemed upset when he returned from his classes at the university to discover this. They argued about the proper response to my illness, which is apparently parasitic by nature. Dad seems to believe that some time spent outdoors may be best. Meowmy was especially reactive to this suggestion, though I cannot imagine why.

I have noted that approximately  an hour after these feedings I become violently ill, at which time I am fed water and additional Catsip milk. It seems readily apparent that the feedings are causing these expulsions. Why doesn’t Meowmy see what is so evidently the cause of this issue, as I do? Is she doing this on purpose? I have tried to refuse these feedings, I have struggled, but alas, she overpowers me. At four weeks old have I fallen victim to Munchausen by proxy syndrome already? My portly round belly that drew these parents to me is quickly disappearing with every day that passes. Will I still be so eagerly loved when I am frail and thin, albeit, parasite free?

There is another kitten here, who is shockingly white with bright blue eyes. He lives upstairs with a woman who is very loud and makes sudden movements. She frightens me at times. I do look forward to our formal introductions soon enough, when I am allowed to leave the bathroom and explore my manor. Who else may be living here? I do not know.

In my brief aerial tour of the kitchen it appeared especially curious. I have noticed holes underneath the cabinets which might make a suitable kitten cubby, for when I serve tea and visit with the white kitten. Although, the sharp smells which radiate in ghastly waves throughout the room are quite deterring. Where is the maid?

There is an unoccupied bedroom to the left of the kitchen. I anticipate that once I am well this will be prepared to serve as my quarters.

Awaiting my succession to grandeur, 

Merlin

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the struggle

Murphy Graduates, Again

Murphy is not a stupid dog. In fact, I contend, that Murphy is a brilliant dog. The issue, over and over again, proves to be his attitude. His attitude, which while endlessly playful, is not one of obedience.

Murphy took the “Puppy” level training class at PetSmart while he was living with my mom during the cross-country move preparation. Initially, my mom was very enthused about helping us out through the transition. In fact, I worried that I would have trouble getting him back from her. That is, until the voicemails began.

“Tasha, this is your Mom, I really don’t know what to do with this dog. He is totally out of control. He ate the staircase! He ate an entire step of the staircase! I’m sending you a picture. I mean, good God, what the fuck is he doing! He can’t eat the house! Call me back.”

“Tasha, this is your Mom, Murphy and I had our first puppy class tonight. It was a disaster, a total disaster. He jumped out of the ring. Well, he knocked it over, completely over, in the middle of class. He free’d all the other dogs and then they were all running around the store like wild animals. It was, the biggest fiasco of my life. I am so embarrassed. He’s too much, really. Call me back.”

“Tasha, this is your Mom. Well, Murphy and Weasley are best friends now. They broke into the pantry and ate the lids off of some peanut butter jars I had stocked up on. They were on sale three for five, if you can imagine. But those little criminals ate all of that peanut butter! The plastic lids and everything on three jars of peanut butter! It’s insane! It’s just totally insane! Call me back.”

“Tasha, this is your Mom. You said that he was potty trained and yet I keep finding piles of puppy poop in the basement. You need to call me back right this minute, little girl.”

So, clearly, my diligent training of teaching him to sit while we were in my apartment elevator wasn’t cutting it at the big house. For the record, Murphy was totally potty trained in the apartment. My theory is that he couldn’t handle the responsibility of not pooping in a 2500 square foot expanse. It was a lot to ask of him.

Regardless, his antics were enough for Mom to enroll him in class. When we picked him up she reviewed what he had learned so we would know what to do for “drop”, “leave it”, etc.

Since then it has become clear that Murphy may have learned what these words mean, but does not care to act on these meanings. In fact, he finds creative ways to skirt around doing what we ask of him.

For instance, Murphy absolutely knows what “drop it” means, but instead of immediately dropping the object, he will toss it down the stairs or otherwise hide it somewhere out of sight before jogging back without the object, expecting a treat.

It’s ridiculous.

