So, I was fired from the funeral home.
One day shy of the one year anniversary of the first time I was fired.
Ahhhh, life. You never, ever, ever fail to keep me on my toes.
I missed class yesterday morning, which never happens. I set my alarm for the wrong time, I mixed up my days, totally goofed – but this meant that I could go into work early, and I was really excited to go into work. I miss work, I hate that school takes me away from work and that I don’t get to be as present as I want to be, as involved as I long to be. I didn’t text Tom and tell him that I was sneaking in a few hours early because I wanted to surprise him. Yesterday was the first day that felt like fall to me, the leaves are starting to change, the air was nice and cool, the sun was bright. I felt fine, I remember thinking that – I feel fine today. I walked into the funeral home with a vial of shaved citrine in my hand (said to bring success in ones career) and an Elvis magnet, stoked to add them to the rest of the oddities collected on my desk.
I made it as far as the doorway. I didn’t even get to put my bag down.
When the owner of Palmetto Mortuary asked me back after he fired the soulless megalomanic that was previously in charge (and was previously his best friend-birds of a feather, right?), I sort of had the feeling that if I returned, I would be making what one could only classify as a “giant ass mistake” – because lets be real, stumbling upon an empty snake’s nest doesn’t mean you are safe, it just means you haven’t found the snake yet. While yes, it appeared that the snake was out for the time being, returning to the problematic nest felt like asking for trouble, and I wasn’t comfortable and I didn’t want to do it. But I talked to the people that I trust most in this world, and I was largely influenced to “just see what happens”, to take the job – “the worst thing that could happen is you get fired again!” (y’all were right, but frankly, this still sucks ass). I tried to protect myself as best I could – both sides, myself and the funeral home, agreed on terms, a contract was drawn up, and after eating the greatest helping of humble pie that I have ever had, I swallowed my pride and returned to the place that had thrown me out like a rotten apple just a few months prior. ALL I cared about was working my cases and getting the time required for my apprenticeship served. I was a new person, no longer just a funeral director – I officially became an apprentice embalmer, too. The responsibility and the privilege of physically taking care of the deceased changed my entire life forever. I officially decided that being fired the first time had been the best thing to ever happen to me, because it lit me on fire, made me crazy with wanting – I went from barely being able to touch a body to sewing mouths shut while humming the latest Lady Gaga song. It was, in short, a JOURNEY.
So, here we are. Fired again. Official reason cited: I go to school too much. Please, someone, anyone, remind me the next time I try to obtain the necessary degree needed in order to obtain the full licensure required to perform my job to NOT go to school so much – maybe I can just slack off and suck real bad and show zero effort or interest at being the best I can be in my field or actively and passionately learning my craft. Yup. I think that definitely makes for a better employee.
What happens next? Is this another great catalyst, the next great revival in my life? I’m too cynical right now to dream of spiritual springboards. My mood is somewhere between losing my religion and putting my head in an oven, because I am just really gobsmacked that all I am genuinely doing is just begging for the opportunity to be around dead people all day, and I don’t really feel like this should be such a difficult thing to ask for, because how many other people really want that, and why the hell is this so difficult? I am tired and frustrated and hurt and confused and FURIOUS. The one bright side: I already renewed my Disney season pass for the upcoming year, and that’s a genuine miracle, because had I not, I’d be sitting in prison for murder.
ANWAY. I wrote this next bit a year ago, after I was fired the first time. I never posted it because I guess at the time it felt so personal to go into detail about what felt like such a great failure, but thankfully I’ve got the newest great failure to focus on, so the last one doesn’t feel as bad anymore. But really, I’m posting it because I need to see it again -this is an Ashley, please listen to Ashley situation if ever there was one, because that Ashley was way more positive and ready to tussle for her future than this one is. This Ashley just wants to get in bed and stay there until I liquify, and I feel like I probably shouldn’t do that, no matter how tempting. I’m just in a real “f!ck this all the way to hell” mood, and I keep cycling through options, and what I keep landing on is the thought that it wouldn’t be this hard if I was truly meant to do this – but I don’t know. I don’t know what to do.
(Except I do now know that I probably should not ever go back to Palmetto Mortuary, even if they offered me a unicorn and a naked hot air balloon ride with Daniel Radcliffe, so there’s that, lesson learned!)
When I was fired from my job yesterday, the first thing that I did was run and hide. Literally. I scattered myself across my city and made sure that those who were looking for me could not and would not find me until I was ready to be found.
It was selfish, it was wrong, I know that: I scared them, and that wasn’t fair. But what I could not do, what I was physically and mentally unable to do was go home, or speak, or accept it. Because that would make it real. It would make it true. Not even two months after graduating from college, the very day after I received my NFDA (National Funeral Director’s Association) membership card in the mail, I’m fired, kaput – and my bright future is out like a light. That … no, that could not be true. You don’t want something as badly as I have wanted this, you don’t fight as hard as I have fought and dream for as long as I have dreamt of this to have it snatched out from under you like the tablecloth trick in a shitty magic show. And as long as I could keep running, I could exist in the limbo between before and after, a sort of stasis where all that was real was what I could contain and deny.
