The Road Taken: The Artful Dodger

Chapter 4:  “First time?” asked the girl in the navy suit. “You look lost.”

I had just arrived at the University of Washington’s HR office, and was feeling overwhelmed by the task of job hunting. There were a number of job openings posted on the bulletin board, but mostly for secretaries, a librarian, a short order cook for the student union, an associate faculty position for the History Department, and a job in shipping, in which I would need to be prepared to lift 200 pounds.

Lia, my guide through the streets of Seattle, was the Artful Dodger (right) to my Oliver Twist.

I glanced around the room, which was small and confining, and filled with at least a dozen other job seekers. After nearly a month of pounding Seattle’s job market pavement, I was feeling as though someone ought to pound me. Back to the east coast, that is. A refrain kept ricocheting through my head: What was I doing and how did I get here?  More importantly, what made me think I could find a job on this university campus?

I looked at the girl in the suit, who gazed at me expectantly. She had short, dark hair like mine, and a cheerful, warm smile. Which made me want to hug her.  At last, someone was making friendly overtures toward me. Take that, Marigold! To the moon, Stan!

Yes, I had now been living with my civilized housemates for three weeks, five days and 11 hours. And by civilized I mean, they conveyed their distaste for me, not by shouting insults or tripping me when I entered a room.  No, my insults came by way of silent glares, rolling of the eyes whenever they heard my still-strong New York accent, and by their cutting remarks, which had a knack for making me feel small. Real small.

Stan, a scientist with a PhD in chemistry, didn’t approve of anything I liked. “Too pop culture for my tastes,” he’d say, or, “So this is how the other half lives,” whenever I turned on the TV to watch an episode of “Dallas.” Stan had a way of looking at me as if I was an oddity or the subject of a study. You know, the one that gets the placebo, but doesn’t know it, and for whom there is no hope? Well, that’s me.

Marigold wasn’t much better. One evening, after having spent the entire day, downtown, dropping off my resume with several businesses, I came home to find Marigold and G lost in deep conversation on the living room couch.  Marigold’s cheeks were streaked with tears. I couldn’t see G’s face as his back was to me, but I did hear him sternly say, “It has to be this way—“, stopping suddenly when he noticed I’d entered the room.  Marigold bolted and G looked at me sheepishly.

“She’s just having a bad day,” was his response to my queries.  I tried to press him for more, but he said he couldn’t tell me, adding, “I need to respect her privacy.”

Which did little to console me, as it seemed no one was respecting me, let alone my privacy.

“Need some help?”

The girl in the navy suit looked to be about my age. For a moment I thought she worked here and was planning to guide me through the university employment system. I half expected she would next ask me to take a typing test. Instead, she introduced herself, Lia, and told me how she, too, was looking for a job. She explained how she’d stop by this office often, since new jobs were listed almost daily.  Lia then started asking me questions and when I told her I had a degree in journalism, she asked me if I’d visited the public television station on campus.  I shook my head.

Turns out, Lia, more than anything, wanted to be a photographer or a videographer, and had been visiting the station many times, inquiring about work in production. She was ready to take any position offered, she confided.  Then, her eyes widened.

“Hey, I’m going over there now.  If you want to come, I’ll introduce you to the receptionist.  Her name is Rose.”

I hadn’t even thought about looking for work at a TV station and was just letting the notion sink in, when she grabbed my arm and off we went.

As we walked across campus, Lia proved so genuinely kind that my intuition told me we were destined to be friends. Either that, or I was so used to being shunned by my housemates that any act of kindness felt like manna from heaven.  I was filled with a new optimism, that maybe life in Seattle had turned a corner. Lia was the Artful Dodger to my Oliver Twist, about to throw a lifeline to this friendless orphan. Perhaps a job? As long as it didn’t involve picking anyone’s pockets, I’d be happy with anything Lia was able to throw my way.

And suddenly, we were there. Before us was an old clapboard house.  Walking up the steps to the entrance together, I was grateful to have a seasoned job seeker by my side who, unlike me, was not shy around strangers.  Lia seemed a natural at this job-hunting business.  With great fanfare, she opened the door and took me right up to the receptionist desk. There, she enthusiastically greeted Rose, a young woman, with dark hair, freckles and green-speckled eyes, and I was impressed with how Rose recognized Lia, calling her by name.