So we decided to enroll in PetSmart’s Beginner class, which is the exact same thing as the puppy class, once again to try to solidify some of this basic training.

Our first class was not what I expected. Out of about ten people in attendance, we were the only ones on time, including the instructor. Side eye to everyone.

After fifteen minutes of people lackadaisically moseying in we did introductions. Our peppy trainer enthusiastically instructed us to introduce our dogs with an adjective that began with the first letter of their name. Contrived socialization is a major pet peeve of mine, just like tardiness.

“Hello everyone! I’m John and these are my kids, Arson and Jane. Our little bulldog here is Winston.”

“Winston Wiggles!” Jane giggled.

Our class broke into studio laughter, a  golden colored mutt in the corner of the room howled happily.

“Hi, I’m Sandra. This is Tucker, Tucker Talks!” she sighed, as Tucker howled again.

More studio audience laughter.

“Annoying. Really annoying,” I whispered to Joshua.

“Your East Coast is showing” he replied.

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The next woman was sitting indian style on the floor, despite the chairs provided. She was wearing a Coachella costume and was a dead ringer for Kristen Wiig.

“Hey guys, my name is June and this is Washcloth who wubs water and wubs wittle wishes on stars.” She lifted the tiny puppy into the air and rubbed his body against her face.

Josh and I exchanged a look, her West coast was showing.

“Hi I’m Josh,” he then turned and stared at me.

“I’m Natasha. This is Murphy who enjoys… marathon running and …mischief.”

Studio audience laugh track.

By the end of that initial class we had learned nothing.

By the third class the attendance had plummeted to just Murphy, Bella, a husky, and Tucker who talks.

“It’s important to reinforce the good behavior, so if they do ‘watch me’ on the first try, go ahead and jackpot ’em. Give them like ten treats for that.” Julie stopped, Tucker was howling again. “Hey, here,” she handed Sandra a toy, “No, no, don’t pet him for doing that. Distract him, get up, get his attention. Yeah. Ok, so same thing with sit. When they do it on the first command go ahead and jackpot them. Don’t keep repeating yourself, they will start to wait for the third time you say sit if they think they get a treat after you say it three times. They’ll wait for it. Let’s take a couple minutes and practice ‘Watch me’ and ‘Sit’,”

Tucker began howling, Sandra stroked his head. Julie beelined across the training room, “Don’t pet his head that just reinforces the barking.”

“Alright, Murph, look at me! LOOK AT ME!” I had treats in my hand and was dramatically gesturing to my eyes. Murphy stared at the treats. It was a start.

Murphy has since learned "Look at Me", but look absolutely crazed when doing so. Also pictured, demon sofa.

Murphy has since learned “Look at Me”, but appears absolutely crazed when doing so. Also pictured, demon sofa.

Tucker’s howls reached ear piercing levels, Murphy turned and lunged. Josh wrapped the leash around his hand twice and pulled, “No. Stop.”

Murphy lunged again and again. His body lept into the air and twisted against the anchor of Josh’s grasp.

I had never seen him so out of control.

Tucker continued to bark gleefully, and Murphy couldn’t tolerate it.

“This is ridiculous. I’m going to ask to just join another class next session if this continues.” I whispered.

“My ears are bleeding.” Josh growled, his knuckles whitening around the leash against Murphy’s continued lunges.

“Alright, lets take a couple minutes and show what we’ve learned,” Julie gestured for Bella, the husky to come to the center.

Bella approached with her owner, and when told to sit, proceeded to urinate all over the floor. The pee spread rapidly across the flat warehouse floor, which offered no absorption, and the vile lake raced toward us.

Tucker barked.

Murphy lunged.

“Well at least we’re not the worst here,” Josh said.

Our instructor encouraged us to let Murphy burn off some energy before class, although she acknowledged that the incessant barking appeared to be a trigger for him.

We began taking him to the park and letting him run for an hour or more, even to the beach to let him swim before class. By the time he arrived he was near exhaustion, laying down on the floor while other people trickled in. It felt like cheating, but things went smoother.

