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Friday, January 29, 2010

Safe Haven

It's funny, isn't it? The way sometimes the Universe just opens up and shows you a lesson in life. Of course, you have to be open to learning, or else you're very likely to miss the message. As the events of my day yesterday began to unfold in front of me, I found myself wondering just how many lessons I might have missed because I was too worried about me.

As always, you've all been so terribly kind. Everyone has something going on in their own world. Yet we know, within our little rag-tag group, we can count on a good word in bad times, in good times, in whatever times we choose to share. In spite of my feelings of late and contrary to my entry yesterday, I know in the depths of my heart I am not alone. As fortune would have it, I was more than primed yesterday for a respectable ass-whooping by the cosmos. I didn't have to look far. In fact, I never had to leave home. The lesson came and knocked on my front door.

I was in the back of the house, getting ready to leave for my afternoon at the Boys & Girls Club when I heard someone calling my name at the front of the house. I thought it was funny that Ellie wasn't barking. She barks at EVERYTHING. Even if she knows the visitor, she ALWAYS barks. But, she was looking through the window, wagging her tail in a calm, lazy manner. I opened the door to see my cousin Sandie standing there. It took a minute because I "thought" it was my cousin, but the person I knew as my cousin, the last time I saw her about 8 months ago, was quite a bit heavier and much younger than this woman standing on my doorstep.

She smiled, and I smiled back, trying to hide my look of shock and surprise as I stepped toward her to hug her. I felt the embrace warmly returned, but physically, my arms encircled a tiny, frail package. We keep the island custom of removing shoes when we enter a home, so I have a large basket inside the front entry. As she stepped in, she weakly struggled to remove her shoes and I leaned in to help her balance, telling her that it wasn't necessary for her to do that. She smiled and said; "Yes, it is." I knew, being raised the way we were, that it was a sign of respect to do so and she would never be one to be disrespectful. I was still intrigued by Ellie's behavior. She did not bark at Sandie. In fact, quite unlike the skitish dog she is, she walked close as Sandie settled on the couch, and then, plopped herself softly next to her. From this, I knew, without a doubt, that there was something I needed to hear from my cousin. Something that my perceptive pooch was already quite aware of.

"Sandie; you and I have always been chubby together. Always struggling with weight. The last time you were here, I noticed weight loss, but just thought, like me, you'd found a way to deal with it. But now? Now I am scared Sandie. You don't look well and you are SO tiny. PLEASE, I beg you, tell me what is wrong."

Tears welled up in her eyes. She said she didn't come here to worry me. That she was nearby and hadn't seen me in awhile. A favorite Asian market was around the corner and she went there to get some poi. So while she was in the neighborhood, she thought she'd come and say hi. I sensed that she was trying to divert the conversation, but the tears in her eyes told me she really needed to talk. I urged her to share with me by reaching out to touch her and when my hand reached hers, those tears spilled over and down her gaunt, tired face. I held my breath and squeezed her hand.

"I'm better now. Really, I am. But I HAD cancer. Cancer of the colon and a tumor in my bladder."

I thought about the last time I saw her. Even those eight months ago, she looked as though she'd lost about twenty pounds, but she didn't look sickly. I asked her how long ago she was diagnosed. She told me it had been a year, and that the last time she was here, she was in chemo-therapy. Now my tears came. I hurt for many reasons, but mostly because she didn't tell me then. That she had been through this alone. My cousin was widowed twelve years ago when she was only 45. Her vibrant, active husband, taken after a very long illness by complications from Type 1 diabetes. Since then, she has had one terrible ordeal after another. Losing her home and her husband's land in Hawai'i through unscrupulous bankers and realtors, consequently having the bank foreclose and declaring bankruptcy. She came back to California, basically leaving everything in Hilo behind. A friend told her she could stay with her, and a month later, having been ill and going to the doctor, she got the diagnosis that she had cancer. She'd gotten through two surgeries and rounds of chemo, spending this last Christmas and New Year's in the hospital. Upon her release from the hospital two weeks ago, her friend's husband told her she needed to leave and go be a "burden" on someone else. She asked him if he could just give her a chance to regain some strength and he responded that she needed to be out by February 10th. Over the last two weeks, she tried to be out of the house to avoid the man while he was there, spending time reading at Starbuck's or the library. Now, she was preparing to move this weekend to the home of another friend who lived in LA county.

The massive lump in my throat and chest made me feel as if I couldn't breathe. I was sick with worry for my cousin. I was hurting that she didn't feel she could share this with me all these months. That she didn't feel that this was a place of refuge. That she couldn't be in a safe place to recover and regain her strength. More than that, I was so angry at her friend's husband. I sat there, tears flowing down my face, my mouth gaping in shock. When I finally found the air to fill my lungs, I blurted out; "You are coming HERE to live! Right now! Let's go get your stuff! You're not spending another minute under the roof of that, that, PERSON!"