“Rose,” said Lia.  I’d like you to meet Monica. She’s looking for work, too.”

The Road Taken: The Bluest Sky

Many of you who last week read my freshly-pressed post, Broken Hearts & The Road Not Taken, wondered what happened next, after leaving my life in Maryland behind. Here begins my story of the road taken.

CHAPTER 2:  When I arrived in Seattle, I had two suitcases, $100 in cash and little else.  Just five hours earlier, I had been standing in the JFK terminal, where my parents, older brothers and younger sister had all gathered to see me off. Of course, my parents didn’t want me to go, and I could see it in my mother’s forlorn face. But in the end, they supported my decision, though my papá did buy me a round-trip ticket. “Just in case you want to come home, hija,” adding, “It’s never too late to change your mind, tú sabes.”

We took snapshots by the terminal gate. There was my mother, whose eyes glistened with tears, and my father, whose anguish for me simmered just beneath his strained smile, while my siblings joked, teasing me one more time. César, my oldest brother, laughingly warned, “Timber–watch out for the lumberjacks!” Which is how we Medina’s imagined Seattle to be—filled with lumberjack men in plaid flannel shirts, amidst a forest of enormous, felled pine trees.

It was as if I was heading west in a stagecoach and would never see my family again.

As I prepared to board, I turned around one more time to look at them, trying to memorize their faces in that single moment. It was as though I was heading west in a stagecoach—and not in a jet—and would never see my family again. I was Laura Ingalls embarking on a new life. A regular pioneer gal. Only instead of Pa and Ma at my side, it would be G, the man who had once left me for another woman.  We were starting over, the second time around. Westward, ho!

I didn’t know anyone in Seattle but G. I had no friends, no relations, no job, and no bearings. I would be living in his home and dependent on his income while I looked for a job. His car had a manual shift, which I did not know how to use, but what difference did it make?  I had no place to go. Seattle was a long way from my east coast-centric life. I was almost 24 years old and all that was familiar wasn’t here. Westward, ho, indeed.

In fact, my only knowledge of Seattle was that the sky was supposed to be the bluest of all skies. This from an old TV series, Here Come the Brides about three lumberjack brothers, and their lumberjack pals, who were lonely because there were few women in town. So they had them brought in, a bevy of mail-order brides via Pony Express or something like that, and I couldn’t help wonder if history was repeating itself. Anyway, the lyrics of the show’s theme song went like this:

“The bluest sky you’ve ever seen, in Seattle.

And the hills the greenest green, in Seattle.”

And though the sky didn’t look any bluer than the skies back home, the annoying ditty kept going through my head during my first few weeks there.  G met me at the airport and was all smiles, excited to show me what was to be my new home. As we drove to the house he lived in, he pointed out landmarks: Mt. Rainier, Puget Sound and the Space Needle.  No matter where I looked I saw greenery–certainly the “greenest green” as the song indicated–that I felt at once how prominent a role nature must play here in people’s lives, something I’d never given a thought to before. Here, it was impossible to take the abundance of nature for granted, and soon I was mesmerized by the mountains, the dense and unusual foliage—such as the monkey tail trees and foxglove—the deep colors of the bougainvillea, sweet peas and bleeding heart flowers, the steep hills, and the countless bodies of water, visible wherever you turned.

We’d be living in the University District, by the University of Washington, where G was working in a lab, within walking distance of the campus. G was renting a room in a house among a row of similar homes with ample porches and roomy kitchens, though this particular house was located just under a freeway off-ramp. G told me how several months earlier, a bus took the ramp too fast, hurled off and slammed into a neighbor’s backyard. Everyone on the block was shaken by the late night crash and stumbled out of bed to watch the removal of the totaled bus. Luckily, there was no one on board except the driver, and he survived with barely a scrape and a broken rib.

As we approached the street which I would now be calling home, I felt a pang of dread.  As happy as I was to see G, I wasn’t looking forward to meeting my new housemates, Stan and his girlfriend, Jeannette, and, most of all, Marigold, who may or may not have dated G prior to my arrival. I had suspicions but G assured me that he and Marigold were just good friends.  And just like that, brushing aside my unspoken questions, he grabbed my bags from the backseat of the car and led me inside.