There were other valuable insights throughout the classes, like when we described the endless struggles we had with Murphy lunging and dragging, mostly me, around the neighborhood.

“Alright, so when he pulls and lunges you need to stop. If stopping doesn’t work start backing up. He needs to be paying attention to your pace and that you are in charge of the walk and not him.”

“He is seventy-five pounds. When he pulls and lunges you’re sort of propelled forward. There is no backing up.” I countered, annoyed. I knew what I was supposed to be doing, I was here because that didn’t work.

She nodded, petting Murphy pensively.

“Hot dogs. Cut up hot dogs into tiny pieces and use those only on walks when he is walking with a loose leash. Murphy has a huge personality, we’re going to have to make the reward worth it to him, you know what I mean? He needs a big pay off. Don’t you, big boy? You need the big prize.” Julie offered, smiling into Murphy’s face.

The hot dogs changed everything.

Within the first walk, within five minutes, Murphy had completely turned around his behavior. He desperately slowed down, would even sit if you paused mid-step in order to get a piece of hot dog.

It was magical.

By the last class Murphy was able to sit, lay down, look, drop it, leave it, shake, come, and walk with a loose leash. Granted he is only able to do those things in limited environments with minimal distraction. He does none of those things when we go to Dog Beach or the dog park, for instance, but still. Progress!

We walked around the store, doing an obstacle course of commands as Julie instructed to prove our progress. Murphy walked down an aisle with toys and treats everywhere and didn’t take a single one, listening to our “Leave it” with apt attention. For “come” Josh and I were placed at opposite ends of the back of the store, Murphy bounded back and forth on command, crashing into our arms gleefully over and over. He did not even look at the Husky waiting nearby.

We were feeling pretty stellar. We thought we were unstoppable.

Then it was time to showcase our “Sit and greet”. Ideally, Murphy was supposed to sit upon meeting anyone/anything until we say “done” and move along. This doesn’t happen. I don’t think this has happened even once.

Julie began, “So we’re going to have each of you take turns approaching the fish tank for sit and greet. Just have them walk up, and command them to sit.”

The husky did beautifully.

Tucker who talks barked insanely.

Murphy shuddered.

“I don’t think this is going to go well.”

“I don’t either, he can’t be anywhere near the bird aisle.”

We approached, a unified front, all three of us in a straight line.

“Murphy, sit” Josh and I said in unison.

He sat, and for the briefest of seconds I thought we had it in the bag, but then he raised his front paws and began boxing the fish tank. He shoved his nose under the lid and flipped it open, water splashing as he tried to climb inside. We whirled around and dragged him backward.

“WOAH!” Julie said.

Murphy was still sliding on his side, against his will. We dragged him into the next aisle.

“Wow, I’ve only ever seen one other dog do anything like that!” Julie appeared in our aisle.

“Yeah, he’s very curious.” I offered, glaring at Murphy, who was oblivious to the weight of his transgression.

“Well, we know what to work on!” Julie smiled.

I nodded. We know not to bring Murphy to the fish tanks, I thought. Additionally, we had also run out of hot dog pieces and we were losing our thin veneer of control over Murphy.

We crowded back into the arena to receive our diplomas. Random customers lingered outside the plexiglass partition, observing. Julie delivered the certificates and shook paws with every pet before cheerfully taking pictures.

Tucker who talks began barking at the observers, pulling on his leash desperately.

Murphy shuddered.

“I can’t believe we’re out of hot dogs,” Josh said, gravely.

“We were too liberal with them during the come back and forth part. We didn’t think ahead!” I was afraid of what was coming.

“I can’t wait to see you again for intermediate, Murphy! I can’t wait! It’ll be so much fun!” Julie said, handing us our misspelled certificate.

She had included a schedule for the upcoming classes.

As soon as the door to our little arena opened Murphy lunged forward, sensing our hot-dog-less weakness. We were lurched out of our seats and tripped forward. There was no graceful way to exit this class, having Murphy at the helm.

