It’s mid-morning and I’m looking for the person who was supposed to interview me for a work-study job at this social service agency that the college had sent me to, and about which I knew nothing. I paused in the doorway of a large room filled with about 30 people and an equal number of desks, tables and chairs, which were distributed randomly around the room. It was noisy and chaotic. I scanned the room, trying to identify someone who looked like they were in charge, but saw no one I would identify as a supervisor. Actually, it didn’t seem like anyone was even working.
I began rethinking my decision to apply for this job. Hell, I knew nothing about social services. I was a microbiology major. And unlike 99 percent of all job applicants, I had never listed “good with people” as an asset on my resumé.
Then my eyes rested on a young man who was looking directly at me, and as we locked gazes, he rose from the chair he had been lounging in and walked over to me. He was tall, thin, dressed in jeans, an old t-shirt and a dumb-looking hat that nevertheless was somehow appealing on him.
Looking at me with a big grin on his face he said, “Will you marry me?”
And without a heartbeat’s hesitation I replied, “Depends. How much money do you have?”
He stuck his hand in one of his pockets and pulled out a handful of change. After counting it, he looked up at me and said, “Eighty-seven cents.”
And I said, “Okay.”
Suddenly, this job interview was the second most important thing I really wanted that day. I got the job. I became an Area Coordinator—without any idea what an Area Coordinator’s responsibility was–for a nonprofit that worked with foster children, mostly adolescents who had been in the system a long time, which I soon learned meant that they were almost certainly so fucked up that life held little more than the promise of a future dominated by drug abuse, homelessness and marginalization.
First screwed by parents who abused or neglected them, and then double screwed by a foster care system so inadequate as to be criminal; a system that publicly purported to value and work on behalf of children in its care, but which in actuality was a hopeless bureaucracy that had long ago eliminated the ability of any employee to work effectively on behalf of any one child.
But on that day, I didn’t know that. I just knew that I had a new job as a “social worker,” and a new boyfriend. And so began a two-year relationship with the young man, whose name was Michael, and a thirty-five year career in social services. To this day, I can’t say which was harder on me, or more difficult to walk away from.