It has been probably one of the craziest weeks of my life. I feel a bit like a figure in a surrealist painting, like some cosmic force put me in a jar and shook me up for a bit. Everything is a little off; the nose is over on the cheekbone, my hand has waves to it like the ocean, and I am wearing a shoe for a hat.
The good news is that all the pieces are still there.
I am still me.
The better news is that I am in recovery and renewal mode. I can already feel my nose shifting back to the center of my face, my hand straightening out, and I am trying to get that pesky shoe back on my foot.
Let me tell you how I got there and how I got here.
One month ago I was cramming to finish the first draft of my thesis. I had given notice at my camp job and was planning on looking for an office job here in MI and moving in with my good friend Stephanie.
After completed thesis draft and a month of fairly fruitless job hunting, I was getting desperate. I needed an income source so that I could move away from camp. I was soon about to overstay my welcome and I felt like I was letting my future roommate down, since we had planned on moving in Jan 1. In that spirit of desperation, I took a job from a temp agency working nights at a factory. I figured it would bridge the gap until employers got in the swing of things in the New Year and I could find something (anything) better. That was Monday.
Tuesday night found me in my car at 10 pm driving to my second shift of work, sobbing my way through a rosary. I could not foresee how I could make it through even one more day doing this job.
My position was at a small factory 40 minutes away from my home making plastic bumpers and dashes for cars (what did you expect, I am in Michigan 🙂 Once I got down to the actual work, my job was mind numbingly simple. My co-worker and I were responsible for inspecting boxes (and boxes and boxes) of BMW car bits to ensure that the right pieces were in the right boxes and labeled with the right label. We had to unpack each pallet of 48 and look at the back of each piece of plastic to see if the writing read LH or RH. I probably looked at over 500 pieces in my first night.
The mind numbing work wasn’t fun, but that wasn’t what made the job terrible. It was one factor among many that combined into a stew of torture.
I have always hated new car smell and the smell of the melting plastic at this place has only solidified my derision. In addition, while I understood that everyone is safer without headphones in, it was incredibly difficult for me to do such mindless work with only the hum of machinery to occupy my ears and entertain my mind.
Normally, when you start a new job, you have some sort of orientation. Here are the bathrooms, these are your break times, don’t ride on the fork lift, blah, blah, blah. Not only did we not get that, my supervisor did not even tell me his name. He showed us where we would be working, said he needed to find a piece of paper, and we did not see him for another half hour. All told, it was an hour and a half before we finally set down to work that first night. The next two nights were similar, with almost half our shift on the third night being waiting for work.
There was a myriad of inefficiencies and poor communication, not only to us, but between levels of supervisors. For example, we were told to go help in other areas when we had nothing to do, but another supervisor told us that we were not allowed to leave our station area. Then we were chastised for sitting down when we had no work. We were told to look busy, to sweep or something, that there was a camera recording us.
I deplore busy work.
I promise to do absolutely everything in my power to never torture those that I supervise with busy work, to never make them sweep a clean floor, to not force them to lie with their actions.
Busy work to simply please a camera is just as much a lie as any false statement made with words.
Night one was the worst. Night two, after I finished crying in my car, got a little better. In the lunchroom, someone asked me how I liked it so far. I wildly stretched the truth and said it was okay.
It still felt like the beginning of a marathon that I was running at sprint speed. While I was working in the factory at night, I was also doing some part time work at camp still, and trying to square away a lease and moving plans for my new apartment. I was running on fumes and surviving by sheer force of will.
Wednesday evening, before night three, my boss at camp asked me to get in touch with the camp office about a potential job. I did, and scheduled an interview for the next morning. They were looking for something soon, which was more than fine with me.
I was certain that only in my wildest dreams would this interview pan out into any sort of substantial position that would allow me to stay at camp.
However, those wild dreams were enough, they fueled me through night three.
Thursday morning I got home from the factory, showered, and went over to have my interview. I prayed about it, asking God to give me direction, but was careful to keep my expectations low and my standards high.
The interview went stellar, but I still had to wait to hear the final verdict. She would let me know later in the day. I went home and slept. Really what I wanted to do was to call the temp agency and quit on the spot, but I did not want to burn that bridge before I was certain that I had no need to cross it again.