Intermediate classes, indeed.

 

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On The Road Again

Dear Diary,

I’ve been on the road again, and I must say, it’s been a perilous journey.

A few months ago I was abruptly stuffed into a crate and placed into a filthy, crowded car by Father Raysor. This is not the standard moving procedure I am accustomed to. He asks me to call him Dad, but I’m waiting to see his level of commitment on paper. This isn’t my first “Call Me Dad” rodeo.

The level of care I got from Father Raysor on the road was abysmal. I do not like to travel, and I do not like the wire casket. Even Meowmy could do better, but she was nowhere to be seen. I feared she had finally succumbed to her erratic lifestyle and perished in an accident. Or, was I being abducted?

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Hark, a wire casket beyond shoulder lies!

The days passed in a disorienting nightmare. I was fed drugs with every meal. It seemed I was going to be trafficked. We were in and out of cheap motels like Thelma and Louise, dodging daylight and passerby. I awoke to a different landscape and varying will to live each morning.

Finally, we reached our destination, and I was released from my casket. I found myself in a gorgeous home on the ocean front. Was Father Raysor embezzling? My confusion was unending.

There were other humans living in the house too, and even another cat. I became fast friends with this feline, Ziggy, even though we come from substantially different backgrounds. Ziggy was an outdoor cat, and he lured me onto the deck, adamant this was the best place to bide our time and roll on nip.

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Meowmy had never allowed me to romp about outdoors, let alone to be outdoors unsupervised. She had researched the life expectancies of indoor versus outdoor cats, and my habitat was thus limited long ago.

Father Raysor was not so concerned.

I have now discovered that the outside is stressful. Waves crashing, unidentified noises, burning sun. While Father Raysor clearly did not care to abide by Meowmy’s wishes, I honored them and stayed near the door to the house. Sure, I was outside, but I wasn’t on the railing! I wouldn’t go near the ledge! I would not flaunt my careless dismissal of rules and reason, as Ziggy did!

Alas, rules and reason be damned, I found myself in an empty apartment. With another abrupt trip in the wire casket gone was Father Raysor, gone was Ziggy, gone was the ocean front sunshine. For ten days a human came and went through this apartment, but we had little interaction. When my water was dirty I would scratch him until he refilled it. When my food was low, I scratched again. Our system was functional, but this does not a keeper make!

I feared the worst, after all this time, was I back at square one? Beginning my life anew in the perilous care of this stranger?

Luckily, Meowmy returned with Father Raysor before I took any desperate action. She brought along the blonde mutt baby, but I expected as much should I see her again. The stranger has remained in the apartment, but now that I understand he will not keep me, I do not mind.

Once again I have settled into my predictably uncertain circumstances with Meowmy. I wonder how long it will be before we are on the road yet again. Given our flight pattern of a different home each year since my birth, I will prepare for April, at the latest.

together again

Murphy Comes Home

Last fall Josh and I welcomed a puppy into our lives. It was my idea, having had a hankering for a dog since I went to college and found myself without one. In college, I knew that I was not responsible/structured enough for a new puppy and my parents refused to let me relocate my elderly childhood dog, Honey Bear, to my apartment. I ended up with my cat Merlin, who I love dearly, but it just wasn’t the same.

Case in point, one day I came home to our apartment and Josh was running erratically around our circular floor plan.

“What’s going on?”

“Playing a game with Merlin” he huffed, switching directions suddenly and jogging backward, knees to chest. This was clearly some sort of muscle memory from a football practice of yesteryear.

I scanned the apartment. Merlin was sitting on the back of the sectional sofa, watching Josh with a grave disinterest.

“Babe, I don’t think Merlin is playing.”

Josh stopped and surveyed the room, “He was a minute ago. He was chasing me.”

“Ok.”

“He was,”.

“You really need a dog.”

Yikes.

Yikes.