"No Renee. I didn't come here for that. I will go to my friend's."

I pleaded with her.

"Sandie, we are family. We are 'ohana. You should be here. With people who love you. Where you will be safe, where you can be you and get your health back. This is the reason I am home now. YOU are the reason I am home. Please. Be here. Be safe. Be welcomed."

As if on cue, Ellie lifted her head and rested her chin on Sandie's lap.

"You see? It is decided."

She made feeble attempts at telling me I should talk to Charlie and the kids. I knew that somehow, Charlie was already being made aware. However, to make her feel better, I told her that it was perfect that it was Date Night. We would talk about it over our dinner and I would call her tonight. I walked her to her car and we hugged a long, long time. "Don't worry. Everything is going to be fine. I promise you."

I waited until the server brought Charlie his beer. As he took his first sip and sighed his predictable "Ahhhhh", he smiled a knowing smile and said; "So tell me Honey, what's happening this weekend?"

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Not Alone

It's true. I've been pretty down lately. I've been trying real hard to focus on the positive and not get bogged down in the mirey muck. I'm actually pretty proud of myself. There was a time, not so very long ago, when what I'm experiencing now would have taken me under. I've learned, over time, that the dog paddle is a very effective, albeit tiring, survival technique. I smile, I paddle, I smile, I paddle, and very much like a terrified, non-aquatic canine, I paddle even when I'm above the water line; paws madly clawing at air. Eventually, I find something solid to grab onto and hold on. I may not be able to get out yet, but at least I'm holding on.

I have lamented to whomever is within earshot; Charlie for the most part, that despite my networking and my daily searches on Monster, Craigslist, etc., no offers are forthcoming. Not even a hint. It's frustrating. I didn't really think it was a big thing at first. But as the months have passed, with no hint or crumb of hope, I began to think that it was definitely me. As you well know, I thought it was an age thing after Caris put out one resume and on her first try, got hired at a place she loves. So I "tweaked" my resume. That was a few weeks ago. I've sent the "new and improved" resume out oh, ten or so times. Nothing. Nada. Big fat donut.

I have to admit, much to my displeasure, that I pretty much lost it on Monday. I was already on the edge. But a flippant comment sent me over the falls and the waterworks were seemingly unstoppable. It didn't help that it was a shitty day weatherwise and I couldn't even escape the confines of these walls and at least take Ellie for a walk. That usually works wonders in getting me out of ME.

Interestingly, I have two really wonderful men in my life who seem to be very in tune to my melancholy. Of course, my husband calls me and walks me through the process. He's had 30 years practice after all. Then, out of nowhere, Wes brings flowers and Kiva to cheer me up. They both, at different times of the day, tell me the very same thing;

"It isn't YOU, Pua. You're not alone out there. There are jobs, yes. But there are MORE people needing them. The competition is ferocious. Don't think it's you."

I nod. I really want to believe that. After all, who wouldn't want me? I'm damn fabulous. Right? Okay, other than that little voice who whispers "Oh it's you alright. Don't kid yourself."

Anyway, I have a little chat with Averie. She tells me that she's signed up to do some volunteer work with kids in LA. An arts program. She suggests I look for some volunteer work myself. I smile. How funny to come full circle. My child reminding ME about service. I take her advice, and in VERY short order, I have three volunteer "jobs" all lined up. Easy-peasy. Somebody definitely wants me! I'm feeling better already.

This morning, as I usually do, I went to Craigslist. I found this:

Hail Mary

I could hear Charlie and Wes again; "It isn't you Pua. You're not alone."

I wrote "Hail Mary" an email to let her know she wasn't either and that I wished her well. It's tough out there.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


...wish that kids would remember that sometimes they need cheerleaders too. I have seriously hit my "sometimes" point.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Fear Factor

I've been submitting resumes to job postings for the past month now. Out of the 20 openings I've applied for, I've gotten 3 callbacks. It's a bit disheartening, but I plow through. At first, I wasn't worried. In fact, I was almost exhilirated with the prospect of putting myself out there again. Before the tiki shop, I worked the corporate world. I was good at it. Yeah, I was a cubicle creature. But I was a model cubicle creature. My last job was as an Admin Assistant to a Sports/Entertainment Lawyer. When Wes offered me the job at the tiki shop and I gave notice to the law group, they BEGGED me to stay. In fact, they kept offering me pay raises if I would stay with them. I declined. I was so unhappy in the corporate world. So unhappy with the kind of person I was becoming. It was soul-sapping to me. I wanted ME back. But now comes the truth. I don't have a choice. I HAVE to go back. It's what I'm good at and there sure as hell isn't another tiki shop around here that I can run to.