The biggest feeling that I felt yesterday was fear, followed by shame. Fear, because everything that I’ve worked for is temporarily ruined – my apprenticeship is now on hold, my livelihood is compromised – and shame, because I felt like I finally had a chance to do something good and real in this world, like I had found a place I really belonged, like I had really helped people who needed me – and I ruined it because I refused to compromise myself and my beliefs. I’ve always had a big mouth, and it has always been my best and worst quality. Best, because I will fight to the death for what I believe in. Worst, for the same reason – I cannot and will not stifle myself when I see that something is wrong. My honesty was my demise. I was fired at 12:20 on a Tuesday afternoon because I wasn’t willing to stand by and watch one man take advantage of people and an industry that I deeply and truly care for and respect. I kept thinking about this yesterday as I kept running: what good does it do to fight when the bad guys always win? Wouldn’t I be safer, smarter, even, to just shut up and roll with it?
I eventually found myself downtown, which, if you know me, is a shock. I hate going downtown. The crowds, the traffic, the whole damn place makes my anxiety ping right into the red zone. So beautiful is downtown Greenville that it almost gets annoying, constantly hearing about it. EVERYONE wants to be there, EVERYONE is constantly nattering about it and blubbering about how wonderful it would be to go downtown, to spend a day by the falls, to walk main street at twilight – but to be fair, as irritating as it is to hear about it constantly, the compliments are truly well deserved. A growing and unique city built tidily around waterfalls and gardens, there is only blue sky, lush green grass, and the roaring rush of cold water as far as the eye can see. We are particularly famous for the suspension bridge that overlooks the waterfalls, a birds eye view of all that Greenville has to offer. I walked that bridge alone yesterday, stopping midway to survey a scene so picturesque that it almost looks unreal. It would be perfect, I thought, to take a flying leap right off of that bridge and splatter messily into that pretty little river that we are always talking about. To never leave this moment. To never have to stop running and let the truth catch me.
I moved on before I could decide that I didn’t want to anymore.
On my way back down from the bridge, a couple spotted me alone and asked, almost apologetically, if I would mind taking a photo for them. They perched together, happy and in love, and I counted to three as they said cheese and smiled big, happy smiles. I handed the camera back to them and wished them well as I started to go.
“You look so glamourous, what are you doing down here?” The man asked me. “Are you a model?” I turned around and laughed (I’m lying, I snorted loudly) “No, God, no. I did, however, just get fired from my job. So … there’s that.”
I don’t know why I told them. It came out of my mouth like a bullet from a gun and it hovered in the air and it was then that I knew it: this is really, really happening. This is what comes next.
No more running.
“No, oh no.” they said together. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay. I just … I wanted to come down here, I think, to look at something nice on a bad day.” I said, embarrassed at this point to have imposed my sob story on the two strangers.
“Don’t worry. You’re going to find something so, so much better.” the woman said to me, and she reached out and touched my forearm like she really believed that I would. It struck me as odd that she somehow knew that the firing was not my fault, that it was the result of selfish people protecting their sins and not a punishment that I deserved for my own. I thanked them both for their kindness, and they wished me luck and said goodbye as they continued on their way.
After they were gone, I turned and pulled my own camera out of my bag. Might as well, right? I so rarely get down there, and it really is so damn pretty. On a lark, I turned my back to the falls and snapped a picture of myself. I didn’t look at it, didn’t figure I would want to see what I must look like: broken, lost, alone, scared. I walked on until I found my car and decided that it was time to go home and face the music.
Later that night, I thought about the couple from earlier and pulled my phone out to look at the picture I had taken of myself by the falls. I peeked at it first with one eye shut, scared of what I might see in myself. I was surprised to see that I didn’t look broken or lost or alone or scared at all. In fact, I look pretty strong (and a little squinty, but the sun was pretty bright, in my defense). I am pretty strong, actually. I always think that I’m not, always think of myself as so weak, so stupid and so emotional – but it takes a strong woman to stand up for what’s right and to fight for what she believes in, even if it means losing in the long run.
You can only do your best in life and hope that your best is enough. I was, and am, enough. The place that I am leaving behind, however, was not enough, and that’s why it doesn’t deserve me. This last year has been the most poignant and beautiful and devastating year of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I wouldn’t change or take back a single moment or decision, and by God, I still wouldn’t shut up. I have watched parents lose their children. I’ve held a human brain in my hands and have been humbled and terrified at the same time. I’ve stood alone in a room with a body as I styled their hair and have felt the presence of God so strongly that I almost hit my knees. I’ve been privy to the most private and devastating moments that human beings can endure. I’ve learned their stories, I’ve laughed with them, I’ve cried with them, and I’ve made a difference, I have. I’m on hold for now, I’m hurt and I’m down and I’m out for now – but not forever: I didn’t work this hard to let go that easily.
The only running that I’m doing right now is towards what comes next.
October 6th, 2015 – the end & the beginning.