And this is how the idea took hold. Initially, having never had a dog himself, Josh was enamored with two large, muscly powerhouse breeds. He wanted a Cane Corso. He wanted a Pit Bull. The debate began, and in time my main points won, the most major of which being that there are breed restrictions in apartment living on those breeds specifically and we are not homeowners.

So we set out with a fairly open mind. I really wanted to rescue. We spent weeks visiting shelters around the Baltimore, MD area. No exaggeration, ninty-percent of the dogs were pit bull mixes. I just really couldn’t take the risk of having trouble finding housing when I knew it would be many years before I had a home. And, to be honest, I don’t think they’re cute. And I don’t want a dog that other people are afraid of. I wanted a poodle mix. I love fluffy dogs.

We applied to rescues. We rarely heard anything back, and when we did living in an apartment always seemed to be a significant snag. For all the desperate urgency these organizations claimed to have they appeared to only be adopting out to married families with yards. I was really frustrated.

l-golden-doodle-v.-teddy-bear.So, we branched out. In a perfect world I would have Goldendoodle or a Labradoodle. The cuteness factor. So cute. So endlessly adorable. However, a Goldendoodle puppy proved to be as much as two thousand dollars.

“That’s insane. It’s just totally insane.” Josh stated as he scrolled through the links of breeders I had sent him.

“I know, but a pet is like a lifetime investment… someone has got to have a reasonable litter, I don’t care about papers or anything, I just want a healthy puppy.”

My parents, crazed animal enthusiasts themselves, gifted us a few hundred dollars toward the purchase as an early Christmas present. As if by magical intervention, I found two ads for doodle puppies for less than five hundred dollars while my mom was visiting. The homes were all in rural Pennsylvania, a few hours away. I arranged for an immediate visit at the closest one, in Lancaster.

The three of us boarded my mom’s Subaru, Josh captaining the voyage.

“Listen kids, we need to pay attention to which dog is the most outgoing and confident,” my mom began.

“Well I’ve never seen an awkward puppy.” I replied. This wasn’t a middle school dance.

“No, seriously. And you definitely want a male puppy. Bitches are petty, they’re always challenging you.” She stated, flipping her blonde hair over her shoulder. Backstory: my mom runs a small dog walking and dog training business.

“Bitches are petty? Mom, what are you talking about! Honey Bear never challenged us. She wasn’t petty!” I couldn’t believe the slander.

“Not Honey Bear, neccesarily. Although, she wasn’t perfect.”

“Oh, because she had a little incontinence? She was fourteen years old and had a botched spaying procedure. You said so yourself!” I was teetering, clearly still hypersensitive about my deceased dog.

“Didn’t you say you wanted a boy puppy? That’s what I want,” Josh intervened, squeezing my hand.

“Yes, yes I do.”

“Well then!” Mom threw her hands up in the air and looked slightly upward, as if commiserating with her audience stage right.

Josh delivered us into Amish country. The buggies and the beards and the quilts were everywhere, roadside shops cropping up more and more rapidly as we approached.

“Oh we should stop! Get some jam or something!”

“Eh, no thank you.”

“What! Why?”

“It’s vaguely cult-ish. They’re isolated, ostracized, don’t have access to a lot of outside resources.”

My mother looked befuddled.

“There are patients who got out of cults at her job,” Josh offered.

“Ohhhhhhhhhhh”, Mom tipped her head back in an exaggerated nod. My job working with trauma horrified her.

“You know, we could be headed to an Amish farm right now,” Josh stated, raising his eyebrows.

Mom slapped her knee enthusiastically, laughing with glee, “Maybe they’ll even have a possum for you Tasha!”.

After a minor trauma in childhood, I have a fairly serious possum phobia.

“Oh stop. I don’t have like a prejudice against them I’m just saying I don’t find it charming. I don’t want to, like, pull off the road and submerge myself in it. We don’t have time. Besides, they had an ad on the internet, so.”

“Look around you, that’s all I’m saying” Josh said, gesturing to our scenery.

Finally, we arrived at a spacious housing development and pulled into a large driveway.