Oh, I joked about wearing business attire again after 5 years of donning "slippahs" and shorts to work. I tried to find humor in the very real scare of having to shove my poor "luau feet" into heels and my voluptuous (I prefer that term, thank you) polynesian ass into a business suit. In fact, to my great delight, I found that I needed something new to wear for interviews because I'd lost a good amount of weight since the last time I had to interview for a job. My confidence level was up. For the first time in a long time, I actually felt good about myself. That is until yesterday.

Yesterday, Caris asked me to help her update her resume and create a cover letter for a job she wanted to apply for. We worked on it together, we tweaked it, adding those "key words" here and there to help her sell herself. She submitted it, and within four hours got a callback and an appointment for an interview. This, with her very first attempt.

She called me to thank me, and of course, I congratulated her and told her how proud I was of her. I meant it. It's a job she wants, and it has the potential to blossom into something terrific for her future, and its in line with her career goals. I was truly, very excited for her Yet, suddenly, I could feel the fear factor rising. Her first resume sent, and within hours, a response. A positive response. I've sent 20 and only gotten 3 calls. One of those calls was to tell me that they'd already filled the position. Ah well, at least they called. That's more than the other 17 did.

I had an interview during Christmas week. With my resume in hand, and feeling quite great with my new biz attire, I walked in confidently. My confidence would quickly wane. My interviewer looked to be two decades younger than me. Actually, EVERYONE in that office looked to be two decades younger than me. Yes, he DID ask me THOSE questions; "Where do you see yourself in five years?" and "What are your goals?" Without meaning to, I actually blurted out a chortle. Apologizing quickly, I gathered my thoughts and simply told him that I see myself then, as I see myself now; a damn good Administrative Assistant. I elaborated:

"The truth is; I'm 49 years old. I have no lofty career aspirations. I type 90 accurately, I'm computer savvy, I file, I'm great on the phone, I'm literate, I'm personable, I'm organized and I'm detail-oriented. I have two kids in college and I have to pay tuition. As I'm sure you well know, that's a lot of money. My GOAL is to be able to get my kids through college and on to a career where they won't have to interview for an Administrative Assistant position when they're 49 years old. Also, I'm GREAT at what I do, which, as you can see by my work history and references, speaks for itself. I'm an awesome support person to all those people who are climbing the corporate ladder, and I have no thought whatsoever of wanting to climb with them. I'm happy to be support. I don't want to be a manager, so no one should be worried that I'm trying to take their job. That's it."

Perhaps I talked myself out of a job. Perhaps not. After he tightened his now slacked jaw, he did begin to tell me the company's policy on visible tattoos and body piercings. Though I have both, through my good taste and wise choices, neither could be seen. So I did find it a bit odd that he would go there. Still, it made me think that he wouldn't be offering up that information unless he were going to offer me the position. He actually laughed, thanked me for my honesty, which he said he found "refreshing". As I look back on it, I think that maybe it was his way of saying I was a bit too honest. In the passing days, no offer was forthcoming and I found myself thinking that perhaps I was, indeed, too frank. The thing is, I wondered how comfortable I'd be at a company where EVERYONE was younger than me by a longshot.

The realization hit me hardest after Caris got her callback. I began to analyze the reasons why I wasn't getting called back. After all, they can't SEE me. They don't know how old I am when I submit my resume. Or do they? I went to the computer and looked at my resume for what seemed like the thousandth time. Oh Lord, there it was. My work history alone begins in 1986 to present. If they go to my education and see that my college "career" ended in 1980. Well, duh...they can count. Good God. I'm NEVER going to find a job. I'm old. Even for a freaking secretarial position. I'm old with no degree. I have nothing to offer, and what I do have to offer, no one wants, because I'm old. That's the truth of it right there.

For a short time yesterday afternoon, I had a meltdown. Luckily, no one was home but Ellie. She could care less how old I am. To her, I'm fabulous. I walk her, I feed her, I love her. In return, she stays close to me and loves me back. I let the fear in for an hour or two. I cried it out while I made a pot of potato-cheese soup for dinner, omitting some salt since there was enough in my tears. Then I straightened my back, stiffened my upper lip and set about tweaking my resume. I took out some dates. At least if I can get in the door, I have a better chance. But even if I do, I'm not sure I'd answer THOSE questions any different. It is who I am. I am, after all, not the same woman I was 7 years ago. Nor do I want to be. I like me and I shouldn't be fearful. The right job will come. When it does, it will be how its supposed to be. I just hope I don't have to eat a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach faster than the 20 year old next to me to get it.