I got e-mailed the offer at 4:43 pm.
I called to accept it at 4:44 pm.
Then I called the temp agency, praying someone would still answer the phone at 5:05.
I told them I would work that night, but that was it, I was not giving their requisite 3 days notice, just one. I had to return my obnoxious neon vest and fill out my time sheet anyway. I might as well make the gas money worth the trip. And I am glad I did.
Night four was the best night of all. Not only did I know that it was the end, I was doing more interesting work also. The icing on the cake was who I was doing the work with. For night four, my job was to pull bumpers for some sort of GM SUV off of a conveyor belt, inspect them, add a clip to the end, and initial the inside. (So, if you have a brand new GM in a few months, check inside your bumper for my initials in green grease pencil ;). There were two conveyor belts, one on top of the other. I was in charge of one and a man named Sean* was in charge of the other.
About two hours into our shift, he said, “I am bored. What do you want to talk about?” I was taken aback, considering that my other three nights had been spent fairly silent even though I had been working just as closely with a different co-worker as I was currently working with Sean. I don’t remember what topic finally started us off on a real conversation nor can I say exactly what all we talked about. I blame that partly on the delirium and tiredness of a night shift and partly because we talked about so many things, probably four hours total of intense conversation. We spent a lot of time talking about his religious beliefs and lifestyle. Sean is a Rastafarian. He believes that the Catholic Church is Babylon and that Haile Selassie is King Solomon’s great-great-great-etc grandson, or something like that. He had a lot of inflammatory things to say, things that I almost was offended by. But Sean also is lonely and disillusioned. He feels like people don’t appreciate how much the media manipulates what you think. He is concerned about how music and TV affect people who have little or no education. He is proud of his roots. He knows he is in a dead end job, but does not have the energy to seek out something better. He is too busy during the day fielding phone calls from friends who need his help. (The day before our conversation, he only had one hour of sleep because he was helping someone move). He believes in focusing on the positive, while he acknowledges that there are myriad things wrong with the world. His family is Catholic, and, while he is passionate in his belief that Rome conspired against Africans and is at the heart of much oppression, he also recognizes that his beliefs might derail his younger siblings from improving themselves and so he respects his father’s wishes to keep his beliefs to himself. As much as we disagreed about conspiracy theories over 9/11 we agreed about so many more every day things: that family is important, that most of politics is acting and stage-work, that the Bible is THE book, that it is important to focus on the positive.
Sean and I had a fascinating series of conversations that spanned so many topics. I hope that our conversation touched him the way it touched me. Sean made night four fly by.
At 7:00 am, I turned in my vest and left the factory. (My boss didn’t say goodbye, he said okay, when I handed him the vest. However, his boss (who signed my time sheet) did at least seem sad)
At that point it, it was a little bittersweet. There were people there who I would have been interested to know better. I had started to build a camaraderie.
That factory was like a book of which I only got to read the first chapter and a half.
That was Friday morning. Now, it is late Saturday (or early Sunday) and I am trying to both recover and wrap my mind around the whirlwind that I have just plowed through. I am in utter disbelief that I have the privilege of staying at this camp. I am stunned. I am floored. I am blessed. The decision to leave camp in the first place was such a hard one. After leaving architecture and going to grad school to be a camp professional, I cringed at the thought of giving up my dream in the face of practical necessity. I was baffled by what God expected me to do and slowly devolving into survival mode. I even spent several hours reading a blog about how to survive living out of your car, partly out of curiosity and partly just preparing for all the possibilities. It was not a good place to be. When I look back just a few nights ago, to the night of my second shift of work, I was in such a low place. I needed the income, but the job was torture.
However, as bad as it got, I never lost faith. I didn’t let the feelings of impotence send me into a downward spiral.
That is something that the Veronica of several years ago would not have been able to do. And, in the end, I think that was God’s purpose in all of this that He let me go through. He wanted to show me the woman I have become. He wanted to show me that I am strong and faithful just like He is strong and faithful.
I know now that He will not lead me down a dead end path to abandon me or trick me. Rather, He walks beside me. No matter how low the low or how high the high, I am with Him and He is with me, eternally.