“Oh, I’m so excited!” I bounded out of the car, and hurriedly rang the doorbell.

howell-walker-laughing-mennonite-woman-carries-buckets-of-strawberriesA woman in a light gray dress with her hair pulled into an extraordinarily large bun peeking out of her bonnet answered the door. I heard my mother suck in air quickly behind me.

“Hi, we called earlier about the puppies! We’re here to look at them.” I smiled.

The woman nodded, “Sure, Natasha? I’m Annalee,” she extended her hand to each of us, “Just let me get them rounded up,” she yelled behind her, “JONAH! THE DOGS! GET THEM READY!”

There was a telephone and answering machine in the entry hall. They must be a Mennonite family.

“Just a moment,” Annalee shut the door.

“Ok, they are obviously Mennonite’s like cousin Tara’s friend who was in her wedding, and I don’t care. I really don’t.” I spit out as quickly as I could before the door opened again and the woman returned with her son. My mother just widened her eyes and crossed her arms in front of her, smiling. I had once admitted to my family  in high school that dwarves also made me uneasy, following a warped Haunted House experience, and that tid bit had morphed into Natasha hates midgets, really hates them! 

I had to stay ahead of this.

We followed the two around the side of the brick house, into the backyard. There was a giant metal dog kennel where the yard bordered a field. My heart sank.  I couldn’t get on board with this. There were three separate “lanes” within the chain link separating the dogs. A large yellow lab, a cocker spaniel, and a German Shepherd stared back at me.

“These are our moms!” the woman said. Her son slipped into the first lane, with the lab, “Take out the boys!”

Giant puppies exploded into the first lane from the closed tin roof shelter, bounding into their mother. They were almost red, and shockingly large. I had wanted a small, soft, cuddly baby but these puppies were monstrous and had a visible stink, like Pig Pen in Charlie Brown.

Pig-Pen

“How old are they again?”

“Twelve weeks, they were born on… July 17th” she said, glancing down at her paperwork.

I squeezed Joshua’s hand, that was three days before our anniversary. Meant to be!

“My birthday’s the 18th! Are those their papers? Who’s the stud?” Mom asked, reaching for the stack.

Josh and I chose two puppies to come out of the kennel and play in the yard. One of the puppies was fluffier than the other, and also more exuberant. He raced around the yard, crashing into us intermittently for pets, with a giant smile on his face.

“That’s a wild one.” Mom said, appearing at my side, “Look the stud is an apricot Poodle! He’s gorgeous!” she lowered her voice, “Although this really isn’t a good situation here,”

The crazed puppy boomed past us and jumped directly into a shallow creek at the edge of the property. The water splashed over him and he turned and looked at us with a giant smile. He jumped directly up into the air and came back down with another large splash.

Josh rumbled with laughter, “Wow,”.

“He’s so happy! I want him. He’s definitely a Murphy.”

Josh nodded.

“JONAH, TOWEL!” the woman commanded.

Her husband appeared in the horizon on a riding lawn mower. He was wearing two tone denim and chewing on straw. As he approached a sinister energy entered the yard, my intuition prickled.

“This dog is staying, huh?” He said as a greeting as he swung the second puppy we had asked to be released into the air. The gesture was reminiscent of the way one handles livestock, holding the animal by it’s limbs.

I felt a sudden pang of guilt. The puppies were getting older, what would happen to them if they couldn’t be sold? This kennel was clearly used for breeding multiple breeds of puppies, and did not have room to spare for any additional animals growing into adults. A dramatic vision of the scowl faced lawn mower cowboy shooting all the puppies and making poor Jonah bury them sprang to life in my mind. I glanced around, could there already be unwanted puppy graves here?

amishgun

I whispered my worries into Joshua’s ear only to be met with absolute horror, “Stop yourself,” he commanded.

“This is the country, people do things like that!”

“Stop yourself.” he repeated, cracking a laugh as he shook his head. This is a phrase that Joshua says to me often.

Jonah returned struggling to carry the wiggling puppy in a blackened towel, “What are you gonna name him? I named him Riley when he was born.”

“Oh, Riley is cute, but I think we’re gonna go with Murphy”.

“Hmm. Ok.” Jonah didn’t approve, and patted Murphy on the head without sentiment before returning indoors.

Annalee smiled, “He loves to name them. This litter had all R names.”

We headed to the garage to look over the paperwork and wrangle the puppy into a collar. The one we had brought was too small. Annalee disappeared inside, citing she would send him off with some of his food.

“He’s definitely a Murphy,” Josh said.

“He’s filthy. God. He’s probably never had a bath.” Mom surveyed the puppy with disappointment.

“Mom… none of his vaccinations are up to date. Apparently he had a hernia or something? The doctor wrote that he needed to be seen again,” The paperwork was dirty and wrinkled and filled with concerning information.

“Oh, this is not good Tasha.”

“I can’t leave him here. I really can’t. It’s too awful.”

“He could be sick. You might have to deal with worms, which are totally disgusting, or even Parvo.”

I looked at the puppy licking Joshua’s face. These people did not care about his health, the paperwork clearly outlined the dates he needed to be seen again, but the appointments were never kept.

“I can’t leave him here.”

Annalee re-entered the garage, “We don’t have a printer, but here’s another picture of the stud. Big guy, ninety pounds”.

I asked about the hernia, and the other medical concerns, already knowing her answers wouldn’t change my mind. In the end I gave her just two hundred dollars for my Murph, which, in hindsight, was totally appropriate given the vet expenses we would accrue shortly. Spoiler: Murphy was full of worms.

I sat in the front seat and Josh lowered the puppy, still in the towel, into my lap.

“Hi, Murphy! Your name is Murphy now! Hello! I love you!”

As the Subaru rumbled to life and took to the road, Murphy scrambled around in my arms, howling and crying. His nails burrowed into my skin.

“Guys, this hurts.”

“Poor thing, he’s never left that yard you know. Probably scared out of his mind.”

“I can’t breathe, God he smells.”

Josh rolled the windows down to ventilate the car. Murphy scrambled to exit the car through the window. This continued for thirty minutes. My arms were now bleeding. I would have to wear long sleeves to work.

“He doesn’t want to be with us! He won’t stop crying!” I was starting to question our rescue mission. Maybe we should have driven the extra hour for the other puppies?

“No, Tash, this is totally normal. When I brought Weasley home he cried the whole way too. Pull over Josh, we’ll put him in the back.” Mom tapped Joshua’s shoulder and gestured to a small store coming up on the right.

Once placed in the hatchback area of the subaru, which was separated from the rest of the car by a metal gate, Murphy’s howls just grew louder and more desperate. For brief periods he would quiet down and curl up on the blankets, then would abruptly let out a few hysterical hiccups and begin again. We were all silent, our faces leaning into the whipping fresh air.

We pulled into a PetSmart and deposited Murphy in the grooming salon. He appeared to be in an absolute panic as he was carried away, but it had to be done.

A cheerful groomer reported he was twenty-four pounds!

We spent the two hour waiting time loading a shopping cart with puppy supplies, trying to anticipate what we would need. We painstakingly landed on a beautiful wooden crate, that Murphy would eat, plush adorable toys, that Murphy would eat, and charming food bowls, that Murphy would eat. We spent twice as much on supplies in that day alone than we had paid for Murphy!

We loaded the supplies in the hatchback and returned to the lone bench in the grooming salon.

“Well kids, this had been a very long day.” My mother stated.

“I really, really need a shower.”

“We all do.”

Finally, the door swung open and Murphy bounded toward us, dragging his groomer behind him. Visibly lighter in color, and still smelling vaguely awful, he propelled himself directly into my arms.

And in that moment, I loved him enormously, forever.

 

Our first picture together.

Our first picture together.

And my favorite picture of us together, on day two.

And my favorite picture of us together, on day two.